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Mexico DF

The Cuisine of the Distrito Federal

Mexico City. Cuidad de Mexico. The Federal District. No matter what you call Mexico’s capital, this is the point where all the flavors of Mexico merge -- Oaxacan moles, mariscos of Veracruz, and the maiz of Yucatan. Under the helm of Executive Chef David Rosales, formerly of Albany’s Fonda Solano, Mexico DF succeeds in exposing San Francisco palates to both the classic and more adventurous of Mexican cuisine by exploring a vast range of Mexico City’s greatest dishes.

The atmosphere at Mexico DF is convivial: a large table in the center of the dining room; dark woods and bright pieces of artwork; and an extensive tequila list. With its high ceilings and open kitchen, Mexico DF is a place made for gathering, and its small-plate offerings invite adventuresome eating.

Rosales’ menu starts with a selection of guacamoles and fresh ceviches, samples sopas and ensaladas, tacos and even botanos y antojitos -- or “bar bites,” such as tamales with huitlacoche, or corn truffle. The larger plates include whole fish, braised chicken, carnitas served in a lava rock molcahete, and the Al Lados, or side offerings of nopalitos, or prickly pear cactus, rice, and both black and pinto beans.

The drinks menu provides a selection of margaritas, such as muddled fruit, hibiscus and chile piquin. When ordering the “Margarita Polanco” ($11), a simple margarita made with Herradura Reposado, we struck up a conversation with our server about the food of Mexico City (and San Francisco baseball). Unfortunately, those highly recommended margaritas were disappointingly weak -- even with the fine Herradura.

A proud and opinionated foodie with views on the best dishes from the DF, our server guided us toward the Guacamole Classico ($9), the Ahi tuna ceviche ($12), Chuleta ($9) and Cabrito ($12) tacos, and the whole roasted Dourade ($26) with sides of Frijoles de la Olla ($3) and Arroz Mexicano with fried egg ($5), a quintessential Mexico City snack.

The Guacamole Classico was fresh and buttery and the ceviche, with its orange, mint and avocado seasoning, was made with tender Ahi tuna and served with house made tortilla chips. Both servings were appetizer-sized though plenty for our party of three.

Not so for the Chuleta tacos, Mexican pork loin seasoned with chile de arbol salsa, and the Cabrito tacos, barbecoa-style goat, with nopales. The Chuleta tacos were delicious, with finely diced white-meat pork and freshly made tortillas -- we basked in this upscale version of the more typical Al Pastor barbequed pork tacos found on most taqueria menus. The Cabrito tacos were more rare; crispy shreds of goat meat with a smokey, rustic flavor and a texture similar to carnitas.

But our complaint had to do with price and size of the tacos -- these were taco truck-sized with simple cilantro, onion and salsa, but at full-plate prices. True, the meat was of the highest quality, and the goat not as easy to find as cabeza, but the portion size and plating was meager.

Nevertheless, the most impressive dish was the roasted Dourade, whole fish served on a bed of watercress and pickled jalapenos. Our servers showed us how to remove the bone so we could eek out every sweet bit of the delicious white fish. With a side of the somewhat flavorless Frijoles de la Olla, or saucy pinto beans, and the more earthy Arroz Mexicano (traditional Mexican rice with a funky fried egg) the dish combinations made for a great family-style meal. We finished with the fluffy Goat Cheese Cheesecake and fresh strawberries ($8) and found ourselves scraping every remnant from our plate with our spoons.

Overall, the prices were high at Mexico DF, though understandable given the location and décor. But the menu itself was authentic and fresh, and the hours -- including happy hour, as well as late night taqueria eating until 1am -- were inviting. Along with the small bar that opened onto Steuart allowing great people-watching, the details made Mexico DF a fun destination, and worth an exploration.

South Beach

Reservations? Yes.