MEXICO CITY — I hate to be the one to do it, but I have to tell you that even before this week’s presidential election, a key campaign promise has already been broken.
As you may recall, Donald Trump supporter Marco Gutierrez went on MSNBC in September and promised taco trucks on every corner. It wasn’t exactly a promise. He issued it as a warning that a Hillary Clinton victory would result in an invasion of taco trucks. I don’t think a taco truck on every corner is a bad thing, so I prefer to see the taco as half full. I took Gutierrez’s words as a pledge, much the way that Herbert Hoover pledged “A chicken in every pot” during the 1928 election.
Just picture it. You walk out of your office looking for lunch options, and there’s a taco truck! You’re on a long run, you start getting hungry, and . . . wait, what’s that? Why, it’s a taco truck! I’m getting hungry as I’m typing these words. I seriously wish these taco trucks were parked and grilling here now. Make mine chicken with salsa verde, please.
“My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems,” said Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos for Trump, during his MSNBC appearance.
Well, I can’t see the trucks causing problems, but maybe Gutierrez once ate a bad taco.
When I traveled to Mexico City this fall I was excited to see just how many taco trucks I could visit in a week. Mexico City is huge, and so I pictured a lot of taco trucks. The population is over 21 million people.
So, imagine my disappointment on the drive from the airport to my hotel when I didn’t see any taco trucks.
“OK,” I thought as I tried to fight back tears and hunger pains. “Maybe it’s a taco truck on every other corner. Every third corner?”
This was not looking good.
By the time I reached my hotel, I realized that Gutierrez was a fibber. If there weren’t taco trucks on every corner in Mexico City, how on earth would there be a taco truck on every corner in the United States? My dreams of endless tacos near my South Boston home slipped away.
There’s a lot of street food in Mexico City, but not a lot of tacos sold out of trucks. So if you were planning on a truck-cation to a taco truck Garden of Eden, you’ll be disappointed. You won’t be disappointed, however, if you’re game for good street food. I recommend going with a company such as Eat Mexico for a tour. They’ll bring you to vendors they work with almost daily. If you’re one of those Apprehensive Andy’s who isn’t keen on culinary exploration of street food in an unfamiliar city, then this may be the best route for you.
What I learned, as I wiped away tears of taco truck sorrow is that there’s another, easy way to sample the diverse cuisine in Mexico City. Purists may scoff at the idea, but the current food trend in Mexico is mercados. Spanish speakers among you are now rolling your eyes because you know that mercado means market and not restaurant or street food in Spanish, but the Mexico City mercado is more akin to a food hall or food court.
A few have become epicenters of hipster drinking and dining in Mexico City, but don’t look at the H word as a negative thing. With the surprising dearth of taco trucks, these dining halls became one of my favorite ways to explore the diversity of Mexican cuisine.
The grand papi of them all is Mercado Roma . It opened in 2014 in the oh-so-hip Roma district and created a model for Mexico City’s mercado scene. Designed by the firm Rojkind Arquitectos, the building was transformed from a bland industrial space into a multi-level food hall loaded with 60 vendors selling local and international cuisine. Tacos? Yes. Try the cochinita pibil tacos at El Güero Pibil. (Queretaro 225, Col Roma)
Milán 44 may not be as large as Mercado Roma, but it is extraordinary in that it stands as a cornerstone in the rebirth the La Juárez neighborhood, which was devastated and left in ruins after the 1985 earthquake. Milán 44 opened earlier this year with a mix of stores, restaurants, and bars. I may not have had a taco here (you can find them at Tacos Guerrero), but I did have a killer açaí bowl at Ojo de Agua. You can also visit the yoga studio or get a haircut at the barber shop. (Milán 44, Col Juarez).
Lucerna Comedor , also in La Juárez, was described to me as a “hipster beer garden,” and it did have a bit of that vibe with strings of overhead lights, a ceiling decorated with upside-down umbrellas, plants growing out of the walls, and a mural of Frida Kahlo with a monkey emoji on her shoulder. Call it what you will, but I called it tasty thanks to perfect strawberry mojitos and a plate of spicy fish tacos. The tacos weren’t from a food truck, but they were still authentically delicious. (Lucerna 51, Col. Juárez).
A two-floor market with 25 food and bar booths, Mercado Independencia in the Historic Center was created in an restored mansion. It’s an airy space where you can find Russian, Asian, and, of course Mexican cuisine. Not necessarily easy to find, but worth seeking out for the churros alone. (Avenida Independencia #40, Col Centro).
The hipster vibe is slightly through the roof at Mercado del Carmen in San Ángel, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the romantic glow of the dangling industrial bulbs that illuminate the food hall, or enjoying evenings of live music in a space filled with a well-attired (and younger) crowd. This charming mercado was one of my favorites, primarily because of the artichoke in four cheese sauce from Black Salad, the apple, pear, and goat cheese pizza with balsamic reduction at Pizza Giulietta, and the addictive lemon bars at Moira’s Bakehouse. And when you’re done eating, you can shop in the charming shops. I’m sorry for the over-use of the adjective “charming,” but this place is truly charming. (Amargura # 5, San Ángel).
Seeing that the taco truck invasion sounds like a pipe dream at best, perhaps it’s time for Gutierrez to make a new campaign pledge. Instead of taco trucks, how about mercados? They’re on trend and delicious. I’m not greedy, I don’t need a mercado on every corner. So let’s start with a mercado on every third corner, and then go from there.
Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.