With edible grasshoppers and ants in the food, and nose-to-tail eateries galore, Mexico City has some unconventional ways of making eating a more sustainable affair. Though you can find more commonplace vegetarian meals and locally sourced produce at cafés and upscale internationally recognized restaurants, Mexico City also offers amazing street food and market options for staying green.
This is not only the best taco place in the city – as mentioned in Netflix’s series Taco Chronicles – but it’s also a sustainable restaurant. The owners, a married couple, have made it a priority to reduce food waste. By cooking fresh every morning and limiting excess scraps each day, they avoid producing excess greenhouse gas emissions with unnecessary food waste. Every day they cook different homemade guisados (braised meat stew), which they put into tacos along with red rice, chicharrón en salsa verde (fried pig skins with green hot sauce) or chicharrón prensado (pressed pork). They also have one taco made from chile relleno (a poblano pepper, egg and cheese dish) that quite possibly started the Mexican vegetarian food wave.
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You might have heard about Pujol, Enrique Olvera’s much-acclaimed restaurant in Mexico City. But for a more casual dining experience, head to Molino – Olvera’s tortilleria created to preserve the authenticity of Mexican homemade tortillas. You can taste the difference between regular corn tortillas and those made here due to the corn used. Molino uses maíz criollo, a variety of corn that’s harvested by local producers from Oaxaca and Guerrero and ground at his own mills. At Molino, you can find avocado tacos, quelite (a type of herb) tacos, quesadillas and elotes (grilled sweetcorn) with salsa chicatana (made of a type of flying ant) that will blow your mind. The insect also happens to be one of the greenest sources of protein on the planet.
This simple truck parked in the Condesa neighborhood, right at the crossroads of Tamaulipas and Alfonso Reyes street, sells nose-to-tail tacos. The nose-to-tail approach is not uncommon in Mexico, and is a much more sustainable way to cook, ensuring that no edible part of the animal goes to waste. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays crowds gather to eat whatever guisados the truck offers for a fast and delicious meal. Tacos Richard usually serves bistec a la Mexicana (traditional braised beef), chicharrón en salsa verde (pork skins with green sauce), chile relleno and rajas con crema (the last two of which are vegetarian plates made with poblano peppers). On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays they offer carnitas, and people who arrive there first get the best selection.
Opened in 2018 in La Roma neighborhood, Expendio de Maíz has brought nixtamalization back to the fore. Nixtamalization is a process in which corn is soaked and cooked with limewater or alkaline solution. Chefs at Expendio de Maíz nixtamalize and grind the corn on site each day, so you know for sure that the masa is made from scratch. Pull up a chair at a table outside the small concrete kitchen and sample chef Jesús Salas Tornés’ incredible plates including banana mole, pumpkin mole, peppers cooked in coconut oil or requesón tamal (made with cottage cheese), which make the most of local and seasonal ingredients.
One of the most representative areas for street food is the Narvarte neighborhood. On almost every corner you can find street stalls with any kind of cuisine. However, tlacoyos are the best vegetarian food you may find. A tlacoyo is an oval-shaped, thick tortilla stuffed with ground beans, fava beans or requesón (cottage cheese), plus nopales (cactus), cheese and green or red salsa on top of it. Although there are a lot of spots selling tlacoyos, you’ll find the best at a small stall at the crossing of Cumbres de Maltrata and Tajín street.
Sud 777 is in the deep south of the Mexican capital, more specifically in Pedregal, where you can feel like you’re in the woods in the middle of the city. Chef Edgar Núñez has made his restaurant into a sustainable project. Here, the chefs experiment cooking with algae or insects such as grasshoppers to replace conventional proteins. Núñez also grows his own produce for the dishes in the gardens of the restaurant. The inventive tasting menus celebrate the best of seasonal flavours and have earned the restaurant a place on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
At the very center of the Coyoacán neighborhood, there’s a market of Mexican antojitos (street food snacks). And just inside that market is a place that sells the best quesadillas. The two women who prepare the masa and the guisos (meat or vegetable fillings) are always standing up while customers sit in front of them. These quesadillas don’t have cheese (which is normal for Mexico City) but are made from potato, tinga (shredded chicken prepared with chilis in adobo and sliced onions), picadillo (which is made with ground beef and vegetables) and other typical Mexican dishes. But what really makes this place sustainable is their contribution to the milpa economy (which is characterised by sustainable agricultural methods that support sociocultural growth) in Mexico, by using local products such as tortillas, potato, mushrooms, flor de calabaza (squash blossoms), refried beans, avocado and nopales (cactus pads), among others.
If you’re craving some fish, Campobaja offers a seasonal seafood-based menu. Here, you can learn the whole story about a certain ingredient and where it comes from. You can also ask for the name of the local producers who provide chef Ezequiel Hernández with the produce for his amazing creations. Campobaja is making an effort to respect seasonal products which is why it doesn’t cook with any frozen fish.
Shifting away from restaurants, Café Ruta de la Seda in the Coyoacán neighborhood is one of the city’s top ecologically friendly options if you want a lighter lunch or an organic coffee. Marketed officially as an ecopâttiserie, its specialty is pastries and there are a wide range of on-trend matcha and green tea products on offer. Most of the dishes are certified organic – indeed when the café opened in 2008 it was the first organic café in the capital. There are plenty of vegan options, too.
The brainchild of chef Eduardo “Lalo” García, who’s also known for the equally recommendable Roma restaurant Lalo!, Máximo Bistrot has been a staple of Mexico City’s high-end dining scene for the past few years. The restaurant is another regular on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and is known for its inventive dishes, which combine seasonal, fresh and locally grown ingredients with sophisticated culinary techniques and a flair for the unusually delicious. The menu changes daily according to what’s fresh at local markets, so you’re in for both a surprise and a treat on every visit. Reservations are recommended.
If you want another vegan- and vegetarian-friendly lunch option in Roma Norte, Pan Comido is an old favourite in the neighborhood, and is known for its eco-friendly credentials and great, simple but delicious, dishes. The breakfast burritos are a highlight, as are the freshly baked cookies that pair perfectly with their strong coffee that will pick you up from your mid-afternoon slump. In fact, they’ll even give you a free coffee if you donate some empty jars.
Both restaurant and store, the two Mexico City branches of The Green Corner are one-stop shops for everything eco-friendly and there are four other locations dedicated solely to selling sustainable, organic products. As well as supporting local producers, The Green Corner’s Coyoacán branch is particularly notable for the eco-friendly construction that went into it; made from compact adobe (dried mud bricks), it can filter rainwater and uses solar panels. Try and grab some of the La Cocina Verde branded products, as they come from the store’s own ranch.
Respecting traditional Mexican cooking methods is the order of the day at Nicos. The chefs aim to provide dishes of the highest quality while supporting small local producers. It started as a small cafeteria in 1957, but Nicos became so successful that nowadays it is a busy restaurant, run by the Vázquez Lugo family. Breakfasts, which run until noon on weekdays, include everything from the old Mexican favorites to Nicos specials as well as fruits and juices. Nicos is the perfect place to start the day within sophisticated yet simple surroundings.
There’s nothing more interesting than going to Mercado Jamaica market for a meal. You can find vendors offering guacamole, radishes, nopales, tortillas and any kind of quelite (herbs) you can think of. Though this is not a traditional sustainable restaurant, shopping locally helps support the milpa economy, which is a way of choosing Mexican agriculture over the fast food industry.