Having visited the Mexican capital twice recently, Shaya, it’s fair to say, is obsessed with the place.

El Morro
Credit: Courtesy of El Morro

On location in Mexico City, a TRAVEL + LEISURE World’s Best Award winner.

What's the biggest culinary mecca among chefs these days? It would be hard to argue against Mexico City. “The food tradition there goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years,” says Alon Shaya, the New Orleans chef whose hit restaurant, Shaya, is celebrated for its modern takes on Israeli small plates. “From al pastor taco vendors on the streets to upscale restaurants, you can taste the soul of that tradition.”

Having visited the Mexican capital twice recently, Shaya, it’s fair to say, is obsessed with the place. He’s not alone: Readers of our sister publication Travel + Leisure voted Mexico City a top food destination in the 2017 World’s Best Awards. Here, Shaya shares some of the dishes and drinks that keep him coming back.

The Essential List

Churrería El Moro: “Eating churros while they’re still warm is the best. At this old-school bakery in the El Centro neighborhood, they make them to order, with all kinds of dipping sauces, from rich chocolate to dulce de leche. Pro tip: Don’t share.”

El Farolito: “There’s an outpost of this 55-year-old taco chain right by the Lucha Libre wrestling arena, so it’s a natural late-night stop after shows. Load up on quesadillas as well as guacamole with crispy bread to soak up all the tequila you’ve likely been drinking.”

Credit: Courtesy of Contramar

Contramar: “The soft-shell crab taco is the best I’ve ever had, and I’ll be stealing the iconic whole fish with salsa verde and salsa rosa at Gabriela Cámara’s must-visit restaurant in the Roma neighborhood. Make sure you wash it all down with mezcal margaritas.”

Mercado Jamaica : “Look for the lines and follow your nose at this sprawling market in Magdalena Mixhuca. There are so many good things to try at the stalls, but I especially loved the squash blossom quesadillas and the tlayudas, which are toasted tortillas topped with beans, avocado, meat, salsa and Oaxacan cheese.”

Café Nin: “Rick Bayless sent me the most epic Mexico City list ever, and this stylish café in Colonia Juárez made the cut. I enjoyed chef Elena Reygadas’s simple guava and cheese pastries and perfect small plates like the squid-and-avocado ceviche. You just want to sit there all day long.”

Quintonil: “Everyone talks about this fine-dining Polanco institution for good reason. I loved the dry-aged duck, and the crab tostada made me wonder why this dish has never made its way across the gulf to the shores of Louisiana.”

El Cardenal: “At this retro breakfast spot in Centro Historico, order the huevos en caldo de frijol and hot chocolate that is prepared tableside and made with milk from the restaurant’s own cows. This place reminded me of brunch at Commander’s Palace—but without the jazz.”

Ricos Tacos Juquilita: “Street food can’t be overlooked in Mexico. This taco stand at the corner of Insurgentes and Calle Florencia serves amazing tacos al pastor and carnitas, best drizzled with spicy avocado sauce and salsa roja. Don’t miss out on the onions stewed in rendered meat fat.”

Alipus Endemico
Credit: Courtesy of Alipús Condesa

Alipús Endémico: “Our amazing guide, Ruth Alegria, who leads insider tours of the city’s culinary scene, recommended this funky mezcalería in Hipódromo. Chef Adolfo Schwalge is one to watch, and his tacos with brown butter–dressed escamoles (ant larvae) blew me away.”