We are non-experts in Mexico City. My husband surprised me with a birthday weekend away there, which means I didn’t even do a cursory amount of research before we arrived (although he had, hence this list). It’s always a good idea to learn more about a city before you visit, but for Mexico City — a densely-populated 573 square miles (NYC, for comparison is 305 square miles) where the best food is street food and English is not the primary language — it is especially true. However, we still had a great time. Here’s what we were able to fit in.
Where we ate and drank
El Parnita [Yucatán 84, Roma Norte] We went to this “antojeria” (meaning: little craving) because they’re supposed to have an excellent mezcal selection. This was our first introduction to how helpful it would have been if we spoke Spanish! Fortunately, a customer helped us order. Do note: mezcal is for sipping, not taking shots. Think of it like scotch.
Maximot Bistro [Tonalá 133, Col. Roma] Recommended by many people, this was one of the best nice meals we had. The aguachiles, red snapper, roasted porcini and lamb we ordered was excellent. I only briefly embarrassed myself when I used the bathroom marked H instead of M.
Limantour [Av. Alvaro Obregón 106, Roma Norte] Cocktail bar that made me a comically elaborate (but delicious and not overly sweet) punch and my husband a perfect, fanfare-free margarita (hallelujah!).
Biko [Presidente Masaryk 407 Col. Reforma Polanco 11550] Fancy fancy dinner for my birthday. We ordered a couple soups (the onion was wonderful), a few formats of artichokes, cauliflower and a steak. Not sure we’d consider it a don’t-miss, though.
Taqueria El Turix [Emilio Castelar 212 Col. Polanco] If you’re only going to make one thing, you should make it especially well, and this they do: a pork carnitas in a rich sauce, served in tacos, tortas (sandwiches) or panuchos, the latter (two crispy tortillas with refried beans between them and this meat on top) was our favorite version. We had to go back and get two more.
Da Silva [Oscar Wilde 12, Col. Polanco] Okay, perhaps this is a chain bakery (there are many others we would have tried with more time) but that doesn’t mean that the pasteis de nata and chocolate-hazelnut-crunch stack that nobody should miss in their lifetime weren’t exceptional. Otherworldly, even. Not bad for being a few steps from our hotel.
With more time or dinner availability, the restaurants Pujol, Nicols and Quintonil also came highly recommended by friends.
What we did
Eat Mexico San Juan Market Tour [details] This was fantastic. Like a lot of us, I’m the kind of tourist that tries very hard to not stick out as one. Because of this, I haven’t done a lot of group tours in other cities. I’m so glad I got over this because 1. Realistically, given that I speak about 10 words of Spanish, nobody is mistaking me for a local. (I’m teasing myself here.) 2. There is 100% of no way I would have even known which alley to have gone down to find half these things, and even if I had found them, I wouldn’t have known how or what to order. I wouldn’t know the context of the foods, either. I would have read that pulque is slippery and never tried it (it’s delicious). I would have walked into a bar where we stuck out like a sore thumb and turned back around. If we had more time, I would have gone on three more tours, happily. [Here are some recommended by Eater.]
On our second full day, we wandered around. We started at the Palace of Fine Arts, made it to the zocalo, peeked in the cathedral while a mass was going on (it was stunning), checked out the ruins behind it and then made our way over to the Palacio Nacional to see the Diego Rivera murals that detail the history of the area. Don’t miss this. Not only is it free, the whole area is quiet and idyllic (and, as it’s good to know these things, had the cleanest free bathrooms we saw on our whole trip), a lovely escape from the hectic streets. Later in the afternoon, we went to the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Don’t miss this, either.
- Speaking Spanish helps. If you don’t, make sure you have a roaming plan on your phone so you can give Google Translate a workout.
- Tours are fantastic. See more above.
- It’s a big city, so there’s a lot of traffic on Friday afternoons. It took a long time to get to our hotel from the airport. Arriving long before or long after rush hour (about 1 to 6 p.m.) is great if it’s an option.
- We heard mixed things about the taxi situation and used Uber to get around. It was inexpensive and very reliable. Cars came fast.
- On Sundays, many restaurants are closed, or they close early. A big mid-afternoon meal seemed much more the norm; we saw lots of tables sprawled with large, happy families. We didn’t realize this earlier and had somewhat slim pickings for dinner. (The restaurant was fine but not even worth mentioning here.) Next time, we’d earlier, like everyone else.
- Yes, the water at restaurants and even taco stands is clean. Yes, you can drink it. (I know people ask this a lot.) From Eater: “Legally every restaurant (and hotel) must serve filtered water. Most street stands do as well.”
- The best food is street food.
- I’ve linked to it a few times above, but Eater published a giant guide to Mexico City just a couple months ago and it’s excellent.