Where to Save and Splurge in Mexico City’s Luxe Polanco Neighborhood
Two words: Cochinita Pibil
While much of Mexico City teems with life, bustling markets and food vendors on every corner, Polanco is a different sort of place — where the Tesla dealership abuts the Apple Store, staring down the Ferragamo and Hermés. “Upscale” is too modest a word. It’s essentially the Rodeo Drive of the Distrito Federal, and a bit of trek from trendy La Condesa or lively Juárez. It’s gorgeous (if sedate), especially in the spring, where bright purple jacarandas arch overhead.
But if you’re looking to experience fine dining in Mexico City—particularly if your time is restricted, and your pesos are not—there’s nowhere better to jump in. The entire country has two restaurants that made the “World’s 50 Best” list; both reside in Polanco. Other establishments serve incredible modern Mexican fare, but don’t require booking your table a month ahead. And in between all the fine dining, if you’re after a casual taco or perfect nightcap, Polanco’s got you covered there, too.
Base yourself at Las Alcobas, a boutique on Avenida Presidente Masaryk, Polanco’s main drag. The hotel has the distinction of housing two phenomenal restaurants within its confines; it’s possible to dine well without ever stepping outside. (And even if you make your dinner reservations elsewhere, it’s worth posting up at Las Alcobas for the chilaquiles and pambazos on the late-night room service menu alone.)
The menu at Anatol, the warm corner restaurant on the ground floor, looks contemporary Euro-American on first glance; and if you wish, there’s a beet-and-ricotta salad and a beast of a Reuben-style “Brooklyn” sandwich. But far more interesting are chef Justin Ermini’s forays into modern Mexican fare. Start with an indulgent version of esquites, with huge lumps of crab embedded in kernels of sweet corn, with epazote butter and chili. Move on to a hand-milled blue corn polenta, with tender artichokes and uncannily sweet roasted tomatoes. And don’t miss beautifully presented stewed beef tongue with caramelized onion, bone marrow, and chili oil, ready to be piled on rough-edged guajillo corn tortillas.
Whereas Anatol is sedate and comfortable, such that the focus is really on the food, Dulce Patria is a whirlwind of energy and color. Named one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, the restaurant is under the direction of chef Martha Ortiz, who brings a true flair for design—from quirky cocktail garnishes to eclectic dishware to after-dinner sweets presented on a toy Ferris Wheel.
El Turix has just a few stools along its counters and a menu that’s simple in the extreme: cochinita pibil. It’s a slow-cooked style of pork from the Yucatán, flavored with an array of spices, orange, and garlic. Belly up to the counter at El Turix and order a few tacos: They’ll toss corn tortillas atop the steaming vat of gloriously messy shredded pork — the better to get said tortillas sloppy with cochinita juices—before rolling them up and tossing on a plate. While tacos are an on-the-go, often one-handed food for many Mexicans, I salute anyone who can manage these juicy beasts without two hands and a stack of napkins. Go crazy on the limes and pickled onions; proceed cautiously with the blow-your-mouth off red salsa.
For a simple daytime meal between the tasting menus, head over to the Polanco branch of Tacos Gus. They specialize in tacos de guisado—those with stewed fillings—and you’ll find clay pots of tinga de pollo, chorizo, papas y rajas, and more. Try them as tacos, or just ladled onto a plate with rice, beans, and tortillas. A hearty meal shouldn’t cost more than about $2.50 USD.
Book your reservations now—yes, now, as soon as you have plane tickets in hand—for Pujól, among the most in-demand restaurants in the city. Pujól catapulted chef Enrique Olvera to national and even international fame. And just this March, he reopened the restaurant in a new Polanco venue. Designed to feel spacious and open, the restaurant is less formal than his first: light-filled and airy, wooden tables sans tablecloths. And the kitchen eschews standard pots and burners for more dynamic cooking: a wood-fired grill, a comal for tortillas and an outdoor brick oven pit.
Six-course tasting menus take you through a cuisine enmeshed in Mexican ingredients and tradition, but wholly Olvera’s own. Highlights might include pork chicharron and purslane in salsa verde; chayote squash with sea asparagus and maguey worm salt; and mole madre, aged for more than three years before it arrives on your plate.
Jorge Vallejo, who worked for years under Olvera, is the chef behind Quintonil, together with his wife Alejandra Flores in the front of house. The excitement over this restaurant may currently eclipse even Pujól (and that’s a high bar). His inventive fare includes dishes like a “ceviche” of cured nopal cactus, with beet juice and orange; and trout with grilled salicornias (sea beans) and seaweed mojo. Tables all booked up in the evening? Go for an equally impressive lunch. Make sure to budget a few hours.
For an aperitif before your first tasting menu, stop by Gin Gin Polanco, a sexy two-story space with an indoor-outdoor feel. Their gin list is formidable, and they can mix an impeccable Spanish-style gin tonic. I appreciated their other refreshing cocktails: the “Mexican Pimm’s,” a tea- and fruit-infused Hendrick’s with vermouth, ginger, lime, and a fruit garnish; and the well-made Gin Gin Mule, with gin, ginger, the mint-like hierba buena, and lime.
After dinner? Seek out Jules Basement. I mean “seek out” literally—fully embracing the speakeasy trend, the bar is completely unmarked, in the basement of the restaurant Surtidora Don Batiz. Walk through the dining room, and find the bouncer guarding what looks like a refrigerator door: that’s your entrance.
Down a dark staircase, you’ll find a sexy low-lit bar with live music and an impressive spirits list, with top-shelf bottles from around the world. Embrace local spirits with a mezcal Negroni; try a Latin American spin on a Louisiana classic with the “Guatemalan Sazerac,” built from a base of Ron Botran Solera aged rum; or order up a Sidecar or Last Word, made with precision and perfectly suited to the bar’s throwback vibe.