Meet the locals at Mexico City’s mezcal bars

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Once upon a time, tequila was the most talked-about spirit to come out of Mexico, but that’s rapidly changing as bartenders and cocktail lounges around the world wake up to mezcal. Made from agave plants in Oaxaca and a handful of other certified states, the strong and often smoky spirit is served at neighbourhood bars and restaurants across Mexico City (CDMX). Here’s where to order a glass and get to know the locals.

Sip on some artisanal offerings

Kickstart your mezcal education with a visit to El Bósforo. Easily one of the most respected mezcalería in CDMX, this unmarked bar a few blocks south of Alameda Central is surprisingly difficult to find. Once you have entered the candle-lit space, ask a bartender to talk you through the often-changing list of small-batch spirits from around the country, from San Luis Potosí to Puebla. The bottles might just have a few details scrawled on them with a marker pen, but that just adds to the secrecy of this special space. Enjoy the soundtrack, order quesadilla topped with toasted grasshopper-studded guacamole and feel smug in the knowledge that you are in the locals’ top mezcal spot. 

Taco topped with toasted grasshopper and guacamole

Credit: Foto Para Ti

Essential stops on your sightseeing itinerary

Drinking mezcal is such an integral part of everyday life that you’ll find it being served in boutique shopping arcades and street food markets across the city. Situated in Barrio Alameda, a restored art-deco building that today is home to local fashion labels and a rooftop bar, Mezcalería Mundana is easily one of the most stylish options. Things are done a bit differently here – instead of a plate of traditional orange wedges, the team prefer to serve their mezcal with slices of tomatillo. The idea is that the green tomato prepares the palate for each sip. One thing guaranteed to keep your taste buds tingling are the mezcal flights, which showcase different styles of agave – from tobala to tepextate. Then there’s the cocktail menu, where mezcals are mixed with Mexican flavours like tamarind, mango and hibiscus.

Even the most indecisive eater will find something to eat and drink from the vendors at Mercado Roma but, whatever you do, there is one essential order: a glass of mezcal. This three-storey, architect-designed food emporium in Roma Norte is always buzzing with its communal tables, rooftop beer garden and passionate stallholders.  

Mezcalería Mundana

Credit: Mezcalería Mundana

Step back in time with traditional serves

Immerse yourself in mezcal traditions at Limosneros, where a row of traditional containers called damajuanas are suspended above the bar. This historic building dates back to the 16th century when it was not unusual to see churches and convents built using a mix of volcanic stone, cobbles and brick. See these patchwork walls – nicknamed limosneros – at this welcoming spot in Centro Histórico. In between the old décor, there are new flourishes thanks to some inventive recycling – spot the shot glasses that have been turned into light fixtures.

The team behind La Clandestina are also on a mission to preserve centuries-old Mexican traditions by serving their own small-batch Milagrito mezcals from big glass jugs lined up behind the bar. With 25 other varieties of mezcal on offer, the menu outlines the producer, region and flavour profile of each, but it’s always best to let the mezcalillero master guide your decision-making before it gets too busy – this Condesa spot turns into a party destination almost every evening. 

La Clandestina

Credit: La Clandestina

Match your mezcal with Mexican dishes

Man cannot survive on mezcal alone. At least, we certainly wouldn’t recommend it. Which is why many of the city’s mezcal bars serve a range of snacks and traditional dishes. Next door to La Clandestina, sister bar La Lavandería proudly states that ‘not everything at night is tacos!’ and in response serve tlayudas, which are traditionally served in family homes across Oaxaca. Expect a large, wafer-thin tortilla that’s been fried or toasted and covered with a hearty mix of refried beans, avocado, Oaxacan cheese and tangy salsa.

It’s worth travelling to Mano Santa in Insurgentes for their quesadillas made with blue tortillas. It might be a small bar but it’s still bursting with mezcals, including a selection of their own variety, which they produce using wild Oaxacan agave.

Rustic dishes are given a refined twist at Coyoacán’s smart, mezcal-focused restaurant Los Danzantes. Go for something experimental – like ravioli stuffed with huitlacoche (the mushrooms that grow on corn) – or get an introduction to insect ingredients with the mogo mogo – mashed plantain croquettes with mixed chillies and toasted crickets that are served over costeño mole and topped with sour cream and Cotija white cheese. Much of the fresh produce is sourced from the family’s plots of cultivated land in the lakebeds of Xochimilco in the Valley of Mexico.

Los Danzantes' own mezcal

Credit: Los Danzantes

Buy some bottles to take back home

Still keen to learn more? Add to your mezcal education with a visit to Sabra Dios. The shelves of this small shop are stacked with mezcals from across the country and staff will happily talk you through an impromptu tasting and help pick out a few bottles. They also sell packets of sal de gusano (worm salt) that’s traditionally served alongside a pour of mezcal and a plate of orange slices – grab some of the spicy, smoky, salty mixture for an authentic experience that you can recreate at home.

Taking the try-before-you-buy experience one step further, El Grifo combines a beer bottle shop with a cosy mezcal bar – everything can be bought to drink in-house or taken away. The extensive range of Mexican craft beers is a real selling point, as are the delicious pizzas that you can order from the restaurant next door. 

Sabra Dios' mezcal collection

Credit: Sabra Dios

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