Four Days in Vibrant Mexico City
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
February 2020 - Off to a very early start on a cloudy Sunday morning, we boarded our flight on schedule and headed for the big city on the other side of the "Wall", a city so big they named the entire country after it. Mexico City is our first stop on this trip exploring the massive capital then on to a relaxing beach stop in Los Cabos/Cabo San Lucas.
We landed mid afternoon and took an Uber to the Hotel. As one of the oldest metropolises in the Americas, Mexico City is woven with rich histories, from the Aztec period to the Spanish conquest to the Mexican revolution to now—and it shows in the local cultural offerings. Officially México D.F. (Distrito Federal) or CDMX (Ciudad de México), this massive capital city boasts nearly 9 million residents (Chilangos) within the city and over 21 million Chilangos in the metropolitan area making it the most populous metropolis in the Western Hemisphere and the 5th largest city in the world.
It’s also one of the liveliest cities in the world, with a renowned arts and culture scene (an entire district was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site) and some of the best cuisine in the Western Hemisphere. Boasting more museums than any city in the world except London and in 2008 UNESCO added Día de los Muertos to its Cultural. Even better, Mexico City is affordable – and safer than you might expect. It promises visitors an unforgettable stay that's perfect for the culture-loving traveler who feels at home in a large, crowded place. It's gritty and beautiful at the same time.
While some of the initial development and structures can be dated back to the 4th century, The Mexica (part of the Aztec triple alliance) founded Tenochtitlán in the early 14th century. Initially built over a lake, the Lago de Texcoco, early settlers built an elaborate infrastructure of artificial island by dumping soil into the lagoon. They built their grand temples, nearby buildings, canals, farms and associated sculptures on the site of what is now Mexico City.
Despite the rise and fall of empires there was a continuity of culture in the Valley of Mexico. Agriculture and other technologies were passed down from generation to generation. A religion evolved as each dominant group absorbed the gods and rituals of their predecessors. The temples often survived the collapse of an empire. The pyramidal temples of Teotihuacán were honored and utilized by the Aztecs seven centuries after the demise of the Teotihuacán empire.
The city was colonized by the Spanish in 1521 and later dubbed "Mexico." The Spaniards erected a second Mexico City atop the ruins of Tenochtitlán with many ornate colonial style structures including a large Cathedral. Today at nearly 500 years old, its pre-colonial history is alive throughout much of the modern-day capital. The city is overflowing with opportunities to study the country's rich and conflicted past. One of the most densely populated cities in the world, and although it does grapple with common urban problems like crime and pollution, many neighborhoods – including Condesa and Polanco – are as safe as any city in the United States or Europe.
We’re staying at the new Sofitel Mexico City Reforma on Av. Paseo de la Reforma adjacent to the El Ángel de la Independencia. A new modern hotel that was centrally located to the sites we intended to explore on this short trip. The views from the upper floors were amazing, offering a panoramic views greater Mexico City.
Once settled in the hotel we headed out to the nearby Roma district for a quick exploration. Several clubs, cafes and neighborhood restaurants around we walked through neighborhoods of rough sidewalks and poorly maintained buildings mixed with amazing architecture. Stopped into small colorful café attached to the Museo Soumaya-Casa Guillermo Tovar de Teresa for a snack and drink before a quick tour of the small museum.
From here we’re off to our dinner reservation @ Carmela y Sal. I booked this one in advance since there are not many options for Sunday night dinner nearby. In a trendy upscale Polanco neighborhood bordered by Reforma and Chapultepec park its set at the base of a modern corporate high rise. Influenced by the Tabasco region you’ll find many modern dishes that are based on traditional Mexican preparations with influences of tropical fruits and flavors of the Tabasco region. Unique flavor combinations, presentations and curated cocktail selections we were very happy with our experience here.
Returning to the hotel we stopped into the “Freehouse” cocktail lounge which is housed on the second floor of the historic front façade of the building. Nice clubby lounge with a broad array of finer whiskey, tequila, and Mezcal. We decided to do a little Mezcal tasting, our first experience with this Mexican treat. Selected the Pierde Almas Espadin and the Monte Lobos Ensamble, both displayed the typical smokiness of Mezcal in addition to the unique characteristics. Good stuff!
An early start for day two we grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel and headed out for our tour. We chose the “Original Markets & Street Food” tour for today with urban adventures since most of the museums and other sites are closed on Mondays. Our guide Evelyn walked us through the streets of the historic center providing insight and history of the area and some interesting facts about modern life in Mexico City. Our first stop was Mercado Presidente Abelardo Rodriquez, also known as the murals market due to its collection of preserved murals. The market walls hold one of Mexico City’s best mural collections from the 1930's by students of Diego Rivera that are viewed in mellow market serenity away from the tourist crowds. The murals tell a story of the era surrounding repression and insurgency. The murals are hidden in areas of the market building not easily accessed unless you know where they are but well worth the hunt. Set apart from the tourist throngs behind everyday juice counters, through tiny vestibules, spread across ceilings and winding up massive staircases. These enormous and astonishingly gorgeous works of Mexican and American masters remain absurdly neglected, especially given that their value is ranked fourth after the murals of the Bellas Artes Palace, the Secretariat of Education and the National Palace.
As we were exiting this section of the market, we sampled tamales from a busy market stall “Tamales Atole”. We entered the main market section and stopped at another stall that specializes in Barbacoa. We sampled excellent lamb broth made from the drippings of the slow-cooked Barbacoa and some pork, beef and lamb barbacoa tacos.
We boarded a public bus heading to our next stop at Mercado Sonora also known as the witchcraft market. There several sections of this market but the two most popular are the areas for witchcraft and the area filled with party supplies. The largest esoteric market in Mexico and a must-see for those interested in mysticism. Local vendors have an answer to any of life’s daily troubles in the form of a magic soap, a holy water spray, or a love potion that uses toloache, a plant with hallucinogenic properties. A large array of vernacular religions are represented in Sonora, from Voodoo to la Santa Muerte via Brujeria, the Mexican term for sorcery which comes with its own bizarre recipe. A number of these beliefs are practiced by people alongside their Catholic faith. Our guide told us that most Mexicans are very dedicated to their Catholic faith but will seek any means to influence the spirits to achieve results.
We hopped on the metro for our next destination, Mercado Jamaica also known as the flower market. Opened in the 50’s it’s a massive thriving 24-hour flower market with over 1150 stalls and more than 5000 types of flowers. They’ve even added small apartments above some of the stalls where the vendors live in order to operate round the clock. The selection of cut flowers, arrangements, and live plants are endless, mostly grown within the country are priced very reasonably and are bought by many street vendors and flower shops from all over the city. It was amazing to see the array of flowers, mostly grown in Mexico, at such bargain prices. I said to Mary that at these prices our house would be filled with fresh flowers every week! A colorful, fragrant and visually appealing stop in the heart of a gritty city. Were visiting right before Valentines day so you'll see more roses and hearts than usual.
Our last stop was just outside the flower market and technically part of it, the Mercado Comida. An old school food court designed out of a need to feed the vendors and customers of the flower market. Several small individually operated open-air restaurants (when I say small, maybe 10 seats each) Our guide's family owns the “Huarache Ramirez” restaurant. We sampled yummy huaraches (masa filled with beans, cheese, and meat, fried and topped with nopales and salsa).
After the tour, we headed back to the hotel to take an afternoon dip in the 38th floor pool and enjoyed a great view overlooking the city and Chapultepec park in the distance. We discovered “Cityzen” a bar adjacent to the pool on the 38th-floor and stopped in for a cocktail and view. Cityzen has unobstructed views of the city through the massive floor to ceiling glass walls and out on the wrap-around terrace. Looking down on the Paseo de la Reforma, Angel of Independence and Chapultepec Castle, Cityzen has a relaxed atmosphere, inventive cocktails and boasts that they are the highest bar in the heart of Mexico City. We could have spent hours watching the traffic move around the round-about at the Angel of Independence, wondering how the unique traffic pattern was developed and how people could possibly determine their way through it. Once again I’m grateful for the abundance of cheap Uber rides available to help us navigate the city.
After our swim and cocktail, we took a walk through Roma Norte to Mercado Roma for dinner. The streets were filled with locals making their way home or strolling through the street vendors and sidewalk cafes. The three-story market is more upscale than its surroundings, but it's the perfect place for sipping Spanish wines, eating tapas, shopping for expensive cheeses, and nibbling snacks. You'll find satellite puestos from restaurants around town, a coffee counter, vegan tacos, and cured meats. There's also a rooftop beer garden, complete with a foosball table, and a ground-floor patio filled with herb boxes. It's not really a Mercado in the traditional sense but more hipster food court of food and drink stalls that range from traditional to modern world cuisines (American, Italian, Spanish, Canadian, etc…). If you go here don’t skip the churros from the small outlet of El Moro.
Day three's plan is a tour of the historic center, “Hidden Mexico” with Urban Adventures. We met our guide in the historic center near Templo Major, an archeological site that has and continues to unearth temples and grounds of the Mexicas/Aztecs built from the early 14th to 16th centuries.
A large part of Mexico City and especially the historic center was built over a former lake. This has created problems evident today by several leaning buildings and sloping streets and sidewalks. Attempts have been made to shore up the historic structures, but they continue to sink and bend over time. A few structures including several that were over the currently exposed ruins of Templo Mayor did indeed suffer to the extent that they were removed. The good news is that their removal allowed portions of the Teotihuacan city and temples to be uncovered.
In the early 16th century, the Spaniards arrived and proceeded to build a cathedral and colonial structures over the temples and grounds built by the Mexicas. In modern times the underground ruins of Tenochtitlán were discovered during infrastructure upgrades and are slowly being unearthed and preserved. While sounding a bit cruel to simply build new structures over the previous culture’s homeland, it was common for new rulers to do so. The main temple structure shows evidence that over time the Aztecs did the same, building seven different temple structures here one over the other, sealing off the previous structures as they built new ones to show their strength as their population grew. The history and methods used to build these structures are an inspiration to the skills and techniques employed by the early settlers. There is a vast area of structures and grounds that remain below the surface of the historic center, under the cathedral and other structures built after the arrival of the Spaniards.
After viewing the ruins and museum of Templo Major, we walked to the nearby Metropolitan Cathedral. Its massive size dominates the area with two bell towers (containing 25 bells total), a central dome, and three main portals. The tabernacle, adjacent to the cathedral, contains the baptistery. Inside you can see the leaning walls and columns and the slanting marble floor as the Cathedral is not immune to sinking as are most other structures in this area. There are five large, ornate altars, a sacristy, an ornate choir area in the center with massive organ pipes along each side (The cathedral is home to two of the largest 18th-century organs in the Americas). Sixteen chapels around the perimeter, each dedicated to a different saint or saints. There is a crypt below the cathedral that holds the remains of many former archbishops.
Leaving the Cathedral, we walked up the busy pedestrian-only Avenida Madero filled with visitors and locals lined with a mix of colonial and modern architecture occupied with modern shops and restaurants. We stopped in the coffee shop on the sixth floor of the Sears building which provided a perfect vantage point to view the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Porfirio Díaz ordered the building of the Palace of Fine Arts to commemorate the Centenary of the Beginning of Mexico's Independence. Construction began on what was supposed to be a four-year project in 1904, following delays by the revolution and necessary re-design do to the building sinking, 30 years later it was completed in 1934. Sinking continues to be an issue (as with most of the historic center of Mexico City) and reports suggest that the theatre has sunk around four meters since 1904. The ornate buildings' design is Art Nouveau outside and Art Déco in the interior. The Palacio De Bellas Artes is also particularly well known for its murals by artists such as Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, and José Clemente Orozco. Although we didn't get a chance this trip to see a performance here, were told it's an amazing venue to attend one. There are regularly scheduled folklorico shows and concerts to see, maybe on our next trip.
Following our visit to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we walked through the adjacent Alameda park. With its design, fountains, and sculptures this park could be in any European city.
At the other end of the park, we stopped in to view one of Diego Rivera’s most famous murals at the Diego Rivera Mural Museum. The museum was built in 1986 to house the mural, after its original location, the Hotel del Prado, was wrecked by the 1985 earthquake. Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central), a 15m-long mural painted in 1947. Rivera imagined in this mural, many of the figures who walked in the city from colonial times onward, among them Hernán Cortés, Benito Juárez, Porfirio Díaz, and Francisco Madero. Charts in the exhibit identify all the characters depicted.
Rivera himself appears as a pug-faced child, standing in front of Frida Kahlo, holding hands with “La Calavera Catrina” (skeleton in pre-revolutionary women’s garb) and many of Mexico’s most notable figures. Catrina is a quintessential Mexican icon, often referred to as Mexico’s Grand Dame of Death. Her first appearance as the Lady of Death in Mexico dates back to the Aztecs although her modern image is a creation of José Guadalupe Posada created around 1910-1913. She was created as a satirical image aimed to mock the indigenous Mexicans who imitated European style. She is said to protect the bones of the dead and presides over death festivals like the modern-day Dia De Los Muertos. Her inclusion in the mural is meant to symbolize her noteworthy presence in Mexico’s culture and to reflect the comfort with which Mexicans embrace death. Rivera is famous for the many stories told in each of his murals, this one certainly upholds his reputation as symbolisms and stories abound.
Our tour finished here so we were on our own for a while until our “Tacos at night” tour so we stopped at a rooftop restaurant/bar, La Azotea located in the Barrio Alameda building, 5 floors filled with cool little shops, grab lunch or get a quick drink on the outskirts of historic Parque Alameda Central. After chilling out a bit we headed back down the busy Avenida Madero to meet our guide for the “Taco lovers + cantina frequenters who want to explore Mexico City at night” tour with clubtengohambre.com.
We were fortunate that our guide Natalie was well versed in the Mexico food scene, a food journalist, chef, and CDMX native she has been immersed in everything food and drink locally and through extensive gastronomy related travel (Check out Natalie's posts @ www.thelatestfood.com). We were off on a whirlwind nighttime tour on the streets of Mexico City eating and drinking our way through Centro Histórico.
Our first stop was in front of a busy, small nook of a Taqueria called El Flaco that specialized in Canasta (Basket) tacos. These tacos are more frequently found in the early mornings roaming the streets on the back of bicycles or set up on an impromptu ledge somewhere where workers on the way to their daily grind can grab a convenient handheld snack on the go. A large basket or container of some sort id lined with a plastic bag, some cloth or leaves then filled with delicious tacos filled with a selection of meats or potatoes then drizzled with a hot broth/oil combination and sealed until arriving at their destination. They are literally steamed resulting in a pillow-soft tortilla shell awaiting your favorite salsa or marinated vegetable/chili combination before consuming. Standing on the sidewalk we sampled Adobo and Mole Verde filled tacos that were so good you could easily find yourself ordering and stuffing these little gems in your mouth for hours. But…we have to pace ourselves a bit, there are many more tasty treats to come.
On the way to our next stop, we popped into Pasteieria Ideal to see the incredible array of Pan and sweets being bought by the dozens by locals. Mexicans love their sweets and Pan (Mexican pastries) evidenced by the large tables set out in a hall where you simply grab a large tray and walk between the mind-boggling selections loading your tray until it can handle no more. You take your tray(s) to the counter where the attendant tallies your haul and boxes up your bounty while you pay the cashier. We witnessed several people on the streets carrying stacks of these boxes, our guide told us that these were either families stocking up for the week or entrepreneurs taking the goods to their neighborhoods where they were sold at a markup on sidewalk stands or markets.
Next stop on our search for taco's was a small shop Tacos El Torito, a few seats at the counter that are constantly filled with taco lovers spilling out onto the sidewalk. El Torito specializes in Tripa (Tripe/Stomach lining), Suadero (Brisket) and Campechanos (a combination of the two). I found my new most favorite taco here, a campechano with both Suadero and Tripa. They do both very well here, the key for the Tripa is how it is prepared. The Tripa is boiled in a broth for hours then stewed with the Suadero in its own fat while awaiting an order and final preparation. Both types of meat are chopped to order, placed on a tortilla then slapped on a plancha meat side down to crisp a bit then served with fresh salsa and onions. The crispy Tripa adds an amazing crunch and flavor to the taco that makes it outstanding!
As we continued our walk through the streets, Natalie pointed out that the shops in the area are arranged by what they sell, music and electronics in one area, liquor in another, clothing in yet another. It seems like a good idea, especially for the consumer.
A Pulqueria stop was next on our journey, we popped into the racus Pulqueria Las Duelistas, a loud locals hangout blaring heavy rock music, mural art covering the walls and ceiling and flavorful Pulque being served by the pitcher. Pulque is an ancient Aztec drink made from the fermented sap of Agave often combined with fruit. Tonight's selections were Oat, Celery, Guava, Coffee and Cranberry. Pulgue must be consumed fresh, no more than 2 days old otherwise it can become poisonous. Pulque has a thick slightly gelatinous consistency that is not that great on its own so we sampled the guava version which was okay. Low in alcohol similar to beer, they say its effect is long-lasting, with the easy-drinking flavor I could see how this could pose some challenges if too much is consumed.
Next up on the tour were the traditional al pastor tacos @ El Huequito tacos gourmet. Tacos al pastor claimed to be Mexico City’s own creation. Made from pork (not lamb as the Gyros were) that is sliced thin and marinated in chiles and achiote, giving it an orange cast and a tangy, slightly spicy flavor. The marinated pork slices are impaled on a spit (known as a trompo, Spanish for a spinning top) and roasted in front of a vertical broiler, similar to those used for shawarma and gyros (al pastor tacos were invented by Mexicans after seeing the trompos of gyros being sold by Lebanese immigrants in the city). Traditionally the spit is topped by a peeled pineapple, so its juices will seep down along with the pork juice and fat, flavoring and tenderizing the meat as the whole thing cooks. A taquero shaves the meat off of the spit (often putting on a dramatic show of their skills), a little at a time, producing shreds of tender, savory meat with crisp, slightly burned edges. It’s served up on a small fresh corn tortilla and topped with a few essentials: Chopped raw onion, fresh cilantro, a healthy sliver of pineapple (not at all locations), maybe a squeeze of a tiny Mexican lime, maybe a dribble of salsa. Taquerias serving al pastor are found all over Mexico, and in the capital city, they’re the ultimate purveyors of street food. The spits are positioned to be visible from the street, assuring hungry passers-by that these tacos are prepared the old-fashioned way, not sizzled on a grill; in the city center, spits of al pastor meat the size of steamer trunks are proudly displayed. This small location had some of the most flavorful al pastor prompting to have a second taco despite the taco gorging we had already done. Were perfecting our sidewalk standing taco-eating technique as the night progresses.
We walked through the elaborately decorated “China Town” to our next destination “Cantina Tio Pepe”. China town consists of about three blocks decorated with lanterns and traditional Chinese dragons but only one block actually has any Chinese shops or restaurants. It looks good but somewhat failed to become what was hoped for. The Tio Pepe cantina is one of Mexico city's oldest and most traditional watering holes. Over a storied history that spans nearly 14 decades (most of them women were not allowed), the saloon has poured cerveza and tequila shots to influential Mexican politicians and famous artists. The standing-only bar is equipped with a trough near the feet of the men standing there so that the need to relive yourself didn’t interrupt your pace of drinking (pretty gross). While there (we sat at a table and didn’t use the trough) we had a beer and their famous “Bandarita”. Inspired by the colors of the Mexican flag, this drink is served in 3 separate shot glasses consisting of tequila (white), fresh lime juice (green), and sangrita (red)-a spicy tomato-based chaser. Pretty good combination that we're sure to revisit.
For our last taco stop, we walked through the dimly lit streets into a neighborhood where four major news publications are housed. “Tacos Bigos” located behind the largest news building is frequented late at night by the journalists and press operators. Famous for their tacos, tortas, chilaquiles, and chiles in nogada (a caldron of thinly sliced poblano chiles in a walnut-based cream sauce). We dove right in with a bistec taco topped with green chilaquiles and chiles en nogada. Not your traditional Mexican taco but a wonderful flavor combination of some of CDMX’s best dishes. The milanesa torta also looked amazing but we just couldn’t eat another bite! As we arrived here Natalie’s boyfriend (and owner of the tour company) was chowing on one of the milanesa tortas expressing how tasty they were. Natalie later told us they live a few blocks away and if he could, he would be at this street side-stand eating every day.
At our last stop, end of the tour point, despite our full stomachs we couldn’t resist the freshly fried dough from a wheeled Churro cart. To kick it up a notch further this vendor filled them to order with a sauce of either Dulce de leche, Chocolate or Vanilla condensed milk. Of course, we had to sample all three, the chocolate and dulce de leche were my favorites
After saying goodbye to our guide Natalie, we jumped in an Uber and headed back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrows adventures
For our last full day in CDMX, we headed to the highly recommended Lalo! For breakfast. Lalo! Owned by chef Eduardo García ((Maximo Bistrot, Havre 77) is a small casual spot located in the Roma district with table service and a walk-up counter, seating is at a long communal table in the center of the space and a few smaller tables around it. A breakfast and lunch spot with a great selection of fresh juices and coffee along with a great menu of well-prepared dishes made from high quality, locally sourced ingredients. They are known for their chilaquiles en salsa verde with eggs so we ordered up one of the sizeable dishes to share. Well executed and flavorful, we thoroughly enjoyed fueling up here for our day of exploration. The impromptu entertainment wasn't bad either.
Next, we headed to Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec) and the National Anthropology Museum. The museum is expansive and holds artifacts from Mexico's pre-Columbian era, dating from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 1521. One of the largest and most visited museums in Mexico, you’ll find the famous Aztec Calendar Stone, known as Piedra del Sol, as well as the famed 16th-century statue of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of art, games, beauty, dance, and maize (among others). It provided a view of how tradition, culture, and life were formed in all regions of Mexico. The museum is so extensive that many travelers claim you can spend a whole day exploring the many collections and exhibits and recommend giving yourself plenty of time to explore, we spent about three hours there.
Following our history lesson at the museum, we headed over to the nearby Polanco district. Dubbed the Beverly Hills of Mexico City, its tree-lined streets, expensive homes and upscale shops are a contrast to many of the other districts in the city. We complain about the wealth gap between the rich and poor in the USA but here the gap appears to be much greater with a higher percentage of inhabitants being on the lower side of income.
We're here to dine at one of CDMX’s most popular restaurants, Pujol. Chef Enrique Olvera is the chef/owner of 15 internationally renowned restaurants including Pujol and Molino el Pujol in Mexico City has a very personal way of mixing tradition with contemporary techniques. Pujol offers two different dining options: a multi-course tasting menu in the formal dining room and a "taco omakase" meal at the low-slung bar featuring various tacos, antojitos, and botanas (little snacks). We reserved the Omakase Taco bar well in advance of our trip as space fills quickly. the menu includes surprises like corn with chicatana (leaf-cutter ant) mayo, a barbacoa taco with avocado leaf adobo and guacamole and the Enmolada complete with their signature 6-year-old Mole. The meal was long but adventurous, complete with beautiful craft mezcal, interesting beer, and well thought out wine pairings. I have attached the English menu for both the Omakase taco bar which we experienced and the dining room menu features for the day. It’s a splurge to dine here, overall the food and service were top-notch, the setting was very nice including our journey through the garden to the outdoor bar and lounge area for dessert and coffee, but I thought pricing was a bit steep considering other offerings in the city although par with others of the same caliber worldwide.
After the long meal, we took a much-needed walk through a portion of Polanco then headed back to Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec). We hoped to tour the Chapultepec Castle on top of Chapultepec Hill which we had glimpses of from our hotel, but it was closing by the time we arrived. The castle is an 18th-century palace, known for its impressive gardens, served as the home of the Emperor Maximilian I and Mexican Presidents until 1939 and now houses the famous Museo Nacional de Historia.
We instead, walked through the park around the base of Castle hill catching glimpses through the dense treescape and enjoying the park's expansive scenery along the way. Locals converge at the large city park on weekends, in which you'll find restaurants, gardens, amusement parks, a zoo, an artificial lake with pedal boats for rent, and several museums. One of the biggest urban parks in the world (larger than central park in NY) it is called the lungs of Mexico City by the locals for its smog-eating trees and greenery. The grand Paseo de la Reforma leads from the castle in the park up to the historical center, with a variety of sculptures and monuments interspersed along the way. Mexico City can sometimes feel like a concrete jungle with perpetually clogged highways and endless urban sprawl. A visit to Bosque de Chapultepec is a great equalizer to the harsh urban environment.
Back to the hotel we decided to relax on our last evening, hit the pool and spent the rest of the evening, sans dinner, detoxing from the great food experience Mexico City has afforded us.
A return trip is definitely in order so we can continue to explore greater Mexico City and its treasures. Other areas of interest in Mexico were suggested by people we met such as the state of Oaxaca and Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s wine country
Here are some clips from our research that I thought I would share
Why Go To Mexico City
Mexico's capital is one of the liveliest and largest cities in the world, with a renowned arts and culture scene (an entire district was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site) and some of the best cuisine in the Western Hemisphere. Even better, Mexico City is affordable – and safer than you might expect. It promises visitors an unforgettable stay, You can travel frugally or in luxury and will enjoy your experience if you are a culture-loving traveler who feels at home in a large, crowded place.
You can eat great food cheaply from the numerous market stalls or street vendors, or enjoy fine dining at some of the best restaurants in North America for a higher cost.
I would suggest not renting a car as driving in CDMX can be stressful. Leave the driving to inexpensive metro or bus service or use Uber at rates well below what you pay in most other cities. Be careful with taxis and choose one from an official stand or make sure they are licensed and using a meter
If you want the full experience, some say you should spend at least a week in the Federal District so that you'll see most of the historic and popular sites. Even after a week, you'll find plenty more to explore in the many other districts both inside the city and on its outskirts. In short, it's best to plan extensively before diving in.
Founded in 1325 as Tenochtitlan, the city was colonized by the Spanish in 1521 and later dubbed "Mexico." Today at nearly 500 years old, its pre-colonial history is alive throughout much of the modern-day capital. The city is overflowing with opportunities to study the country's rich and conflicted past. But it's also one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and although it does grapple with common urban problems like crime and pollution, many neighborhoods – including Roma, Condesa, and Polanco – are as safe as any city in the United States or Europe.
While you’re in the city, take time to visit some of its UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Historic Center, Xochimilco (very touristy), UNAM (Mexico’s largest public university), and architect Luis Barragan’s House and Studio. Mexico City has more museums than any city in the world except London. In 2008 UNESCO added Día de Muertos to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Culture & Customs
Mexico, especially the Distrito Federal (or simply D.F.) has a vast and varied history that still impacts its culture today. The culture blends native traditions and beliefs of the Mesoamerican natives (largely Aztec in the capital) with customs brought by the Spaniards plus a great sense of pride brought by Mexican independence in 1810 and the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century.
Spanish is the official language of Mexico and is universally spoken in Mexico City and throughout the country. But Mexico has a still-vibrant indigenous tradition, and more than 100 Native American languages remain alive in the country. One of the most popular indigenous languages in Mexico is Nahuatl, which is spoken by about 1.5 million people in Mexico. Because the city is a business and tourist hub, it caters to travelers who speak a variety of languages – including English – meaning you should have little trouble communicating.
Typically in Mexico, women greet each other with a pat on the arm or shoulder, while men shake hands. Late arrivals are customary – and even considered polite – at most gatherings. Keep in mind that it's not advised to drink the tap water, but most establishments have a large supply of bottled water. Also, if you encounter the word "gringo" (defined by a person, especially an American, who is not Hispanic or Latino), don't be offended. It's simply the only word in Spanish that describes a white person.
When to Go
Perched at 7,382 feet, Mexico City enjoys pleasant weather year-round, with summer and autumn high temperatures 80s-90s. In the dry months of winter, the thermometer ranges from the low 40s to around 70F, while spring can climb into the upper 70s. It’s a good idea to use sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and, on your first day or two, take it easy. To enjoy Day of the Dead activities, plan to visit Mexico City from mid-October to the first week in November.
What to Pack
Bring a good pair of walking shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty for your explorations about the city and environs. Plan on casual clothes during the day, but something a little dressier for restaurants and bars. A light jacket for cooler evenings can come in handy. Walking through markets can be messy so be prepared. The sidewalks in most areas are in poor repair and uneven, pay close attention to where you are walking
Where to Sleep
Some of the best hotel options are found in the upscale Polanco and Reforma areas. The mix of leafy neighborhoods and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture with bustling thoroughfares and modern conveniences make these areas a big draw.
This is not a city where you wear shorts.
Aficionados often refer to Mexico City as "DF" (short for "Distrito Federal") or CDMX ("Ciudad de Mexico"), and to the locals as chilangos.
Most employees at sit-down restaurants will speak a little English, but still — especially if you're planning to avail yourself of street food, or head to off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods — you should memorize a few key phrases, especially ones related to ordering food and inquiring about transportation and facilities.
Mexico City is over 7,000 feet above sea level, so you might feel out of breath after long walks or climbing stairs. The high altitude also affects alcohol tolerance — be careful!
No, you shouldn't drink the tap water, but know that legally every restaurant (and hotel) must serve filtered water. Most street stands do as well.
Protests happen from time to time and are annoying and occasionally paralyzing (at least when it comes to traffic), but as long as they're peaceful, police are not allowed to intervene.
15 percent tips are customary at restaurants. Before a server runs your card, tell him or her "con quince" ("with fifteen"), because there won't be an opportunity to add a tip later on, unless you have cash. Look for the word “Propina” on your bill before paying, propina means tip and may be added automatically to your bill.
Here, "la Comida" (the meal) means lunch. DF is a big lunch town, so plan your days accordingly. You'll find the most vibrant scenes, the best food, and the most open restaurants during the long afternoon hours.
Compared to lunch, dinner is usually a lighter meal. For locals, it often takes place as late as 10 p.m.
Many restaurants are closed on Sunday
Many public facilities like museums and exhibits are closed on Monday’s
Mexico City's eating establishments, defined
Puesta: Stall, stand, or booth and the most common dining establishment by far.
Fonda: A small, usually family-run restaurant. They usually serve a set 3-course menu for a very reasonable price. Found in every neighborhood, fondas are open mostly for breakfast and lunch.
Cantinas—a hybrid of a Fonda, a bar, and a restaurant—tend to be the most boisterous at lunch and just after work, many of them petering out around 8 or 9 P.M. The upper classes eat dinner out (usually starting around 9 P.M.), but you don’t see the same density of restaurants or food-stands open in the evenings. Most cantinas are drinking holes that have a menu of simple bites, mariscos, tacos, tostadas, guisados, or crunchy snacks.
-rías: The suffix for restaurants and drinking establishments that specialize in one type of food or drink. A panadería is a bakery; a pulquería, a place that serves pulque. A tortaría sells tortas, but a tortillaría makes tortillas.
Though locals often hail taxis off the street, a tourist who does it is asking to get ripped off or worse. Use taxi stands (make sure you negotiate a rate ahead of time, or that they use the meter) or for even more reliable service (and generally a lower cost), use Uber.
The metro, also called Sistema de Transporte Colectivo or STC, costs 5 pesos each way. Paper tickets or long-term passes must be purchased, with cash, from cashiers underground; there are no automatic ticket machines.
It's illegal to take pictures while in the subway system, no matter how delicious that churro looks.
Public transportation also includes a vast bus system, as well as local (unregulated) bus systems and smaller vans called Micros.
Best Hotels in Mexico City
The St. Regis Mexico City – Reforma/Roma Norte – central. Also on the Paseo de Reforma, St. Regis has palatial rooms, with 350-thread-count Pratesi linens, marble baths, and state-of-the-art technology
Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City – Reforma/Roma Norte – central. And the nearby Four Seasons is always a reliable word in luxury.
Las Alcobas, A Luxury Collection Hotel – Polanco - west near the Anthro museum. One of the city’s top boutique hotels, Las Alcobas pampers you at every turn—from the welcome refreshments to the in-room spa. Situated in the heart of Polanco’s business and entertainment district, the hotel was designed to create an intimate retreat within the city.
Sofitel Mexico City Reforma – Reforma, near angel de la independence (Brand new 10/2019)
Le Meridan – Reforma east, more business-like area – Near Palacio de Belle Artes & Monument a Colon, closer to the historic center. Located on the lovely Paseo de Reforma (the Champs Élysées of Mexico City), Le Meridien offers luxury rooms, a gym, and a swimming pool within walking distance of great museums and 18th-century palaces.
Stara Hamburgo This 60-room boutique hotel is our pick for a long weekend. Nestled in Juarez, a leafy neighborhood filled with old colonial homes and scores of bars and restaurants, it’s located close to most of our favorite spots in the city. The rooftop breakfast area, which opens to the outdoors in nice weather, makes a perfect home base to sip coffee and map out your plan each morning. Rooms are simple yet stylish (and spacious), with separate sitting areas, small balconies, and luxurious showers.
Condesa df In the artsy Condesa barrio is Condesa df, a hip sleep that fuses Mexican accents with Parisian style. The interiors of the 1928 Art Nouveau building are decorated with local touches like hand-woven rugs from Oaxaca courtesy of French designer India Mahdavi. But if it were up to us, we'd be spending all our time outside on swanky daybeds at the fourth-floor rooftop lounge. It's the perfect spot to sip cocktails while watching the sunset over the Chapultepec Castle and Parque España.
Distrito Capital This sleek Mexico City stay has it all: mid-century modern décor, a swanky pool, and killer views of Popocatépetl Volcano. Guest rooms incorporate a black-and-white color scheme with charcoal statement walls and bright panel windows that frame panoramic vistas. Creative types gather in the slick lobby or around the 43-foot-long pool to sip añejo mezcal, while upstairs on the fifth floor you'll find one of the city’s hottest scenes, a restaurant helmed by Enrique Olvera (of Pujol fame). Rumor has it stars like Madonna have even been spotted here.
Busue If you don't like buzzy bars, Busue is not the place for you. By day, the hacienda-style stay in the upscale Polanco neighborhood feels like an oasis. Homey common areas are dressed with ocher tile, exposed wooden beams, wrought iron accents, and stucco arches, while guestrooms are done up in a neutral palette of ivory, grey and earthy purples. But come evening, a stylish set takes over the rooftop restaurant and nightclub DIXON and transform the space into the area's "it" spot.
Hotel Habita One thing's for certain: Grupo Habita Hotels has style in spades from the chichi Hotel Americano in New York City to its fleet of Mexico City properties. Take Hotel Habita, which may as well be a contemporary museum thanks to its striking frosted glass exterior and collection of modern Mexican art. Here, you’ll find a bronze mural by Jan Hendrix in the lobby and an abstract black-and-white backdrop by the rooftop pool bar. Meanwhile, on the six-floor terrace, don't miss drinking sundowners and tasting tapas by the 12-foot-long fireplace.
Downtown Mexico Housed in a former palace (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) on the charming, cobbled streets of Centro Histórico, Downtown Mexico blends colonial 17th-century architecture with a new, industrial look. To start, there's the uber-chic patio lounge with lipstick red sofas as well as an edgy rooftop bar and pool terrace surrounded by canary-yellow daybeds. Plus, the hotel's 17 crashpads showcase original volcanic rock walls and high brick ceilings paired with handmade cement tiled floors and blond wood furnishings.
Hotel Carlota Opened in the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood, Hotel Carlota is a thriving example of contemporary Mexican design and is the place to see and be seen. The mirrored glass facade leads into a concrete courtyard, where a cool crowd mingles around the narrow, glass-edged plunge pool. Meanwhile, the 36 chic rooms created by Javier Sánchez's architecture firm JSa feature custom wood installations, rugs by Lagos del Mundo, and a curated modern art collection. As if all this isn't enough to convince you to check in, there’s also a farm-fresh restaurant and boutique design store.
La Valise La Roma, Mexico City's newest hip nabe, has taken the spotlight after a host of trendy coffee bars, design shops, and restaurants opened their doors. (Alfonso Cuarón's 2018 award-winning drama Roma might also have something to do with it.) This is where you'll find Emmanuel Picault's trio of quirky guest rooms above his concept store in a 1920 French-style townhouse. All three suites are outfitted with wood, velvet, and metal materials but they each have their own quirks. We recommend the Patio room, which has a quaint veranda with a leather swing and an artisanal Yucatecan hammock perfect for curling up with a book, or the indoor/outdoor, top-floor suite, La Terraza, with a king-size bed that can be rolled onto the terrace for sleeping under the stars.
What to Eat
One thing you'll find an abundance of in Mexico City is Comida (food). After all, there are almost 9 million people to feed in the city. Chances are you're familiar with some Mexican staples such as tacos, quesadillas, and tamales. But there's more to the Districto Federal's culinary culture.
You'll find that lunch (or almuerzo) is typically the largest meal of the day, and yours may include cerveza (beer) or tequila. Dinner doesn't usually take place until later at night and consists of lighter dishes. Street food is ingrained in the culture here, dating back to pre-Hispanic times. You'll likely find anything you could want at these street stalls and even some specialties like chapulines (roasted grasshoppers).
Some foods that are unique to the Mexico City area are tacos al pastor – which includes marinated pork that's been cooked on a rotisserie (called a trompo) and thinly sliced off before being served in tortillas with onion and pineapple. Another Mexico City original is huarache (fried corn tortillas topped with meat, cheese, beans, potatoes, cream, and salsa). Is your mouth watering yet?
Establishments range from hole-in-the-wall mezcal bars to fine dining restaurants and everything in between. One of the best foodie neighborhoods is Condesa, which offers popular restaurants and booming nightlife. But you could stumble upon amazing flavors all over the city. If you're looking for a fine dining experience, make a reservation at Pujol, Contramar or Quintonil, but for a more laid-back meal head to Las Duelistas. Some of the most popular street food stalls are found in the Polanco neighborhood at Cochinita Pibil at El Turix. Those with a sweet tooth won't want to leave Mexico City without grabbing churros from the Churreria El Moro near the Metro San Juan de Letrán metro station (on the green line). And if you want to sample a variety of eateries, consider a trip to Mercado Roma, a modern food hall in La Roma frequently described by visitors as "hip" and "bustling."
5 Best Fine-Dining Restaurants in Mexico City
We may be stating the obvious here, but one of the main reasons to visit Mexico is the food, especially Mexico City. With more than 20 million people living in this metropolis, the culinary offerings seem endless, making the selection process a little bit overwhelming. And it’s no exception when it comes to fine dining, with excellent restaurants of every kind of cuisine spread out all across town. However, there are certain spots that make their way into every kind of list: from Travel + Leisure Mexico’s Gourmet Awards to San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants, but most of all, the list of personal favorites of those of us who live here and eat at those places, and who have made them as relevant and successful as they are, regardless of ratings and reviews. From Basque specialties to molecular cuisine to a creative take on Mexican recipes, these are five fine dining restaurants that have helped Mexico City become the culinary mecca it is today.
Biko - A frequent presence in the Pellegrino World’s Best list, this luminous Polanco restaurant is the result of Basque-born duo Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso’s relentless creativity. Their tasting menu may include surprises like onion and Cotija or fish and zucchini, all presented with painstaking attention to retail, and can be ordered with or without wine pairings.
Pujol - With his very personal way of mixing tradition with contemporary techniques, chef Enrique Olvera has made this restaurant a reference in modern Mexican cuisine since 2000. The five-course tasting menu may include surprises like corn with chicatana (leaf-cutter ant) mayo, or a barbacoa taco with avocado leaf adobo and guacamole.
Jaso - Husband-and-wife team Jared Reardon and Sonia Arias are the creative force behind this Modern American-meets-artisanal eatery in Polanco. With a menu that changes seasonally (expect delicacies like foie gras ravioli), order a la carte or put yourself in chef Reardon’s hands with the five or seven-course tasting menu. Dig into one of the chocolate desserts that have made Arias one of the top pastry chefs in the country.
Bakea - A cozy, cottage-like setting is the ideal scenery to experience Chef Vicente Etchegaray’s Basque-French menu, featuring hearty dishes like rack of lamb, crab-filled cannelloni and eggplant flan. Don’t skip dessert –their orange coulis and Cointreau crepes are spectacular. Intimate and quiet, it’s the kind of spot where you know people aren’t here for the scene, just the food.
Quintonil - As fine a restaurant as Pujol (and by "fine," we mean "extraordinary"), but here diners can choose from a la carte dishes or a tasting menu, making it more appropriate for lunch. If you do the tasting menu, allot at least 2 hours for what will be one of the best meals of your life.
5 Best Spots for Outdoor Dining in Mexico City
There are many perks to living in a big, bustling city: great food, lots of culture, thriving nightlife. The downside can be spending too much time indoors, whether it’s at home, at work, or in the car. This is why having the chance to spend some time outside is always healthy, and many of Mexico City’s coolest restaurants have terraces, patios, or even sidewalk seating to give us (and our visitors) a very welcome breath of fresh air—both literally and figuratively speaking. Weather-wise, this city is pretty lucky, too. With mild winters and lovely springs, outdoor seating is an option throughout a good part of the year. You may want to skip the courtyard in the chilly evenings of January, and especially during the rainy months of summer, but otherwise, it’s always a good idea to ask for “una mesa afuera” and enjoy the city’s version of the great outdoors.
San Angel Inn - This former monastery that dates back to the 17th century, located in the picturesque San Angel neighborhood, has been a classic for decades, hosting dinners for everyone from celebrities and presidents to families celebrating special occasions. The courtyard, with a fountain and lush vegetation, is a great setting for a meal of classics like sopa de tortilla and chiles rellenos. The restaurant’s famous margaritas come in a carafe on ice and are meant to be poured into the accompanying small stemmed glass a little at a time so that the drink stays ice cold. Pair them with guacamole and chips while soaking up the sun and listening to live music in the courtyard amidst tropical plants and flowers. After picking up your tab, take a stroll through the expansive grounds out back, which are dotted with lush flora.
Raíz: Cocina de Estaciones - Chef Arturo Fernández offers a seasonally-changing menu that may include dishes like roasted tomato soup with Cotija cheese or duck carnitas ravioli, paired with local beers (Tempus, Minerva), single malts and mezcals. There are two wooden, plant-filled terraces: one outdoors, and another one indoors, surrounded by the restaurant’s wine cellar.
Azul Histórico - The gorgeous central courtyard at chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita has a roof made of laurels, which sounds like reason enough to visit this downtown eatery, but pay attention to what’s going on at the table, too: fantastic interpretations of traditional recipes, such as deer salpicón with avocado and tomato, zucchini flower soup, and organic hibiscus enchiladas with tomato-chipotle sauce.
Central Central - Rustic meets chic at the terrace of this trendy restaurant, decorated with worn-down sculptures and wooden furniture, and offering views of Santa Fe and beyond. On the menu: charcuterie (organic cheeses, artisanal cold cuts), tapas, and hearty dishes like lentil stew, best enjoyed with a glass of wine by the cozy fireplace.
Tori Tori - The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance to this über-cool Japanese joint is only marked by a tiny hen (the restaurant’s logo). Inside, marvel at the woven structure designed by Rojkind Arquitectos and Esrawe Studio and have a seat in the terrace, where you can feast on ridiculously fresh sushi and nigiri, soft shell crab tempura, or a spicy tuna bowl with steamed white rice, avocado, and seaweed. And don’t forget the sake!
Taco Omakase at Pujol (Tennyson 133, Polanco, Polanco IV Secc, 11550 Ciudad de México CDMX, Mexico, 01 55 5545 4111) - Critics have long hailed Enrique Olvera’s Pujol for its labor-intensive modernist cuisine, but arguably the best reason to hit the celebrated restaurant is the Taco Omakase, a daily multi-course tasting menu made up entirely of tacos. The creations range from cauliflower with almond sauce to pork belly, and the classic barbacoa topped with fresh squash blossoms. [$$$$]
Restaurante Nicos (Av. Cuitláhuac 3102, Claveria, 02080 Ciudad de México CDMX, Mexico +52 55 5396 7090) - Restaurante Nicos, the best restaurant in Mexico City, is formal but not stuffy, respectful to local ingredients and traditions but not precious, and venerable at the age of 60 but not a time warp. Go all in and get the tableside guacamole treatment to start, the tableside coffee roasting to end, and a visit or two from the mezcal cart somewhere in between. [$$$]
Contramar (Calle de Durango 200, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México CDMX, Mexico 52 55 5514 9217 Contramar, the buzzy, vibrant, and enduringly popular seafood restaurant from chef and restaurateur Gabriela Cámara, is the ideal spot for a long lunch, either in the sweeping dining room or out on the sidewalk. The tuna tostadas are just as good as everyone says, and we beg that you save room for a slice of the fig tart for dessert. [$$]
Amaya (Calle Gral. Prim 95, Juárez, 06600 Ciudad de México CDMX, Mexico 01 55 5592 5571) a chic spot in Juarez that’s well known for its Baja Med food and wonderful natural wine selection (try a glass of something from Bichi, the chef’s own winery). Jair Tellez draws crowds for the expert cooking at his other heavy-hitters, MeroToro and Laja, but at Amaya he shows off his wine expertise, slinging Baja cuisine alongside an impressive list that features some of the most adventurous bottles in the city. Tellez works side-by-side with importers to offer the latest selections of natural wine arriving from Mexican wine country in Baja California, France, and Italy, with options by the glass or by the bottle. [$$]
Lalo! - Start the day with brunch at Lalo!, chef Eduardo García’s (Maximo Bistrot, Havre 77) casual breakfast and lunch place. It's a good spot to order everything from huevos rancheros to toast with mascarpone and fruit. Avoid a frustratingly long wait by going early. Chilaquiles!
Maximo Bistrot (Tonalá 133, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico. +52 55 5264 4291). This beautiful, light-filled space on a tree-lined block of Roma has become a go-to for lunch among locals and food-obsessed CDMX tourists. They celebrate local ingredients sustainability with a French-leaning Mexican menu. [$$$]
Molino “El Pujol” (Open 9-5) in the trendy La Condesa neighborhood. This little slip of a tortilla shop is a pet project of Enrique Olvera, the chef whose restaurants Pujol, in the upscale Polanco district, and Atla and Cosme, both in New York, have transformed traditional Mexican food into haute cuisine. He opened Molino in early 2018 to serve both his restaurant and customers who walk in off the street. Baskets of red, white, and blue corn sit on the counter, and most days you can watch the molino grinding corn into masa while you wait to order a package of tortillas to go wrapped in paper printed with illustrations and stories about corn. The small menu offers thoughtful takes on tamales, long-simmered beans, and one of the best, dressed-up versions of esquite (grilled corn salad) in the city.
Navarte Poniente, a neighborhood about a 15-minute Uber ride away, for more beer tasting away from the tourists. Cerveceria Crisanta Garage, El Deposito, and Hop the Beer Experience 2, a wide-open quasi-outdoor space with more than 40 beers on tap, are all within walking distance of each other and will afford you a wide survey of the best in Mexican beers. The food might be tempting as well, but you’ll want to save your appetite for El Visilto, a part-auto repair shop, part-taco stand that serves some of the best al pastor tacos in the city. (This also makes a welcome late-night stop, if you wind up bar-hopping until the wee hours.)
Churrería El Moro (Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 42, Centro Histórico, Centro, 06000 Ciudad de México CDMX, Mexico. Several locations but this one is the OG) +52 55 5512 0896 - Churrería El Moro, an 80-year-old churro shop downtown, makes what are widely considered the best churros in the city. These crispy, cinnamon-coated fried delights are an entire foot long and come four to a package, so you might want to share with a friend. It merits a stop for the live show alone. In front of a grease-stained window, two churro makers pipe wet dough into smoking hot oil and spiral the long stream into a spiral rep. After a flip, they come out and are cut into pieces and tossed, fresh to order, in either plain sugar or a sugar-cinnamon mix. Get a bag to go or grab a table to enjoy them with hot chocolate. (If you can't manage four churros just yet, the location is open 24 hours so you can get a late-night fix.), [$]
Panadería Rosetta for coffee and some of the tastiest pastries in town. Chef Elena Reygadas and her team take great care with the breads and pastries here, The guava roll is a standout — it's a buttery, flaky pastry filled with barely sweetened cheese and a dollop of guava paste.
Joe Gelato Kaffir lime. Grapefruit. Greek yogurt and rosemary. Watermelon and mezcal. Even the Mexican herbs of hoja santa and epazote. There’s certainly no shortage of creativity when it comes to the all-natural flavors that José Luís Cervantes (aka Joe, a former line cook at Pujol and Quintonil) turns out at the pint-sized gelato shop he opened in early 2018 in La Juarez. He also makes seasonal varieties, like pan de muerto for Día de los Muertos and, for the winter holidays, tejocote, a fruit used in a traditional Christmas punch.
Street Tamales for Breakfast - Tamal vendors can be found all over the city — just look out for someone on a street corner with steamer pots. One will be filled with all varieties of tamales (wrapped in either corn husk or banana leaf) and the others will hold hot atole drinks made from masa. A champurrado (a chocolate atole drink) and a tamal together make for a perfect and dirt-cheap Mexico City breakfast. [$]
Tacos Tony, El Vilsito (al pastor, Garage by day, Taco stand by night)
Delirio restaurant, Casa Quimera, Vegan planet - Colonia Roma/Condessa
Restaurante Limosneros in a 400 year old former monastery
Breakfast at El Cardenal Centro historico chilaquiles
Pastelería Ideal Centro historico
La Merced Market One of the oldest and most complex markets in the city, Merced is a culinary must-stop, but one visit may not be enough. Gastro geeks and adventurous food travelers can spend hours wandering the twisting maze of corridors, sampling from gracious vendors, and discovering favorite taco stands, mole specialists, and hidden michelada bars.
Mercado Roma– (9am-8pm) - fancy food hall for a taste of what Roma has to offer, from churros to coffee to craft beer. Great selection and a rooftop view.
La Ciuadela - You'll want your camera and some spare pesos when you visit the market! There are so many picture opportunities with the vibrant blankets, hammocks, and embroidered clothing and bags. All made from Mexican artisans.
Mercado San Juan - In the Mercado San Juan, you’ll find what many of the world’s best chefs already know: This place offers some of CDMX’s most exotic, hard-to-find, and freshest foodstuffs. The market’s stalls range from hyper-local ingredients, to gourmet offerings from the northern parts of the Americas, Europe, and beyond. Seasonally available chapulines and escamoles (pre-Spanish staples: grasshoppers and ant eggs), or perfect, plump artichokes, or bags of edible flowers (or various flours), or ostrich eggs, or recently slaughtered goats, or even fresh mozzarella, Mercado San Juan can provide. More adventurous diners can patron stands that flip burgers purportedly made from puma, crocodile, armadillo, and roadrunner meat, although to do so would be contributing to the illegal trade in wildlife currently causing Mexico’s crisis in biodiversity conservation.
Mercado Jamaica - Flower Market imagine walking through 5,000 different kinds of flowers and plants. The cool, moist air, an explosion of colors between aromas of herbs, the sweet enchantment of flowers. Every moment in life has its flower and the city residents arrive at the Jamaica market looking for bouquets of roses to propose, marigolds on the Day of the Dead, the Easter plant for Christmas crosses and horseshoes to announce an upcoming marriage or wreaths for funerals. A little further along you´ll find the fruits and vegetable section with premium products. Market vibe with the magic of flowers.
Mercado Sonora - Witchcraft Market Peculiar, magical, exotic is what characterizes this famous market located in the center of the city, open to the public since 1957. Strolling through its busy halls is a unique and unforgettable experience. It is divided into two sections: Section 107 is full of thematic aisles selling crafts such as the famous poblano pottery, plates, bowls, jugs, traditional wooden, cloth or clay toys. You can also see live animals such as reptiles, fish, tropical birds, farm animals, among others (always with control of the authorities) and a large number of medicinal plants. Section 108 is the most fascinating. It is the area of sorcerers, shamans, sorcerers, and fortune-tellers. Its premises are full of candles, healing, aromatic plants, among other products related to superstition. Letters are also read and experts in the field avoid the "evil eye." It is one of the traditional sites for the purchase of articles related to the Day of the Dead, celebrated in Mexico on November 2.
Curated suggestions from CTH tour group:
EASY TO GET RESERVATIONS:
Pasillo de Humo | Alam Mendez’s tasty take on Oaxaca classics
Lalo! | Eduardo Garcia’s casual no-reservations casual breakfast + lunch spot
Comedor Jacinta | Edgar Nuñez’s delicious take on Mexican comfort food
Nico’s | A classic Mexico City restaurant that’s out-of-the-way but worth the UBER ride
Café NIN | Elena Reygadas’ charming casual restaurant in Juárez
Molino El Pujo | Enrique Olvera’s tortillería w/ a tiny-but-tasty menu
Lardo | Elena Reygadas’ Europe-meets-Mexico spot where the huitlacoche pizza is must
Amaya | Jair Téllez’s vegetable + seafood-centric spot w/ a great list of natural wines
El Cardenal | A Mexico City institution that focuses on classic regional, seasonal dishes
HARD TO GET RESERVATIONS
Pujol | Enrique Olvera’s famed restaurant that’s considered one of the best in the world
Maximo Bistro | Eduardo Garcia’s Roma restaurant that’s one of Mexico’s best
Sud 777 | Edgar Nuñez’s restaurant that’s #11 on the 50 Best Restaurants Latin America
Churrería El Moro | Mexico City’s must try churros
Panadería Rosetta | One of the best bakeries in North America
Barbacoa Tres Reyes | Weekend barbacoa spot that’s more of a party than a restaurant
Cocina Margarita in Mercado Juárez | Some of the tastiest comida corrida in the city
Parnita + Paramo | Lively day + night sister spots w/ great tacos, beer, mezcal + cocktails
JoeGelato | Heladería focusing on Mexican flavors
Dorilocos | A stand outside the Anthropology Museum serves CDMX’s signature snack
Maison Artemesia + Felina + Bar Baltra | The three best cocktail spots in the city
Loup Bar | Not-to-be-missed natural wine bar w/ great small plates
La Opera | A beautiful cantina whose ceiling is still scarred by Pancho Villa’s bullets
La Faena | Charming but faded bullfighter cantina in Centro Histórico
Le Tachinomi Desu | Rezo-only drinking room w/ natural wines + Japanese whiskeys
El Depósito | The beer bar w/one of best selections of Mexican craft beer
Cicatriz Café | They city’s latest hotspot for natural wines, cocktails + coffee
Hop the Beer Experience 2 | Great Mexico City brewery despite the unfortunate name
DANCING + CLUBBING IN MEXICO CITY
Barba Azul | Old school, heavy-on-the-kitsch dancehall that plays salsa + tropical music
La Purísima | Always wild go-to nightlife spot for the city’s LGBTQ community
Patrick Miller | Only-in-Mexico City Friday nite institution where dance crews do battle
Café Paraíso | Where Mexico City’s well-heeled go to dance to tropical music
La Perla | A kitschy drag cabaret show that’s been going strong for decades
Quentin | Best pour over in the city
Chiquitito | Some of the city’s best espresso drinks
Buna | Standing room only cafe great for a to go cup
Mis Mezcales | The best place in the city to pick up a bottle of small batch mezcal
Sabre Dios | A tiny, well-curated collection of specialty food + drink items
https://clubtengohambre.com/ Long after the stores close and most tourists return to their hotels, many taco spots in the city center remain open for late-night cravings. While you could explore the area on your own, for a bit of help tag along with Club Tengo Hambre, a local tour company with an adventurous food compass. Their after-dark taco tour in the Centro Histórico consists of an epic, multilocation, six-course menu covering the city’s essential styles like brisket, canasta, and al pastor, plus beverage pairings like pulque and beer. Do ask about the post-taco private tasting of Mexican spirits, a one-of-a-kind chance to sip mezcals from underappreciated regions like Durango and San Luis Potosí. [$$$]
Hop on hop off bus – many bad reviews, Not great in a city with heavy traffic like CDMX
Best Things to Do in Mexico City:
Zocalo - Plaza de la Constitución
Templo Major / Catedral Metropolitana
Palacio de Bellas Artes (palace of fine arts)
Museo Nacional de Antropología / Bosque de Chapultepec
Restaurante Limosneros in a 400 year old former monastery
#1 Museo Nacional de Antropología Located within the famous Chapultepec Forest, the holds artifacts from Mexico's pre-Columbian era, dating from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 1521. The facility houses artifacts, including the famous Aztec Calendar Stone, known as Piedra del Sol, as well as the famed 16th-century statue of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of art, games, beauty, dance and maize (among others). The museum offers a look at how tradition, culture and life were formed in all regions of Mexico.
The museum is so extensive that many travelers claim you can spend a whole day exploring the many collections and exhibits and recommend giving yourself plenty of time to explore. As one of the largest and most visited museums in Mexico, the grounds are also home to a gift shop, a cafeteria, a locker room and the National Library of Anthropology and History.
#2 Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe Located 40 minutes North of the Historic center - The Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe (Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe) is an important religious site in Mexico City. The first shrine built to honor the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe was erected in 1531 on Tepeyac hill, but the first basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary was not built until 1695. However, nearly 300 years' worth of construction and environmental damage threatened the integrity of the basilica, so a new basilica was built on the same plaza in the 1970s.
Today, the complex has many features including the basilica, the ancient church, a gift shop filled with religious items, a museum and a library. Visitors extolled the basilica, saying that it is a must-see whether you are Catholic or not. Though Mass is held frequently, reviewers noted that the layout of the buildings helps visitors avoid interrupting worship. In addition,
past travelers said a variety of tours were available from Mexico City (some of which included Teotihuacan) and said it was a great way to have a fully-informed experience. The basilica is also often featured as a stop on hop-on, hop-off bus tours.
#3 Palacio de Bellas Artes the architectural marvel bedecked in Neoclassical and Art Nouveau flourishes on the outside and Art Deco details on the interior. It's one of the cultural centers of the city. Inside, there are several works on display by Diego Rivera and other great pillars of the Mexican muralist movement. You'll spot Man, Controller of the Universe, Rivera’s recreation of his controversial mural that was removed from Rockefeller Center in New York City before completion.
In addition to its architectural grandeur, the building hosts cultural events in the national theater, including music, dance, theater, opera and literary performances. The museum at the palace also holds several famous murals, including the work of the famous Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo. On the top floor, you'll find the National Museum of Architecture, which showcases the work and lives of famous Mexican architects, and multiple art museums and galleries.
Travelers say that the palace is sure to be one of the most beautiful sights you'll see in Mexico City and add that if you get the chance, take in a performance in the world-class theater.
The palace is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., while the museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last entrance at 5:30 p.m.). Admission to the museum is 70 pesos (about $3.70), but you can save money by visiting on Sundays when admission is free. Rates for performances vary by discipline. For more information, check out the palace's website.
For a rest and great view of the Palacio Bellas Artes exterior stop into the coffee shop on the sixth floor of the Sears store across the street. You’ll be required to order at least a beverage here but the view is impeccable
#4 Templo Mayor Before Spanish colonization, Templo Mayor served as the religious center for the Aztec people. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the late 14th century, the temple was among many that were destroyed and built over. It wasn't until 1978 that the temple dedicated to the Aztec gods Huitzilopochtli and Tláloc (gods of war and water) was unearthed in the heart of Mexico City. Today, the area remains an active archeological site and the adjoining museum houses more than 7,000 artifacts from the site.
Recent visitors said it's fascinating to see the ancient ruins that are tucked away in the center of the city. Many said it's worth spending time in the museum as well, the whole complex has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of Mexico City's most popular attractions.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied in this area of the city for the rest of the day. A languorous, mezcal-fueled lunch at Azul Historico is a must: their dark, thick Oaxacan mole and chicken tortilla soup are both excellent picks. Within an eight-block radius is MUMEDI, the city’s design museum; Museo de Arte Popular, the folk art museum (be sure to pick up a souvenir or two at the gift shop); the Museo Franz Mayer, which houses decorative art from the 16th through the 19th centuries; and The Shops at Downtown, a collection of luxury stores which houses brands like Flora María, M.A.C., and Carla Fernandez.
#5 Teotihuacán (teh-oh-tee-wa-can) (about 1 hour outside the city) One of many UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Mexico City region, Teotihuacán (teh-oh-tee-wa-can) contains some of the largest pre-Columbian pyramids in all of Mexico. The site contains many popular constructions, including the Palace of the Plumed Butterfly, which showcases various columns of winged creatures, and the awesome Pyramid of the Sun, which sits at the heart of the small city. The nearby museum, Museo de la Sitio, also holds many artifacts from the period.
While many travelers were amazed by the daunting monuments, some had a few tips to make your trip easier: The souvenirs are pricey, but some haggling in Spanish will help you score a better deal. Visitors also recommend bringing along your own bottled water, wearing sensible shoes and applying sunscreen as the site provides very little shade. Also, if you're able, visitors suggest climbing the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon for a bird's-eye view of the massive complex.
Recent travelers also recommend booking a guide and transportation ahead of time to fully enjoy the experience, noting that it helps not having to stress about getting to the site. Check with your hotel to see if they can recommend a preferred vendor.
Teotihuacán is about 31 miles northeast of Mexico City. You can access the site via public transportation from Autobus del Norte bus station (located just off the yellow line metro station by the same name). You can also book a driver or rent a car. To avoid crowds, get there early
#6 Zocalo - Plaza de la Constitución Officially known as Plaza de la Constitución, El Zócalo is the main public square and one of the most recognizable places in Mexico City. It contains a giant Mexican flag at its center and has been the centerpiece of public gatherings since the days of the Aztecs. The site also hosts annual, widely attended religious events during Holy Week and for Corpus Christi. Several historic buildings also border the square, including the city's national cathedral, the National Palace and federal buildings.
You could spend a couple hours looking around the Zócalo, and some travelers suggest you start your visit at sunset. Mexican soldiers march out into the square at sunset to take down the flag, offering a great photo opportunity. Some travelers even recommend heading to the square more than once.
#7 Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest), The main park in Mexico City, was once the temporary home of the Aztec empire after its citizens migrated to modern-day Mexico City in the 13th century. Today, the 1,600-acre Chapultepec is Mexico City's largest and most popular park, and a gathering place for families seeking respite from the busy and crowded city.
Divided into three sections, the park is home to many cultural interests, such as the presidential residence, the former presidential palace, a zoo and several museums (including the highly recommended Museo Nacional de Antropología). The park also hosts numerous military monuments and effigies of Aztec kings, as well as restaurants and an amusement park, plus lots of green space for stretching. What's more, the park features a large lake, where visitors and locals alike can rent paddle boats or rowboats to putter around the water (a particular highlight for kids). On the weekends, local vendors fill the park and sell everything from souvenirs to art to snacks.
Visitors say the diverse park is an ideal place for strolling and people-watching. You can access the park from two metro stations (Auditorio and Chapultepec). For more information, visit the park's website.
#8 Catedral Metropolitana Mexico's national cathedral – the vaulting, austere, ornate church on the Zócalo's north end – was once the site of an ancient Aztec precinct, so it has housed the city's spiritual core for centuries. The cathedral was built between 1573 and 1813 after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan and is considered one of Mexico City's many must-see attractions. Highlights of the cathedral include five naves, 14 chapels, underground catacombs
#9 Museo de Arte Popular This folk art museum features handicrafts from all across Mexico and details the country's history and its many cultures. Exhibits include glasswork from Tecali, pottery from Michoacán, masks from Chiapas and alebrijes, the colorful painted animal figures from Oaxaca, among other treasures. Make sure to take a look at the building itself – the 1920s art deco building was the former headquarters of the fire department.
Recent visitors said this is a lovely place to enjoy traditional folk art and say not to miss the gift shop for souvenirs – it has unique pieces that you won't find elsewhere.
#10 UNAM (Mexico’s largest public university) The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (Central University City Campus of the National University of Mexico) includes 40 academic institutions, the Mexican Olympic stadium, a Mexican cultural center, a nature preserve and the city's Central Library. The entire campus is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city's famous muralists have made their mark on the campus, and travelers recommend you check out the work of famous painter David Alfaro Siqueiros at the Rectorate Tower or the work of Juan O'Gorman at the Central Library. The campus also holds the University Museum of Contemporary Art, an excellent spot for viewing Mexico's more recent cultural offerings.
Travelers agree that the campus is a great place to stroll and take photographs, but visitors also recommend wearing comfortable sneakers since traversing the expansive campus requires a lot of walking. For more information, check out the university's website.
#11 Architect Luis Barragan’s House and Studio. Luis Barragán was a prominent Mexican architect renowned for his modernist style, and his former home – now converted to a museum – is one of the finest examples of his work. The museum is an off-the-beaten-path attraction that travelers say will please all, even those not schooled in architectural history, though some recent visitors have complained of rude staff. The house is known for its vivid colors, brilliant use of natural light and its impressive garden with a maze of corridors and trees. In 2004, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Recent visitors said the history of the house, in addition to its interesting architecture, is captivating. Access to the house is only offered by guided tour (offered in Spanish and English) and you have to make a reservation online in advance (the museum suggests booking at least two months prior). Also note that children 9 and younger are not permitted in the museum. The museum is open every day except Tuesday. Admission for non-Mexican citizens is 400 pesos (about $21). You'll find the Casa Luis Barragan located just off the Constituyentes metro stop on the orange line. For more information, head to the house's website.
#12 Palacio Nacional The National Palace holds the federal executive branch of the Mexican government and sits along Mexico City's main public square, El Zócalo. The palace itself is a massive, ornate building that contains several gardens, murals and fountains. Its highlights are the Diego Rivera murals painted in panoramic style across the palace's walls, which visitors say are a must-see. These murals depict the stages of Mexican history, from pre-Columbian days to the current age.
Admission is free and travelers say that a typical stop should last about one to two hours. Be sure to bring your passport or other identification to gain admittance. The palace is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found on the government's website.
#14 Frida Kahlo museum One of the best-known museums in Mexico City exhibits the life and work of its most famous artist: Frida Kahlo. The museum, located in the Coyoacan suburb, is also known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), and was Kahlo's former residence. It hosts some impressive examples of her works, but travelers say that the best part of visiting the house is seeing where the painter lived and painted.
Recent visitors to the property said it's a must-see for fans of the artist and shows her life and work in a very personal light. Travelers also highly recommended purchasing admission tickets online in advance to avoid lines (which are sometimes an hour wait or more). If you want to take photos, there is an additional modest fee.
#15 Xochimilco the “Venice of Mexico” Xochimilco is a borough south of Mexico City mostly known for the colourful gondola style boats called trajineras. These wooden boats are hand-painted in bright colours and float along an intricate system of canals. There is an undeniable festive atmosphere at Xochimilco so this activity is best enjoyed with a group of others who are ready to drink, dance and join the fiesta. Each trajinera fits up to 20 people and visitors can enjoy live mariachi performances while buying traditional drinks, snacks and souvenirs from local vendors on smaller boats.
Xochimilco lies about 30 kilometres south of Mexico City and is a day trip that can easily be done without having to book an expensive tour. If you don’t have a full day to spare, you can combine this with a visit to Coyoacan which is about halfway between the city centre and Xochimilco. Xochimilco lies about 30 kilometres south of Mexico City and is a day trip that can easily be done without having to book an expensive tour.
I would say Xochimilco is a cross between the gondolas of Venice and the floating markets of Thailand but with a Mexican twist. Before our first visit in 2016, we had read some unfavourable reviews online and weren’t sure if it would be worth it. It’s the type of place some people will love and others will hate. Luckily, we decided to see it for ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed this Mexican experience. The unique region of Xochimilco was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is one of the most popular day trips among visitors to Mexico City. Yes, it’s touristy but it can also be a lot of fun. Locals head to Xochimilco to celebrate everything from birthdays to bachelorettes and even quinceañeras.
GETTING TO XOCHIMILCO WITH UBER If you’re pressed for time, you can easily take an Uber to Xochimilco and avoid the hassle of public transit. Though it does come at a cost and prices can fluctuate heavily depending on the sometimes unpredictable traffic of Mexico City. We recently took an Uber from Mercado Jamaica to Nuevo Nativitas for $200 pesos at 11:00 am on a weekday. Keep in mind that the roads will likely be busier on your way back to Mexico City and our ride back was nearly double the price.
CURRENT PRICES OF A TRAJINERA IN XOCHIMILCO There are 11 official docks in Xochimilco known as embarcaderos and the most recommended one is Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas which is where we’d suggest you go too. To avoid getting ripped off, it’s important to note that rates for trajiineras are per hour, per boat. Walk away from anyone who is quoting you a price per person because that is just not true. When we first visited Xochimilco in 2016, the going rate was $450 pesos per hour but this has since increased to $500 pesos per hour for your entire trajinera(December 2018). If you’re looking to join another group to split the cost, make sure you arrange to do so away from a vendor because they’re quick to tell who’s actually travelling together and who’s just trying to save money.
Whichever embarcadero you choose, you will likely be hassled by several vendors trying to get your business and some of them are relentless. A cyclist even tried to convince our Uber driver that the road to Nuevo Nativitas was closed and wanted us to follow him to another embarcadero. We insisted with our driver since we knew this likely wasn’t true and we were right. Once we made it to the main entrance, we found that the folks at Nuevo Nativitas were a lot more friendly and less pushy than our previous experience at Embarcadero Belem. Another reason I would recommended starting here is because there is more action at this embarcadero and the liveliness adds to your overall experience. We found that some of the quieter canals are less festive and not as well-maintained.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO XOCHIMILCO, MEXICO The basic tour is 1 hour long taking you through the main canal. If you’d like to explore the famed Island of the Dolls or learn about the nearby ecological reserves, you should opt for a longer excursion (3+ hours).
A day trip to Xochimilco is best enjoyed in a group with friends/family ready to have a good time. We’ve been twice now as a couple and would love to return with a bigger group next time instead of being a lonesome couple on a boat that seats 20.
Feel free to pack a cooler full of beer, a bag of snacks and even speakers. Xochimilco is a great place to celebrate and you can DIY your own boat party if you wish to. Buying drinks and snacks ahead of time will also save money since vendors charge slightly more from their boats.
Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days of the week to visit but are also the most lively meaning you’ll get to share the experience with many local families. Holy Week (Semana Santa) is the busiest time of the year at Xochimilco.
If you’re a solo traveler, consider putting a group together either at your hostel or discreetly join a group once you arrive at Xochimilco.
It is likely that the person steering your trajinera doesn’t speak English so don’t expect a guided tour.
The canals are the main draw for visitors to Xochimilco but there’s enough to do in the area to make a full day out of it. Both the Dolores Olmedo Museum and the Cuemanco flower market have been highly recommended and are on our list for next time