Taco tuesday (or more usually, Sunday) is definitely a thing in our house. We own a taco press and a tortilla basket and we always have a 1 litre bottle of Valentinas hot sauce in the cupboard. Safe to say, we love Mexican food. So any trip to Mexico was going to feature pretty high on my dream culinary trips ever.
Mexico City is also gaining a bit of a reputation as a foodie city, with 3 restaurants featuring in the top 50 in the whole world and when we decided to book a trip for late 2018 to coincide with Dia de Muertos I knew I was in for a treat. However I had absolutely no idea just how much of a treat was awaiting me; the city has an incredible vegan food scene, and we ended up being a little spoilt for choice for good quality places to eat. It’s the kind of place where you can eat the best tacos of your life, then the next day find some even better tacos.
Ok, first thing’s first – a primer on Mexican cuisine. Traditional Mexican food is based around corn, mostly the tortilla, with some kind of sauce and a filling. That makes Mexican food incredibly suited to being vegan, as you simply need to swop out the filling for something plant based and, of course, hold the cheese.
Tacos are a staple pretty much everywhere you go, but they’re usually very heavy on meat and cheese (unless you’re at a dedicated vegan outlet) so are best avoided if you’re not sure. The absolute safest best would be to head to a cantina or market and order one of the following, “con vegetales y sin carne, queso y crema”:
- Chilaquiles – fried tortillas cooked in a spicy sauce
- Enchiladas – tortillas cooked in a spicy sauce
- Enmolladas – tortillas cooked in a mole sauce
- Entomatadas – tortillas cooked in tomato (red or green) sauce
- Enfrijoladas – tortillas cooked in a bean sauce
- Tamales – filled & steamed corn dough
Here’s a little selection of some of the best vegan restaurants & cafes we ate in Mexico City:
We arrived in Mexico City (or CDMX) early on a Saturday morning, and were in desperate need of sustenance. We had booked into an AirBnB in the Roma district of the city, and therefore took a very short walk to Pan Comido, on Tonala.
Pan Comido is a small vegetarian cafe that serves a pretty good selection of simple but tasty Mexican and Mexican-inspired meals; think burritos, enfrijoladas, huevos rancheros, omelettes etc…
Everything is in Spanish and the staff’s English was only a little better than our Spanish, but thankfully all vegan items on the menu are clearly marked so we went a little pot luck with our choices – the “Rita Cantagalua” enfrijoladas for me and a “Super Lisa Simpson” burrito for Steve. They also have almond and soya milk for coffees, though be prepared for everything to be a lot sweeter in Mexico than you might be used to!
As our first meal in CDMX this was pretty exceptional as we sat at a table on the pavement, watching the city wake up and enjoying our first taste of authentic Mexican food. My enfrijoladas were delicious; hearty, comforting and just a tiny bit spicy. No burrito for me thanks to my avocado allergy but I am reassured that it was equally tasty. The total bill came to around £12 for the two of us for food and coffee.
Also located in the Roma neighbourhood (clearly the place where all the hipsters and vegans go to get scran) is the the teeny tiny La Pitahaya. For a little over £5 you can get a plate of any three of their tacos, served in their homemade bright pink beetroot tacos. We went for cauliflower with coconut cottage cheese & pineapple, oyster mushrooms “al pastor” and mushrooms in adobo with broad beans. They also have a lovely selection of homemade kombucha (the grapefruit is particularly yummy).
Not only is the food here absolutely stunning but it’s also delicious, fresh ingredients packed full of flavour, and we were a little bowled over on day 2 of our visit that we were staying within walking distance of such amazing vegan food. This is a creative vegan take on traditional Mexican food – al pastor is a staple of any taqueria – and i can imagine it sitting on a part with some of the best omni outlets in the city.
We knew before visiting CDMX that there’s a bit of a hype machine in the city around vegan food, and Los Loosers seems to be where it all goes down. This painfully chic eatery in western edge of Roma, near the La Condesa neighbourhood, serves amazingly creative Mexican cuisine with some Japanese and Korean fashion. A little caution that this place doesn’t take bookings so be prepared to wait for a table.
The menu is extensive; pages and pages of dishes, all of its vegan and to be honest the abundance of choice was a little overwhelming for us. So I defaulted to asking our server what was best and he recommended the Omakase plate of 6 tacos – pastor, poblano, encebollado, capcado, puesto and enchillado. I’m not entirely sure what was in each of the tacos but they were all absolutely delicious, with the exception of one very spicy chiilli pepper that was so hot it nearly made me cry. I’m convinced it was some kind of ruse by the staff to expose me as a mild Brit who definitely can’t handle spicy food!
The dishes are brought to the table tapas style and very much with the intention of sharing, so we also ordered a panko cactus taco, a “fish” taco and the al pastor mazesoba. The tacos were absolutely stunning, particularly the deep fried crunchy nopale cactus with cream and creole coriander, but I’d probably pass on the noodle dish next time as there’s just something about Mexican style ramen that confused me a bit too much.
To drink we passed on booze (we were already a few drinks in) and enjoyed the free hibiscus water. The total bill came around £22 which was a bit more than we’d come to expect in Mexico City, especially as we didn’t have anything to drink, but Los Loosers is an exceptional dining experience that must not be missed in CDMX.
Casa del Pan Papalotl
I’m fully blaming Casa del Pan Papalotl for the fact that we didn’t get to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum, but to be honest I’m not totally mad about that. We decided to spend a day in the Coyoacan district of the city, south of the centre, to soak up its famous arty atmosphere and beautiful parks and tree lined streets. We decided to start our day with a visit to Casa del Pan Papalotl for breakfast #2 and as a result arrived at the Frida Kahlo Museum too late to get tickets for the day. However we got to eat the best enmoladas of our trip so I think it worked out pretty well.
Casa del Pan Papalotl is a very cute vegetarian cafe on Avenida Mexico and serves fresh, healthy food with a focus on local, sustainable and fair trade produce. There is a small vegan section of the menu, but we went straight for the vegan enmolladas, stuffed with potato, carrot and chayote squash. Served with a small dollop of frijoles on the side, the mole sauce was sweet, rich, creamy and nutty and we absolutely wolfed it down.
CDMX is definitely a city of street food, with taco trucks on pretty much every corner. However we learnt pretty quickly that it doesn’t exactly run to a defined schedule, so by the time we managed to chow down at Pan d’Monium, we’d already tried to visit twice and found it closed. Of course, it was worth the extra effort because this place does insane vegan hot dogs and burgers with the most amazing selection of homemade salsas and chutneys. They also sell a daily selection of baked goods, including donuts, cakes and cookies.
Like most food carts around the city, the food here is incredibly cheap and we ate very well for a shade over £5.
Por Siempre Vegana Taqueria
Por Siempre is where you go for the best vegan Mexican food in CDMX, hands down. And at only 50 pesos (£2 ish) for a selection of 3 tacos, there are absolutely no reasons to not visit this taco stall as often as you can.
It’s a street food truck in the truest sense of the word – no seating, so be prepared to eat standing up.
The menu’s pretty expansive, enough to provide plenty of options but not too much to be overwhelming. We went for the green chorizo, seitan chimichurri & “big baby” – a selection of vegan meats with cheese. There’s also a pretty good selection of toppings so you can customise your plate and bulk out your meal, and cakes, cookies and donuts are available too.
This is the place I left CDMX dreaming about because the fact you can find such exceptional vegan food on a street corner in Mexico City, and all for less than the cost of a coffee back home, is a little mind blowing. It’s also meant that I want to go back to CDMX, because although it is an amazing city, knowing that Por Siempre is there makes it just that little bit better.
I was a little anxious about having plenty of vegan food options in CDMX, so we booked into an AirBnB in the Roma neighbourhood. Of course, we ended up being absolutely spoilt for options, so could have happily survived in a budget hotel or hostel. However, there’s something very special about exploring food markets in a new city, and therefore having the option of self catering was definitely a plus, particularly for breakfasts and for making pack-ups for day trips and days out exploring the city and beyond.
Our favourite (and most local) market was Mercado Medellin, located to the south western edge of Roma. The market is absolutely heaving with pretty much everything you could need, including fresh flowers, fruit, vegetables, freshly made tortillas, spices and a mind boggling selection of chillis. It’s worth pointing out that you run the risk of the “tourist premium” – some sellers will inflate prices for tourists, but even so prices were still reasonable, and we were happy to pay because we could easily afford it. If you’re searching for something a little more authentic then brush up on your Spanish and agree prices at the outset.
There’s also a pretty good selection of vegan food options at local supermarkets, particularly in the Roma and La Condesa neighbourhoods. We managed to find vegan yoghurt, chorizo, margarine and milk with ease.
A Note on Pulque
There is a bit of a craft beer scene in Mexico City, but beer is pricey, at usually £4 or more for a pint. Instead we fell very quickly in love with a particularly local delicacy, pulque. Pulque is a thick alcoholic beverage made from fermented agave pulp and is a pre-Hispanic tradition that still thrives in CDMX. In its unflavoured, “blanco” state (available at divey Pulqueria las Duelistas) it’s pretty disgusting – i found it just about bearable so long as I didn’t breathe in as I drank – so the majority of bars sell it in a number of flavoured and usually very sweet varieties.
Flavours range from fruits, oat and coconut to the occasional savoury variety like the house mix at Pulqueria Insurgentes which includes beans, celery, tomatoes, pepper and several other ingredients that I’ve managed to forget. As the saying goes, pick your poison; it’s cheap and CDMX is pretty much the only place in the world that you can drink this stuff.
A world of caution – many drinks in Mexico are served with a chilli sugar mix on the rim of the glass. This mix always includes gusano, which is basically powdered caterpillar. So if you’re vegan, or just don’t fancy eating caterpillars, make sure to order your drink without.