Growing up in the United States, Mexican food was one of the few international cuisines I remember experiencing as a kid. Tacos, quesadillas, nachos, burritos. American culture may have put their own spin on these foods, but their origins always remained clear.
My Ancient Civilizations trip allowed me the chance to indulge in authentic, unadulterated Mexican cuisine for the first time. I came away confident in saying Mexico has the best food in Latin America. Peruvian food has now been bumped to second place in my mind, and anything else remains a distant third.
What follows is a selection of food photos from my favorite meals between Mexico City and Playa del Carmen. The restaurants were a mix of recommendations from Gaby, our CEO, and TripAdvisor, as well as a few I stumbled across exploring on my own.
Restaurant: La Posada del Jaguar, Av Periferico 208, San Martín de las Pirámides 55850
My Dish: Molcajetes Azteca
Cost: $21 (USD)
This is the dish your doctor warned you about. Various meats, including beef, pork, and chicken are piled high in a hot volcanic stone bowl, and served with melted cheese, and a few slices of fruit for color. Transfer said meats into your tortilla, pour on some spicy salsa, roll up, and enjoy.
We ate at La Posada del Jaguar as part of our guided trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City. The cost of lunch was not in the tour.
Restaurant: El Rincon Tapatio, Independencia No. 68, local No. 4, Col Centro, Mexico City
My Dish: Chicken tacos with Oaxacan cheese
Before leaving Mexico City to begin our overland journey to Playa del Carmen, we ate at a local taco joint recommended by Gaby. She’d already shown Alex, a CEO-in-training, the spot, and they’d eaten there several times in the days leading up to our tour.
This was far from a tourist restaurant, and we were certainly noticed by the Mexican clientele dining in there.
The tacos were small, greasy, cheap and delicious. The option to get Oaxacan cheese on your tacos for an extra dollar or so was a no-brainer. Devouring them with fresh guacamole and a little fresh squeezed lime juice wet my appetite for our stop in Oaxaca a few days later.
Restaurant: Restaurante Catedral, García Vigil 105, Centro Historico, Oaxaca
My Dish: Chicken in Black Mole, with white rice, refried beans, and slices of fried bananas
Mole, that rich sauce artfully combining melted chocolate and spices, smothered my chicken breast. The presentation may strike first timers as a bit odd, but all it takes is a bite to become hooked.
Restaurant: Casa Oaxaca Restaurante, Constitucion 104-4, Centro Historico, Oaxaca
My Dish: Green mole with suckling pig, served with organic vegetables
Moles come in a variety of colors and flavors, so when I saw a green mole with suckling pig on the menu at Casa Oaxaca, I couldn’t resist.
One of the more expensive restaurants in the city, I was certainly splurging on lunch this day, but it was worth it for the table side-prepared salsa, and of course, the succulent pork.
Restaurant: Benito Juarez Market, the corner of Flores Magon and Colon, Centro Historico, Oaxaca
My Dish: Fried crickets
Far be it from me to spend all my days eating food I’m comfortable with. No, I was in Mexico to discover what the locals eat, and if that means chowing down on a few fried crickets from the Benito Juarez Market, so be it.
It wasn’t my first time sticking crispy critters in my mouth. I’d first snacked on insects in Cambodia five years prior, but they never overtook potato chips in my snack selection.
80 cents (10 pesos) will get you a healthy handful of crickets. After popping a few in the nearby plaza, I attempted to give them away to locals, to no avail. It’s an acquired taste not just for us foreigners, but apparently for Mexicans too.
Restaurant: Carajillo Cafe, Andador Real de Guadalupe, No. 24, San Cristobal de las Casas
My Dish: Aztec Soup
While walking the main restaurant-filled street in San Cristobal de las Casas, I stumbled across Carajillo Cafe.
Inside, I was fascinated by an apparatus dripping cold water melting off an ice cube through a filter with ground coffee into a little pot at the bottom. I ordered the Yama cold coffee, which can take up to 8 hours to brew a single cup, along with the Aztec soup.
I’m not a big soup person, but it’s hard to find fault with tortilla chips, avocado and cheese in broth. After the soup, I couldn’t resist ordering the rich and creamy white hot chocolate. A little taste of heaven in the Central Mexican highlands.
Restaurant: La Chaya Maya, Calle 62 x 57, Centro, Mérida
My Dish: Handmade corn tortillas topped with shredded turkey, lettuce, and pickled red onion
Arriving in Merida, Gaby recommended La Chaya Maya near the main plaza for dinner. Both were located a convenient 5-10 minute walk from our hotel. La Chaya Maya specializes in Yucateca cuisine, or the foods of the Yucatan Peninsula.
As we approached the restaurant, little old women could be seen in traditional dress, making fresh corn tortillas used for the tacos.
Surprisingly, turkey was on the menu in more dish than one. I ordered a turkey leg served in a bowl full of gravy and Mayan herbs, but it was the shredded turkey tacos ordered by others that I enjoyed even more.
Restaurant: Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill, located at the end of Calle 6 (6th Street) on the beach, Playa del Carmen
My Dish: Flour tortillas filled with fish, bell pepper, onion, and tomato, served with guacamole, pico de gallo, and black beans
The two week trip from Mexico City to Playa del Carmen came to a close too soon. Our official goodbye dinner was at the Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill. I opted for the fish tacos, which blew away the ones I’d had as my first meal in Puerto Vallarta four weeks earlier.
The fish was tender, not overcooked, and there was a healthy amount of pepper, onion, guac and beans.
Staying an additional 10 days in Playa, I’d return to Fusion Bar and Grill at least four more times. The atmosphere offered by one of the few restaurants on the beach was hard to beat.