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Tacos at the mercado: suadero (steak), cachete (cheek), and cecina (cured pork).

Dispatches: Centro Chef Dakota Coburn Travels Mexico

Follow Coburn's culinary journey through the intoxicating tastes of Mexico. 

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Chef Dakota Coburn and his brother are on a culinary pilgrimage across Mexico, seeking out original and authentic flavors. Upon his return, he will showcase his discoveries at Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace, giving diners a chance to experience the depth of flavor of these inspiring Mexican specialties. This blog series, written by Coburn, serves as a travelogue of the trip. For more of his adventures, check out his personal blog here.


April 15, 2016: Mexico City

After hopping from Denver to Mexico City, my brother Rustin and I were ready to dive into our 10-day journey through this inspiring, intriguing, and sometimes heady country. What better place to start than the burgeoning capital, Mexico City? Rustin and I headed straight from the airport to the mercado in the Roma District. The tastes, sounds, smells, and heartbeat of the city were intoxicating.

At the market we grabbed a few cecina tacos (cured pork shoulder), and I was reminded just how special and flavorful the corn tortillas are in Mexico. Somehow they just taste the best here, in their birthplace. I wanted to dig into that thought a little more deeply, so we went on a hunt for tortilla makers. We found one who was willing to let us watch, sample, and learn all about the local process. One hour in Mexico and my mind was already racing with ideas to bring back to Centro.

We spent the rest of the day bouncing around the mercado, and finally tracked down one of my favorite snacks: fried plantains, which come smothered with your choice of jam, crema, cajeta (caramel), nuts, or any candy topping you can imagine. What a treat!

We ended the night at Fonda Fina, a contemporary and wonderful spot in the lively Condesa District. The food was simple yet incredible. The plating was stunning, and the depth of flavor was something I will never forget. Among the highlights were roasted swordfish with potatoes, nopales, and a guajillo-pineapple sauce, a sunflower-chile sauce over grilled chicken, and root beer tamales. The root beer tamales were unlike anything I’ve ever had—made with black beans and infused with what I assume is sassafrass, they were rich and earthy with a strong root beer flavor and lingering black bean notes. They. Were. Killer.

Fresh tortillas in Mexico
Hand pressing tortillas on clay comals at Azul Condesa. It doesn’t get any fresher, or tastier, than this. 

April 16, 2015: Mexico City

We woke up early and hit the streets after a much needed night of deep sleep. We had been very inspired the night before with our walk through the trendy Roma District, so we started there at a quaint little breakfast spot. After a few vegetable omelets dressed with a chile sauce and Americanos to wash it all down, we continued deeper into the heart of the city. With lush, overgrown canopies protecting every street, a density of activity that rivals that of New York City’s, and a cool vibe, the Roma District might be one of my favorite urban experience ever.

We stopped at a posh looking taqueria to sample some tacos and an appetizer I’ve never had before called Tortitas de Huauzontle. They used this local vegetable that resembles broccoli but tastes more like kale, blanching it until it’s tender, then chopping it and mixing it with cheese. Then they make little croquettes with the mixture, drop them the classic egg white batter that you’d use for rellenos, and pan fry them. You get these incredible green, earthy flavors as you eat them. The dish is classically served with a red sauce and tortillas to scoop it all up.

Our next stop was lunch at the famous Azul Condesa Restaurant. Some of the standouts were guacamole topped with sautéed grasshoppers and the legendario mole negro served over grilled chicken. We also had some of the most amazing margaritas we’ve ever tasted—incredibly refreshing, they struck a perfect balance of sweet and sour and the fresh lime really stood out.

Next we hit a few specialty coffee shops, took a long walk through the park, and then noshed on some al pastor street tacos (five tacos for 25 pesos, or about $1.50). This place is too good!

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