Mexico City

mexico city.

[spotlight series. “isra” jesus ortega  & andres isoardarrangoiz]

[our Mexico City soundtrack]

Someone once said, "Mexico City, like tequila, is an acquired taste"...for me, it was a taste I liked immediately.

Sure it can be loud and congested – and potentially overwhelming for some – but this city, packed full of high culture and lowdown fun, is exciting, lively and impressive – and the energy is intoxicating.

Lush green parks and gardens, sprawling tangles of wide European boulevards, stunning colonial architecture, modern design, an up-and-coming food scene, friendly locals, hundreds of galleries and museums, and enviable fiestas! Mexico City sure knows how to party.

Having not made a visit since 2005, it made complete sense to spend a few days in this energetic city on my way back to LA, after a short visit to the Pacific Coast in October. Three nights was just enough time to re-scratch the surface; to pound the pavement; and to unravel some new and exciting finds. Enough time too, to work out I need to get back here fast. This city has a whole lot more to offer.

1. To sleep...

Roma Norte (think art-nouveau mansions, tree-lined streets, artists aplenty, and cute boutiques) or Condesa (Mexico City’s answer to the West Village in New York City) are our pick of the neighborhoods for somewhere to rest your weary bones. We often favor an Airbnb rental (over a hotel), and there is no better place than in Mexico City. We have rented apartments in Condesa, Roma and the Hippodrome over the past few months…and can especially recommend any of the apartments on offer from Fernando. Check out some of his cute pied-a-tierres here.

If you would prefer a hotel experience, we recommend the cute, boutique hotel CondesaDF – tucked away in a quiet, tree-lined Condesa street, across from the Parque Espana. Part of the Mexican hotel group, Habita, there is a great rooftop bar, restaurant and spa. We have a penchant for some of their other properties as well – their one Downtown, simply named Downtown Mexico - two blocks from the Zocalo, is a former palace which has 17 rooms, many with exposed brick walls and wood-beam ceilings, as well as a great rooftop pool and bar. Hotel Habita – in ritzy Polanco – is super minimalist, glass and lots of white-on-white. It also has a killer rooftop pool. Our favorite though is definitely CondesaDF, firstly for its perfect location and next, the aesthetic. We had also been recommended Hotel Brick in Condesa, but were sad to find it was all holed up and no longer operating when we went to check it out.

2. Start your day... 

With a fresh fruit “jugos” (juice) from one of the local jugos stands on the street. For approx. 18 pesos (US$1.40), you can fuel up on any combination of fruit, or even a “Licuados” (a shake/smoothie).  Choose your potion – fruit, milk, oats, nuts, granola, protein powder, cinnamon etc. There are stacks of these around town. We seemed to frequent a great little one however, near the corner of Puebla y Orizaba, in Colonia Roma.

3. For breakfast...if we are not eating Mexican tortas from the friendly street vendors (we voted the senorita on the SW corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas in Condesa, as best on ground – the queues for her juicy bollilos (crusty bread rolls) packed full of slow-cooked pork, chicken or steak, refried beans, queso, avocado, jalapeno etc – speak for themselves) – try the chilaguiles and milanesa combo; we found a couple of cute cafes, for a more Western fix.  We liked the ambience and delicious homemade breads at Delirio Monica Patino on Alvaro Obregón. We also just discovered their little sister– Abarottes Delirio –located on the tree-lined Colima Street, which offers similar fare and great coffee as well. Panaderia–  across the road on Colima Street – is our new favorite though! A tiny little hole in the wall, sit at the bar and order delicious lattes, and the most spectacular bread and pastries in the city! We also love their fruit plate, with granola and yoghurt.

Another surprise - a cute, new Sunday brunch pop-up concept. American Juliet Lambert, owner of Spice Catering, decided to open a temporary Sunday brunch spot in the basement of Hostel 333 in the Roma Norte district. Open only on Sundays from 10am-4pm, Spice Everywhere, is a great place to hit up if you are feeling slightly hungover after some fun Saturday night shenanigans. Think Bloody Marys and American-style brunching. Perhaps the “Straight Up, No Bullshit” eggs will tickle your fancy, or in our case, Papa Richard’s Eggs Benedict hit the spot. All dishes come with a side of seasonal fresh fruit, and if you like your fruit Mexican style, there is always the option to add some Tajin (tah-HEEN), powdered chili prepared with salt and lemon, to sprinkle on top! A cute concept and a cute spot.

Lastly, we love a Saturday morning spent rambling around the markets and street stalls in Coyoacan. Start by caffeinating at Café Alleveneda (see below)…one of our most favorite lattes in the city. Next, swing by the food court at the top of Calle Higuera for a fresh jugos, and then wander around the Jardin and markets. Stop for brunch at Papalotl – healthy, organic, super healthy and lovely local feel.

4. To caffeinate...(aside from Panaderia), there are only two options in our mind. Firstly – check out Café Alleveneda. Always in search of the best artisan coffee on our travels, we had heard a whisper about this great little espresso-based coffee house in Coyoacan, off the beaten track a little, not far from the Museo de Frida Kahlo. We loved Coyoacan - a beautiful, bohemian neighborhood filled with narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and beautiful colonial mansions in tree-lined streets. A relatively quiet place during the week, the neighborhood becomes packed on the weekends, with locals and tourists alike. There are some fantastic market stalls nearby, live music in the plaza and a really great buzz in the air. Apparently, this is the most-visited place in Mexico City after the Zocalo. Café La Alleveneda (is a tiny spot, with limited seating), but a big heart and warm soul. We make sure we stop by on every visit to the city, and each time there are always 4-5 baristas working the tiny room, all super friendly and helpful. They make a killer latte (they even do a flat white!), with their own blend of beans from Oaxaca. Their chocolate brownies are probably the best things we have ever tasted! They do a few delicious tortas as well (we love the turkey one).

The other contender for best coffee in the city: Café Passmar. Tucked away in the Mercado Lazaro (a food and nic-nac market, about 30mins walk from Condesa) – this tiny café and brew bar, has a big reputation amongst locals. Be sure to try their specialty, a “natilla de espresso”: a shot of espresso, with a big whack of condensed milk! More like a dessert than a coffee. We love the ghetto-style nature of this spot, tucked away amongst the piñata stalls, the dried prawns, the torta joints and a hair salon! A mission to find, but worth it. This market is also great for fresh fruit and veg, Christmas decorations (if it’s the season!), juices, even a haircut – we had a wash, cut and blowdry here one day for approx. USD$11!!

5. Foodtrucks!!

We love that food trucks are now starting to take off in Mexico City. We were excited to find a couple of trucks, roaming the chaotic streets, serving some seriously good and interesting chow. The bright red and yellow Ñham Ñham Food Truck, parks near the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, and serves up amazing Banh Mi (Vietnamese-style torta) and Pho. A nice break from the taco grind! Tostaderia Barra Vieja’s, which pulls up in a parking lot in Pedregal, serves up some amazing fresh ceviche tostadas: pulop and callo de hacha (scallop). Seafood tacos are also on offer, and on weekends, a paella as well. Worth hunting down if you have the time and desire. Follow them on twitter for location details.

6. Our favorite taco joint...has to be El Pescadito CondesaDF: a cute, corner taqueria in Condesa. Packed full of locals.

7. For the best seafood lunch...(and some seriously good people watching)…a mid-week lunch atContramar is essential. Only open until 6pm, this is not a dinner spot. A beautiful, light and airy space – the seafood here is exceptional. We loved the tuna tostados, as well as the people watching! Likewise,MeroToro (owned by the Contramar crew), serves up Baja Californian fish dishes, and offers some impressive wines from the Valle de Guadeloupe area of Baja (now being compared to the Napa Valley circa 50 years ago).

8. Treat dinner at the 17th Best Restaurant of the world: Pujol, where 33-year-old chef Enrique Olvera reinvents Mexican street food for sophisticated tastes at this chic little Polanco bistro. The 10-course set menu is shockingly good value at 794 pesos (US$62).

9. Others restos we like and recommend:

Maximo Bistrot and Felix (more a bar, than restaurant, but still great food).

10. When you need a break from Mexico City food staples such as Mexican and Italian, head to the only (apparently) decent Thai joint in the city…Pad Thai. Their Pad Thai definitely represents.

11. For home made ice cream and sherbet, go to the local’s favorite: Neveria Roxy (a number of locations around the city). We are a sucker for the old-school, aqua blue, diner-style set-up.

12. To drink…so many options…but we don’t mind if we do at any of these guys below:

* Anywhere along Alvaro Obregon in Roma Norte…but our favorite: Felix. Arrive early and claim one of the sidewalk tables, prime for people-watching along Colonia Roma’s main drag. Locals burst out on to the streets, and the dark and cosy rooms inside are always full. Order cervezas, delicious cocktails and the oversize sliders.

* La Nacional: For mezcal cocktails, aguardiente (firewater), and local microbrews beneath an undulating brick ceiling and Edison bulbs.

* MOG and El Paquieunto – also on Alvaro Obregon.

* For drinks and a dance…try La Pulqueria Los Insurgentes – three levels, and often live music.

* Drink mescal on the open-air terrace of Corazon de Maguey. Order “Tlayudas” (Mexican-style flatbreads) to go with your drinks. 

11. For live music…check out the Imperial. A great bar – both upstairs and downstairs – and an ever-changing roll up of bands.

12. To shop…our favorite place to shop is in Colonia Roma. Check out Calle Colima – full of great boutiques, and lots of places to stop for caffeinate hits when needed (see above). Some of our favorites: 

Goodbye Folk: vintage and reconstructed vintage, and their own line of classic, handmade shoes. The prices, compared with New York, are not expensive at all. And there’s also an old-school barber out the back. Get a haircut or blow-out while you are there! Follow them on instagram here: @goodbyefolk

Lucky Bastrd: street wear labels from NYC and around. We swooned over awesome caps, tees and sweaters. We are loving our 10.DEEP hoodie.

Tatujes: if you are in the mood for a tattoo (and why wouldn’t you be?), walk a little further down Calle Colima to Insurgentes, and visit our dear friend Isra (see Spotlight Series). Clean and super professional, this is the only place to get inked in Mexico City – and Isra is the man!

13. To do…culturally, there is so much to do in this City. Museums and galleries galore. Here are a few of our picks: 

* Visit the Centro Historico – easy to spend a full day wandering around here, if that’s your thing. Lots of monuments and sights to check out. 

* We love the Museo Frida Kahlo: Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera’s blue house in Coyoacan. Even if you are not fans of their artwork, this is a beautiful casa (and neighborhood) to cruise around. Frida Kahlo was not only a revered artist, but a fashion icon as well, and appeared on the cover of American Vogue in 1937. As she said "Not all Mexicans are picturesque Indians in big straw hats".  We particularly love her quote, "Who needs feet? I've got wings to fly".

* Rising from the ground like a silvery cloud, the glittering Museo Soumaya has cemented itself as one of Mexico City’s few iconic architectural landmarks. Built by business mogul Carlos Slim Helu in memory of his wife, this aliminium-tiled Museo is like a modern-Mexican version of the Taj Mahal. The "impossible to build" facade, covered by silver honeycomb tiles, was designed by Helú’s son-in-law. Free admission.

*Dolores Olmedo first modeled for artist Diego Rivera when she was 20. At her eight-acre estate, now theMuseo Dolores Olmedo, visitors find one of the world’s largest collections of Rivera paintings, drawings, and lithographs as well as 25 pieces of his wife, Frida Kahlo. 

* Architecture fans, add this one to your list (but don’t be fooled by the concrete exterior) - Casa Luis Barragan is the midcentury home and studio of the Pritzker Price winning architect Luis Barragan. Inspired by Barragan’s travels through Europe and Morocco and by the work of the designers Le Corbuiser and Ferdinand Bac, the home became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. 

* We also love the long walk back from Polanco to Condesa, along beautiful Paseo de la Reforma, and past the Botanical Gardens. On the way, be sure to stop into the Museo de Arte Moderno in Chapultepec Park, to check out the exhibitions of national and international contemporary artists.

* If you happen to be in Mexico City in October, and if you are music lovers like we are, be sure to grab tix for the Corona Capital festival. The line-up in 2013 included some of our favorites: The XX, The Dandy Warhols, The Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix, Portugal.The.Man, MS MR, Sigur Ros, Matt and Kim, Vampire Weekend and Blondie…to name just a few. Sunny days, fun crowd and good set-up (just be prepared to walk, a bunch). Do it. 

14. To market, to market…for a seriously local market experience…visit the La Lagunilla Sunday market. Get the metro to Lagunilla/Garibaldi early on Sunday morning, and get ready to experience the craziness and chaos of this weekly institution. The market is one of the largest in the city and consists of three sections: one for clothing, one for furniture and one for foodstuffs, mostly selling to lower income customers. 

Also check out Mercado de la Nueva Viga – the largest seafood market in Mexico, and the second largest after the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo - be blown away by ocean goodies here from every port of Mexico  - the Gulfs, Caribbean, and the Pacific. Pretty much every chef in the city shops here, and you will be able to sample fish dishes at most of the stalls. Get stuck into ceviche or caldo de pescado (fish soup). Also try the chocolate clams (sounds weird, yes); their shell is brown like chocolate. Top with fresh cilantro, chopped onion and lemon! Trust me.

15. Stroll around…it is worth having a stroll around the green, leafy streets of Polanco. Definitely more fancy than any of its neighbors, Polanco is bustling with cafes, bars, restaurants, book stores and boutiques. The Hotel Habita (see above) has a cute bar downstairs in its lobby, as well as on their rooftop terrace - overlooking the pool - where movies and music videos are projected on the wall of an adjacent building; there is not so much a dayspa here, whereas just one small, white room that is used for treatments. We treated ourselves to a heavenly facial, and a deep-tissue massage, perfect after another day walking the streets. 

16. Drive out to…the Teotihuacán Pyramids. Just an hour outside the city, these pretty amazing feats of engineering are both humbling and impressive. 

17. Get cultured…and spend a night at the Opera in one of the most beautiful theaters in all of the Americas, the Palacio de Bellas Artes. A grand experience. Art Nouveau dominates the exterior of this grand old 1930s palace, while Art Deco dominates the interior.