Expert recommendations for the best places to eat in four price ranges: budget ($), moderate ($$), expensive ($$$), and luxury ($$$$)

$

La Mascota
“Some of the best botanas (free Mexican tapas) in the city.”—David Lida, food writer who covers Mexico City. Traditional cantina serves endless free snacks (soups, stews, and albóndigas (meatballs) with drinks during Mexican lunchtime (2-5 p.m.). Close to major city center sights. Mesones 20, Col. Centro; tel. 52 55 5709 7852.

El Tizoncito
Classic taco joint in the Condesa is open on weekends until 5:30 a.m., with branch in Coyoacán open until 2:30 a.m. The signature dish is tacos al pastor, soft corn tortillas with pork, onion, pineapple, cilantro, and the spicy sauce of your choice. Campeche 362, Col. Condesa; tel. 52 55 5286 5374 and Aguayo 3, Coyoacán; tel. 52 55 5554 7712. www.eltizoncito.com.mx

$$

El Cardenal
The welcoming bustle makes this classic, family-friendly, city center restaurant a favorite meeting place. Lavish breakfasts; also popular for lunch. Traditional menu includes handmade tortillas and a wide range of Mexican fare such as gorditas. Calle de Palma 23, Col. Centro; tel. 52 55 5521 8815. www.elcardenal.com.mx

El Bahío
Modest with chunky wooden chairs, tables, and decor in cheery colors. Far from anywhere you might want to go, but worth the hike to experience the authentic traditions of regional fare. Chef Carmen Ramírez prepares rich dark moles, plantains, and black beans. Lunch only. Cuitláhuac 2709, Col. Azcapotzalco; tel. 52 55 5341 9889. New branch: Alejandro Dumas 7, Col. Polanco; tel. 52 55 5281 8246.

Restaurante Bar Chon
Pre-Hispanic cuisine spot at a rougher edge of the city center attracts the adventurous. Since 1964, diners have experienced the culinary rarities of chapulines (grasshoppers), gusanos de maguey (cactus larva), wild boar, armadillo, chrysanthemums, mountain lion, and ant roe. Lunch only. Regina 160, Col. Centro; tel. 52 55 5542 0873. www.restaurantechon.com

Peces
Laid back family-friendly bistro-style seafood restaurant that looks onto a leafy park. Paris without the high prices. Terrific locally made red and dark beer, and unique dishes such as majamas (slices of soft dark tuna served with garlic and almonds) or tortellini de marlin con salsa de ostion. Jalapa 237, Col. Roma Sur; tel. 52 55 8596 9004.

Tecla
Affordable nouvelle Mexican in a cozy and hip atmosphere. Try the fried parsley with cream cheese to start, followed by shrimp and brie enchiladas with red adobo sauce. Close to nightlife venues. Durango 186A, Col. Roma; tel. 52 55 5525 4920.

$$$

Bistro Mosaico
Bustling with the chic Condesa crowd, including long-hair photographers and bald, pierced directors. Accessible French cuisine, perfect pates, and outstanding bread—all done with fun. Be prepared to wait. Booths on the far wall are the best seats in the house. Michoacán 10, Col. Condesa; tel. 52 55 5584 2932.

Contramar
Novel twists to traditional Mexican seafood dishes, such as impeccable red snapper a la talla, deep-fried shrimp tacos with chipotle mayonnaise, mussels, and succulent raw tuna. Arrive early or face long lines to get a table. High ceilings, whitewashed and airy space; attracts a fashionable, well-heeled crowd. Durango 200, Col. Roma Norte; tel. 52 55 5514 3169. www.contramar.com.mx

Círculo del Sureste
Popular with a business crowd, this is the capital’s smartest haunt for exotic Yucatan cuisine. The unique tastes of panuchos (layered corn tortillas stuffed with refried beans), papadzules (chopped hard boiled eggs wrapped in corn tortillas), and cochinita pibil (seasoned pork) guarantee a true surprise for newcomers while the specialty is the Dzick de Venado, succulent venison marinated in bitter orange. The signature liqueur of the region, Xcabentun, makes for a grand finale. Lucerna 12, Col. Juárez; tel. 52 55 5535 2704.

El Raco
Intimate, white tablecloths and delicious Catalan fare, from melt-in-the-mouth tuétano (marrow tostadas), to the specialty seafood fideua (paella with noodles). By day dine on the sidewalk with views onto the Parque Mexico. Sonora 174, Col. Condesa; tel. 52 55 5286 2188.

Condesa DF
One of the best Sunday brunches in town with rare treats such as green risotto with fava beans and epazote (native Mexican bitter herb), snapper in banana leaves, and sublime pastries and teas. Avenida Veracruz 102, Col. Condesa; tel. 52 55 5241 2600.

$$$$

Photo Bistro
Arguably the best French bistro in town. Serves superb pates, endive salad, and sea bass in lemon sauce. Cozy with wooden floors and photo exhibitions on the walls. Citlaltépetl 23-F, Col. Condesa; tel. 52 55 5286 5945.

Izote
“The stuffed chile ancho with foie gras is reminiscent of the truly sensual dishes created by the Mexican nuns in the convents of the 1700s and 1800s.”—Barbara Sibley. Mecca of nouvelle Mexican cuisine created by chef, teacher, and author Patricia Quintana. Try the lamb steamed in banana leaves or fish with corn fungus. Presidente Masaryk Ave. 513, Col. Polanco; tel. 52 55 5280 1265.

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