Mexican food was the first to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Cuisine. And as the birthplace of many now traditional dishes, including mole poblano, chalupas, cemitas, and chiles en nogada, Puebla is a good place to get to know the local treats.
If you’re visiting, here are 10 locations that MatadorU student Jessica Festa recommends for tasting authentic Mexican food…
1. El Mural de los Poblanos
16 de Septiembre 506
This fine-dining restaurant, located in the historic center of Puebla, preserves the cooking methods and recipes of original Mexican gastronomy, while enhancing flavors with more modern elements. The decor of El Mural de los Poblanos features murals by Antonio Alvarez Moran, a Poblano artist who’s been giving solo exhibitions since 1975 – they fit well with the original recipes, artisanal cooking techniques and regional ingredients coming out of the kitchen of this 17th century mansion.
For a Mexican delicacy, order the escamoles, ant larvae served with corn tortillas, salsa, and guacamole, or gusanos, which are worms served with the same. The chefs will fry them right in front of you.
I’d also recommend sampling some of the mescal, as there’s a wide selection from all different regions of Mexico. Don’t take it like a shot – sip it slowly and enjoy the flavor. You’ll be given orange slices and salt ground with dried caterpillars to cut the strength of the drink.
2. Meson Sacristía de la Compañía
6 sur 304 Callejón de los Sapos
Located in the ‘Street of the Frogs’ antiques area of the historic center, the restaurant resides in the courtyard of a colonial-style house that’s over 250 years old. Antiques decorate the space, and if you like what you see, you can buy the whole ensemble and take it home.
For more than 19 years, the kitchen has been commanded by Mrs Lupita Escobar, a 60-year veteran of Mexican gastronomic preservation. Her menu includes recipes from nearby communities in an effort to keep traditional Mexican techniques and ingredients alive. Some examples include Flor de Calabaza – zucchini blossoms – which are incorporated into salads cultivated in Atlixco, and their Pollo en Chiltepin – chicken in Chiltepin sauce – that comes from Cuetzalan and Zacatlan.
Meson Sacristía also runs cooking classes. Under the direction of Chef Alonso Hernández, I got to make traditional mole poblano and learned some tricks to take the recipe back home. Tip #1: Use a blender to combine everything.
When dining, I’d recommend the sampler menu so you can try a bit of everything, including chalupas, moles, soup, a main course, dessert, and local wine or tequila. However, if you’re choosing just one, make it the signature dish of the city and the restaurant: mole poblano.
3. Fonda la Mexicana
Av 16 de Septiembre 706
Near the city center, this place has more of a modest family atmosphere and serves huge portions. The extensive menu includes all the typical options, such as chalupas, mole poblano, and pipián verde, as well as seasonal dishes like chiles en nogada and mole de caderas, a goat and vegetable puree. They have a second location at General I Zaragoza 64.
4. La Chiquita
Paseo de San Francisco No. 4
Also in the city center, La Chiquita’s gastronomic heritage dates back to 1896, and it’s one of the city’s only Mexican restaurants that still uses its original recipes. In fact, the current owner’s great-grandmother has been passing her secrets down the generations. Some traditional menu items you can find here include chalupas and mole poblano.
5. Cemitas del Carmen
21 Oriente No. 209, El Carmen
Find this food stall at the spacious indoor Mercado el Carmen. It sees good local traffic and is famous for its cemitas – the Puebla version of a torta, or Mexican sandwich. The extensive menu has varieties like breaded meat, cheese, chicken, spicy beef, ham, sausage, pork leg, and – my personal favorite – chipotle.
6. Molotes of the 5 Poniente
5 Poniente @ 16 de Septiembre
The molote, made with a mixture of corn paste and mashed potatoes, filled with meat stew, and fried in oil, is very popular in Puebla.
This is another street stall, but it’s been in the same spot for many years and has gained a loyal following. Different varieties of stuffed molotes can be ordered here, like tinga (tomatoes, chicken, chipotle, and sausage), goat or cow cheese with jalapeno slices, and epazote and mashed potatoes with onion.
7. Casa Reyna
Privada 2 Oriente 1007
The food here is good, but what makes it stand out are the locally made Talavera ceramics, paintings by Puebla artists, and old-world cabinets that adorn the 16th century World Heritage building. All dishes are created using secret family recipes and are served with hot breads and jellies from the onsite orchard.
Tables are set with Talavera ceramics, a special high-quality type of pottery dating back to the 17th century that can only be found in Puebla and its place of origin: Talavera de la Reina, Spain. The restaurant has a rotating menu that changes monthly.
8. Café Aguirre
Calle 5 de Mayo No. 4
Expect to be warmly greeted at this cafe, which has been operating in the center since 1955. A highlight is their potent, 100% Mexican coffee, grown at around 4,000ft elevation. If you’re eating, I’d recommend the chilaquiles – deep-fried corn tortilla topped with red or green salsa, beans, shredded chicken, pork or beef, onions, and fresh cheese.
9. Mercado de Sabores
4 Poniente, between 11 and 13 Norte
Puebla’s ‘Market of Flavors’ is clean and sleek. Its modern exterior facade is covered in a colorful tile mosaic featuring the names of local dishes written in abstract font. The inside continues the artful theme with metal sculptures hanging from the ceiling.
There are over 130 vendors selling authentic dishes like tacos árabes, pelonas, memelas, mole, pipián, cemitas, camotes, and more. Compared to all the restaurants in this list, you’ll have the widest variety of food options in the market – from small, independent joints to well-known fixtures like El Girofle and Tacos Tony.
10. Calle de los Ducles
Av. 6 Oriente, between Av. 5 de Mayo and Calle 4 Norte
In addition to all the rest, Puebla is famous for its candy and produces a lot of the country’s sweets.
A walk down Candy Street can help you get acquainted with the many varieties, like sugar-coated borrachitos – which contain alcohol and can get you drunk – camotes de frutas – soft, caramel-type candies – and the most famous local candy, the tortita de Santa Clara. Created by a nun in the Convent of Santa Clara, it’s made of sweet nougat and looks like a cookie.
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* photo by Karine Lim – Intrepid Photography Competition