On a side street in the heart of the historical center of Mexico City, close to Parque Alameda and Bellas Artes (the Palace of Fine Arts), is a small, unassuming restaurant called simply Restaurante Vegetariano. It is open only for lunch and caters to the personnel of nearby offices and businesses.
It is in a neighborhood of somewhat old and decrepit buildings, slightly to one side of the tourist-transited Juarez street and core pedestrian passageways. The streets and buildings are grey and soot-covered, and the businesses around the restaurant all seem to focus on refrigeration or washer/drier repair and service–potbellied compressors and plastic washer agitators are everywhere. If you look for this restaurant, don’t expect to see nice decor or any ambiance other than that of a simple, working-class neighborhood.
On a recent visit to Mexico City, my husband and I dropped in for quick lunch. We scaled a narrow stairway up to the first floor above street level and entered a small and crowded apartment that had been converted into a restaurant. The two diminutive rooms fronting the street held about six small tables topped with standard faux wood Formica with accompanying straight-backed chairs. Small framed photos (magazine clippings?) of Marilyn Monroe and flowers hung on the walls. The tiny kitchen had barely enough space for two people to work. The hallway connecting the rooms and leading to the bathroom held a narrow table that served as a wait station, holding the necessary tableware, napkins, and glassware for replacing table settings. It was a bit crushed and crowded but clean, and the food smelled good.
We sat at one of the tables and were immediately served a jug of chilled lemongrass tea and given menus that listed the fare for the day. Each meal included an opening course of mixed green or fruit salad and a choice of hot vegetable soups or cold beet juice, kefir, or yogurt After that, we could choose from a listing of different main courses with prices ranging from $48 and $70 pesos per meal. You can also choose from a more basic, daily set meal for a price of only $30 pesos.
We went for the $48 peso-a-plate menu and chose the green salad for starters. We were served healthy mounds of mixed leafy, green lettuce, tomato, cooked beets, carrots, and alfalfa sprouts served with a homemade yogurt-based dressing or just oil and vinegar. My husband chose the hot noodle and vegetable soup followed by beans and nopales (sauteed prickly pear cactus) with mushrooms, and I had the beet juice followed by brown rice and beans. There was a nice homemade chile sauce on the table, whole grain bread, and homemade gomasio (sesame seeds ground with salt). Portions were good and the food was simple but tasty and nicely prepared. When finished, we were each given a small slice of whole wheat banana bread. The meal was more than satisfying. It was like eating at home, except I tend to prepare less of a variety for each meal. I’d certainly go back and eat at the Restaurante Vegetariano again.
If you’re in the area, remember that the Restaurante Vegetariano is only a couple of blocks away from Calle Dolores, where Mexico City’s Chinatown (a scant block-long stretch of restaurants and small shops selling the standard Chinese lanterns, incense sticks, noodles, and soy sauce) is found. You might want to check that out, too.
Calle Articulo 123 No. 40, Depto. 5, 1st floor, Centro, Mexico D.F. (Between Luis Moya and Dolores). Tel: 5512-1470.
Open Monday to Saturday from 1:00 through 5:00 p.m.
Mexico City is one the world’s largest cities; its metropolitan area holds more than twenty million people. It is the country’s center of industry and commerce and offers tremendous cultural and commercial variety.