“ Address: Alfonso Reyes 239 Col. / Condesa Del. / Cuauhtémoc / México „
A chocolate café is not a good reason to move to a neighbourhood, but neither is a chocolate factory a good reason to visit a country. Despite what people may think, I have not done either of these (though, ahem, once while living in Australia I may, possibly, just perhaps have taken the Cadburys Factory as a good enough reason for a quick side-trip to Tasmania). However, despite not actively planning this, I do now live a couple of streets away from a Chocolate Bar in Mexico City, and if you ever find yourself in this part of the world, you absolutely must visit it.
The mission, and excuse the paraphrasing and/or poetic license of this translation, is to provide "a place of inspiration and convenience for every visitor, where they can enjoy the traditional Mexican indulgences of chocolate and of coffee". That sounds kinda poncy for a small café on a non-descript street in a huge city, but luckily for me I hadn't read this before we went for the first time.
When you walk into the bar, if you look straight ahead you might be forgiven for thinking you were in a fast food place since over the counter there are large photographs of menu items, similar to those you might find in McDonalds. However this is not that sort of fast food place as you soon realise. XoKaWa seems to be going for the Starbucks-style "3rd place" approach, and has lots of comfy seats as well as some traditional café style tables and chairs. The place is rarely crowded, but there are usually a few people so it's not horribly empty. It has a friendly atmosphere and since they serve everything from coffees to meals, you never get glared at for just going in for a drink. Once after school my class and I went together and they were happy for us to shift the tables so we could sit together as a large group. The food came out in dribs and drabs, but at least it was clearly being freshly made for us which is appealing. The colour scheme is orange and brown, which were the colours of my senior school uniform so make me feel right at home...
Every time I've been there have been several couples apparently on dates here, which is such a good idea - the music is subtle (and slow - usually remixes of 90s songs, that I've never heard quite like this before) and you can hear yourself talk, and of course the menu is brilliant (see below) so it's hardly a hardship to go here instead of a usual (wine) bar. When I snag me that rich Mexican boyfriend I know where he's taking me...
The place is well maintained and generally clean though the tables sometimes need a quick wipe, which they get, but only once you have sat down. Cleaning pre-customers does not seem to be part of the way they work here. However the kitchen area looks spotless, as is the bar, and a few chocolate crumbies are hardly a reason to stop going somewhere.
Almost but not everything on the menu has chocolate involved which is quite interesting since they offer savoury stuff as well as your usual sweet things. Here's a sample of what they have on their menu (see their website for further items):
* Cakes, brownies, churros, waffles and crepes - we tried the triple chocolate crepes which are actually chocolate batter pancakes with white, milk and dark chocolate sauces, and the banana crepes (for the one who was trying to be 'healthy'). The cakes vary from time to time, but you can see what they have before you order because they're displayed in the glass cabinet near the till. They generally included donuts, brownies, cheesecake and a gorgeous chocolate truffle cake which is very similar to the Gü one you can get at UK supermarkets, but much thicker/deeper . It is served with an unusual blackberry sauce but if this sounds too healthy they will happily substitute good old chocolate. Their churros (long thin donuts) are the ones you fill rather than dunk, and can be served with caramel or fruit sauces, or a variety of chocolates including the yummy white chocolate one. They also have ice cream (vanilla and chocolate) and New York style vanilla cheesecake, so you can find non-chocolate sweet things if you really want them.
* Individual gourmet chocolates are displayed at the counter, and include over a dozen types of truffles, plus little boxed chocolate squares too. You can order these individually or get a gift box made up to take home. They are absolutely tiny, and cost almost 50p each, but are worth it as they are so delicate.
* Hot chocolates of different flavours, milkshakes served with a lot of whipped cream and an Oreo cookie garnish, coffees and teas (both green and black) are complemented by fizzy drinks and water, the only downside being that they stock Pepsi products, not Coca Cola ones. Since this is quite unusual for Mexico they may be trying to make a stand against the mainstream.
* Savoury food includes sandwiches (one of which is adorably called "Boob" though I doubt they realise the hilarity of this - it's just a ham and pineapple thing), tamalli and salads, one of which comes with a chocolate dressing. That's not as weird as it sounds here, since Mexico is home to Mole ("mo-lay"), a popular sauce mainly for enchiladas which is made from chocolate, chilli and chicken broth, and therefore most people are used to having the taste of a dark, bitter chocolate with savoury foods.
The prices are very reasonable - drinks are between 16 pesos and 25 pesos, and none of the food costs more than 60 pesos (that's approx £3 / $6 at the time of writing). We were expecting higher prices on our first visit so were pleasantly surprised, as the prices are similar to Starbucks here, even though this is a cute and unique café rather than a characterless multinational chain.
The quality of the food is extremely high, and it really is a high-end café in all aspects. Comparing them to generic places nearby like, again, Starbucks, is like comparing Lindt to Cadburys - both are nice, and both have their place in a healthy balanced diet, but you know which one you have to choose for that touch of luxury.
I have needless to say been to this café several times. The last time we went I ordered waffles and it took them 10 minutes to come back and tell me they didn't have them in stock, which is strange since it's basically the same mixture as crepes (which they do have) so I had to assume they meant their waffle machine was broken. I had truffle cake instead which was lovely, but I still want to try those waffles. One of my favourite things in Mexican cafés is the supreme lack of attention to detail. You often get undercharged for things, and this place was no exception. They managed to miss two drinks off the bill (there were only 3 of us, but the other two had both cold and hot beverages) so in the end the bill for truffle cake, salad, chocolate crepes, two soft drinks minus two teas, plus one of their deluxe mini truffles, came to less than £10, or under £3.50 per head which anyone would agree is a bargain. Even with the two drinks it would have been less than £5 per head which is still a good price for this city where you can eat tacos on the street for pennies but will pay through the nose for a basic coffee in some cafés.
The staff are always friendly though they don't speak English which is a bit unusual for a café so near to a large language school and located in a predominantly ex-pat area. My Spanish is fine until it comes to the weird and wacky flavour of chocolate truffles, and then I got a little stuck, but in the end we agreed that the Mandarin one would be a good choice, so that was that (note their flavour description...this is not the kind of place to have Orange flavoured chocs when they can have Mandarin instead).
XoKaWa is open from 11am daily and shuts at 10.30pm or 11pm depending on the day. In addition to the food they sell souvenirs both food (um...chocolate) and non-food (such as t-shirts) and they also have the rather sweetly named "parking for pets" i.e. they have places to tie up your dog outside and provide shade and water for the pups. Wifi is available free of charge for customers. If you cannot find a parking space, they will come out and serve you in your car too, which is not quite the same as the drive-through Starbucks two blocks further up, but is almost as good.
I couldn't live this close to a Chocolate Bar and not go regularly - it would be like an alcoholic living next door to Wetherspoons and not popping in all the time - so I am pleased that this place is so fab. The menu is diverse and very well priced, the ambience is pleasant and the staff are helpful so it is quickly becoming my "local" in the city, and will be until the fly of my jeans starts to complain. One of my favourite things about travelling is the chance to experience new cultures and seek new places of interest, and therefore in the ancient home of chocolate I have naturally been able to turn a trip to XoKaWa into a cultural experience. If you ever come to town, you should do the same.
XoKaWa is located in La Condesa a nice swish neighbourhood of Mexico City, in which reside some nice swish Mexicans and, well, quite a large number of ex-pats. The Chocolate Bar as they call themselves is located on Alfonso Reyes, and is just 5 minutes walk from the nearest Metro and Metrobus stops, both called Chilpancingo.
Address: Alfonso Reyes 239, Col. Condesa Del. Cuauhtémoc, México D.F.
Tel. 5025 9137