Monday, May 30, 2022

Mammoth Poke

-Grubbing in Chicago
More Poke in Bucktown

For those that may have noticed a slow down in posts there's a reason behind that. I too have slowed down and if I'm being honest so has the growth of Chicago's food scene. But this isn't a problem exclusive to this city, it's in fact a national trend. Why? There's never just one reason for something like this but a few of them include the fallout from covid, capitalism, and the lack of originality paired with most everything having already been done. The last of those three is driven by nationwide trends in food. It's one thing when an entire cuisine starts to get more love and you see more spots serving it but it's another thing when one dish becomes so popular you start to only see it everywhere. As an example poke was one of the first national trends to really exemplify these food fads that don't seem to go away. You can find poke at the grocery store in a random Midwest town these days and places like Mammoth Poke on Western avenue in Bucktown are still opening. Hot Chicken is another one.

Newly Opened in Bucktown

It's important to first note that poke is a trend in the lower 48 but it's long been one of Hawaii's most iconic dishes. It shouldn't need to be said since it's seafood but the poke you get in Ohio is nothing like the stuff you get in Oahu. So why am I posting about a new poke spot in a place that's a nine hour flight from Hawaii? Well that's a fair question and the answer to it is bc I was recently walking by and I wanted to get some food but I didn't want to go home and drive plus I had already ate Chingon across the street earlier in the day. Also bc I wanted something light as in not fried or extra meaty so I settled on a bowl of poke which I hadn't had in at least three years. The process of ordering and receiving my bowl took about two to three minutes and it was customized to my liking. It was exactly what I thought I was getting. It's the Chipotle model which has been applied to almost everything in food these days and it plays particularly well with poke which is why it seems to be sticking around.

Poke Bowl at Mammoth Poke

Mammoth Poke
2035 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(312) 516-2456

Monday, May 23, 2022

Eating BIG in Mexico City Pt. 2

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Return to CDMX

After a few days in Puebla it was time to head to the big city. Big city as in the fifth largest city in the world - Mexico City aka CDMX. It had been more than five years since we last visited. Hopefully that's the longest stretch in between visits bc Mexico City is one of my favorite places in the world. Of course it starts with the food which is a melting pot of regional Mexican food. The street food in Mexico City is commonly mentioned as some of the best anywhere and it is but as I would learn on this trip the fine dining is equally awesome. Me and the wife were joined by my aunt and uncle so I made sure to have a handful of reservations in place so we weren't running around trying to find a spot where we could get seated. Mexico City's size means there's never an off night. Reservations are highly recommended at any spot you really want to check out that takes them. Last trip in I ate a ton of tacos and other street food favorites but we didn't get a single reservation so you don't need them unless you plan on checking out the city's nighttime dining scene which you most definitely should. 

Sights from CDMX

Mexico City is a magical place. The type of spot you could just walk around for days on end and never do the same thing twice. It's a huge city in both population and size. Tourists tend to stay in a few specific neighborhoods but they don't feel very touristy. Trendy and developed, yes, but it's an actual city and not a resort town. Cities this size always have an electric feel and CDMX is voltaic. One of the things I love about it is you could make yearly visits that are never the same as before whether it's the sites you see or the restaurants you eat at. There's something for everybody and for me it starts with the food but I also love the country as a whole. The people, the music, the natural beauty, and yes the food. Mexico City is without a doubt one of the worlds best eating destinations.

Sights from CDMX

CDMX is the type of spot that gives me crazy FOMO (fear of missing out). What I mean by that is there's literally 1000's of spots I want to check out. As always I tried to get to as many as I could but I also tried not to go too hard (easier said than done for me). Actually for the first time in all of my trips to Mexico my guts of steel were penetrated and my appetite was lost completely. This would last for only a day but it was the day I'd made reservations at Quintonil which is one of Mexico's most critically acclaimed restaurants.It's a hard reservation to snag so I was sad to miss it but what can you do. I ended up losing a day basically but was able to recover by the next morning so I was thankful for that. We stayed in Roma Norte which is one of those neighborhoods I mentioned as being popular with tourists and it is but it's also popular with younger locals which means there's some great places to eat and drink. My favorite non-food experience of the trip was a visit to the Mercado de Jamaica (the flower market). It's well worth exploring with all sorts of sights and smells to take in.

Sights from CDMX


On our first night in town there weren't as many dinner options as it was a Monday and many spots were closed. But it was also my wife's bday and a place that was open was Migrante which was one of the spots near the top of my list as far as reservations go. So it was a no brainer to do our first dinner in CDMX at a place people call a Michelin level restaurant. They have an ala carte menu but those that praised Migrante all did so in the name of the tasting menu which is nine courses. Exactly how much per person I forget but under $100 which was a steal of a deal. The young chef stepped out of the kitchen to describe each dish to us to the best of his ability which was pretty damn good. Most people in Mexico speak better English than we do Spanish. Nonetheless you should totally trust this young chef bc I thought this was the best meal of the trip and one of the better, more interesting tasting menus I've ever had the pleasure of trying. You could tell the chef is well versed in food as a whole as each one of these dishes had hints of another cuisine with Asian food being an obvious influence. While each course was as interesting as the next his signature duck dish was out of this world. I'm not even a big duck guy but that might've been the best thing that I ate on this trip.

Course One: Crispy Prawn (eat like a taco) inspired by the street food of Thailand

 Course Two: Pan con Suadero y Kimchi

 Course Three: Churro with Foie Gras and Truffle

Course Four: Melon, Tuna, Ikura, XO, Yuzu, Melon Consomme

Course Five: Ensenada Scallop wrapped in Shiso Leaf with Kefir and Sake Broth

Course Six: Carpaccio, Pistachio, other delicious things wrapped in mystery leaf (my Spanish sucks) sitting on top crispy fried potatoes

Course Seven: Local Ensenada fish, dry aged, robata grilled, saffron foam. Inspired by fish stews of Morocco

Course Eight: Aged Duck Breast, Charred Carrots, Plum Puree, Sake, Yuzu

Course Nine: Totally forgot what this one was. But it was awesome. It all was.

Mi Compa Chava

Some of you might be familiar with LAtaco. For those that aren't it's a "major source of news and information covering food, culture, and community in the metropolitan area." It's ran by an A+ team that's led by Editor Javier Cabral who's a good dude whom I know through the food world. Javier knows a ton about about food and I totally trust his judgement so I knew a trip to Mi Compa Chava was going to be really good as he called it the best place in CDMX to get mariscos at the moment. This was probably the number one spot on my hit list which might seem odd since Mexico City is landlocked but Chilango's go crazy for seafood and Mi Compa Chava has been welcomed by them with open arms. It's ran by a chef with Baja connections which is where all of the product comes from. This was the best seafood I've ate in a non-coastal place. I wish we could've returned for more as there was lots of stuff worth trying but whatever you get make sure theres an order of Camarones Zarandeados with it.

Baja Chopped Clams + Pepper

Costra Taco de Camarones

Ceviche estilo Sinaloa

Camarones Zarandeados

Chicharron de Pescado

Restaurante Rosetta

Rosetta is the type of spot you want to make a reservation for if you really want to go. It's always busy and it's the type of place you'll find lots of groups dining out. The food is Italian but it's rooted in a deep respect for Mexican ingredients. The menu is constantly changing with what's local and in-season but you can always expect a few pasta options one of which was really interesting on our visit. But first up was an order of "tacos" bc I always have to try the tacos even when they're a metaphor for whats really an interesting dish made with both romeritos and pistachio pipian verde sitting on top of a piece of savoy cabbage which is used like a tortilla. Romeritos are what Mexicans call the edible plants that also go by quelites. I read that they spring up in agricultural fields in a weed like manner so I'd imagine it's abundant but I'd also bet most people don't make them taste this good. Since we had such a big lunch we went easy on the ordering but a couple of pastas were both on point with the pappardelle and papalo with duck being an awesome combination of Mexican and Italian.

Savoy cabbage, pistachio pipián and romerito tacos

 Pappardelle, pápalo and duck

Ravioli, ricotta, fennel and tarragon

 Pears, elder-flowers and tarragon

Masala y Maiz 

Speaking of fusion don't miss Masala Y Maiz if you're a fan of the mingling of culinary traditions which is what the duo behind this place calls it. The marriage of Mexican and Indian cuisines here is stunning. I’m not talking about stuff like butter chicken burritos, this isn’t that (which can also be good). This is the result of two people who share both a love for food and each other as well as each other’s food. Her family is from Mexico and his from India and together they've set put to decolonize the industry. It's a fascinating spot where the menu is frequently changing but never uninspiring.

Crudo (pesca del día) con leche de tigre de coco, chilacayote, chutney de coco de Shazia y pappads

Samosas de Suadero y de aloo pepita

Paratha Quesadilla con queso Oaxaca, queso de montaña, salsa machaar, ensalada de hierbas y jitomate heirloom

Camarones Papelar con ghee de vanilla y chile morita

Tetela de jaiba suave con pachi pulusu


Mexico City is home to a number of spots serving up the food of Baja which is very popular at the moment. Mexico's westernmost state has an action packed cuisine that draws inspiration from the Mediterranean as well as Asia and is rich in seafood. Wine is also a major player with the Valle de Guadeloupe calling the state home. The humble fish taco might be it's most famous dish and it's also where the Caesar salad was born (Tijuana) but these days Baja is breeding some of the country's best chefs many of which are taking their talents to Mexico City. Merotero is a newish spot with lots of glowing reviews. They're an upscale place in an upscale part of town but all the fine dining down here is at a very discounted price compared to up here. A shrimp risotto inspired dish was one of the best things we ate with perfectly al dente rice and the most creamy concoction of uni and pumpkin. We also had a fantastically cooked piece of bass that they split for us (two plates). Huge portion.

Creamy Rice with shrimp, pumpkin, sea urchin

Pan Seared Seabass, kohlrabi puree, bok choy, chili oil

Arroces Del Baby Face

Return to Arroces Del Babyface! The food scene in CDMX is really starting to turn out interesting Mexican and Asian fusion spots but this little street stand is one of the OG’s on that front. Guadalupe Fuentes Ochoa aka Baby Face is a retired Lucha Libre who was so popular in his heyday he traveled abroad to places like Asia to do wrestling shows. Over the course of time he visited Japan a high number of times and fell in love with the food while there. So he brought it here. As a result more than 25 years ago he opened a street stand in Mexico City where classic Mexican ingredients like hot dogs and chorizo get fried up with shrooms, onion, bell peppers, soy sauce, and white rice. I visited this stand last trip and it was one of the best experiences I had in CDMX and I’ve recommend it to anyone that asks “where I should I eat in Mexico City” since. This is a one of a kind Chilango experience down to the food and Baby Face himself, he said he remembered me but I think he’s just really good at schmoozing with customers. Probably my favorite Culinary Backstreets hot tip over the years. Pictured is the Friday special mariscos fried rice (fish, shrimp, scallops, mushrooms) which goes quick so get there early. They only buy enough ingredients for the day so you know it’s fresh bc they always sell out. Best ate with a few scoops of extra spicy roasted tomato based salsa on top.

Arroz Frito con Mariscos at Arroces Del Baby Face

Chicago Bernie's Beef Bike

I was surprised to find a made from scratch Italian beef in CDMX. As one of the worlds leading experts on this sandwich I felt it was my duty to stop in at Chicago Bernie's Beef Bike. So much so I visited twice as the first time they were closed due to a power issue. So how was it? Like I said, this is the real deal. So much so I felt like I was transported home as I lifted the sandwich to take that first bite. Near sensory overload for a Chicagoan in Mexico. Even the bread is really good (similar to birote). It’s hard enough finding spots that do made from scratch Italian beef in Chicago so color me red when I came across one in Mexico City. Complete story coming somewhere, sometime soon.

Italian Beef at Chicago Bernie's Beef Bike

Los Pambacitos Benjamin Franklin

Next stop up was a place I found reading a locals blog. Mexico City is known for massive torta sandwiches and also the much smaller pambacito. This is an antojito that’s not as popular as some others but still popular with people that live near the old time spots that still make them. Places like Los Pambacitos Benjamin Franklin. It’s the fresh fried pieces of bread that makes these what they are. Closest thing I can think of in terms of something similar is a Frybread taco as the bread in these is stuffed with your choice of filling with shredded lettuce on top. The name comes from the original location on Benjamin Franklin in the Miguel Hidalgo neighborhood. Desde 1947.

Pambacitos at Los Pambacitos Benjamin Franklin
Joe Gelato

If you find yourself in CDMX on one of it's hot and humid days you'd do good by heading over to Joe Gelato in the Juárez neighborhood. It's only been open since 2018 but they have a loyal following for their creative flavors many of which are made with lesser known local ingredients like cempasúchil flower blossoms which bloom every October. I like the fruit flavored gelatos more than others so I went with a couple of those (mango / strawberry) and they were extra refreshing on a hot and sunny day.

Gelato at Joe Gelato

Cariñito Tacos

Here we have the winner of closest spot on my google food map to our AirBNB. Cariñito is a newish spot in the Roma Norte neighborhood. Some CDMX locals would call this a hipster spot and maybe it is but they make some really hip and delicious tacos that I'd gladly eat just about any meal of the week. It’s a classic neighborhood setup with a small but mighty menu. They do three types of tacos de panza and one daily veggie offering, all of which have some Asian influence including the Thai which was my favorite of the bunch. Crisp chunks of pork belly go into a warm corn tortilla topped with a handful of super fresh Thai herbs. Perfect paired with a cerveza on a hot and sunny day in the city. 

Asian Tacos at Cariñito Tacos

Tres Galeones 

Tres Galeones was another spot on my map right around the corner from where we were staying. It's a "Taqueria de Puerto" meaning seafood tacos are on offer. All of us enjoyed the fish tacos and the costra de camaron I got was just awesome. We had plans to return for more but it never happened. 

Tacos at Tres Galeones

Tacos de Hamburguesa de Don Toño

There's no shortage of unique tacos in this town and the tacos de hamburguesa at Tacos de Hamburguesa de Don Toño would certainly qualify as so. Hand formed patties of beef are studded with onions and cooked on a hot flattop just like some of the best burgers out there except these go into tortillas instead of buns and get doused with killer salsas instead of ketchup and mustard. These had a greasy factor going for them that reminded me of the diner burgers of yesteryear. Desde 1990.

Tacos de Hamburguesa at Tacos de Hamburguesa Don Toño

Garrido Mixiotes Estilo Hidalgo at the Tianguis Condesa Market 

I had a few repeat visits one of which was the Tianguis Condesa Market which runs every Tuesday in the Condesa neighborhood. As is the case with most open air markets in Mexico you'll find some good food at this one. Last time in town we were also there on a Tuesday and we were staying near here so I walked over to try some of the lamb mixiote tacos which ended up being one of the top tacos of the trip and with it one of the best tacos I'd ever had. So I went back this trip and brought my aunt and uncle with. I loved them just as much this time as nothing seems to have changed. The family makes their barbecued pit lamb back home in Hidalgo and drives into the city on Tuesday's to serve it. It's not gamey at all. In fact it's some of the most succulent meat of any kind I've ever tried. 

Lamb Miniotes Taco at the Tianguis Condesa Market

Tacos El Güero

I made a point to try as many different tacos de suadero as I could on this trip. I'm not ready to say I prefer them to Mexico City's other taco specialty, tacos al pastor, but I think I'd pick suadero over al pastor four days a week. Tacos El Güero is a fairly common name for a taco spot so important to note that this Tacos El Güero is in the San Rafael neighborhood. It's one of that areas most popular spots judging by the 1000's of mostly positive reviews on google. In many of those reviews it's the suadero being praised so I made it a point to stop in when I was in the area. All the tacos de suadero I ate were great. I'd recommend them all based on where you are when you want some. 

Tacos de Suadero Tacos El Güero

Taqueria Gabriel 

There's no shortage of hip taquerias in CDMX. They're found all over town. Taqueria Gabriel in the borough of Cuauhtémoc is a good example of the type of spot I'm talking about. In the States these type of taco spots tend to miss more than hit but tacos in Mexico City in general tend to hit more than miss so don't be turned off by the newness of some of them. Actually I stopped here one day bc it was pretty damn hot and I needed a cold beer to cool down with. Taqueria Gabriel is known not just for the their tacos but their big schooners of beer. I'd already ate at a couple spots before stopping here so I only tried one taco which was a trompo de asada (spit roasted skirt steak) topped with a couple spoonfuls of guacamole. Char grilled steak and gauc is always a perfect match.

Trompo de Asada at Taqueria Gabriel

Tacos El Vilsito

Return visit to what some call the best tacos al pastor on earth. They're a contender for sure which is why I returned for more, this time with my uncle. Though we had just ate a ton of food these were so damn satisfying. I've had spots that are just as good but none of them match the atmosphere you'll find here. Located in a former tire shop Tacos El Vilsito is the nighttime spot for Chilangos in need of the city's signature snack. Tacos El Vilsito excels bc they draw big crowds and have enough trompos (3) to keep a steady flow. Don't miss the Volcanes which are made by toasting a corn tortilla until crisp and loading it with sliced pork and lots of cheese. I wish these would take off in the States.

Volcanes de Al Pastor at Tacos El Vilsito

Tacos Tony

Right around the corner from Tacos El Vilsito you'll find Tacos Tony. Together they make for a great 1-2 punch as Tacos Tony specializes in Mexico City's other signature offering, tacos de suadero. While all the spots around town prepare suadero similarly it's still a bit different from spot to spot. Tacos Tony leaves it in larger chunks than most. It's just as tender as others but different texturally.

Tacos de Suadero at Tacos Tony

Street Tacos 

I got a chance to meet up with a Chicagoan turned Chilango who I knew from the twittersphere. We made plans to check out a couple of his go-to spots and I was planning on getting a pizza from his place but this was right when I was sick and without much of an appetite. Even so I scarfed down a couple of tacos from a nameless street stand in the Condesa neighborhood. After that we walked over to a spot called Xel-ha for some snacks from the Yucatan. Both a cochinita pibil taco and also a panucho reminded me that I really need to go to Merida. I'm thinking maybe later this year.

Carnitas and Cochinita Pibil in CDMX

Tacos Los Alexis

Did you know there's a 'Day of the Tacos' in Mexico? While I'm not sure of it's origins I just so happened to be in town on the day it was going down. I'd read about a newish spot in Roma Norte where you can find some of the city’s finest tacos served up by some fine dining vets that previously worked on the Taco Omakase menu at Pujol, which some people say is the best restaurant in Mexico. Pictured below is real deal carne asada on the left and the taco taurino with longaniza, cecina, and chichharon on the right. Crispy cheese crust on both. There’s all sorts of levels to the tacos in this city and these are up there. Big ups to Chef Gino (SP?) for the hospitality.

Tacos at Tacos Los Alexis

Taqueria Don Frank

There's always a few spots that are found when passing by. Places that aren't on the list but look like they should be. That's what we have here with Tacos Don Frank which caught my attention with it's bright in the night orange awning advertising both tacos and jugos. I couldn't resist stopping in. More so for a refreshing agua fresca than a taco but I figured I might as well try one of them too. I chose the steak bc it's by far the most mentioned on google reviews. Taqueria Don Frank offers the traditional onion and cilantro on their tacos as well as a couple handfuls of other things like mashed potatoes and nopales. One taco was a meal in itself after I decorated it with a bunch of free toppings. My melon juice was also good and when I was ready to head back I learned they have a second location one block down as my uber arrived to pick me up there as I'd put in that location as the pickup spot.

Taco and Juice at Taqueria Don Frank

Las Más Altas Montañas at the Mercado de Jamaica

My favorite taco experience of the trip took place here at the Mercado de Jamaica (the flower market). I'd read about some killer chorizo verde over at Culinary Backstreets which is a site that's never failed me as far as food recommendations while traveling goes. Chorizo verde is a product of Toluca which is only an hour or so drive from Mexico City. The owner of this sign-less stall at the market makes his green chorizo back home in Toluca and sells it every day but Tuesday at the market.You can buy it raw or cooked and served as a taco. The chorizo is green from the use of cilantro, green peppers and pumpkin seeds with pine nuts, peanuts and almonds also making an appearance in this recipe. Not only was the taco outstanding but the market itself was also quite amazing with all the flowers, plants and snacks on offer. If staying in an AirBNB you should make it a point to come here your first full day in town and buy a huge flower bouquet for next to nothing to keep in your rental while there.

Chorizo Verde Taco at the Mercado de Jamaica

Tacos El Paisa

If you find yourself in the San Rafael neighborhood there's a very popular taco stand called Tacos "El Paisa" where you'll most always find a crowd. They make the popular CDMX style where it's all cooked in a big pot and taken out and chopped before being placed into tortillas. I believe the old man in the picture up above is the owner. He seemed to know everyone and greeted each customer with a smile. The tacos de suadero from here were as good as any I've had anywhere and thus memorable.

Tacos de Suadero at Tacos "El Paisa"

Taqueria Los Huarchines 

This prototypical CDMX style taqueria wasn't far from our AirBNB. Each night that I walked by I witnessed a good crowd of people enjoying the moment. On my last night in town I stopped in for some tacos al pastor as I didn't get to enjoy as many as I would've liked on this trip. So I figured I'd stop based on the fact most places in town do a good al pastor product. The taqueros weren't as fast or as flashy here as elsewhere but the tacos were just as good. I could eat them all day.

Tacos al Pastor at Los Huarchines

Taqueria Los Cocuyos 

The last time I was in town I really liked the tacos on offer at Los Cocuyos in the busy Centro area. They were a favorite of Anthony Bourdain and ever since he visited they've been a very popular spot, especially with tourists. I arrived in the evening to a line that was about 10-15 minutes long. It was pretty funny watching the reaction of people driving by, you could tell this place is polarizing. They do Mexico City style tacos where all the meats are fried up in the same vat which some call a charola. The taqueros here are very friendly but the tacos weren't as good as I'd remembered them to be. 

Surtido, Cabeza, Cachete at Los Cocuyos

Taqueria El Torito

My other favorite taco experience of the trip took place in the heart of it all, Centro Histórico. I stopped by Tacos El Torito which is nothing more than a small stand in the wall but it’s popular enough that they have two locations within a few 100 feet of each other. The menu is as simple as gets with your choices being tripa, suadero, or both aka campechano. I watched as the master taquero put out plate after plate to a locals looking crowd. First he scoops up the meat via the tortilla, and then taco by taco he places them on the hot humps of the vats of fat that it all cooks in. They’re placed meat side down which crisps up each taco perfectly. These had great taste and a terrific texture. Desde 1957.

Tacos Campechanos at Taqueria El Torito

That's it for this trip. see ya next time @chibbqking

Eating BIG in Mexico City Part 1

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