This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES Mexico.
Mexico City is a great place for street food. No matter which direction you turn, you'll find a food stand selling gorditas (stuffed cornmeal patties), pambazos (a chorizo and potato sandwich dipped in a spicy guajillo chile sauce) and quesadillas. And of course, there are tacos galore, but we'd like to talk about garnachas for a second. Garnachas are any street food that has a corn base and is fried on a griddle in oil or butter. They're perfect after a night of drinking, if maybe you need something a little more solid than a taco.
We went in search of the city's best street stalls and small shops that serve up night-time garnachas—so you'll always have a reason to stay out late in the CDMX.
Garnachas at the San Camilito Market
In the 1950s, before the renovation of the Garibaldi food market, a woman from Veracruz, a port city on the Gulf of Mexico coast, began to sell the typical snack of her state: The garnacha, a tortilla slathered in a red salsa, topped with shredded beef and onion, and deep fried in lard. In the 60s, she decided to return to her state, and she sold the business. Enrique, one of her employees, bought the shop. And as he had no intention of changing her formula, he also paid for her garnacha recipe.
"I believe that the secret to a good garnacha is the salsa and the spices," says Adriana, Don Enrique's daughter. "Now that I'm working here, and my father's no longer here, people show up, but they're worried. Imagine—they don't see the man who has been making their garnachas for 50 years. They ask if everything's the same, or if he sold the business, or what happened. Because the spot is famous."
Adriana dips a pewter spoon into a container and scoops out some pork lard. As the lard hits the comal, it begins to melt. As it begins to bubble, she slathers salsa on four tortillas, then adds shredded beef, along with a mix of potatoes and finely diced red onion. She lowers them slowly into the concave part of the griddle so that everything fries in the lard, turning after a minute so everything gets crispy.
When she gives me my order, she warns me: "You eat these with your hands. Don't be like someone who came the other day and wanted a fork." I'd never offend a garnacha like that. It's common sense to eat it with your hands and to lick your fingers if you truly enjoyed it.
Sopes de la Güera at Héroes del 57
"Güera, my love, how are you?" shouts a guy with a deep voice. He's one among the many partiers having some weekend fun in the bars of Cuba Street, in the Centro Histórico neighborhood. "You don't come to visit me and you abandon me," answers the smiling 50-something year old woman. Her expression is powerful and she doesn't look up from frying the thick tortilla. She shouts, "Who's this sope for?"
"She's the popular one," says Isela, the owner of this street stall in the alley named Héroes del 57. It's located outside a residential building marked #27. She doesn't stop working either, forming the small balls of cornmeal into disc-shapes to make sopes, quesadillas, and tacos. "My whole family has always been dedicated to food vending," she says. "We have another spot at the intersection of Colombia and Argentina. And we've been here 12 years."
After Isela cooks the tortilla on the comal, she passes it to Güera, who submerges it in the hot lard until it's fried. She adds a spoon of pureed beans, and then some green salsa, lettuce and onion: The sope is ready. I take the first bite and the flavours of corn and lard come through strong, along with the beans. But even so, something's missing. I add a bit of the red salsa, made with arbol chile and peanuts. It's the perfect trio. My tongue's burning, but not enough to keep me from finishing the whole thing.
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Drowned flautas in El rey de la Ahogadas
There's a trick to eating the flautas from this spot on the corner of División del Norte and Coyoacán Avenue, a few steps from the now-defunct La Curva Brewery. Some hold the whole thing and dip each bite into the beefy salsa. Others break the flauta in half and let each half completely soak in the spicy liquid. My friend Celia, meanwhile, cuts them into small pieces and eats them like cereal with milk.
And to think that this spot was born in 1963 as a rotisserie. Over time, they introduced Mexican snacks to make up for the decrease in the consumption of chicken that happened in the 90s with the signing of NAFTA and the arrival of gringos' fast food restaurants. If someone had told Laura, the owner, that flautas, the last garnacha on her menu, would be what would keep her business afloat, she wouldn't have believed them.
Fried quesadillas at Antojitos Mexicanos Angie
The little restaurant attended to by Maribel, her husband David, and her daughter Cecilia is a hit with the mariachis of Garibaldi. David's in charge of fillings: He's got a talent for seasoning the chicken and mushrooms. Cecilia's in charge of the salsas—the red one is her specialty. And Maribel in charge of the quesadillas, from the prep of the masa from the tortillería to the frying in the little fryer where the garnachas bubble as if they were in a hot tub.
And there's a technique to eating the fried quesadillas that Maribel makes in her enormous aluminum comal. Straighten up, lift your face, and hold the plastic plate at head level with one hand. With the fingers of the other hand—with the exception of the pinky, which is held aloft like the English at tea time—take the mushroom and cheese quesadilla with its dressing of cream, lettuce, shredded cheese, and green salsa. Lean back a bit—which is key, so that the green and red of the tomato and chile and the cream don't stain your clothes. Take a bite and be happy.
"And why do they quesadillas look like empanadas?" I ask after noticing that the snack isn't made as a folded over tortilla. Instead, the raw masa (dough) is submerged in the boiling grease before being filled. In order to add the fillings, you have to open the quesadillas with a knife. "Because they're fried quesadillas, and they're not from Veracruz, where they're called empanadas," they reply.
Pambazos at El Pambazo Loco
Paty was taught to make pambazos by Lupita, her mother. Not only that; her mother taught her the art of making lots of things. At the age of four, Paty made her first cake and from there, began to cook. And even though she studied tourism and worked in the Supreme Court, six years ago she decided to dedicate herself full-time to the business of Mexican food, which now has been in operation 26 years at #15 on Magdalena Mixhuca Street in the neighbourhood by the same name.
But Paty's pambazos aren't your ordinary pambazo. In addition to the traditional filling of potatoes and chorizo, she's introduced fillings that aren't typical for this snack, including fine cuts of meat. It's an approach that has led many people to refer to hers as "gourmet" garnachas.
"My mom always sold them like this, different," Paty tells me. "She started with fried pork, ground beef, potatoes, shredded pork… that was more than 37 years ago. When we wanted to experiment, so that we'd be different from others, we tried skirt steak, ribeye, salmon, pork loin, shredded pork. The new one is the vegetarian, a pambazo with a Portobello mushroom, stuffed with cheese or with tuna. Exquisite."
For the pressed fried pork pambazo, Paty first seasons the meat directly on the press. For a better flavour, she adds a tablespoon of her pozole, which, it should be mentioned, has won many contests. Once she stuffs the bread and dips it in the salsa, she introduces it to the oil for frying. Afterward, she finishes it off with lettuce and sour cream. From the first bite, this snack fills the mouth with a burst of flavour.
Tostadas de guisado at Bucareli and Artículo 123
50 years ago, Hugo Alberto García's father set up an early-morning taco- and coffee stand on Bucareli. Over time, he introduced tostadas, cooked light-golden colour on a shimmering comal. The stand was a magnet for the newspaper staffers who prepped the dailies, the truckers who distributed the newspapers, and the journalists who covered the police beat.
"The migration of news to the Internet was the death knell for that kind of environment," Garcia tells me with a certain nostalgia, remembering those days when newspaper workers were his main clients.
Today, Garcia's clients are employees of nearby hotels and casinos, some old-school journalists, lost mariachis, weekend drunks, and graveyard shift workers in Colonia Juárez and from Reforma Avenue.
At first glance, the tostadas don't raise any expectations, and that's why they're such a great surprise. Get the stuffed chile tostada: the chile guards a melting filling of panela cheese, which ooze out onto the bed of rice it's served on. It's not spicy at all, which means you can try the myriad salsad they have on offer. Chase it all with a coffee, and then you're ready for your next bout of drunkenness.
Gorditas de Sevilla
When you come out of the Sevilla Metro stop, the scent of lard and fried pork will call your name. It's inevitable. It's basically impossible—no matter what kind of hurry you're in—to not stop and eat one of these gorditas.
The go-to move here is to get one of the specials, which are a riff on the classic garnacha that ends up being somewhere between a taco and a gordita. There's the Azteca, which combines carnitas, cheese, and pineapple, with a mini-garden of cilantro and onion. Or the Chilanga, which combines carnitas with a riot of other meat. Finish your gordita with one of the salsas in enormous molcajetes out front—the chile morita one is so good that it'll stop an impending hangover in its tracks.