When a quick bite becomes a bottle of mezcal.

What was supposed to be a quick lunch before hitting the International book fair, turned into a 6-hour Oaxaqueña feast at Casa Nela in downtown Mexico City. Passing through the little market at street level, my friend Chef Carlo Melendez, led the way up a steep spiral staircase into the cozy dining room/kitchen of this homey establishment. We snagged a table in the window, perfect for watching the Sunday afternoon crowd passing by with ice cream cones on family outings.

The first order of business was to try tejate, a pre-hispanic cold beverage made with corn, white cocoa beans, mamey seeds, corozo palm fruits, cocoa flowers and sugar. As is the case with many pre-hispanic preparations, this one is a labor of love that involves grinding corn, toasting the seeds and fruit on a comal, pulverizing the toasted ingredients, and slowing mixing with water by hand  to achieve the ideal texture and foamy cap. Kept ice cold, the tejate is served in jicara, hand-painted gourde cups. The oils from the cocoa solidify and float on the surface. It is delicious, not too sweet, and very refreshing.

Next up, we shared the “Tlayuda del Patron” stuffed with tasajo (dried beef), enchilada (chile marinated pork), chorizo and cheese between thin crisp, charred tortillas. It was the largest tlayuda I have ever seen and especially impressive for $115 pesos (<$6 USD). We ordered some chapulines (grasshoppers) to add extra tang and crunch. And, because you should never pass up a mole in a Oaxaqueña restaurant we enjoyed the pork spine and vegetables in green mole. Not a drop remained.

For proper digestion we ask about the mezcal options and in the ecstasy of eating, the $300p bottle seemed the prudent choice over a mere caballito (shot glass) each. Indeed, as we ate and talked, the bottle seemed to evaporate. We watched the workers begin closing down and cleaning up making us realize how long we’d been seated in our little perch. We capped the bit of remaining clear liquid in the bottle so as to depart with a shred of respectability.