While, sadly, certain people stateside focus on the blemishes of our neighbors to the south, a thriving and vibrant metropolis filled with culture, extraordinary cuisine, art and a tradition as rich as you’ll find anywhere in the world, continues to thrive in Mexico’s capital, Mexico City.
Here are ways you can live life to the fullest in Mexico City. Which we highly recommend visiting, clearly.
The world-class restaurants and their incredible chefs that flourish here will have to wait a minute, because we’re starting things off in the streets.
You don’t get named the best place in the world for street food by Forbes without having incredible street vendors on every corner filling the air with aromas that will have you salivating at every turn.
While there are tons of varietals, let’s be honest — it’s the tacos you came for, and here street vendors deliver the goods.
There are two types of tacos that are ubiquitous in Mexico City, the first and most alluring being Tacos Al Pastor. These are unmistakable as you’ll see vendors slicing meat (typically pork) off of spits onto a warm corn tortilla topped with pineapple, fresh cilantro, white onion and salsa. Less ‘showy’ and even less expensive than tacos al pastor, are tacos de canasta. Tacos de canasta translates to “basket tacos” and that’s how these tacos come: straight out of a basket where they’re steamed and ready for immediate consumption. They’re perfect if you’re in a rush or on a budget (you can grab a taco for about six pesos, 30 cents U.S).
A great place to grab these is at Mercado De San Juan, a fantastic marketplace that’s open daily and is known for its exotic collection of meats ranging from crocodile, wild boar, venison and even lion meat! (Yes, lion meat. It’s a thing.) Best of all, it’s in the heart of the historic center of the city and bustles with locals and tourists alike, as it is less than 20 minutes walking from the true center of the city, known as the Zocalo.
If you’re looking for something similar to Mercado De San Juan, closer to La Condesa, the spot is Mercado Roma in the up-and-coming Roma neighborhood.
If you’re looking for a more “authentic” experience, head over to Mercado de la Merced, which is a bit more disorganized and hectic, but it’s the biggest market in the city and well worth a visit. Snack wise on the streets — it’s all about the tamales. Sure, you can find fruits, plantains, deep fried crickets and caterpillars and other delicious critters that they’ll toss in some hot oil for you for less than one dollar, but the tamales are scene-stealers. Plus, there are so many different types of them, you could have tamales for every meal and have a different experience every time.
Now, as expansive, inexpensive and flat out extraordinary as the street food is, there’s a whole world of indoor culinary activity that needs to be explored.
One of the nicer neighborhoods in the city is Polanco, and finding a stellar meal there is easy. The crown jewel of the area, and of Mexico City, is Pujol. Owned by Chef Enrique Olvera, Pujol has been named the best restaurant in Mexico City, and among the best in the world, since opening in 2000. Pujol’s modern Mexican offerings are highlighted by delicious ceviches, moles and their legendary take on a popular Mexican street snack — smoked baby corn with powdered ants (yup, the insect), coffee and chili mayo. A five-minute walk away is Comedor Jacinta, a much more casual and affordable dining experience than Pujol, but with legendary casserole dishes and savory local flavors that stack up with any restaurant around.
Conveniently, if you’re looking for a dessert spot to cap a night out, Gelatoscopio awaits. It’s a quick walk from these two Polanco-area mainstays and is considered the best ice cream shop in the city.
Outside of Polanco, you’ll be hard pressed to find a nicer place to wander around than in the La Condesa neighborhood, one of the most upscale in the city. If you’re looking to splurge, staying and dining at Hotel Carlota in its eponymously named restaurant is a fine choice, one you won’t soon forget.
And a journey to the strip surrounding the famed park, Parque Espana, will yield more great restaurants than you’ll know what to do with. There’s Pehua, a modern take on a range of Mexican cuisines, Pasillo de Humo, featuring the famed Oaxacan cuisine (“authentic” Mexican), and a little bit further east lies Seneri, taking on Michoacan cuisine (Spanish influenced) in a modern style that fits with the chic vibe of Condesa seamlessly.
Whatever your scene — a late drink at a bar, a night at the club, or, a night dancing to salsa — Mexico City and La Condesa has you covered; the latter mostly for the upscale bar and club scene.
If you haven’t left Hotel Carlota yet, don’t. The bar is the centerpiece of the hotel and it serves up great cocktails, has an epic glass-walled pool and is as good a spot as any when it comes to Mexico City’s famed mezcal-oriented (and not tainted) cocktails. Condesa DF is an upscale bar with amazing views of the city, enhanced, as so much of life is, by a great drinks menu.
On the more loungy side, if you’re wrapping up dinner in Polanco, Jules’ Basement is a spot to see… if you can find your way in. The bar resides underneath a taqueria and through a false ‘refrigerator’ door, but once you’re inside you’re rewarded with fantastic drinks and a chill speakeasy-style, jazz bar vibe.
While ‘cool’ is a subjective term, if you’re into/know your Mexican history, La Opera Bar is objectively a great freaking place to grab a drink. It won’t wow you with its menu, or drinks, but the fact that Pancho Villa (allegedly) shot a bullet into the ceiling that you can still gawk at today when you tilt your head up to sip your drink is pretty damn cool.
Cool on an entirely different level, as in hot in every way, is salsa dancing. No trip to Mexico City would be complete without at least seeing a little bit of salsa. Who knows, a few drinks in and maybe you’ll get in on the action, and the best place to do that is Mama Rumba. It’s big, and you’ll probably have to wait to get in, but it’s a friendly, fun-loving atmosphere and a great spot to get the full Mexico City nightlife experience.
One of the biggest positives in the resurgence of Mexico City has been the subsequent revival of the arts. Young artists have begun ornamenting Mexico City’s walls and galleries with their artwork, and that has also led to a renewed focus and interest in the city’s incredible museums, and the legendary artists whose works cover their walls.
Any art tour of Mexico City involves Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as their works essentially put Mexico City on the map in the art world.
The Frida Kahlo museum is a sight to see even though it’s small (it was formerly Kahlo’s house). The counterpoint to Kahlo’s self-portraits and small museum is Rivera’s massive murals that can be found in museums across the city. The best places to see them are the Palacio Nacional in the historic center of Mexico City, or the Diego Rivera Mural Museum.
The arts are also thriving in music and dance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in the center of the city, well worth visiting for its sheer architectural beauty alone.
In any of the city’s bustling mercados you’ll find things uniquely Mexican that are worth taking home. While the markets mentioned for their food above are all great places to do some quality shopping, the market to really shop till you drop in is El Bazaar Sabado. The catch, if you know your Spanish, is ‘Sabado,’ because this place is only open on Saturdays.
But, if you’re in town, and you’re looking to pick up Mexican spices, local hand-crafted jewelry, dresses, glassware, or authentic street art, this is the place for you. It’s located in the San Angel neighborhood, a bit of a trek from the Zocalo (about an hour by bus, 45 minutes via Uber), but is worth the ride, especially if you stop off before or after in the Roma neighborhood to continue your shopping spree.
In Roma, you’ll find a stretch of the city that looks Brooklyn-esque in nature. It’s hip and its numerous indie boutique shops featuring local designers exude just that. 180 Shop is one of the highlights of the area, with skateboard-lined walls, trendy shirts and plenty of locally-designed outerwear.
Just down the block you’ll stumble into the similarly trendy, but with a twist in the back, Goodbye Folk. They’re known for their custom shoes and dresses, along with a generous selection of ’80s-era leather jackets. The twist? A barbershop that sits nestled in the back of the store.
If you’re looking for authentic Mexican threads with a contemporary feel, Carla Fernandez’s self-titled stores in the Zocalo and in La Condesa are the spots. If you’re looking to splurge and come home with more than just a menial memento from your trip, try to make an appointment to check out the goods at Rodrigo Rivero Lake antiques. Bring your checkbook if you do. Located in the upscale Polanco neighborhood, Rivero Lake’s collection is breathtaking, with something for every collector looking to take a pricey piece of Mexico City home.
Nearby is the relatively new (opened in 2006) Antara Fashion Hall, a stunning, open-air marketplace with a unique mix of modern shops you’ll find the world over, and places you’ll only find here.
It’s unlikely there’s a country more extreme about soccer than Mexico. Futbol, as it is called here, is a quasi religion in Mexico, and the house of worship — Estadio Azteca — is among the finest and most celebrated soccer stadiums in the world. It has hosted two World Cups, numerous CONCACAF tournaments and countless Liga MX championships and matches throughout its 50-plus years. There’s not really a better place to experience soccer in it’s full pomp and passion.
If you’re looking for something more typically Mexican, and you’re not squeamish or morally offended, head to Plaza de Toros — Mexico City’s home of bullfighting. It has been the local hub for the sport since 1946 and seats over 41,000. Bullfighting in the 21st century is a controversial spectacle, considered anachronistic and savage by many. But it is part of the fabric of Mexican culture. Make your own decision….
On the other hand, those of you looking for fake rather than real blood, and glorious fake storylines, might be more interested in a trip to Arena Mexico to watch Mexican wrestling, or “Lucha Libre,” as it is universally known. Lucha Libre has plenty in common with American WWE, but here each performer wears masks and the backstories are deeper, and followed with a deeper reverence. The sport traces its roots back to 1863.
Lucha Libre events occur throughout the week and if you pay more than $20 to get in, you’re getting ripped off! Tickets can be as little as six dollars, leaving plenty left over for some cheap beer and food, to properly immerse yourself in the unique spectacle that is Lucha Libre.