La Mercado – Day 3, City Center
Where did we leave you? Oh, of course, those al pastor tacos that dreams are made of. We took a much needed rest after a huge day. Jumping right back into it and realizing it was Saturday night, we rallied and got ready for a night out. I had heard of a hidden rooftop bar nearby that sounded cool.
From the street, it looked like we were entering into an apartment building with an accidental door open. Three winding flights up, we found a bar called ROMITA with vaulted ceilings, a garden patio, and an upper deck with a retractable roof—and once again we were in need of a reservation we did not have. But we were lucky and got seats at the bar anyways. We tried two of their acclaimed specialty gin and tonics, and to be honest left remembering only the view.
Down the street at a Mezcaleria, we enjoyed two varieties of mezcal and some mini chalupas. Chalupas here are more like tostadas—crispy corn tortillas topped with various ingredients. At this particular location we tasted three varieties: a ceviche, a pork tinga, and a roasted mushroom. The ceviche consisted of large chunks of snapper, shredded cabbage, citrusy mayo, and a lingering spice provoking the fondest memories of something from our childhood. I can’t explain it other than it tasted like old el paso seasoning, in the best way. The roasted mushrooms were accompanied by grilled peppers and the tinga was simple in presentation but bold in flavor.
By chance, we came across another hidden bar, packed between 2 other very busy restaurants / bars. Traveling up a flight of stairs it was a simply designed bar in a renovated apartment. It appeared that they wanted it to look that way, and it was beautiful. DJ’s were bumping some groovy tunes, and mezcal was again happily entering my body. We had asked for mezcal old fashions, but the language barrier did not allow it.
We had called it a night until, low and behold, another Al Pastor Taco joint was calling my name. I promise I do not search these places out, they just find me, and they are everywhere here. Taqueria Alvaro was not as good as the day before, but delicious nonetheless.
Sundays in Mexico are a bit sleepy, especially here in Mexico City. A very large portion of the population are church going folk, so we woke up with the same mentality. A lazy morning, tortilla espanola for breakfast and a coffee at a little bookstore as we caught up on some work. Alvaro Street was quiet, and a stark contrast from the night before.
On a previous adventure we had tried to find a boutique coffee spot making interesting cold brew concoctions, Buna Cafe Rico, but we had walked right past it. Today we did our research and found it easily, and it was definitely worth the trip. Like most of the coffee spots in the area, the design was sleek, modern and simple, and the coffee was superb. We ordered two of their cold selections: an espresso tonic and an extraction fria. The espresso was poured over tonic on ice (really good tonic) and was so simple but so delicious. We were blown away. The extraction method was classic cold brew, and had a great flavor, though a little too intense for this guy.
We hailed a cab a few blocks away in a neighborhood that looked identical to the financial district of LA, and headed for La Merced. The scenery changed drastically as we entered the poorer parts of town, and as we pulled up to the market we realized where everyone was hiding.
La Merced Mercado is the largest market in all of Mexico, and the vastness sprawls beyond its walls and into the surrounding streets. Most websites recommend a guide to enter the market as it is easy to get lost in the maze of stalls, or waste time in the wrong areas. We did not. Upon initial entry we saw only cheap toys and cooking equipment, then it was fried fish stands, then it was more and more and more of the same. We finally weaved our way around to some open streets where we found more food stands, produce, chilies and moles. YES! Satisfaction, I thought. A delicious huarache made with squash blossoms and oaxacan cheese, and enough hot chile paste to start a fire. It only cost us $1.00 US, and I would have happily paid $7 in the states. The experience alone of watching this woman press out the masa dough, throw it on the plancha and slowly love it as she than sauteed up the flowers with a little salt and delicious melted cheese was well worth it.
As we entered back into the market, hoping for more inspiration, things took an unpleasant turn. At first it looked super promising, with stands full of spices, chilies, produce and fish. This part of the market was amazing. Then we kept walking and the depression sunk in while we watched tens of thousands of locals swarming around shops filled with the cheapest toys, shoes, clothes, and trinkets. How is this possible? we asked ourselves. How is it that people survive like this? And as wandered deeper into the market, it got worse and worse. We could have spent hours there, as we only covered maybe a ¼ of the market in a matter of 2 ½ hours, but we finally found a little stand selling tacos de canasta (basket tacos) filled with meat and beans, which were good… and then, we had had enough.
As we stood there eating the classic street food—in which the vender packs a basket full of tortillas stuffed with different ingredients, than pours hot oil on top and covers them while he / she rides the basket to the market—we were hit with an eerie feeling. There was a loud speaker announcing the tacos, while hoards of people swarmed around us and 3 TV’s on the wall played death scenes from horror movies. We had to go. It took another 20 minutes to navigate a way out into the light and, while it was a memorable experience, I will not be returning.
Through the city streets we wandered, looking for something promising but, because it was Sunday, everything was closed. Finally we made our way to the Zocalo, and the Cathedral Metropolitana, the largest cathedral in Mexico City. It was awe inspiring and worth the walk, however we were rather hungry and thirsty at this point so we headed back to the hotel.
Arriving back in our hood, we found everything was still closed, so we had a few tamales at a little shop, and went back to the hotel for a nap. The tamales were not half bad—I’ve had better—but I was hungry and they hit the spot.
All said and done, it was a rather frustrating day for my belly and my mind, and I would vote against spending time in Mexico City on Sundays. On to Puebla tomorrow, where I hope to experience traditional Mole Poblano, Chiles en Nogada, Chalupas, and Cemitas. Hasta Luego!!!