As I stand on the streets of Mexico City, checking the address of another hidden restaurant, I sigh, resigned, knowing I am bound for an eating experience that I’m going to have to figure out using context clues and possibly napkin drawings.
I know that this kind of thing (vague directions, hidden entrances, secret handshakes) leads some to believe that they are enjoying a kind of exclusive, in-crowd experience, but you can’t help but wonder, do they really want us to eat here?
That said, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for good grub, so don’t let the obtuse nature of some of the new dining I’m about to mention keep you from the food; it’s good, and once you get past the imposed awkwardness, you can almost appreciate the ambiance.
It’s already been an uncomfortable year and a half, so it makes sense that your first trip back into the restaurant world would follow the trend.
Here are three new restaurants in Colonia Roma that are worth venturing out for:
Standing outside of #11 Queretaro in Colonia Roma, there is nothing to indicate that three restaurants and a bakery are just inside the open doorway. Thankfully, a security guard (who was on his phone and might have just been a passerby but I asked him anyway) directed me to Makan – an itty-bitty restaurant in a greenery-filled patio at the center of one of the colonia‘s old turn-of-the-century mansions.
They have a limited daily list of Singapore small-plate dishes created by chef and owner Maryann and a more extensive wine list that includes orange wines and ciders from around the world.
As a neophyte to Singaporean food, I can only tell you that what I ate was simultaneously delicate and rich, a pleasure to consume under the covering of the open-air patio, surrounded by draping plants. The encurtidos (pickled items) — cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, pineapple with sambal and sesame — were the perfect marriage of sour and sweet and immediately brightened my attitude toward the waitress who schooled me the moment I sat down that I actually needed a reservation and should remember that for next time.
By the first mouthful of the crispy duck over house-made egg noodles, I found my tolerance expanding, and by the subtly sweet apple dumplings, I was OK, even happy, if I do say so myself.
Choza, in contrast, doesn’t allow reservations. In fact they’ve created several obstacles to eating there, as again, there is no sign and not even an open door — just a guy looking out the second-story window every five minutes to see if anyone is waiting.
Despite the no-reservation policy, it didn’t take long to get a seat in the summertime-vibe bar upstairs with its high-beamed, semi-thatched roof and basketball rim mounted to the wall. Regularly packed with eaters and their furry friends lounging in hammocks, pet-friendly Choza is only open during that weekend sweet spot of 2–9 p.m.
No instructions were provided beyond you can go up now, so we sat at a random table to wait for someone who never came. After a few painful moments, our consequently very nice — waiter? busperson? — explained that we were supposed to order at the counter, then pay at the cashier and then she would bring our order to the table.
She told us to make sure to look at the menu in front of the glassed-in kitchen, not the one on the wall, because as things run out, they get crossed off the list.
All our effort did pay off in the form of a green-mango salad that would have made even the most confusing of situations suddenly logical. Bright and tangy, it was paired with a sweet, cinnamony coconut rice and caramelized pork that might be the most coherent thing I’ve eaten this week.
The jackfish ceviche was a nice second, with mounds of lime and onion, but the Wagyu sandwich brought up the rear and was underwhelming and oily. Looking on as other people chowed down, we jealously contemplated the whole fried fish that came out looking like a delicious monster and vowed to order it next time (yes, we’re going back, gluttons for punishment and food that we are).
The drinks were the only true letdown. They included a cheap-tasting mango daiquiri and some tiny Carta Blanca beers, whose taste lives up to their usual 8-peso grocery store price tag but definitely weren’t worth the 50 pesos Choza was charging. We didn’t try the mezcal, which we were told comes from small producers in Oaxaca and Guerrero; that might have been a mistake.
Then there is Cariñito, with its colorful storefront that you absolutely won’t miss and a short menu of Asian-inspired tacos that you won’t want to. (There is just a lot of Asian influence happening in Mexico City’s food scene right now).
Opened just two months ago, Cariñito is still in that giddy phase where the owners meet you out front and everyone is titillated by the menu. And why not? Their tacos delight and surprise with flavors of Laos, Thailand, China and other far-flung cuisines, all piled on to thick homemade corn tortillas with very fresh ingredients and balanced combinations of sweet and sour and spicy and mild.
The recipes were obviously created by a thoughtful chef and someone not afraid to experiment with combining cuisines, techniques and tastes. The undeniable star is a shyly spiced confit eggplant with bolted cilantro, crispy-fried shallots, fresh mint and basil, followed closely by the Cantonese pork belly with pickled cucumbers, sesame seed, hoisin sauce and homemade sriracha – sweet, spicy, and acid all in one gulp.
Two or three types of beer, including some craft beer options, and natural wines and mineral water are the extent of beverages available but, really, that feels appropriate for the pared-down menu — it’s a short, sweet list but satisfyingly so.
The streetside vibe keeps things lively, and a regular string of special food events will likely make Cariñito a popular neighborhood hangout.
Dozens more dining spots have opened and closed in Roma during the pandemic’s upending of the local economy, so keep an eye out for future reviews of the neighborhood’s best eating and drinking.
Lydia Carey is a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily.
CORRECTION: The earlier version of this story misspelled the name of one of the three restaurants. It’s Makan, not Wakan. We regret the error.