Saturday, May 21, 2016

Mexico City, Mexico (April 2016)

Mexico City has become known internationally as a true foodie destination.  It should be known also as a fine place for vegetarian travelers, particularly those who enjoy first-class dining experiences.  

Three of The World's 50 Best Restaurants are located there, and I was lucky enough to score a reservation at one of them.  Quintonil, ranked #35 on the list and the second highest of Mexico City's three, was opened in the ritzy Polanco neighborhood in 2012 by Chef Jorge Vallejo.  After researching the other two top-rated restaurants (Biko and Pujol), I had a good feeling about Quintonil.  As described by the write-up on the aforementioned list, Quintonil "focuses on fresh seasonal ingredients, forgotten herbs and grains, and indigenous produce.  Though meat is a feature on the tasting menu, Vallejo aims to highlight the value of fruit and vegetables, as much for their flavour as for their nutritional value.  Dishes on the tasting menu include huazontles, a green vegetable that vaguely resembles broccoli, with chiapas cheese and red tomato, and nopal cactus snow."  

Following the advice at the bottom of the online menu, I contacted the restaurant ahead of time to let them know that I am a vegetarian and that my regular dining partner has a number of food allergies.  The restaurant couldn't have been more accommodating -- within minutes of sending the email, I received a reply message, inquiring further about our dietary restrictions and promising to ensure a special night for us.  The chef customized the regular 10-course tasting menu especially for us, and everything was fresh, delicious, and artistically presented.  Some of the dishes are pictured below (without captions or descriptions, unfortunately, as the customized menu was never presented to me, and I did not take notes of the server's descriptions).

Mar del Zur, also in Polanco and not quite as acclaimed, is an elegant, park-side restaurant that is extremely accommodating of vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions.  As one might discern from the name, this place specializes in seafood, but with a Mexican-Thai fusion twist.  The menu includes a number of vegetarian options, which are clearly marked on the hard copy provided in the restaurant (the green markers are missing from the truncated online version).  Menus in English also are available upon request.  I enjoyed vegetarian summer rolls and vegetarian pad thai with tamarind sauce.

Vegetarian summer rolls at Mar del Zur

Vegetarian pad thai with tofu and tamarind sauce at Mar del Zur

La Capital in the Condesa neighborhood is a hot spot, and vegetarians will have plenty to choose from.  One of my favorite Mexican chefs in the United States, Richard Sandoval, describes La Capital as a modernized cantina.  I enjoyed guacamole with pomegranate seeds, served with plantain and exotic root chips, and penne pasta with chipotle cream sauce (although I wish I had tried the more traditional fideo seco, which I only learned about after ordering).

Guacamole with pomegranate seeds and a variety of exotic chips for dipping at La Capital
Penne pasta with chipotle cream sauce, fresh cheese and basil at La Capital

Vegetarians visiting Mexico City must visit Mercado Roma, an international gourmet food court (reminiscent of Mercado San Ildefonso in Madrid, Spain), located in the hipster Roma neighborhood.  At Mercado Roma, everyone in your party can get exactly what they want.  The options are endless -- with nearly 50 different food stands, you can find pretty much anything and everything, from different kinds of Mexican food to pizza, from Chinese food to cheese, from salads to fancy chocolates and popsicles!  The space is clean and modern, and you can grab a bottle of wine or a beer and join friends at a communal table.  I loved this place!  Although I did not have nearly enough time (not to mention the appetite) to try all of the vegetarian options, I enjoyed a mushroom tostada from Jose Guadalupe, a portobello and vegetable sushi burrito from Umami Burrito, and hummus with warm pita bread from Arbanus.  

Mushroom tostada from the Jose Gudalupe stand at Roma Mercado

Portobello mushroom and vegetable sushi burrito from the Umami Burrito stand at Roma Mercado

Hummus and warm pita from from the Arbanus stand at Roma Mercado
Roma Mercado (photo courtesy of Roma Mercado website)

Roma Mercado communal seating area (photo courtesy of Roma Mercado website)

Also in Roma (with another location in Polanco) is Forever Vegano, a casual vegan cafe (gluten-free items are available too and clearly marked on the menu, which can be requested in English).  After days of heavy eating, I was grateful to find a healthy salad!

Khaleesi salad with kale, apples, marinated tofu, quinoa, walnuts, and special dressing at Forever Vegano

If you make the day trip to Coyoacan, Ave Maria is an Italian-Mexican restaurant in the town's main square, which is great for people watching.  I enjoyed a salad and this traditional tomato-based Mexican tortilla soup for lunch.

Tortilla soup at Ave Maria

Finally, vegetarian tourists who make the obligatory trip to Cafe de Tacuba (est. 1912) in Mexico City's historic district will find that there is plenty to choose from.  The food is pretty standard, but people go for the art, the mariachis, and the overall experience.  The restaurant is beautiful and definitely worth a visit, even if it's just for breakfast or coffee.  I indulged with these cheese quesadillas (which look and tasted more like empanadas) and guacamole.

Cheese quesadillas with guacamole at the historic Cafe de Tacuba

Cafe de Tacuba (photo courtesy of restaurant's website)