Mexico City

By | August 10, 2006

Mexico City
111 Smithfield Street
Downtown, 15222
M-F: 11-8pm; Sat: 11-4pm

Just as I was prepping to write about Taco Loco — along comes Mexico City. You’ve all heard me complain about the abysmal state of affairs in regards to the availability of tasty Mexican food in Pittsburgh. It is no surprise to me that Post-Gazette polls of Pittsburgher’s favorite Mexican restaurants put Chi-Chi’s and Don Pablo’s out in front. I say it is no surprise, but still it is a total disappointment. If nothing else, we’ve got Mad Mex, La Fiesta, Taco Loco, Fajita Grill, and El Campesino to stuff our faces with, before we have to resort to those big box feeding troughs. But alas and alak, though they are all pretty good eats, none of them are seriously authentic (portions of the menus at my personal favorites, La Fiesta, Taco Loco, and Fajita Grill, come close). Well, Mexico City changes all that. This downtown, mostly lunchtime eatery brings a whole new region of Mexico to Pittsburgh, El Distrito Federal!

A fast glance at the menu of Mexico City and you’ll see the things you are accustomed to seeing: quesadillas, burritos, chimichangas, tacos….you know, the whole enchilada. Stuff wrapped in tortillas of various kinds, prepared in various ways. But anyone can put something in a tortilla and call it a day – what counts is the filling. For instance, the filling could be just some dry chicken wads in a cube shape (ahem….Mad Mex), or it could be the immaculately marinated, spiced, juicy, succulent chicken of Mexico City. The steak at Mexico City is what really gets me. It is soooooo flavorful! I mean, what are those other yahoos doing with their steak? Everywhere else it’s just these little strips of overcooked beef with barely any flavoring at all! I used to think other restaurant steak fillings were flavorful enough, but Mexico City showed me the way to Mexican Steak Nirvana. Get it in anything – you won’t be disappointed.

Now, I don’t mean to downplay the tortilla. It has its own merit that, when fresh and well-made, cannot be equaled. For instance, some Saturday when you are in the Strip, stop by Reyna Foods. They have a tortilla making machine there, and if you happen to be there on a day they’ve made them, you HAVE TO GET SOME. They are so amazing, they defy description. In fact, I never even get around to putting anything in them because I eat them plain by the day’s end. God, they are good.

Mexico City has great tortillas too. I do not know where they get them, or if they make them, but they are certainly some of the freshest tortillas in all the land of Pittsburgh. In fact, when you sit down to eat and they bring you chips and salsa…..the chips are freshly fried! You read it right, freshly fried. They are hot, crunchy, and unlike any chip you’ve had anywhere else in the ‘Burgh, I guarantee you! The salsa that comes with is not especially spicy, but it has a slight kick, and it is a good amount of juicy so that it counters the hot chip just right. I could not ask for more in life.

Even so, Mexico City provides much more. They have a couple of unusual-for-Pittsburgh items that are well worth mentioning. First of all, the tacos are served in the style of “el D.F.” El D.F. stand for El Distrito Federal, which is the equivalent of our D.C., as in Washington. The D.F. style is a soft taco with two corn tortillas, rice, your selected filling, and a generous helping of fresh guacamole on top. Man, these are some good tacos. The fillings are so awesome. They have a long list of traditional fillings, but they also have a couple of special items. Firstly, they serve a chile poblano taco. These are quite common in taquerias on the West Coast, but not so much over here. It is exactly what it sounds like: a chile poblano in a taco. Chile poblano is a poblano chile stuffed with cheese and then the whole kit’n’kaboodle is deep fried. On its own it’s good, but then to go stuff it in a burrito or taco – well that is extra good and gets my seal of approval any day.

But my favorite new-to-me-taco-filling has to be the ‘pollo con mole verde’. As opposed to the type of mole you are used to getting ’round these parts, which is made with cocoa and is quite dark, this mole is light in color and is made with tomatillos and pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds? Pumpkin seeds! Now, aren’t you curious? This may be one of the more authentic Mexican sauces to ever hit Pittsburgh. It is wonderful! I can only say that you have to try it to know it. It has a pumpkin seed flavor, but it isn’t at all like eating a pumpkin seed. It is unusual, but fantastic. You gotta try it.

And just so you know, Mexico City brings the flavors of El D.F. but it’s not like they are pretending they’re not in Pittsburgh anymore. Yessiree, they are full of Pittsburgh Pride. Smack-dab in Downtown, they have a Balck & Gold Steelers burrito and everything! Incidentally, it is a pretty good burrito, made black and gold by two very delicious sauces of a black bean and a cheese base, respectively. But you just have to go explore it for your own! And one more thing; I have to credit this excellent find to our good friends Val F. and Nicole Soon-to-be-F. Without them, none of these taco dreams would have been possible.

Pollo con Verde
Steak in tortilla-method of your choice
Chips & Salsa

This place is primarily a lunch joint, being downtown and all, and as a result their evening hours are fairly short. However, they are pretty slow in the evening, so parking is a breeze. Or as much of a breeze as parking downtown gets, which is really more of a ‘draft’ or a ‘waft’ anyway. Incidentally, this is one of the cheaper meals you’ll ever have, which, coupled with the quality of the food, makes this restaurant the find of a century!