Mexico City: what to see plus the best bars, restaurants and hotels

The colorful barrios of this teeming, oft-maligned capital are now thriving with culture, imagination and an exciting, modern food scene

Until half a century ago, Mexico City was known as the Paris of the New World. Ample boulevards were lined with palm trees and French-style mansions. Crisp blue skies provided spectacular the opinions of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. The arts flourished. Then the urban decay that would plague many cities around the globe began to take its toll. The second half of the 20 th century considered a huge increase in population and the metropolis struggled to cope. In 1985, a devastating earthquake took an enormous toll.

But the tide has turned. A progressive municipal government has induced great advances in cleaning up the city. Swaths of the historic centre, once considered unsafe, have been repaved and pedestrianised, and shoppers and evening revellers now abound in the revitalised area.

Architecturally important neighbourhoods, such as eclectic Colonia Roma and Condesa, known for its art deco architecture, have been restored. Creative entrepreneurs have flocked to this energetic metropolis, opening stores, galleries, hotels and eateries. Over the past few years, the city has become an internationally recognised culinary destination. From street food to penalty dining venues, featuring traditional and Modern Mexican cooking, the city is like a big open kitchen.

WHAT TO SEE

A
A canal in Xochimilco Lake, Mexico City. Photograph: Dario Lopez-Mills/ AP

Floating islands of Xochimilco

A boat ride on the canals of Xochimilco in the south of the city is a traditional weekend activity for Mexicans and tourists alike. Organic food company De la Chinampa offers tours with an ecological twisting. Director Ricardo leads outings down canals usually closed to foreigners to visit chinampas floating islands where organic fruits and vegetables are grown for the local marketplace. Light lunch is included and English speak on request.
Tours from 15 pp( minimum 10 people ),
delachinampa.mx . Contact Ricardo through his Facebook page

Cookery class, Condesa

Ruth Alegria, a former restaurant proprietor, results personalised market tours and cooking class in her home. She is knowledgeable about every aspect of Mexican food and culture and readily shares her exuberance. Classes expense from 120 pp and last seven hours, including an in-depth marketplace tour, cooking lesson and lunch.
ruthincondechi.wordpress.com

Cookery class, Colonia Roma

Tucking
Tucking into lunch at Casa Jacaranda. Photograph: Jody Horton

The lovely Casa Jacaranda is a converted early-2 0th-century home. Chefs Jorge and Beto offer classes in attaining traditional household recipes, combined with a market tour for groups of up to six, from 65 pp for four hours.
casajacaranda.mx

Tour the Dolores Olmedo Museum, Xochimilco

Dolores Olmedo was a muse, collector and intimate of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and other cultural luminaries, outliving all of them. She converted her beautiful estate into a museum to house her fine pre-Hispanic sculptures, paintings and describes by Rivera, and the worlds largest collecting of Kahlo paintings. Peacocks and hairless puppies roam the extensive gardens. This is one of the worlds great museums and shouldnt be missed.
Avenida Mxico 5843, museodoloresolmedo.org.mx , 3, open TuesSun 10 am 6pm

Go to a Lucha libre fighting

Lucha
Lucha Libre wrestlers wait for their turn to perform. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/ AP

Lucha libre is a curious kind of Mexican wrestling in which men, and occasionally women, dress in flashy Vegas-style costumes and horror movie masks and proceed to stomp, hurl, bend, crush, squeezing and mangle one another around a ring, while the crowd roars its approval. A match at one of the two old arenas is a headfirst leap into popular Mexican culture. Tickets( from 5) can be found in the door but can sell out; buy in advance through ticketmaster.com.mx.
Colonia Doctores: Arena Mexico, Dr Lavista 197, arenamexico.com.mx . Centro: Arena Coliseo, Peru 77, cmll.com

WHERE TO EAT

Taquera Los Parados, Colonia Roma

Tacos
Photograph: Nicholas Gilman for the Guardian

Tacos al carbn are meat cooked over coals on an open grill. Los Parados( which connotes standing-room-only, ie no tables ), has been grilling beef and pork at the same corner for over 40 years. Locals line up for the smoky costilla ( rib ), chuleta ( pork chop) and chorizo. The win, however, is the rib-eye; bit pricier, but pesos well spent for tender succulence. Another not-to be-missed offering is the queso fundido , a mini ceramic cazuela filled with Oaxaca cheese and melted over the grill. And the brightly coloured hand-mashed salsas are superior.
Around 5pp, Monterrey 333( corner of Baja California ), open daily 1pm-3am( 5am Fri-Sat ),
taquerialosparados.mx

Don Toribio, Centro

Diners
Photograph: Nicholas Gilman for the Guardian

This spacious 19 th-century salon with a graceful, old-world atmosphere bills itself as an Argentinian/ Mexican parrilla ( grill ), and the grilled meat such as arrachera ( skirt steak) is excellent, but it also does many Mexican dishes, such as enchiladas and tortilla soup, and typical Mexican breakfasts with huevos rancheros ( fried eggs with spicy tomato sauce ), sweet rolls and frothy, milky coffee. Don Toribio is the best budget restaurant in the historic centre: lunch costs under 4.
Bolvar 31, +52 55 109198, Open daily until 7pm,( 11 pm on Thurs and Fri )

Raz Cocina de Estaciones, Polanco

Truffles

Two brilliant young chefs, Israel Montero and Alfredo Chvez, have combined their talents at this underrated venue in the upmarket Polanco district. The ambience is relaxed and food is decidedly Mexican with a modern spin. The weekly changing menu is chosen according to what is in the market. Montero tells: Ours is a free, spontaneous and creative cuisine we are an experimental, investigative laboratory whose project is to bring to light a great scope of little-known edible products, inspired by our own experiences in the kitchen. A tostada crispy-fried, house-made corn tortilla comes topped with smoked trout from nearby mountain creeks, fresh fava beans, wild greens and edible flowers. This might be followed by a rich, spicy, toasted chipotle mole , containing pork belly and fennel. The 10 -course tasting menu, including dessert, is 34.
Calle Schiller 331, +52 55 5250 0274 , no website , open 1.30 -1 130 pm, Mon-Sat, shut Sun

Fonda Fina, Colonia Roma

Refined
Photograph: Nicholas Gilman for the Guardian

A fonda is like a bistro or trattoria homey, intimate, a family affair. The fashionable Fonda Fina is those things but is fina ( refined ), as well. Thats because the compact kitchen is in the capable hands of cook Juan Cabrera, who reproduction his favourite classic Mexican dishes with a personal touch and reinvents other less-known ones. Peneques are small quesadillas, filled with tangy, fresh requesn cheese( Mexican ricotta ), dipped in light batter and fried. Theyre served with a pipian ( pumpkin seed) sauce. The combining of earthy flavors corn, pumpkin seed and chilli hits all the marks. Thin slicings of meltingly tender lengua ( tongue) are served with a complex wild mushroom saut and a fruity, dark adobo sauce. Divine. Lunch from about 20 a head.
Medelln 79, +52 55 5208 3925,
fondafina.com.mx

Nexo, Polanco

Nexo,

Nexo is an unassuming locale whose kitchen crew explodes with youthful audacity. Two chefs share the helm: Diego Nio and Csar Vzquez. The dishes they turn out, based on Spanish, French and Mexican traditions, are creative but accessible. The Spanish classic arroz negro pays homage to both old country and new: instead of the standard squid ink and fish stock, its made with crab bisque and chilmole ( the blackened chilli sauce of the Yucatn) and crowned with calamari stuffed with pork rubs. Its ingenious and delicious. Three-course menu 21, five-course 28.
Campos Elseos 199, +52 55 5281 5903,
nexorestaurante.mx

La Casa de los Tacos, Coyoacn

Casa
Photograph: Nicholas Gilman for the Guardian

La Casa de los Tacos is a deceptively ordinary-looking place. This neighbourhood lunch place was taken over by two creative forms with a vision: Hector Ramos, a photographer who runs an art gallery upstairs; and Alejandro Escalante, author of the renowned Tacopedia cookery book and editor of online gastronomic publication animalgourmet.com. A menu entitled tacos prehispnicos offers a far-reaching conflagration of edible bugs, such as sauted grasshoppers, gusanos de maguey ( grubs found in agave plants ), and crispy fried black beetles called cocopaches . There are artfully constructed normal beef, fish and pork tacos as well, for the less adventurous.
Calle Felipe Carrillo Puerto 16,+52 55 549492 , lacasadelostacos.com.mx

WHERE TO DRINK

Licorera Limantour, Roma and Polanco

Limantour
Photograph: Luis Gallardo

Limantour, a proud member of the Worlds 50 Best Bars list since 2014, is a temple to modern cocktails. The theory is simple: designer beverages induced with dynamic ingredients including fresh herbs, blooms, fruits, syrups, shrubs, spices and rare foreign spirits. The results are stunning in presentation and precise in flavour combination. Two locations, in Roma and Polanco, have a laid-back vibe and modernist decor. The margarita al clergyman plays with ingredients found in the classic al rector ( shepherd-style) tacos. The outcome is a tequila-based beverage with pineapple, coriander and a touch of serrano chilli.
lvaro Obregn 106, Roma; Oscar Wilde 9, Polanco, see limantour.tv for opening days

Cantina El Tio Pepe, Centro

Like a traditional English tavern, a cantina is a place for locals to hang out. This friendly one opened in 1870, conserves its original art nouveau bar and has been the scene of many political discussions over the years. It is a good alternative to the more touristy and expensive Bar Opera a few blocks away. Beer and tequila are the drinks of choice here.
Independencia 26, daily noon-1 1pm

Caf La Habana, Centro

This spacious, lively cafe pays homage to Cuba black and white photos of Havana line the walls though the rest is Mexican. It is a few blocks south of the Alameda park and is known as a hangout for journalists at the citys large daily newspapers. The Mexican food is nothing to write home about but the coffee, served with frothy hot milk, is.
Morelos 62, open daily 7am-11pm( 10 pm Sun )

WHERE TO SHOP

Vrtigo Galera, Colonia Roma

Vrtigo is an art gallery specialising in graphics by many of the top young contemporary artists and artisans in Mexico. Spaces are dedicated to exhibits of such genres as design, illustration, surrealism and pop; prices are affordable: an original signed print for around 85.
Colima 23 , vertigogaleria.com

Carla Fernndez, Roma and Centro

Carla

This renowned designer is very much in touch with her Mexican roots. Her humen and womens dres, textiles and household objects are striking, avant-garde and forward-looking yet lovingly based on indigenous craft. There are two locations, in Roma and Centro. Garments start at 130.
lvaro Obregn 200, Colonia Roma; Isabel la Catlica 30( inside Hotel Downtown ), Centro,
carlafernandez.com , open daily 11 am-8pm( Sunday until 7 )

La Ciudadela, Centro

About the Author

Leave a Comment: