Two months ago I took the most beautiful, freeing, serendipitous, dreamy adventure I had been on in nearly a decade. On a whim (or rather on a flight deals website), my old college travel bestie Michele and I booked a vacation together after my farming season was mostly wrapped up. The entire trip budget: $700. The destination that made that low budget possible: Mexico City. Yeah, we put that much thought into our destination.
To say the trip was outside my comfort zone would be a serious understatement. It was a huge city. It was gritty. It was busy. It was the first time I had flown to a destination outside of the country without my Carrot in eight years. It was a language I hadn’t spoken since high school. It was super hip and way too cool for me. Overall, it was just a lot of adventure for a girl who was increasingly becoming a lover of comfort and home.
And it was absolutely everything I needed.
Travel is like that. It forces you to be nervous and uncomfortable, but also teaches you to be strong, adaptable and creative. Even when my nerves get the best of me, I love that travel allows me to discover so many different aspects of myself and reminds me that I have so much to learn about this big world.
I learned that huge cities get a bad rap. They might be sprawling, but they can still feel small and quaint and slow. I learned that though the grit is definitely present, it fuels the artistry. I learned that language barriers force more interesting conversations. I learned that time away from your partner makes you a way better partner. And I learned that I am much younger and hipper than I think I am, easily navigating bustling streets in search of the trendiest restaurants and mezcalerias.
Later this week my Carrot and I are about to jet off on another adventure to a land where I feel incredibly comfortable. We’ll be in Northern California and Oregon for twelve sweet days: hiking among the Redwoods, meandering along the coasts, meeting amazing farmers and dining on farm-to-table fare. I love that balance. I love being able to find places that feel like no where you have ever experienced and also find places that feel immediately like home.
Below you will find the highlights from a beautiful journey to a misunderstood city followed by some tacos inspired by the simplicity of the hyper trendy Taqueria Orinoco. Tender steak, caramelized onions, raw onions, crispy corn tortilla pieces, avocado and a sauce or two combine on small, warm tortillas for a spicy, hearty, subtly sweet meal that tastes infinitely more interesting than the simple ingredients that go into it.
With a basement full of onions and a freezer full of venison steak, there is nothing I want more by mid-January than transformation of things that have turned a little dull. Serve these alongside a pitcher of Super Citrus-y Margaritas (like my friend Jon did we he came over for tacos), turn up the Merengue, and you will also transform your home into a warm, inviting, flavorful place– much like the beloved D.F.
Love and tenderness on all your adventures,
Hostel Home // In general this place is dreamy, but if you get the private room in the front (with a sunlight-filled shared living space right off of it) like we did, you will be utterly blissed out when you wake up in the morning.
Fonda Mayor // They make the guacamole to order at the table exactly how you like it. We had two orders followed by soft shell crab tacos, a naples (cactus) salad and my first Mexico City sips of Mezcal followed by strolling through the lovely Parque Mexico.
Monumento a la Revolucion // We never could figure out how to get to the very top but nonetheless, the view of the sunset, mountains and sprawling city was easily worth the $5 entrance fee.
Bubba Tea & Co. // Here we enjoyed an improptu breakfast for two slow moving gals. Coffee in 30-ounce vats, fresh fruit, avocado toast with glazed tomatoes, and a heaping pile of chilaquiles slatered in chile verde brought us everything we needed to start our second day.
Daniel’s AirBnb (aka quite possibly the most beautiful AirBnb in the world) // Great neighborhood, walls of windows, a billion plants, a kitty cat, a golden retriever, a comfortable bed and your own private bathroom: this AirBnb is a DREAM.
Museo Frida Kahlo // Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the enigmatic, soulful, feminist beauty, but even if I had I think I owuld have been equally captivated by her story while strolling through her and husband Diego Rivera’s home. Their love was complex. Her life was complicated. I loved every second spent here. If you visit, know that the audio tour should be required. It’s amazing.
Bella Rafaella // Within walking distance of the Frida Kahlo museum and perfectly placed if a bird poops on your head once you already left the museum. Also possibly the prettiest coffee and tastiest chocolate croissant of my life (and the moment I truly forgot I wasn’t in America or Europe).
Taqueria Orinoco // The best tacos of my god damn life. I don’t know what else to say. My mind can’t even wrap itself about the flavors I experienced there. The tortillas, the meat, the sauces, everything was flawless. The vibe, however, is odd: intensely bright florescent lights, white everything, ugly Coca Cola tables, hard to read menu for an American. Don’t let any of it scare you away. Its beyond worth it.
Mercado de Jamaica // Mexico City has no shortage of awesome markets, but the fact that we followed Michele’s friends who were searching for wedding flowers made this trip to the market all the more beautiful. Even if we hadn’t been part of such a monumentous moment, I think I still would have loved this market filled with everything from fruit and vegetables to dried fruits, nuts, candy, toys, pinatas, wood crafts and the most elegant arrangements of flowers.
Castillo de Chapultapec // A castle atop a hill in a park twice the size of central park with marble floors and stunning views of the city. The two hours we spent lounging in the sun was honestly not even close to enough.
Zocalo // Downtown Mexico City is as colonial and grand as most major European city centers. This part of the city was the most touristy but also the biggest surprise. I never expected to see buildings like this is in the middle of Mexico City and I’m glad we strolled through this center of mystery and grandeur. A stunning old cathedral alongside recently discovered ruins was the most enticing part for me.
La Clandestina // This is the mezcal bar of ALL mezcal bars. A tiny space tucked in a quaint old neighborhood, this bar serves 40 types of high quality mezcal off a wall display of stunning glass bottles. You can choose you mezcal for sipping by the glass or small pitchers. For one reason or another we opted for the 530 mL pitcher. We had a fabulous time.
SUPER SIMPLE STREET TACOS
I like this meal best when serving a crowd. The tacos themselves are ridiculously easy to make, but each ingredient winds up in its own bowl which is more acceptable when you are throwing a party. (Plus the more people, the more additional sauces that I’ll go to the trouble of making!). But if you aren’t hosting folks for dinner and know you will have leftovers, just serve each component in the tupperware or Pyrex you plan to store the leftovers in for easiest clean up.
Takes 45-60 minutes depending which sauces you make
Vegetable oil, for frying
25-30 small corn tortillas, divided
5 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
3 medium yellow onions
3 pounds sirloin steak, we used venison steaks
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 avocados, pitted and sliced
1-2 limes, quartered
At least 2 (not so) optional sauces (see below)
- Pour about an inch of vegetable oil in a large deep skillet (preferably cast-iron). Heat over medium heat until hot but not smoking.
- Place ten of the corn tortillas in a stack on your cutting board while the oil heats up. Using a sharp knife, cut them into the small squares (similar in size to a diced onion). Toss one into the oil. If it sizzles, the oil is at the right temperature. If it just sinks, the oil needs to be a bit warmer. Once the oil is hot, dump in about 1/2 the tortilla squares. Fry for 1 minute until they just start to darken. Remove to a thick stack of paper towels to drain. Toss with 1/4 teaspoon salt while still warm. Repeat with remaining tortilla squares. Once drained, place in a small bowl.
- Allow the frying oil to cool while you prep your onion and steak. Dice one onion and put it in a small bowl. Set aside. Thinly slice remaining two onions.
- Trim steaks from bone, remove excess fat and thinly slice (fajita style). Leave on cutting board and cover with salt, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, pepper and cinnamon. Toss with your hands to coat.
- By now the oil should be cool enough to pour into a heat-safe container and store for later use (I always reuse my cooking oil). There will likely be some residual oil in the pan. Don’t worry about it. Turn heat to medium and toss in the sliced onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch or two of pepper. Continue cooking over medium heat until just beginning to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
- Turn the heat up to medium high and toss in about 1/3 of your prepped meat. If the pan has become dry, add a drizzle or two more oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes at this heat level, stirring often, until the steak is fully cooked. Remove to a large bowl and repeat with remaining steak until all is cooked.
- While cooking the steak, warm tortillas in batches in the microwave and cover with a towel to keep warm.
- Consolidate all ingredients to one area: warm tortillas, fried corn tortilla squares, raw onion, caramelized onion, cooked steak, avocados (if using), limes, and sauces. If you have some cilantro lying around, add that to the mix as well. Have guests build their tacos to their preference though for me that means putting every single damn thing on one tiny tortilla.
(NOT SO) OPTIONAL SAUCES: We most often serve these with a minimum of four sauces because Mexico City scarred me for life on ever again eating tacos with just one bland salsa
- My Favorite Dried Chili Salsa: essentially this recipe but made with Pastilla (dried poblano) peppers because of the ease of de-seeding
- Avocado Yogurt Sauce (what I use in lieu of sour cream): 1 avocado + 1/2 cup Greek yogurt + 1/2 lime, juiced + 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Salsa Fresca: 15-ounce can diced tomato (diced more if needed) + 1 jalapeno + 2 garlic cloves + 1/2 lime, juiced + handful chopped cilantro + salt to taste
- Guacamole: if you opt for guacamole, don’t worry about having extra sliced avocado as noted above
- Homemade Salsa: we, being overloaded with tomatoes for two months every year, always have a jar of Charred Salsa in our pantry but if you don’t, ask guests to each bring a jar of homemade salsa so you have a variety
- Grocery Store Salsa