Colonia Roma, Mexico’s first planned neighborhood, was designed at the turn of the 20th century on a Haussmann ideal of mixed use, i.e. middle to upper class housing. Tree-lined boulevards of single family homes interspersed with over-the-top mansions were equipped with running water, city sewer, electric and even telephone lines. Until the 1940’s, La Roma was the place to live. A cultural community thrived here well into the ‘50’s. Then American suburban style living supplanted the baronial servant-heavy Porfiriato scene and the wealthy moved west to Polanco, or auto-and-swimming pool-friendly Lomas. La Roma went into a long decline. The ’85 earthquake, which hit this area heavily, put another nail in the coffin; much went to rack and ruin. Old homes, many in poor condition, feature auto repair shops, or other less-than-glamorous businesses, on their ground floors. Some buildings were demolished to make way for those mirrored glass behemoths that leer mockingly at the populace. Many streets, especially those south of Av. Alvaro Obregon, the main drag are unkempt.
But Roma has been rising from its ashes in recent years. A renewed appreciation of the architecture and the area’s proximity to the center and to its pricier neighbor, Condesa, has made Roma appealing to artists and yuppies alike. Their presence created a market for more upscale dining options and Roma quickly supplanted Polanco and Condesa as the center of the gastronomic renaissance in the capital. There are so many eating establishments here, and very good ones, that a simple 10 best list is impossible so we have divided it into two, Mexican and non. Here’s my “international” list.
Roma’s most talked about hotspot features the cooking of young chef Marco Carboni who specialises in artisanal pasta. But oh, what pasta: for it turns out that the chef, who hails from Modena in northern Italy, has worked the kitchen of the world’s top chef Massimo Bottura, not to mention that of Jamie Oliver and Jordi Vilá’s Alkimia in Barcelona. He knows what he is doing. Creative pasta and entree options change daily. The space was designed by Taller ADG who also did N.Y.’s Cosme and is handsome though noise can be a problem; outdoor tables are quieter. Reservations are a must. See previous post: Marco Carboni, Sartoria and all the Pasta
Orizaba 42, tel. 7258 7360, Open Tuesday – Saturday 1 – 11 p.m., Sunday until 5, closed Monday – See Google Maps
This superb venue for lauded chef Elena Reygadas’ Italo/Mex cooking is set in a mansion that has been lovingly restored. The ground floor is a high-ceilinged covered patio whose white walls are decorated with lightly brushed, discreet floral motifs. Furniture is country rustic, more reminiscent of Provence than Mexico – appropriate, perhaps to the Francophile culture of its era. Tables are set with vintage-looking linens. The smart, reasonably sized menu was designed by chef Reygadas who was named “Best female chef of the year in 2014 by S. Pellegrino. While the focus is Italian, pre-Hispanic ingredients such as insects and wild greens and mushrooms are incorporated into otherwise traditional fare. The chef plans her menu according to what is seasonal and inspirational in the market. This is certainly the most romantic dining spot in the city, and the menu is full of pleasant surprises. See: Rosetta, Nearly Perfect
Colima 166 (Between Orizaba & Córdoba, tel. 5533-7804, Open Monday – Saturday from 2 – 11 p.m., Closed Sunday. See Google Maps
3. GALANGA THAI KITCHEN
Galanga is an extraordinary restaurant run by chef Somsri, who is Thai, with her husband Eleazar who know what they are doing. Such iconic dishes as som tum (green papaya salad), pad thai, larb (chopped and spiced meat) and massaman curry (a tart fruity blend) are prepared with respect to tradition. But the menu also includes less commonly seen options like gang pad ped yang, a red curry with duck and pineapple or gang yang, BBQ chicken with Thai spices and tod mun pla, a fish cake lightly perfumed with red curry. The chef has managed to get her hands on such rare but essential ingredients as kaffir lime and galangal so flavors are not compromised. She will adjust picante-ness to individual tastes but turns the fire up, as it should be, on request. Presentation is artful and ambience relaxed. See: All Thai-ed Up, Galanga Thai Kitchen
Guanajuato 202, Open Tuesday – Sunday, 1-10 p.m., closed Monday
See Google Maps
4. OSTERIA 8
This mini-trattoría and pizzeria does some of the best Italian this side of the Lido. Owner Stephan Gialleonardo hails from that bastion of great Italian cooking–the Bronx. “I learned from my grandfather, a Napolitano who worked as chef on a depression-era gambling boat,” he explains. A smartly limited menu of regional standards includes six appetizers (e.g., fried calamares and several salads), five pastas–none of them clichés–and a risotto ‘de chef’. The pizzas are amongst the best in the city. We’ll gladly pack into this little gem of an Italo-hole-in-the-wall. Cin cin! buona provata! See: Dinner at 8: Osteria Ocho
Sinaloa 252, (near Av. Veracruz), Tel. 5212-2008, Open Tuesday- Saturday 1:30 – 11 p.m., Sunday until 8, closed Mondays, See Google maps
Average pp: $300
5. MIA DOMENICCA
Mia Domenicca is a pan-Mediterranean restaurant, in the capable hands of chef Santiago Migoya, that borrows from many cultures. The menu astutely assembles concoctions that utilize whatever is in the market. They are simple and fleetingly refer to specific places acknowledging France, Italy, Greece or Morocco with a passing nod, a kiss blown, the wave of a hand. These are not attempted reproductions, nor are they contrived; they are loving and living creations, put together with thought and grace. Ambience is sophisticated and chic. See: Mia Domenicca: Happy Marriages
Durango 279, tel. 55 9130 8456, open Tuesday – Saturday 1:30 p.m. – midnight., Sunday until 6, Monday closed – See Google maps
Average pp: $600
6. MÁXIMO BISTROT LOCAL
Máximo Bistrot opened its doors at the beginning of 2012 and quickly became the hottest restaurant in Mexico City. It’s an unpretentious European-style bistro. Chef and owner Eduardo “Lalo” García worked under Enrique Olvera of Pujol and also toiled in Manhattan’s star-strewn Le Bernardín. He likes rustic French and Italian cooking, but his feet stay firmly planted on native ground. He often utilizes typical Mexican ingredients in his dishes, such as chilies, hot and mild; huitlacoche, the rich corn fungus; or country herbs like epazote, incorporating them into classic European recipes. García represents the new generation of Mexican cooks who, while well aware of what’s going on in Spain, California and New York, have come back home, introducing contemporary concepts into their native cuisine, toying with tradition without losing respect for it. See: You’re the Top: Q&A with Máximo’s Chef
Tonalá 133 (corner of Zacatecas), tel. 5264-4291, Open Tuesday – Saturday: 1 – 11:30 p.m.
See Google maps
Average pp: $800
7. LIMA 700
This new Peruvian located across from Máximo Bistrot is owned by a family from Lima; its kitchen is operated by several chefs imported from the homeland and the food, is as Limeño as it gets. It’s set in a spectacularly restored Porfiriato mansion that is airy and contemporary while preserving original turn-of-the-century detail. The menu offers mostly seafood: perfectly balanced ceviches, tiraditos and rices. Pisco sours, Peru’s refreshing national cocktail, are addictive.
Tonalá 144, open 1 – 8 p.m. daily, tel. 3717-5411, See Google maps
Average pp: $500
8. SESAME / PAPRIKA
Sesame and Páprika are chef Josefina Santacruz’ venues for authentically prepared Asian and Middle Eastern street snacks from Thailand to India and North Afrika, respectively. No fusion here, everything is prepared as it would be in its homeland. At Sesame, try the pho, the famous beef noodle soup from Vietnam, it’s divine; dumplings are the best in town. Standouts at Paprika are a fragrant Iranian rice generously endowed with nuts and dried fruits, rich lamb meatballs from Turkey and the lightly sweet and aromatic Moroccan bastilla – chicken pie – here presented as mini empanadas. Dishes at both are small and wallet-friendly, meant to be shared. And both venues feature lively bars. See: 10 Questions for Chef Josefina Santacruz
Sésame: Colima 183 (between Jalapa and Orizaba), tel. 5207-7471, Open: Tuesday to Thursday 2 to 11.p.m, Thursday – Saturday, until 2.a.m., Sunday, 2 – 8.p.m. – see Google maps
Average pp: $400
Páprika Cocina de Especias
Orizaba 115, between Chihuahua and Álvaro Obregón, Open Tuesday – Wednesday 2 – 11 p.m., Thursday to Saturday until 2 a.m., Sunday until 6, tel. 5533 0303 – see Google maps
Average pp: $400
9. CAFÉ MILOU
Though France has been the culinary direction the Mexican upper class have looked towards since the 19th century, there have never been very good French restaurants here. There are still only a few; Havre 77, La Maison de Famille and Au Pie de Couchon do come to mind. Café Milou is a small unpretentious spot that opened recently that emulates casual Parisian bistro dining and does it very well. Its popularity, spread by word of mouth, has reached the point where reservations are now essential. Classics such as steak tartare, terrine de campagne and leeks in cream are done with finesse. Heartier main dishes might be joues de boeuf—beef cheeks in a reduced wine sauce or lubina with potatoes au gratin. A short wine list is well chosen. Marble tables spill out onto the street and ambience is jovial. Breakfast is offered and is trés Parisienne. Bon appetite!
Av. Veracruz 38, tel. 55 7098-1422 open Monday – Saturday 8 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. See Google Maps
Average pp: $500
10. KURA IZAKAYA
Of all the Asian cuisines represented in our city, Japanese is the most prodigious. There are a number of restaurants doing high level and authentic Nippon cooking (Kyo, Taro, Rokai, Murakami et al.) Izakaya is a genre of Japanese bar/restaurant in which a variety of small dishes and snacks are served to accompany drinking. The immensely popular Kura (i.e. reserve on weekends) is in the hands of executive chef Takeya Matsumoto who faithfully reproduces one of these festive places found all over Japan.
An extensive menu features classics like nigiri sushi and tempura. There are equally traditional dishes such as the Chinese influenced akada shi, a spicy soup of red soy pasta with shrimp and tofu, or yakimeshi (fried rice), yakitori (brochettes) and bara chirashi, a rice bowl with sashimi fish, salmon caviar and greens. All can be accompanied by a good Japanese beer or a sake from the extensive selection.
Colima 378, tel. 5511-8665, Open daily 11:30 – midnight, see Google maps
Average pp $400