You’ve probably been to Cancun. Maybe you’ve even been to Tulum. But Mexico City is where all the action is. From killer street tacos to fine dining and fancy craft cocktail bars. From anthropology to contemporary art. From Aztec history and centuries old markets to hipster coffee bars. CDMX is a humongous city overflowing with culture, history, deliciousness and hipness. We had such a blast celebrating our anniversary there. Get a sitter (you DO want to hit those cocktail bars, don’t you?) and GO to Mexico City.
Where to Stay
Mexico City is HUGE. I mean, the biggest city in North America HUGE. And traffic is horrific. So knowing where to stay is important.
There are many distinct neighborhoods in CDMX. As far as I could tell, the one most popular with US tourists is the fancy-shmancy Polanco area. Don’t stay here. It’s very nice and lux but it doesn’t at all feel like Mexico. We saw so many international and US chain stores and restaurants in Polanco.
Instead, stay in Roma Norte or the neighboring areas of Condesa or Juárez. Roma Norte was just amazing. It has many quiet, tree lined blocks and all sorts of hip shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. And its in a great location for accessing many of CDMX’s most important tourist sites. We loved Roma Norte and it was very tempting to just spend the entire trip strolling around that neighborhood.
We stayed at Nima Local House in Roma Norte. It’s a beautiful bed and breakfast with just four rooms and a wonderful staff that gives its guests a ton of personal attention. Though we never managed to sit for the complimentary breakfast, we loved taking coffee up to the hotel’s rooftop before heading out in the morning.
What to Eat
Mexico City is a food paradise, whether you’re into street food or fine dining. This is not a city where you just want to wing it. Spend time reading and researching and making reservations so you don’t miss out on really great eats.
All over CDMX you will see street food being cooked and eaten by locals - tacos, tamales, fruit juices, esquites (a delicious Mexican off-the-cob corn salad). It’s frankly mind blowing to see so many food stalls so close to one another - how do they compete?
I wouldn’t recommend just eating at any street food stall, but some internet research or joining a taco tour (more on that below) will direct you to the best spots. On our trip, we tried Cochinita Pibil (slow roasted marinated pork) at El Turix in Polanco, Campacheno tacos (salty beef and chorizo) at Taquería Los Cocuyos in the Historic Center and Al Pastor tacos (marinated spit roasted pork) at the original, sidewalk stall of El Huequito in the Historic Center. All three spots are well known, well regarded and freaking awesome.
If you’d rather hit the taco stands with a pro, I highly recommend contacting Ubish Yaren of México Underground. Ubish is a chef and taco aficionado passionate about his city and its food scene. He offers a nighttime taco tour (drinks, too - don’t worry) that I am SUPER bummed we didn’t do.
We did, however, do a markets tour with Ubish that we LOVED. He took us to La Merced - a huge and daunting market that’s incredibly important to Mexican history - and Mercado de San Juan - a gourmet market in the Historic Center known for selling exotic foods like insects and offal. Ubish knows his way around these markets, he has personal relationships with many of the vendors and he really cares about the local produce, spices and snack foods sold at these markets. We had so much fun sampling and exploring with Ubish and really, really recommend his tours. (Don’t try La Merced alone - it’s maze like and can be crowded and it’s not in the best area of CDMX).
If you’re a “foodie” like I am, then you’re also coming to Mexico City for its finer dining. Like any big city, new spots are always opening in CDMX, but I would highly recommend considering these few notable spots for your visit.
Quintonil holds all kinds of awards and, along with Pujol, is one of the “biggest guns” when it comes to the CDMX food scene. We ate here on our anniversary and it was just fabulous. Order the 10 course tasting menu and let the Quintonil team spoil you with course after course of delicious elevated Mexican cuisine.
Contramar, in Roma Norte, is a beautiful and very popular spot focusing on Mexican seafood dishes. Come for lunch and don’t skip the tuna tostadas and the whole fish Pescado Contramar, served half in adobe sauce and half in a parsley sauce. Advance ressies are needed at both Quintonil and Contramar.
What to Drink
When in CDMX, you must drink mezcal. The smoky cousin to tequila is pretty popular stateside but it’s everywhere in Mexico City, including bars dedicated solely to mezcal. We fell in love with La Clandestina in Condesa. The ambiance was both cozy and moody and my husband is still raving about his mezcal cocktail he had there.
The craft cocktail scene is also very big in Mexico City and we tried a bunch on our visit, since we were in full “no kids” mode. Xaman in Juarez was particularly awesome - the drink menu there pays homage to the city’s Aztec roots. In Roma Norte, my cocktail at the popular Licoreria Limantour was also delish.
We did not try any pulque bars in CDMX - probably because everything I read describing this drink made from the sap of a maguey plant likened its consistency to snot - but we would have if we had more time.
What Art to See
Even if you’re not an art obsessive, buy advance tickets to visit Casa Azul, the former home of, and now a dedicated museum to, Mexico City artist Frida Kahlo. The grounds are beautiful and Kahlo and her many portraits are an important part of art history. The museum is located in Coyoacán, another pretty area of the city to explore.
And definitely make time to see at least one of the murals of Kahlo’s former husband and famous muralist, Diego Rivera. We were absolutely blown away by his breathtaking murals in the National Palace at Historic Center (free to enter and, at least when we visited, far less crowded and chaotic than Casa Azul), particularly the epic History of Mexico mural that wraps around three walls at the Palace and took the artist 6 years to complete.
In Polanco, Museo Jumex, the city’s the contemporary art museum, and Museo Soumaya, which houses Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s private collection, are right next door to one another. We opted to visit Museo Jumex because I love contemporary art and though not particularly “Mexican”, we loved viewing the current exhibit on Jeff Koons and Marcel Duchamp.
The MOST popular and famous museum in CDMX is the National Museum of Anthropology in the city’s huge Chapultepec Park. We unfortunately didn’t have time to visit that museum or the park on this visit.
What Other Culture and Stuff to See
Besides skipping Chapultepec Park and the Museum of Anthropology, we also did not have time to visit the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacán that are about an hour outside the city. Next visit!
We instead opted for a visit to Xochimilco, about 50 minutes from Roma Norte. A water transport system originally built by the Aztecs and important to farming in the city, Xochimilco is filled with neon colored gondola style boats, each with seating for about 20 and a wooden cover to protect from rain or harsh sun. Locals and visitors alike come armed with beer and food to board a boat and have a blast. Food vendors even float by on their own little boats hawking stuff to gondolas that pass by.
In Historic Center, visit the National Palace (per the above to see the Rivera murals) and the beautiful Palacio de Bella Arts.
We Want to Go Back
CDMX is such a beautiful, cosmopolitan city full of important sites and art, delicious eats and drink and charming people and neighborhoods.
At less than 5 hours from NY, Mexico City is also an easy flight. Because the city is so large and the traffic is so brutal, it admittedly took us some time to to get in our grove (I recommend not trying to see so many sites or neighborhoods in one day), but we left CDMX feeling enamored and are now certainly big fans of the city. We will definitely be back - the tacos are already calling my name.