Any local, when asked, could come up with dozens of styles of regional cuisine represented by the major states: Fresh fish and seafood from Baja California; sustainably raised animals for amazing meat and poultry from Sonora or Querétaro; white-Fas-snow string cheese and crystalline mezcal from Oaxaca and Guerrero; and creamy but firm and perfectly ripe avocados from Michoacán. Everything ends up on Mexico City’s tables.
Here's where to get a taste of the entire country while in town:
Molotito de plátano macho at Guzina Oaxaca, photo courtesy Guzina Oaxaca
What it is: The most beloved ingredients and culinary traditions live in this colorful land of mountains, beaches, and numerous indigenous culture. Mole negro: a dark, thick, and spicy-sweet sauce dresses chicken, pork, or venison. Coloradito is a red mole more in tune with an adobo. Tlayudas are large, crisp tostadas coated with asiento — near burnt lard — and topped with salty meat, cheese, and salsa. Mezcal, chocolate, and a variety of dried chilis complete the must-try list.
Where to get it: Guzina Oaxaca from chef Alejandro Ruiz is located in the heart of Polanco. Freshly made tortillas straight from the comal and dishes like almendrado or chili stuffed with chicken are the can't-miss dishes. Presidente Masaryk 513, Polanco
Public transportation: Polanco Metro station.
Yuban narrows down Oaxacan flavors to the southern, Zapoteca part of the state. The restaurant’s menu is based on ingredients that arrive to your table straight from the milpa of the local farmers of Oaxaca. Colima 268, Roma Norte
Public transportation: Durango Metrobus station.
What it is: Yucatán cuisine features an eclectic mixture of indigenous cooking methods (such as pibil), spices, and Spanish ingredients. Cochinita pibil, pork slowly cooked in an achiote sauce with bitter orange and spices, panuchos, and queso relleno — a carved Holland cheese stuffed with meat and cooked in the oven — represent the region's main specialties.
Where to get it: Fonda 99.99 once charged the fixed price of M$99.99 for each dish. Prices have gone up since they opened, but it still merits a visit for its laudable sopa de lima, pork with beans, and panuchos. Moras 347, Del Valle
Public transportation: Parque Hundido Metrobus station.
Champandongo at Angelopolitano, photo courtesy Angelopolitano
What it is: The cuisine of the state of Puebla mixes Spanish, French, and native flavors, creating a unique style of cooking passed down by the nuns and the cookbooks from the convent tradition. Mole poblano, cemitas (immense sandwiches on sesame rolls), chalupas, poblano-chili soup, and the chiles en nogada (stuffed poblanos coated with a walnut sauce) are the highlights.
Where to get it: Angelopolitano is a neat spot for tasting the best dishes from Puebla. The chef has a happy aversion to serving stingy portions. Order the champandongo, best described as a kind of tortilla and chicken pie sauced generously with mole. Puebla 371, Roma Sur
Public transportation: Chapultepec or Sevilla Metro station.
Estado de México
What it is: Those looking for a little adventure into the wild state of Estado de México will be rewarded with incredible Tolucan food. Chorizo verde, mushroom soup, local sausages such as the obispo, plus a variety of meats ranging from pork to rabbit and trout, compose the culinary gifts of this region, anchored in the milpa tradition.
Where to get it: Amaranta, from chef Pablo Salas, is one of the best places that represents Estado de México’s food under the polished frame of fine dining. If Salas' famous pork neck covered with green pipián is on offer, take a moment to indulge in the elegance of the dish's flavors and the tenderness of the cheap cut of meat that, in the hands of Amaranta, becomes a luxurious mouthful. Francisco Murgía 402, Universidad, Toluca
What it is: Mexico City is currently going through a seafood fever. Really good ingredients are shipped from Baja California to the capital to flood restaurants, ceviche places, and specialized oyster bars. Mussels, Baja oysters, tuna, clams, and sea urchins add briny flavor to aguachiles, ceviches, tostadas, and spicy soups.
Where to get it: Cocina Conchitais the newest playground of Ensenada chef Diego Hernández, best known for his Corazón de Tierra out in the Mexican wine country. In this Roma hotspot, the tacos prepared Ensenada style—shrimp batter-coated and fried until crisp, and topped with mayo and cabbage—are hauntingly delicious. Meanwhile, the fresh produce served with avocado, onion, olive oil, and salsa or chili has become the signature of the place. Álvaro Obregón 154, Roma Norte
Public transportation: Álvaro Obregón Metrobus station.
What it is: Buckets of beer, carne asada, and slow-cooked cabrito (baby goat) are the stars of the northern dry land around the city of Monterrey. The norteños know how to kill a Friday afternoon eating thumb-high steaks.
Where to get it: La Buena Barrais a "let's close the deal" type of restaurant located on a terrace overlooking the high-end street of Presidente Masaryk. The cabrito is one of its specialties and is delivered and carved on a cart tableside. Aristóteles 124, Polanco
Public transportation: Polanco Metro station.
What it is: Some states can be best represented by a single dish. For Jalisco, pozole carries the state’s flag. It consists of a meaty soup broth studded with chewy hominy kernels and shreds of pork or chicken, then topped with shredded lettuce, radish, chopped onion, and salsa. Corn tostadas, chicharrón—deep-fried pork skin—and avocado form the blessed trilogy that comes along with every pozole bowl.
Where to get it: Casa de Toño is one of the most popular CDMX places for pozole. Its huge pots supply the stew from the regular office lunch hours until late night. Service is fast, and they mean business even with other kinds of Mexican antojitos, like tostadas, flautas, or quesadillas. In Zona Rosa: Londres 144, Juárez
Public transportation: Insurgentes Metro station.
What it is: Birria will give you a taste of Michoacán. Picture this: chunks of goat meat covered with a thick sauce made of chilis and spices that are slowly cooked until the meat melts from the bone. The broth is hot, spicy, and full of meaty flavor, and it doubles as a cure-all for the critically hungover.
Where to get it: Michoacaníssimo is a family-run place where locals in the south-side neighborhood of Santa Úrsula come to enjoy birria. Huge tortillas straight from the comal land in a basket on every table, while the waiters dance along offering refills of more delicious broth. San Valentín 866, Pedregal de Santa Úrsula
Public transportation: Huipulco Light Train station.
Top photo of Guzina Oaxaca courtesy Viernes Media Lab