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Back to Life

Food writer, visual artist, and “Salad for President” creator Julia Sherman explores the many culinary pleasures of Mexico City.


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THERE IS SOMETHING hopelessly romantic about an artist who cultivates a parallel life in a city far, far away. Brice Marden has his Grecian island home, and Betty Woodman had her Florentine refuge. The German artists, educators, and designers Anni and Josef Albers aspired to life as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), and they found it in Mexico, “the promised land of abstract art.” But how do the rest of us find our fount of everlasting inspiration, a place to return to time and time again?

I am a visual artist who dove headfirst into her love of food, becoming a cookbook author and food/lifestyle photographer under the moniker Salad for President. As a vegetable-obsessed gardener whose biggest distraction in life is her compost, I am one of countless native New Yorkers who decamped to the leafy Los Angeles suburbs, where life is extremely palatable (when it isn’t on fire). Despite my highly predictable surroundings, there is a natural tide to my creative life. Writing books, developing recipes, producing events — they all begin with a euphoric rush, followed by a cocky crescendo that quickly oozes into a puddle of self-doubt. I used to chain myself to my desk with misguided discipline, imagining a never-ending echo of “So, what are you working on next?” But with time, I reframed travel as a productive, creative exercise, and the only salve for periodic bouts of lassitude. When a project comes to a close, it’s time to wake up somewhere other than home — where new sounds, smells, and tastes flood my brain with new and burning questions.



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It wasn’t until my fifth trip to Mexico City that I realized I had found my place of lifelong return. Warm and welcoming, but constantly in motion, I can catch up with friends over an irresponsibly long lunch, just hours after touching down at the airport. Restaurants, boutiques, and private homes flaunt the kind of design alchemy that only comes together in the absence of stateside building codes. Markets range from the trendy to the traditional, teeming with ingredients and handicrafts I bury in my sneakers to smuggle back to California. While the food on the street is as artful as the white-tablecloth fare, this city seems to breed chefs — many of them brilliant young women, who are hardwired to create something entirely new with their studied reverence for regional ingredients.

As a salad pundit on a lifelong mission to elevate the vegetable to presidential status, no place stokes the produce-loving fire in me more than Mexico City. I have come for work, cooking pop-ups, and slinging books. I have come for play, eating my way through the town, with and without children in tow. And while this place, for me, has many of the comforts of a second home, it fills me with new ideas in a way my real home never could.

This past fall, I published my second book and had my second child. It was one of those periods of adrenaline-fueled, sleepless chaos. It was all-consuming (my ideal state), but I knew there would be a comedown. And over the course of my maternity leave, I fell into an uncomfortably predictable routine. I found myself pushing a double stroller around my neighborhood, the daily loop mirrored by my Roomba, bumping into walls with a battery that couldn’t seem to hold a charge. I couldn’t imagine being creative. I felt like I had written every recipe I had to write, and recognized that as my cue to get on a plane. Along with my family, I decamped to Mexico City, that familiar but ever-changing place, to shop for every kind of chile under the sun, and to drink a little more mezcal than normal — all in the name of creative restitution.

Culinary Pleasures

Julia Sherman explores CDMX’s best food and drink.


Chef Mercedes Bernal made a name for herself with her upscale, multilevel restaurant Meroma, located on a prime corner in La Condesa in February of 2022. When Covid hit, she put her impeccably plated food on pause and started preparing meals to go alongside upscale, packaged provisions. Surprised by how much she enjoyed the more casual format, she opened a brick-and-mortar all-day cafe with a to-go window and a curated pantry of tinned fish, wine, beer, oil, and vinegars — a rare delicacy in Mexico City where culinary traditions rely on lime for acid, and where winemaking is just now beginning to take off.

I met my friend, local designer Blair Richardson, for a late breakfast at Jarilla and sat at a cafe table on the sidewalk, waiting for the canelé to emerge from the oven while mariachis crooned and a parade of dogs pranced by. There was a special of mole and eggs with a potpourri of fresh herbs and cilantro blossoms that I would eat every morning for the rest of my life, if only given the chance. The streetside storefront connects to a newly renovated arcade, so save some time to check out the design shops inside.

Mari Gold

Norma Listman and Saqib Keval opened the now famed Masala y Maiz about five years ago in this quirky ground-floor space in the residential neighborhood of San Miguel Chapultepec. After an untold amount of blood, sweat, and tears, they were forced to abandon the location when they bravely refused to bribe the police (I was cooking with them when this happened!). They moved Masala y Maiz to the now trendy neighborhood of La Juarez, and just recently had the chance to reclaim their original digs and spread their wings with a second concept, Mari Gold. Working with Chef de Cuisine Xarem Guzmán, they bring together Mexican, East African, and South Asian culinary cultures for one exceptional second act.

Mari Gold is not shy when it comes to vegetable preparations, with a liberal use of fresh herbs, and lots of bold sauces. My daughter double-fisted the dosa stuffed with potato, pineapple, cherry tomato, and herbs, practically dipping her whole hand in the tangy tamarind chutney. I took solace in a mountain of fresh lettuces tossed in a floral preserved-lemon vinaigrette, the whole thing covered in a snowfall of light-as-air puffed amaranth. The food is a portrait of these brilliant people and their proud lineages, and the setting couldn’t exist anywhere but here. The tunnel-like dining room is intersected by a sculptural, winding staircase, and a single row of tables spans from inside to the outdoor patio. The ceramic plateware is custom-made by Peregrinas, a family of ceramicists on the border of Puebla and Veracruz, and certified by the Manos Indigenas Network, a designation that protects and supports artisanal traditions so they can be passed down through generations. There is not a detail gone unconsidered.

While you’re there, pop into the adjacent Super Cope, the worker-owned food co-op Norma and Saqib opened during the pandemic. The bodega is carefully stocked with organic and locally sourced produce, kombucha, ice cream, sourdough bread, bath and body products, natural wine, small-batch Mexican liquor, and affordable but one-of-a-kind ceramics. This is a one-stop shop for parting gifts and ingredients to cook at home, should your digestive system beg you for a night off. Hit up the to-go window for coffee, tea, and old-fashioned donuts, freshly made every morning.

Mari Gold is a destination for breakfast, brunch, or my favorite — comida — the late Mexican lunch that starts at 3 or 4 p.m. (They close at 5:30 p.m.) Some of the city’s best galleries — Kurimanzutto, Galería Enrique Guerrero, and Casa Barragán — are within walking distance. If a healthy dose of post-mealtime culture can reset your appetite, there is a notable street stand across the street from Mari Gold where the women nixtamalize their own corn, the ancient process of cooking and soaking dried corn in food-grade calcium hydroxide before grinding it into masa for handmade tortillas. They stuff their quesadillas with delicate squash blossoms and huitlacoche (the inky blue-black fungus that grows on corn — considered a blight by American farmers and a delicacy in Mexico). Grab one and take a walk in Chapultepec Park, just a few blocks away.


Located in Polanco, the Upper East Side of Mexico City, the bar takes center stage at Enrique Olvera’s Ticuchi, temple of Mexican cocktails and veggie-centric small bites. Spotlights on the tiny tables fall away to dramatic pools of moody darkness as records spin on the turntable. The only decor is a levitating staghorn fern, so large it feels prehistoric. The menu is snacky — pulled Oaxacan string cheese and tostadas, guacamole, and intensely flavorful dips like the Chintextle, a Oaxacan smoked pasilla chili paste made traditionally with dried shrimp, this one with the substitution of ground chapulines (crunchy fried grasshoppers). Theirs is certainly among the best margaritas in town, with an extensive list of mezcals to choose from for a chaser.

Olvera is known for straddling high and low, bringing equal rigor to grab-’n-go tacos as he does to a multicourse tasting menu. If you’re looking for a low-key daytime bite with that Olvera touch, swing by Molino el Pujol in La Condesa. A purist’s homage to magical, mystical corn, Molino el Pujol has an understated vegetarian menu, with highlights including a blush-red corn tamale filled with romeritos (a succulent vegetable that looks like rosemary but tastes salty and verdant when eaten raw) bathed in mole, and an avocado quesadilla shrouded in a single Hoja Santa leaf cut to spec (with a delicate anise flavor — this is one of my favorite herbs). Cap off the meal on-theme with a silky, traditional corn-based beverage, like warm atole studded with bee pollen, and grab a stack of tortillas to go at the tiny window for street cred on your way out.


To visit Mexico City without stepping inside a Barragán structure is like traveling to Cusco, Peru, but opting not to trek up the mountain to see the temples of Machu Picchu (I have done so, and lived to regret it). Casa Barragán, the architect’s former home and studio, is a must-see. But wouldn’t it be so much better if they also served you lunch?

Venture out of the fray to the Barragán masterpiece, Casa Pedregal. Located in the posh residential neighborhood of Pedregal, this was one of the first projects to break ground in the district in 1949. Surrounded by lava rock walls and split into two parts, the residential space is the private home of Cesar Cervantes, renowned Mexican art collector, born and raised nearby (tours of the home are by appointment only). After famously selling off his art collection, he used the proceeds to purchase the property in 2013, restoring and transforming the adjacent structure (originally horse stables, later used as Barragán’s carpentry shop) into a community space, a restaurant called Tetetlán, and my favorite gift shop in Mexico City.


We visited on a Sunday morning when the traffic had momentarily cleared. It was a quick 20-minute drive from San Miguel Chapultepec, but it felt like a world away. This was my second visit to the home and national monument — on its way to becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site — but it was my first time eating a proper meal at Tetetlán, with its sunken dining room, open kitchen, and clandestine library nooks. Delicate glass floors hover above a forest floor of live ferns, and sunlight streams in through the skylights, taking shape with the smoke piping off the traditional comal. Cervantes told me, “Sustainability is the focus of the menu. We don’t even have a freezer.” The food is a mix of traditional Mexican fare (tlayudas, quesadillas, sopes), peppered with international comforts — green juice, croissants, and matcha lattes. The gift shop above is full of treasures, but the real gems are to be found underneath the staircase in a cellar-like room with floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with Oaxacan pottery at really reasonable prices.

While you’re in the neighborhood, swing by the Central Library on the UNAM campus, designed by artist Juan O’Gorman in 1956. A boxy structure perched atop a base of volcanic rock, all four sides are intricately adorned with natural stone mosaics depicting Pre-Hispanic motifs so complex, you wonder how anyone can focus long enough to study here.

From there, amble through the Espacio Escultórico UNAM, an outdoor sculpture park and nature preserve with six large-scale public works by Helen Escobedo, Manuel Felguérez, Mathias Goeritz, Hersúa, and Sebastián and Federico Silva, installed in 1979. The tour de force is a large collaborative work by all the artists involved, comprising 74 imposing stone acute triangles that form a towering circle 393 feet in diameter. The site is sacred, the former Mesoamerican ceremonial center of Copilco, and the piece is a time machine transporting you back to how the landscape might have looked 3,000 years ago, after the eruption of the Xitle volcano blanketed the area in magma. Standing inside the ring, all you see is volcanic rock, black sand, and 360 degrees of uninterrupted sky.


You could easily pass by this modest restaurant in Roma Norte without giving it a second look. The minimal decor and casual vibe do nothing to belie the acute attention to detail in every dish that comes out of this jewel-box kitchen. Chef Lucho Martínez cut his teeth at Quintonil, a mecca of modern Mexican cuisine. I first experienced his cooking years ago, out in the chinampas on a floating farm in Xochimilco called Arca Tierra that supplies local organic produce to both chefs and laypeople through their CSA. They invite chefs to cook on location (check out their schedule, it’s worth the trip), and Martínez was pitmaster for the day. I was thrilled to reconnect with him at his newly opened Em, a spot my food journalist friends were adamant I add to my list.

At Em, Martínez brings together Mexican and Japanese ingredients with French technique in an omakase format, available with and without a wine pairing. Sounds like a lot, I know. But rest assured — here, you can have the theater of a world-class tasting menu without a trace of pretension, a metaphor for this city as a whole, if you will. Highlights include delicately charred baby corn, delightful to eat with your hands and to dip into a yuzu and soy butter; a seared striped bass with crispy blistered skin served in a shallow pool of yuzu kosho beurre blanc, studded with emerald-green herb oil; and the closing coup de grace — a tiny pine-nut tartlet shell filled with a tropical mamey custard and an ice cream made from “pixtle,” the inner kernel of the mamey fruit’s shiny chestnut-colored seed.


As a woman whose mezcal-slamming days couldn’t be further behind her, I was especially invested in the meteoric rise of natural wine in Mexico City. Opened in February of 2021, Hugo is leading the charge with an extensive list of imported and Mexican low-intervention wines, paired with a tight menu of share plates. In contrast to some of the glitzier new spots on the scene whose vibe suffers from their own influx of capital, the space is confidently minimal, careening your attention to the food and the oh-so-low-intervention wine.

We sat at a small cafe sidewalk table, fulfilling our weekly quota of vegetables — light-as-air fried squash blossoms with preserved lemon aioli, a simple radicchio salad with Grana Padano and anchovies, and a dish too curious not to try: grilled cucumber served over stewed beans in a saffron broth. The scene is convivial but low-key. We made friends with strangers at the adjacent table, and entertained ourselves with shameless people-watching as diners slowly filled both Hugo and their sister restaurant next door, Café Milou.


Another fortuitous outcome of the pandemic, Dooriban began as a lockdown side hustle for four friends whose lives were temporarily put on hold. Fernanda García was a recent hospitality-school graduate, Sofía Acuña was a project manager at Grupo Enrique Olvera, Seo Ju Park was a photographer and creative director, and Jin Hee Park had been working with her father, a former Mexican Olympic taekwondo coach importing martial-arts equipment. In the face of lockdown, they started making and selling kimchi under the guidance of Jin Hee’s mother, Ju Hee Park, aka Mama Park, a magnanimous home cook who emigrated from Korea to Mexico City in 1985.

The success of the kimchi business led to a series of pop-ups, and a crusade to convince Mama Park to take her title from home cook to chef de cuisine. A year later, they opened their brick-and-mortar restaurant, Dooriban, located on an active street corner in Roma Norte. As Garcia told me, “The food is actually quite traditional, but we take a lot of pride in our contemporary Korean beverage program, and the creativity we are bringing to desserts.” I’d never turn up my nose at traditional Korean food, especially when it’s prepared using high-quality ingredients. But taste their sticky, saucy chicken wings, maraschino cherry–red on a cobalt-blue plate, and it’s clear not everything here is strictly by the book. A kimchi michelada and a green-melon horchata, made by blending the entire melon with rice, told the story of this project in a single sip. And the japchae, one of the dishes I use as a barometer to judge all Korean restaurants against, was perfectly executed: sweet-potato noodles laced with vibrant vegetables sautéed quickly, their crunch in contrast with the noodle’s playful bounce.


From the street, you would never know this secret garden of a restaurant was even there, making the reveal that much more enchanting. Pass through the tunnel-like vestibule, and you will be reborn into an Edenic cactus garden. Previously the private home of Mexican film director Toño Serrano, the newly renovated restaurant retains the feeling of an exclusive backyard party. The outdoor patio serves as the main dining room, but there is a treasure trove of more intimate spaces to discover: a sexy upstairs lounge, a secluded terrace with an aerial view of the action down below, and a private dining room I would kill to book for my next birthday.

The chef, Alejandra Navarro, got her start at the world-famous Quintonil, and brings her pedigreed technique to what eats like Mexican brasserie fare, with heavy behind-the-scenes technique. Navarro, a radiant figurehead, holds court through a large picture window where she alternates gracious greetings to every passing guest with commanding orders to her kitchen brigade inside. It’s all-day entertainment just to watch them work with ultimate precision and focus.

Come for a late lunch and the kids can lose themselves in the koi pond with salamanders brought from the canals of Xochimilco, while the adults indulge in mussels bathed in lemongrass broth, topped with French fries, or the head-on prawns that appear to be coated in a dense black chile sauce. Upon further investigation, Chef Navarro elucidated her seemingly straightforward dish: “First we make a vadouvan, cooking down garlic, onion, cumin, coriander, and fennel seed, guajillo chile, avocado leaf, recado, mustard and sunflower seeds. Then we dehydrate that into a powder, and mix that with za’atar, sumac, salt, sugar, brown butter, and lemon juice to coat the shrimp.” The beauty of the dish is that you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy it.

Mercado el 100

While Mexico City has an active tradition of open-air markets, Mercado el 100 is a neighborhood market so highly curated it feels torn from the pages of a children’s book. With a mix of organic produce, packaged goods, coffee to-go, and healthy breakfast/brunch options, it’s a destination. Come ready to shop, come ready to eat. I can never say no to a vegan tamale, and the only problem with the guisados, served out of rustic clay pots, is that you have to make a choice between the scrambled eggs with thinly sliced cactus, the chile relleno, or the duck carnitas (or do you?).

Each vendor has a stack of traditional straw baskets for shoppers to fill with produce (beats plastic bags by a long shot). My favorite purchase is always the yellow granadilla, a mild variety of passion fruit without the bracing acidity, and whatever unusual variety of banana I can find (this time it was a red-skinned one with orange-hued flesh). I never leave this market without Mexican vanilla beans and some of the more obscure varieties of dried chiles, and I dream of the freshly pressed coconut milk and nutty coconut water one stand sells in hefty glass containers. A company called Baja Kelp sells a variety of seaweed products, my favorite being the seaweed tostadas (buy more than you think you want; they go down easily).

I time my flights to make sure my trip allows a Sunday visit to Mercado el 100. Without contest, this is my favorite farmers’ market in the world (I know, bold statement).


Unpacking my suitcase back at home, I spend a good 45 minutes collecting the contents of a spilled bag of heirloom beans from its depths, and liberate 30 Day of the Dead miniature skeleton figurines and handmade paper dolls from their chrysalis of socks and underwear — destined to stuff the piñata at my daughter’s upcoming third birthday party. My new Oaxacan black clay mugs will seamlessly work their way into the fabric of our everyday caffeine regime, and the chiles won’t be long for this world, as I’m already trying to recreate (and bastardize, no doubt) that Chintextle dip I had at Ticuchi, maybe with the addition of seaweed powder and Louisiana dried shrimp) — but now I’m all worked up! Mexico City, you never fail to bring me back to life.

Where to Stay in Mexico City

CDMX’s most unique boutique hotels — small, urban oases in gorgeous neighborhoods.

  • Casa Pani

    On a charming street in the serene residential area of Cuauhtémoc is an elegant guesthouse of architectural splendor. Once a private home designed by iconic Mexican architect Mario Pani in 1962, the house has since been completely restored, maintaining its retro spirit and character. Through a covered walkway is a modern addition, completed in 2019 — the New House.

  • Octavia Casa

    In the verdant, romantic neighborhood of La Condesa is a stunning project designed by architect Pablo Pérez Palacios and his firm, Octavia Casa. This small, intimate stay celebrates a minimalist atmosphere — highlighting natural, simple aesthetic and artisanal touches. In each room you’ll find plush bedding and details from the new Octavia Casa home line.

  • La Valise

    Through unmarked doors is a hidden enclave of exclusivity. This award-winning jewel box of a property is housed in a 1920s French-style townhouse filled with antiques, and based in the vibrant, trendy neighborhood of La Roma. A boutique urban oasis, each suite has its own distinct character, bespoke furnishings, and artisanal handiwork throughout.

  • Casa Pani

    On a charming street in the serene residential area of Cuauhtémoc is an elegant guesthouse of architectural splendor. Once a private home designed by iconic Mexican architect Mario Pani in 1962, the house has since been completely restored, maintaining its retro spirit and character. Through a covered walkway is a modern addition, completed in 2019 — the New House.

  • La Valise

    Through unmarked doors is a hidden enclave of exclusivity. This award-winning jewel box of a property is housed in a 1920s French-style townhouse filled with antiques, and based in the vibrant, trendy neighborhood of La Roma. A boutique urban oasis, each suite has its own distinct character, bespoke furnishings, and artisanal handiwork throughout.

  • Octavia Casa

    In the verdant, romantic neighborhood of La Condesa is a stunning project designed by architect Pablo Pérez Palacios and his firm, Octavia Casa. This small, intimate stay celebrates a minimalist atmosphere — highlighting natural, simple aesthetic and artisanal touches. In each room you’ll find plush bedding and details from the new Octavia Casa home line.

Our Contributors

Julia Sherman Writer and Photographer

Julia Sherman runs Salad for President, an evolving publishing project that draws a meaningful connection between food, art, and everyday obsessions. Sherman, and her writing and photography, have been featured in Vogue, the New York Times, T Mag, Domino, Art in America, Food & Wine, and Bon Appétit, among others. She is the author of two cookbooks, “Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists” and “Arty Parties: An Entertaining Cookbook.” Sherman is the founder and creator of Jus Jus Verjus and she lives in Los Angeles.


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