It’s the new Condesa” exclaimed a giddy visitor. “More like the East Village, c. 1974” observed a more cynical martini-toting reveler. A dozen of us were sipping cocktails on a turn-of-the-century Italianate loggia overlooking the pretty Alameda of Santa Maria la Ribera. The host was re-pat Jesús Chairez , party-giver, blogger and indefatigable promoter of this, one of the capital’s oldest neighborhoods. (See: http://www.facebook.com/Col.SantaMariaLaRibera for more information).
Established in the middle of the 19th century, the area, north of the centro, was quite elegant in its day and home to many well known cultural and political figures. Now in a state of advanced disrepair and dysfunction, the neighborhood may have a brighter future. TheMuseo Univeritario del Chopo, an Art Nouveau steel-beam structure housing an alternative art and culture space, has re-opened to much fanfare. A Moorish fantasy kiosk, leftover from a forgotten world fair, reigns majestically over the central plaza, (here called the Alameda), and the time-warp Museo de Geología, which sits like a set from a Steven Spielberg movie, has been spruced up. Now a new generation of both serious artists and wannabe bo-hos are discovering cheaper rents and cool spaces. Cafés, galleries, boutiques and alternative bars and restaurants are starting to appear. This not being New York, it will be a long time before Santa Maria catches up with the Condesa. The neo-classical Porfiriatomansions lining its streets, which in theory cannot be torn down, still crumble or are painted pink and lime by oblivious residents. Crime is a problem. But at the same time, the Alameda and the streets surrounding it have a small town feel. And there are some good places to eat. While traditional Mexican is the cuisine of choice there are some ethnic surprises. Getting to Santa Maria is easy: Take the metrobus or metro to Buenavista and walk 3 blocks west from Insurgentes. Alternatively, you can take the metro to San Cosmeand walk five blocks north on Torres Bodet or Sta. Maria Ribera, until you arrive at the Alameda (you’ll see the Kiosko Moro). All the places I mention are within 3 blocks of the Alameda.
La Oveja Negra
Sabino 215, 2 blocks west of the Alameda, near the market
Open Saturday and Sunday only, from 7:30 AM until around 6 or when the meat runs out, whichever comes first.
No cards – bring cash; parking next door.
Feasting on barbacoa is a weekend tradition all over central Mexico; La Oveja Negra (see my earlier post), family-owned since the 1950’s, is where you’ll find the best I’ve eaten in Mexico. Barbacoa is best ordered by weight–I suggest a half kilo for four. The meat is served wrapped in a penque de maguey (its cooking wrapper), and accompanied by tortillas. The tender, juicy meat hits all the marks. Swathed in a smoky corn tortilla, doused with earthy salsa, this is Mexican food nirvana. What’s their secret? Only the best quality sheep are used. The family has its own ranch in the state of Hidalgo, where they raise livestock organically, as well as producing cheeses and chorizos. How can you go wrong?
Two blocks west of the Alameda is the extraordinary Casa de Toño, a pozolería set in a 19th-century mansion. Thick, red pozole with all the garnishes is the house specialty, although sopes, tostadas and other antojitos are also offered. At $34 pesos for a grande, this is a bargain meal. Rooms decorated with murals and original mosaic floors create a festive, old-time atmosphere.
This “antojería” is the best in the area according to local residents. They do everything corn: sopes, huaraches, tacos and quesadillas. The quesadillas are superb: I orderpicadillo con queso. To quench your thirst, Jesús suggests an ‘agua de alfalfa’ containing alfalfa, pineapple, and lime; it’s not on the menu.
Kolobok Restaurante Ruso
How (or why) this tow-headed Siberian family landed in Mexico City is still a mystery. But here they are, running one of the few Russian restaurants in the city. This popular corner spot on the Alameda offers such iron curtain classics as borcht and palmeni (like the Polish pyrogi dumplings), but food tends to be bland, more an odd cultural experience than interesting ethnic eating. Приятного аппетита!
Ristorante Pronto & Ricco
Salvador Díaz Mirón 147-C, 2 blocks West of the Alameda
Open 12-8PM daily, closed Monday
This cute Italian venue is decorated with hip artwork and serves up Italian classics at very reasonable prices. They close early, however.
Torres Bodet 152, corner Salvador Diaz Mirón, Alameda
This traditional and friendly cantina is supposedly the place where ranchera giant José Alfredo Jiménez got his start singing in public – although some say he was only a waiter here. It is a favorite with locals and still, at times, offers live music. Generous botanas are handed out free during comida hours, so a 33 pesos beer also buys you lunch. On weekends they put out a huge, and reasonably priced buffet.
This friendly cantina offers a popular sidewalk ‘parrillada’ (BBQ) on Thursdays; for a three drink minimum, you can eat all the grilled meat you want and even sample criadillas (I don’t have to tell you which part of the bull that is, do I?)
Reading and writing:
Don Lázaro El Viajero
Circuito Interior 241, (near Salvador Díaz Míron,
6 blocks west of the Alameda of Sta. Maria la Ribera)
Tel. 5547 0988
Open 365 day a year for breakfast and lunch.
A neigborhood institution that teaches you English or Spanish while you eat. See my recent article:
Pulquería La Xochitl
Eligio Ancona, between Jaime Torres Bodet & Naranjo
This is a traditional and low down pulquería. It is friendly but I don’t suggest that women go here if they want to uphold their reputations.
A note to my readers: See my recent article in the New York Times on Santa Maria:
Thanks for this post. We visited La Alameda de Santa María de la Ribera back in March, but we headed to a good lunch at Boca Del Río.
First published June 10, 2010