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The sprawl of Mexico City is at its most jaw-dropping at 35,000 feet. From a window seat flying into the city, you’ll have the chance to marvel at the Western Hemisphere’s biggest metropolitan area. The vibrant capital of Mexico seduces visitors with its jacaranda-lined streets, friendly locals, and, of course, life-changing cuisine. Navigating the vibrant food scene is a daunting challenge for outsiders whether or not you’ve done your homework. Start your trip to Mexico City right with the perfect introduction to its edible essentials with Club Tengo Hambre, a food tour designed by culinary writers.
“The mission is to give the guest the feeling of being on an amazing, culinary outing with friends to hidden spots,” says one of its founders Bill Esparza, the James Beard award-winning writer behind the blog Street Gourmet LA. “It’s a curbside VIP experience, approachable to all.” From the minute you meet your guide to the last bite of the day (or night), you won’t stop learning valuable insights about Mexico City that’ll enhance the rest of your trip.
Club Tengo Hambre didn’t launch in Mexico City, but up north in Baja California. “Baja was the logical first choice as it had become a hot food and wine destination,” Esparza recalled of the company’s early days. Baja was close to where all of the founders lived, making it a convenient first city for the company founded by Esparza, Jason Thomas Fritz, and Kristin and Antonio Diaz de Sandi. Soon after came Mexico City and Los Angeles. Club Tengo Hambre now offers tours focused not only on food, but wine and spirits as well.
It’s 11a.m. and the sun is beaming off of Palacio de Bellas Artes’ golden roof. A group of strangers becomes a group of acquaintances quickly as we realize we’re all standing around waiting for the same thing: Club Tengo Hambre’s Mexico City Street Food Essentials tour, AKA an “excursion for people who travel to eat,” according to the CTH website. The group is made up of people from all over America, some in town for short visits and others who recently moved to Mexico. Most had heard of the tour by word of mouth, some by Instagram. We’re greeted by Mariana Gutiérrez, a Mexico City resident and our guide for the day. Within minutes, we’re perched on red plastic stools eating the best tacos of our lives. It’s hard to pace yourself for the afternoon ahead. We do our best.
Between the bites of melty quesillo cheese, Gutiérrez breaks down the basics of what we’re eating, what food and life in Mexico City is all about. We have the opportunity to meet the vendors responsible for delicious meal. Through Gutiérrez's translations, they tell us about their work. The appreciation of what you’re eating grows tenfold with every new detail you learn. It’s an education opposite of the one you’d find on the news, where coverage of Mexico seems to exclusively focus on the country’s crime. “It get sensationalized in the media, yet, I live in a city [Los Angeles] with lots of crime, but it doesn’t stop anybody from doing anything,” Esparza said. “It’s unfair to focus on Mexico, or any other destination. Especially when Mexico is the number one tourist destination for Americans.”
Start the tour by forgetting what you know about Mexico and its food. “There are no rules when it comes to street vending and chefs in Mexico City,” says Esparza. “Nearby states adhere more to provincial conventions in food, but in Mexico City you’ll find a taco with creamed spinach, tortas filled with chilaquiles, and an endless combination of stews at the tacos de guisados stands. Street vendors in Mexico City are surrounded by competition and use their creativity and ingenuity to stand out.” We go from vendor to vendor (six stops in total), sampling to the point of becoming painfully full despite walking in-between visits. If you want to do the three-and-a-half-hour-tour right, do not eat breakfast beforehand and heed warnings to snack lightly along the way (versus taking seconds or thirds of each dish).
The latter isn’t easy to do, particularly when you’ve fallen deeply in love with the squash blossom quesadilla—but you owe it to the green chorizo with French fries coming your way to save some room. It’s a problem faced by tour customers and guides alike. For Esparza, the most challenging part of running the company is “having to say no to all those amazing tacos, antojitos, mariscos, and guisos. “When you’re out doing this all the time you just can’t indulge like the guests.”
To book your Club Tengo Hambre tour, visit the company website at clubtengohambre.com. Reserve your spot early; tours sell out quickly.