Down in the Valley: Humbertos & Fonda 99.99
Colonia Del Valle is that quiet, resolutely middle-class, luster-less neighborhood where lots of people live, essential to every big city. Think Queens. There are nice, post-war vintage homes, clean streets, a few tidy parks. You don’t feel the genteel breeziness of Polanco, the buzz of the Condesa, the encroaching hipsterism of La Roma, the intellectual vibe of Coyoacán or the walk-on-the-wild-side artsiness of Santa Maria la Ribera.
But there are some cultural and culinary gems hidden in the Valley’s streets. The Centro Libanés is one. Fonda Margarita is another. And now I've discovered two Yucatecan mini-institutions, owned by brothers, that sit back to back on a particularly quiet thoroughfare. These busy kitchens whip up their versions of that most incendiary of Mexican regional cuisines, and are amongst the best in the city.
Fonda 99.99 is the simpler of the two, its décor practically non-existent – it’s bright and clean inside, at least –the color scheme is hospital white. The menu is limited to those well-worn peninsularantojitos: cochinita pibil, in its various guises, such as tacos, panuchos and tortas. The sopa de lima has that particularly satisfying savory balance of perfumy and picant. And padadzules, those eggy, blue concoctions, a rare (in the Mexican lexicon, anyway) vegetarian, if not vegan dish, are creamy and nutty. I asked a manager from whence comes the 99.99 theme – she couldn’t tell me. Avis's old “we try harder” ethic, I suppose.
The quarter-century-old Humbertos, entered through 99’s driveway or from around the corner, sports warmer decoration. It features a long and intriguing menu. Expectant diners line up for a table – they look happy when they are seated and eat a lot. Here, the ‘99’ theme spills over, and all prices end in .99, even though we no longer use 1-centavo coins in Mexico. “99 44/100 per cent pure” promised those old Ivory Soap ads. As a particularly cynical kid I always wondered about the other .56 percent.
A little chopped egg makes for pretty. Tacos de lechón, suckling pig, were addictive - I lusted after my neighbor’s huge plate of pure lechón, Monday’s special. But I had ordered thetacos de cazón, that light baby shark with which the Yucatecans work so well. The classic pan de cazón, is presented here as a pretty stack of herby braised fish, black beans and tortillas swathed in gorgeous red tomato/chili sauce like a Dior model in crimson organdy. Of course you’ll wash it all down with ice-cold horchata or Montejo beer.
Prices in both places are reasonable – a comida will set you back no more than $100 pesos. But be aware that they are only open for lunch - no late night chilli-fests. So go down to the valley - it can get hot there.
Moras 347, between Miguel Laurent & San Lorenzo, 6 blocks east of Av. Insurgentes, Col. Del Valle (Metrobus Parque Hundido)
Open Tuesday-Saturday 1-8PM, Sunday until 6
Patricio Sanz 1440, (entry from Calle Mora, see below)
Col. Del Valle
Open every day but Tuesday, 1-6PM
Roberto Santibanez July 20, 2011
Love Humberto's for lunch!
Nicholas Gilman replies:
Roberto Santibanez, the commentator above, is a masterful chef and author; his renowned restaurant, in NYC is Fonda
Rowill July 20, 2011
Great stuff. I actually like going to Valle. It's a nice, ordinary, every day sort of place, where the people are nice and there's nothing too special. You actually see a lot of DF there, in its own way, and I've always found the food there to be really good, interesting and tidy little places to eat.
Jim J July 21, 2011
Your writing gets better and better--this one is great, and will probably have people thinking, for the first time ever, "Let's go down to Del Valle!"
It's all those 'ordinary' neighborhoods that make Mexico City so extraordinary. It's hundreds of small towns, all with their own identity. Thanks for pointing this one out.
Ruth in Condechi July 21, 2011
Just in case you're in the area early in the morning - the 99.99 doesn't open officially till 1 PM - but they do sell tortas de cochinita pibil to go before then!
Juan July 21, 2011
Two yucatecan institutions, indeed. The streets of Del Valle are generally quieter than their counterparts in hipster neighborhoods, but they jealously guard more than a few gems like these ones.
Don CuevasJuly 23, 2011
Thanks for the post.
I avoid dishes that have more than one variant of the same thing, like "six cheeses", or "three mustards". Isn't one good enough? I like to be able to taste that which I'm eating.
Set July 25, 2011
-(...) the encroaching hipsterism of La Roma, (...) Hahaha Actually, I pass through Moras quite often and have seen a big white sign with 99.99 on it, but nothing too remarkable. Gotta check it out.