Touring Mexico City Fueled by its delicious food & drink

We planned a last minute trip to Mexico City from November 20-24, 2016, and were fortunate to have access to lots of excellent suggestions from colleagues and students who have lived there and a great exchange rate (~20 peso/USD). One of the best decisions was to stay in Condesa/Hippodromo area, a very walkable area with tons of great restaurants, cafes, and shops. We are still dreaming about tacos and tamales, and we will definitely be back.... hopefully sooner rather than later!

Enjoy reading, and I hope this either convinces you to plan a visit or prepares you well for your own upcoming travels to Mexico City! There are some highlights at the very bottom of this page, and lots of recommended spots available via my Mexico City Google Map.

Day 1: Sunday, November 20

Tacos and chocolates at Mercado Roma

Our first stop - at the recommendation of our Airbnb host - was to Mercado Roma, a collection of gourmet food stalls. It was an awesome kick off to the trip, and good thing we were hungry. We first ate at Jose Guadalupe. Not photographed here is the delicious pozole soup (made with ginger!) because we devoured it on the spot. I only took photos of this barbacoa taco because this was of our second round. The meat was well marinated - over 12 hours in an adobo - with delightful toppings like cactus and a warm fresh off-the-grill blue tortilla. I could have eaten so many more... We then were drawn to the chocolate stand where the "lipstick" chocolates looked beautiful, but we were encouraged to get the more flavorful truffles. I definitely underestimated the potency of the filling in the chili one, which was way overpowered for my taste. The caramel filled truffle was more to my liking. Also not pictured is the marscapone and mint ice cream scopes. (The marscapone had a taste reminiscent of salted caramel, i.e. delicious.)

Stone of the Sun

Next stop: the National Museum of Anthropology, the largest and most visited museum in Mexico filled with pre-Hispanic artifacts. It's free to Mexican citizens (not foreigners) on Sundays so it was pretty packed when we were there but definitely worth a visit.

Bottom row: a recreation of an ancient playing field where the stakes were... self sacrifice; and us with the Stone of the Sun.

We did know that our dates coincided with the Revolution holiday, but we did not realize it was also when Monday Night Football was taking place at Mexico City's Aztec stadium. Lots of locals left town for the holiday weekend so Polanco was pretty empty on Monday and in their place were many foreign visitors adorned in Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans jerseys.

NFL footballs and team helmets decorated and on display along Paseo de la Reforma (in front of the Anthropology museum) including San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, and 'hometown' Miami Dolphins

We rounded out Sunday night with dinner at MIT Steak, another Airbnb host recommendation. Many restaurants close by 6pm on Sunday, so this was a great option within a few minutes walk of our apartment.

Dinner at MIT Steak in Hippodromo

Day 2: Monday, November 21

We developed a hypothesis that the best way to explore a new city is to find its best coffee shops. This proved to be true in Mexico City where we explored top coffee spots throughout the city over the course of our stay. First stop, Chiquitito in Condesa, which was open on the Monday Revolution holiday and only a short walk from our accommodations! Thanks Culture Trip for creating this list of awesome CDMX coffee shops.

Chiquitito in Condesa specializes in caffeinated beverages and banana bread so good it warranted a second visit!

One of our favorite things to do when traveling is food tours to learn about the culinary traditions. I figured it was a good day to go on the Polanco Food Tour (found on Trip Advisor) since all the museums are closed on Mondays. We weren't alone - there were two sets of Texan fans along for the tour plus a group coincidentally from Oakland but not football fans.

It was hard to find room to eat all the food provided at the 7 stops, even though it was spread over 4 hours. It was a good selection and while I'd recommend the food, I'm on the fence about recommending the tour itself. I will say the green tamale from Tamalli was so fluffy and delicious that we ate at the Condesa location before heading to the airport on Thursday. And I could drink the ginger limonada from Aqua y Sal Cebicheria by the gallon - I'll have to try to recreate it with blended ginger, lime, and simple syrup. The best items were Aqua's smoked salmon and Guzina's Oaxaca mole, created with unique Oaxacan spices and peanuts.

Food tour first stop: Guzina Oaxaca

Food tour overview

  1. Mole and salsa at Guzina Oaxaca
  2. Green tamale at Tamalli
  3. Tacos with Victoria beer at Tlakoteotl (cute shop next door too!)
  4. The smoked marlin (not fishy, actually meaty in flavor) and ginger limonada from Agua y Sal Cebicheria
  5. Taco and mezcal at local taqueria
  6. Sports bar with tasty pozole and hibiscus drink at Karisma
  7. Mamey ice cream at Neveria Roxy
Lake at Bosque de Chapultepec

Stuffed from the food tour, we took a nice leisurely walk through Bosque de Chapultepec where tons of locals were enjoying the holiday paddle boating along the lake and frequenting lines of food stalls. Too bad Castillo de Chapultepec also closes on Mondays, I guess we'll have to return one day so we can see its inner splendor! We then grabbed an Uber and headed to Roma Norte to grab... yes an afternoon coldbrew at Buna 42. This jumpstarted an exploratory walk to some cool local boutiques.

Exhausted from all the walking and eating we relaxed for a few hours and eventually made room for tapas and live music at Pata Negra followed by some delicious cocktails at Baltra, a local bar just around the corner from our place.

Pata Negra music and tapas followed by Darwin-themed cocktails

Coyácan

Cafe Avellaneda in central Coyacan (about 10-15 minute walk from Frida Kahlo Museum) is serious about their coffee. Check out the level of detail in the coffee specs listed on the chalkboard! I also love their presentation style, akin to Japanese tea on a tray accompanied with a sweet.
On the walk to Kahlo's museum, we stopped by Panaderia Lecaroz, which had seemingly endless aisles of different sweet bread offerings. You start by grabbing a tray and tongs and place your selection directly on the tray (much like Chinese and Japanese bakeries). Afterwards you get in a line, and they wrap up your breads and tally up your bill. You then go to the cashier, this one was behind a glass wall like at a bank, and pay before you pass through the turnstile exit. (Average price per item was 8 pesos.)
If you don't pay for a camera pass, you can only take photos outside in the garden. It was a beautiful November morning!

Tip: If you want to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum (located at her childhood home Casa Azul in Coyacan), order tickets in advance online. It opens at 10am, and we arrived at 10:20am to a long line. Thankfully we had mobile data so I booked 10:30am entrance tickets from the sidewalk, skipped the line, and we were inside within minutes.

Since it was the same month as the Day of the Dead, there was a special alter dedicated to Frida Kahlo.

Diego Rivera entrusted Casa Azul to a friend's care. After her passing, parts of the house previously sealed off were opened up and many never-seen-before personal effects were unearthed, including many of Frida's fashion. Here are a few of those, which she wore as a nod to her mother's heritage and to draw attention upwards, away from her injured lower body.

Frida's Fashion

The Zócalo and Centro Histórico

From the Frida Kahlo museum, we took an Uber to the historic downtown area to eat at El Cardenal, a restaurant serving traditional Mexican food and highly recommended by our friend who lived in Mexico City and still comes here every time he's in town visiting family. There are two locations, one inside the Hilton, and another just a couple of blocks from Zocalo. You can spot its green awning from down the street. We went to the latter location, which has an open kitchen appearance and limited seating when you first enter. Don't be fooled, there's a large dining area upstairs, including private rooms.

Oxacan mole and chilequiles at El Cardenal. The mole was good, but I would strongly recommend the chilequiles, an El Cardenal specialty, with its delicious acidic sauce and fresh crunchy tortilla chips.

We got there right before breakfast was officially over, and we were served gratis bread/pastries and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was liquid decandence - I couldn't stop drinking it. I also got a chocolate croissant, and I definitely spoiled my lunch. Good thing the mole and chilequiles were so good, I ate until I was too full to move. Note: if you arrive between breakfast and lunch, you may need to ask them specifically to see the lunch menu.

Clearly, it was time to walk off our lunch. Luckily, we were steps away from Zocalo, the main square in the historic district and adjacent to the Cathedral. Since we were there in late November, the Christmas decorations were being prepped but were not quite up. I bet these are pretty impressive if you're in town during December.

Templo Mayor and the National Palace were also steps away.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
National Palace

It's free and well worth it to enter the National Palace to see Diego Rivera's large and impressive murals. However, you'll need to show and leave an official ID with security as well as check all bags while you're inside. Once inside, follow the signs leading towards the back/right and you'll end up in the plaza. You can't miss the massive History of Mexico mural (constructed from 1929 - 1935) lining the main stairwell and chronicling the country's history from ancient to present times.

On the second level, you can see the corridor murals that Rivera painted in the 1940s. They were intended to wrap around the whole second floor, but it was never completed. These depict Mexico's pre-Hispanic culture and practices, ending with the last mural (completed in 1951) showing the arrival of the Spanish.

Templo Mayor was discovered adjacent and below the Cathedral in central Mexico City. It was surprisingly hot and sunny at mid-afternoon in November.

We next went to visit Templo Mayor (the Great Temple), one of the main temples of the Aztecs in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, which was subsequently conquered by the Spanish. It was only in the late 20th century that the ancient temples and buildings were excavated, revealing the temples were reconstructed and added to several times. It's pretty crazy to see these ruins right in the middle of Mexico City! There's also a pretty extensive museum component to the Templo Mayor site.

Palacio de Belles Artes

We didn't have time to go see the museum portion (we will have to return!), but we visited Palacio de Belles Artes to get tickets to the Folklore de Mexico Ballet performance that takes place on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. Tickets range from 300 - 1200 pesos. We purchased the cheaper tickets in the upper balcony and still had a decent view, especially of the stain glass ceiling.

If you're still playing Pokémon Go, you can go to the park to the west of Palacio and catch lots of Kabuto Pokémon ;) This was actually on our way to the Diego Rivera mural museum, which houses just one giant mural that was relocated to this museum. From the park, you should head to the left side of the block and the entrance is on that side. (We made the mistake of going right and having to walk all around the large block, but we did get to see lots of locals hanging outside at a market.)

Museo Mural Diego Rivera

From here we Ubered to Roma Norte to explore some more of the shops, galleries, and restaurants. Our pursuit of art/design galleries and shops throughout the trip was generally a flop, partially due to the holiday and Monday closures. We also missed out on being in town for the Saturday market featuring local artists. We initially tried to Uber to Vertigo Galeria design shop/gallery, but the Uber got lost and we ended up walking the last half mile... only to arrive and find out that it was closed in preparation for an exhibit opening the next evening.

The one success was at Galeria Casa Lamm, a small private gallery. The entrance was literally under construction when we approached, and we were helped down from the makeshift wooden plank walkway. It was a little strange to see given that there was a National Geographic party about to start. Luckily, we got to peek into the gallery to see Marina Anaya's brilliant temporary exhibit before it was closed off to invited guests.

"Soy de Donde Estes" (I Am From Where You Are) exhibit by Marina Anaya

One of our students is from Mexico City, so he recommended lots of food and drink spots including Cocina Conchita for some fancier tacos and seafood.

Tacos and oysters at Cocina Conchita (Roma Norte). That al pastor taco was so good we had to order another one.

We rounded out the evening with shopping and more of Clay's favorite tacos at El Tizoncito - the original creators of taco al pastor. Only 15 pesos each...plus delicious agua de jamaica (hibiscus) and horchata beverages.

Day 4: Wednesday, November 23

Our last full day started with coffee at Chiquitito Cafe and then a half-day at the pyramids, eating grubs, riding public transit crosstown for more delicious coffee, discovering and purchasing original wearable Mexican art, and eating ... more delicious tacos. I think we could go back to Mexico City just to eat tacos and drink coffee/hot chocolate, yum!

Can you spot me?

Teotihuacan

Teotihucan is an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site located about an hour outside Mexico City. Here's La Pirámide del Sol in the distance. You can book in advance a whole day tour, and even stay for the evening light show, but we opted and preferred to go on our own for just a half day and at our own pace. This proved to be an excellent decision as we were able to do Teotihucan in under 3 hours and avoid being taken to all the craft and souvenir shops. Dress accordingly to hike up and down lots of stairs, and it's a good idea to bring some water and snacks.

You'll want to go as early as possible to avoid the crowds. We'd hoped to get there closer to the 9am opening, but we didn't hit the road until closer to 9:30am. We did miss most of the city traffic by leaving then. To save time, we took an Uber for 410 pesos from La Condesa direct to the pyramids and arrived about an hour later. (Note: Teotihucan is closed on Mondays. Also, you could take a ~ 42 peso per person bus ride from central Mexico City, but you'd first have to get to the bus terminal on the north side of the city, which would have cost us ~ 100 peso via Uber.)

At the main road entrance, we were welcomed by a tourism official, who reminded us that information here is supposed to be free, and therefore we should not fall prey to the guides offering paid tours. An important and well-timed word of warning as minutes later we were offered all types of guides and services.

View from Quetzalcoatl pyramid with the Moon and Sun pyramids (left, right) in the distance.

There are 3 main sections at Teotihuacan. We decided to do all 3, so we started at one end at the Quetzalcoatl temple. From here, you can go on a long walk to the Teotihuacan museum.

The museum is quite extensive though it has limited descriptions in English. Even so, there's plenty of information in this museum in lieu of a guide.

Spoiler alert: there are excavated burial grounds showing the pre-Hispanic practice of human sacrifice to the gods.

Pre-Hispanic artifacts

Next up: the Sun pyramid, the largest of the three. You'll want to take a few breaks and hydrate as you make your way up the steep and narrow pyramid steps.

At the Pyramid of the Sun with views of Pyramid of the Moon in the distance.

Finally, we proceeded towards the Moon pyramid with some cool smaller ruins along this main road. Even though the Sun pyramid is technically taller, the Moon's higher elevation makes it a better lookout and photo opportunity with views of the Sun pyramid.

My dancer pose adjacent to Moon pyramid (x2), and Clay descending Moon pyramid

If you're itching for some souvenirs, there are a number of shops right by the exit near the Moon pyramid. Also, just outside this exit is the bus stop where you can catch the bus back to Central Mexico City for about 40 pesos per person. Or like us, you might just get handed a sample menu and asked if you'd like a free ride to a nearby restaurant for some local fare.

I'm 50/50 on whether to do this. The restaurant was actually in the neighboring town, which was a 5-minute drive down and past the main restaurant road adjacent to the pyramids (where many more restaurants were and potentially better than where we ended up). We were hungry, but the food - even the non-insect variety - was relatively expensive and the place was empty at 1:00pm. At least they were very friendly, despite them not speak English and us knowing limited Spanish.

We wanted to try Mexican delicacies like escamole (ant larvae) and chapulines (grasshoppers), but they were sold out, apparently due to all the crowds that had come through for the long holiday weekend. Instead, we tried chinicuiles (worms) of which I was not a fan - they tasted like fuel. More for Clay, who really enjoyed them. After we finished eating, we got a free ride - after paying the requested tip - back to the bus station. However, there was a bit of a delay because the original old van (that we had to climb into from the driver's seat and into the backseat) wouldn't start so the driver to borrow someone else's truck.

Chinicuiles: in my opinion, these have a fumey aftertaste... no thanks.

Although we had access to cellular data while in Mexico, we had little to no cell service while at the pyramids. This made it pretty easy to decide to take public transit instead of an Uber (I'm also not sure how many available Ubers are really hanging out in this area).

Be sure to have cash if you do take the bus (~42 pesos/person). The bus does make quite a few stops at some of the nearby towns before heading to the city, but it probably only added 15-20 minutes to the ride. We arrived at the central bus terminal in Central Mexico City, on the north side of town, at about 4pm and peak rush-hour traffic.

Clay was craving an afternoon gourmet coffee on the other side of town and at least 45 minutes away by Uber or train. We decided to save some pesos and try the Metro for the first time. We'd heard mixed reviews from friends who'd lived in Mexico City, including some saying it's really crowded and not worth taking. However, having lived in New York City, it was a piece of cake and - at least for this one trip - was way less crowded than in New York City. It was also very cheap: it cost less than 25 pesos for 2 people to travel 11 miles to Colonia Del Valle/Narvarte Poniente area of CDMX.

Cafe Passmar solidified our theory that you can find some cool local neighborhoods if you follow the coffee. Cafe Passmar itself is an award-winning coffee shop located smack dab in the middle of an indoor Mexican market, complete with a butcher and produce stalls.

Cafe Passmar is an open style cafe in the center of Mercado Lazaro Cardenas indoor market. Its offerings include Chemex style coffee (pictured) and delicious frappes.

Lucky for me, we decided to walk back to La Condesa because along the way we spotted a super colorful shop facade and decided to check it out. This is my top shopping tip for ladies traveling to Mexico City: check out the unique fashion pieces at Sindashi. There are only a few locations in all of Mexico and even fewer (coming soon) outside of Mexico. All of their pieces are one-of-a-kind and hand-painted originals.

The one downside is that they will only have limited designs in any given size (or purse shape). To be honest, while a lot of the styles and designs looked really cool, there were only a few that fit my personal style. Luckily, this black and gold number was in my size! Each piece is also signed by the artist.

Wearing a Sindashi original dress outside Faena Dome during Miami Art Basel (December 2016)
El Califa tacos and chicharrón de queso, so so good!

This detour and the walk home meant limited time at our apartment before grabbing dinner at El Califa - fast and super delicious tacos recommended by our student - and then an Uber to the Palacio de Belles Artes for the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico 8:00pm performance. Unfortunately, Google Maps and Uber were way off on the travel time. We should have arrived 15-20 minutes early, but the traffic was effectively at a standstill for the last couple of miles. At just under a mile away, we decided to hop out of the Uber and run the rest of the way. We made it a couple minutes after 8:00pm, just as the opening overture began.

The show is highly recommended for tourists, and I would also recommend it to those, like myself, who enjoy the performing arts. As I mentioned before, any seat in the house is probably pretty decent. The theater is beautiful and not too big. Even the view from the top balcony has pretty good visibility of the stage and definitely of the impressive stain-glass ceiling.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Day 5: Thursday, November 24

We spent our last morning in CDMX, before heading to the airport, walking and eating around La Condesa. First stop: coffee, of course. We had yet to try cafe de olla (traditional Mexican coffee with cinnamon and sugar cane) or Cielito Querido Cafe. I loved the decor and typographic style here. I also loved the chili hot chocolate, more so than the olla.

Next, we did a reprise of Tamalli's green tamale, this time at the La Condesa location. It was as fluffy and tasty as I remembered! The additional chocolate tamale also hit the spot. From here, we tried to go to a few more shops, but few of them were open before noon. We did find a cool little pet shop, Perro de Mondo that make upcylced toys for your furry friends.

We ran out of space in our tummies to visit El Califa one last time before heading to the airport where shockingly there were limited food options - at least in the area immediately beyond the security checkpoint. We were upgraded to first class on the flight home, granting us access to the airport lounge. This is always welcome news, though there was still a pretty limited food selection in the lounge: mostly cheese and meats and other finger snack foods.

If you get to the airport early enough, there are supposedly some pretty good places to eat just outside the airport. Or try and head way down towards the newer section of the airport where there are tons more shops and restaurants. We had no idea until we had to run to our gate, which felt like it was a mile away from the lounge.

All in all, we would highly recommend visiting Mexico City! We hope to return soon to enjoy the friendly people, scenic walks, and delicious food and drinks. And hopefully see more local art!

CDMX Attraction Highlights

  • Tenochtitlan - pyramids about an hour from central CDMX
  • Museo National de Antropologie Museum
  • Frida Kahlo Museum
  • Diego Rivera mural at National Palace
  • Ballet Folklorico de Mexico performance (Wed and Sun only)

CDMX Shopping Highlights

  • Sindashi - original hand painted wearable art, including dresses, tops, and purses. Dresses start at about 1800 pesos.
  • Housepitality Shop - cute boutique with some reasonably priced women's fashion and home goods, including fabulous shawls from PPAAYYSS, a Mexico designer brand.
  • NUMO - novelty shop with cool card and notebook designs as well as fabulous luchador felt coasters
  • La Hamaca y El Rebozo - cute baby and women's textile shop
  • Perro de Mundo - pet shop that makes upcycled toys
  • Roku Design - interior design (La Condesa)

CDMX Tacos Supreme

  • El Califa - super fast, super cheap, super delicious; multiple locations including in La Condesa
  • Agua y Sal Cebicheria - smoked marlin taco and ginger limonada
  • Jose Guadalupe - barbacoa taco (in Mercado Roma)
  • Cocina Conchita - tacos al pastor and fish taco
  • El Tizoncito - creator of tacos al pastor

CDMX Restaurant Highlights

We ate at and loved all of these places.

  • El Cardenal - delicious, traditional Mexican dishes, hot chocolate, and chilequiles
  • Mercado Roma - upscale food stalls including tasty tacos, pozole, ice cream, and chocolates
  • Tamalli - cheap, fast fluffy delicious tamales
  • MIT Steak
  • Guzina Oaxaca - Oaxacan style Mexican food
  • Neveria Roxy - ice cream
  • La Mezcaleria - for lots of Mexican mezcal

These are places we didn't have time to go to but were highly recommended by friends who are from and/or have lived in Mexico City.

  • Tori Tori Lounge - sushi
  • Panaderia Rosetta - bakery and coffee
  • Azul Condesa
  • Parker and Lenox
  • Pan y Circo
  • Breakfast at Sanborns chain department store
  • Cafe de Tacuba - Mexican restaurant
  • Ojo de Agua
  • Contramar - seafood in La Roma
  • Merotoro - French-Mexican cuisine in La Condesa
  • Havre 77 - French-Mexican cuisine in La Juarez
  • Rosetta - Italian-Mexican cuisine in La Roma
  • Tres Galeones - Fish Tacos in La Roma
  • Panadería Rosetta in La Roma
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