The Mexico City Guide for Foodies and Cultural Savants in Us All
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
Mexico City may be a bit of a departure from the Mexico you’ve seen or imagined. As you walk through the cobblestone streets of the Centro Historico District and admire the cathedrals, castles and houses covered in tile, you could easily imagine yourself in a city in Spain. Mexico City’s architecture and monuments are Spanish in tradition and the city quickly sets itself apart from the beaches you may know of Mexico. CDMX, as it is known, is both modern and traditional so you’ll have plenty of things to do for every traveler in your group. Here are my favorite places to spend a few days in CDMX.
This district is a pretty good and central area for you to stay during a first visit. It’s near the Palacio Bellas Artes, the House of Tiles, Iglesia de San Francisco, and Zocalo. This is the basically the downtown of Mexico City so there’s always something moving and shaking in this area. In particular, Zocalo is the site of free concerts held by Marc Anthony and Justin Bieber as well as the occasional political demonstration or rally. If you want to go shopping for souvenirs, go to La Merced. It’s open until 7 pm and you can get just about every nic nac and do-dad that you can think of at a pretty decent price. Visit La Merced during the day though, it can be a less safe area at night.
If I could have my way, I would eat at El Cardenal for breakfast everyday! Personally, I like the omelet stuffed with zucchini flowers and goat cheese. I ask for it with egg whites because it balances out the delicate flavors- but you do you. There are multiple locations around town but I eat at the Centro Historico one. Get there before 9 am on weekends or prepare for a wait.
Café Azul: this restaurant is very close to Zocalo as well and provides a romantic atmosphere with candles hanging from trees. It’s a bit odd because it’s sort of in the middle of a small shopping center but for dinner it’s pretty secluded. Try the guacamole with crushed roasted crickets if you’re an adventurous eater and don’t skip their libations. If Cafe Azul has a wait, make your way upstairs to La Botica for some mezcals (served with an orange slice, of course).
If you’re looking for authentic Mexican drinks with a modern flare, stroll down to Regina Street for some great drinks and Pulque in the evening! I like La Mexicana on that street for great Pulque cocktails. Pulque is a traditional fermented maguey drink that’s the color of milk but doesn’t have a creamy texture or taste. In recent years, it’s gained popularity in Central Mexico and I recommend it for an authentic Mexican experience you can’t get at home.
To Stay: I really enjoyed staying a Zocalo Central. It has a rooftop restaurant that overlooks Zocalo and where we were able to catch the Marc Anthony Concert. Breakfast is not included but they will bring free coffee to your room and it's close to El Cardinal.
Roma and Condesa:
These areas are typically blocked together as the same but to me they have different vibes. Condesa is quieter whereas Roma has more activity and draws in more locals and tourists closer to dinner time. During the day, you’ll find lots of great restaurants, art galleries and parks to roam through. Personally, days roaming these neighborhoods were my favorite. There’s lots of street art, parks and it feels very urban and sophisticated. Wandering this area is great and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Its vibe has attracted its tribe and you’ll certainly see many young professionals frequent both areas.
To Eat: Contramar is a wonderful, but more expensive, spot for seafood. Get the Pescado a la Talla and share with a group. Their tacos are also phenomenal. The Mercado Roma was perfecting the food hall experience before it started to gain popularity in the United States and you can watch churros be made at the El Moro location there. Wander into Condesa later in the afternoon and hit Lorenzo’s café for specialty coffee drinks, coffee or food or stay in Roma and explore the multitude of food or drink options.
Not far from Roma and Condesa is the Polanco District. Known for its museums and parks, this area is metropolitan and polished compared to Centro Historico. Everything worth seeing is also spread a little further apart.
One of the most famous sites is the National Museum of Anthropology. The museum is extensive and covers centuries of history from every district in Mexico so reserve a good amount of your day for this area of town. You won’t find a better collection of Mayan or Aztec relics. The collection varies from jeweled skulls, traditional garb, coffins of former kings, ancient drawings and large stone structures. The collection is consistently changed and rotated, so its worth visiting multiple times if you come back to the city. A nice way to get to the museum is through Chapultepec Park, where you could make a stop at Chapultapec Castle.
If you’re a fan of free cultural sites. The Soumaya Museum is worth a stop. The outside of the building is mirrored and has a modern fluidity not found in most buildings in Mexico City, but the inside is more traditional. You’ll find primarily European and Asian art here with a focus on sculpture on the final floor. Overall great way to spend a free afternoon, but it won’t connect you to Mexican culture or heritage. Nearby there is good shopping and food for the local sophisticates.
Where to stay: I didn't stay in Polanco but I know many people who have any have enjoyed it. I would compare hotels on a site like TripAdvisor.
This area is sleepy for an area called the “place of coyotes.” Coyoacan is infamous for being the neighborhood of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Trotsky. You’ll find that the Coyocan Metro stop isn’t particularly close the tourist attractions of the neighborhood so be prepared to hop into a ride share or taxi cab after.
If you’re going to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s House, you really might as well hit Diego Rivera’s studio, Anahuacalli Museum, first. It wasn’t completed before his death but it contains the artist’s own collection of Pre-Colonial artifacts and the museum is curated and was completed true to his original vision. English tours are free and a ticket into this museum will get you into Casa Azul without waiting in the very long line because, even though these two buildings aren’t that close to each other, they are managed of by the same organization.
Coyoacan Market, near Casa Azul, is also a smaller market similar to Le Merced in the Historical District and a great place to buy delicious and cheap lunch.
Make time in the morning if you make time to go and expect the drive to be a long one. The Floating Gardens of Xochimilco are the main attraction in this neighborhood. The canals with colorfully colored boats are like nothing you’ll see in any other neighborhood in Mexico City. The canals are lined with homes and flower gardens, making it an idyllic way to spend half of a day. You’ll encounter mariachi as you float by some vendors selling souvenirs, musicians who you can tether yourself to and pay per song or buy some food. You may see locals who bring their own food onto a boat and have big parties. The canals are both a bit of a tourist trap and a local favorite. Regardless it is something utterly unique to itself. The canals are worth a visit but be aware it’ll eat up most of your morning getting there and back.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
Traffic can be a bit of a pain and can increase your ride share and particularly your taxi ride expenses pretty quickly so I would recommend taking the Metro as much as you can. You can take the metro from the Airport to pretty much everywhere but you have to exit the airport and walk a few feet into the metro. The metro can be found in the opposite direction of the taxis, through the doors and make a left around the building. If you don’t want to bother with the subway with your luggage, connect to wifi at one of the cafes and order a ride share.
Ride shares are the most cost-effective way to travel around if you’re not using the bus or metro system. Uber was most prevalent when I was there but Lyft may also be an option. Taxi fees can increase very fast and you can easily pay four times the amount in a regular taxi than you would an Uber. I never had any issues in regular taxis, but several locals have said to me that ride shares are a much safer option than taxis and they tend to use that solely. If you want to support the local taxi economy, download the free app TaxiAviso to cross check the vehicle and driver before your ride.