If you’re like me and were genetically blessed with a body that rejects gluten—or even if you’re one of those people who has helped make my life easier by choosing to make “GF” a fad—then you’ve probably found that traveling to a new place can be nerve-racking and, at times, frustrating. Before I moved to Mexico City, I had absolutely no idea how it was going to be living in a carb-loaded city in a gluten-free body. Well, after a few weeks in the city, I’m happy to report that not only is it doable, but it’s freaking delicious. So, throw your fears away, pack your bags, and head to Mexico City using this as your gluten-free guide to Mexican staples, GF restaurants, important phrases to know, and anything else you might be wondering about regarding eating GF in Mexico City.
I LOVE Mexican food, not only for its taste but also for its corn-based ingredients. Nearly every restaurant you will visit in Mexico City will have some version of a taco and a quesadilla listed on the menu. And, unlike in the U.S., nearly all tacos and quesadillas—hard shell AND soft—are made with corn-based tortillas. Since arriving in Mexico City, I have been giddily trying different kinds of authentic Mexican food on the street and in restaurants! Here are some of my favorite dishes that are usually gluten-free and corn-based that you will frequently see around Mexico City:
Tacos: As mentioned above, tacos in Mexico City are generally made with corn tortillas, and you can find them anywhere! If you want to really eat like a local, try los tacos al pastor. Al pastor means that the meat, typically pork, is marinated in a combination of dried chiles, spices, and pineapple and slowly cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The meat is then thinly sliced and served in a corn tortilla with finely chopped onions, coriander, and pineapple, topped with lime juice and salsa. Quite simply, these tacos are to die for!
Quesadillas: A typical quesadilla in Mexico City consists of a corn tortilla filled with ingredients such as Oaxacan cheese, tinga (shredded spiced chicken), and choripapa (potato and chorizo). You can find them everywhere—on the street and at restaurants—so if you’re really looking for something quick that you know is gluten free, a quesadilla is your best bet!
Flautas: Also know as taquitos, tacos dorados, or rolled tacos, flautas are small, rolled-up, crisp-fried tortillas with some kind of filling, usually beef, cheese, or chicken. Flautas have become my go-to here in Mexico City, but be sure to check about possible cross contamination in the fryer.
Tamales: A tamal is typically made of corn-based masa dough, filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, or chilies, and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. This traditional Mexican dish is delicious! If you want a tamal, order one for breakfast, as it’s difficult to find tamales anywhere after 1pm.
Huaraches: Sometimes spelled guarache, this dish starts with a fried, typically corn-based masa base and is topped with salsa, onions, potatoes, some kind of protein, and finished with queso fresco.
Alambres: Alambre refers to the Mexican dish served with corn tortillas that consist of grilled beef topped with peppers, onions, chopped bacon, cheese, salsa, and avocado. It is pretty filling, so be prepared to eat a lot when ordering.
Beware: Enchiladas and burritos are often made with flour-based tortillas.
While the list above has allowed me to eat in Mexico City without having a gluten incident, it is still important to check that everything you order is, in fact, gluten free. Here are some Spanish words and phrases to know that’ll help:
If you are gluten intolerant, you can eat harina de maíz, harina de almendras, and harina de arroz. Do NOT eat anything made with harina de trigo.
This means: I have a question about ___. Are the tortillas made of corn or wheat?
This means: I am allergic to gluten. Note: Saying you’re allergic is often easier and faster than explaining your intolerance.
This means: Is anything on this menu gluten-free? Note: the waiter may not know the answer to this, but it’s still worth asking.
If trying to order gluten free at general restaurants isn’t your thing, thankfully—and deliciously—there are a number of gluten-free and organic specialty stores and restaurants throughout varying neighborhoods in Mexico City that will provide you with the baked goods, cereals, granola bars, and GF flours that you may not be able to otherwise find. Here are 5 of my favorite gluten free places in Mexico City:
1. Ojo de Agua in Condesa & Polanco: Calle Citlaltépetl 23C, Cuauhtémoc, Hipódromo, 06100 Ciudad de México, CDMX and Horacio 522, Miguel Hidalgo, Polanco, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX
This is arguably one of the best gluten-free and vegan restaurants in Mexico City! While Ojo de Agua is primarily a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, their menu offers an extensive range of gluten-free foods, including salads, sandwiches, breakfast dishes, and baked goods. Rumor has it that their gluten-free brownies and bread alone are worth the trip! And, as the website claims, “the quality and love that we put in each dish is demonstrated in its incomparable flavor.”
2. Concepto Orgánico in Polanco: Campos Elíseos 103, Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX
This specialty store has anything and everything you might be looking for relating to gluten-free, vegan, organic, and dairy-free foods! I was able to buy gluten-free flour, cereal, and granola bars at Concepto Orgánico, as well as stock up on quinoa and organic meats. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth the stop.
3. La Otilia Gluten Free Bakery in Roma Norte: Valladolid 76, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX
In addition to having many gluten-free baked goods, most of the goodies at La Otilia are also either dairy-free or vegan! This bakery offers a large selection of gluten-free treats and serves all-day breakfast and filling GF sandwiches. La Otilia is a very cute little bakery and cafe that has great wifi and nice work spaces! It’s a bit more expensive than other cafes, but if you need gluten-free, sugar-free, and/or vegan goods, then this bakery is for you!
Note: If you’re celiac, this bakery is probably the safest place to eat. They are in validation with Celiacos de México, A.C. and Acelmex A.C. Sin Gluten.
4. The Amsterdam Market in Condesa: Avenida Amsterdam No.159, Cuauhtémoc, Hipódromo Condesa, 06100 Ciudad de México, CDMX
While the selection is not huge, the Amsterdam Market in Condesa has many hard-to-find food items. It offers a wonderful selection of artisanal gluten-free bread, nut butters, seeds, organic fruits and vegetables, tofu, granola, and cold-pressed juices. The market itself is quaint and cute, having a prepared food section for those of you like me who can’t make it through a trip to the market without a snack.
5. Distrito Foods: San Ángel Mercado del Carmen, Amargura 5, local 14; www.distritofoods.com
One of the most enjoyable things I’ve done in Mexico City was perusing through the San Angel bazaar one Saturday. The bazaar itself is full of colorful artwork and great, hand-made items, but the highlight was truly the gluten-free, dairy-free banana cake I stumbled upon. Distrito Foods is a great bakery that sets up in San Angel each week to sell its delicious goods. Honestly, I’ve been craving that banana cake ever since. Luckily, they also have an online store to satisfy my banana cake cravings. If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by their stall or check them out online. I promise it’ll be worth it!
If you’re like me and enjoy cooking at home, then you will have even more options than those provided by street food, restaurants, and specialty stores. At many of the larger grocery stores like Superama and Costco you will be able to find many pre-packaged gluten-free goods, including gluten-free pasta brands, GF bread, GF cookies, crackers, pretzels—really any corn-based or rice-based good your heart desires. After living in Cusco, Peru and not being able to find many of the gluten free brands I had grown to know and love in the states, I was pleasantly surprised to see an entire shelf in the Superama near me dedicated to gluten-free goods.
As always, be cautious with cross-contamination. Tortillas are often fried, so check whether or not wheat-based goods have been used in the same fryer. Like in the states, some people do not know what gluten is, so it may be better to ask what something is made out of rather than request that your meal is made “sin gluten.”
Mexican food is amazing, and my gluten intolerance certainly has not held me back from trying some of the best and most unique dishes in Mexico City. If you’re really nervous about finding GF street food, you may want to book a foodie tour where your guide should be well-versed in the GF offerings of street carts. Most importantly, don’t worry, have fun, and enjoy Mexico City through your stomach using this gluten-free guide.
Written by Colleen O’Connor