Call it Mexico, Mexico City, Ciudad de México, CDMX, DF (though apparently DF is out??)… I just returned from a brief trip to the capital city of Mexico. It is hands down one of the most colorful, lively, joyful, delicious cities I’ve ever visited. Why it took me an entire passport’s lifespan to visit Mexico (the country that the most Americans visit – no surprise) is a moot point now. And while my decision to head south after a weekend in Austin for a bachelorette party was a whim (more on that later), future visits will be entirely intentional… and hopefully soon.
Mexico City is an incredibly large city, both in terms of area and people. Abby and I primarily explored the delegacion/borough of Cuauhtémoc which includes the colonias/neighborhoods of Condesa, Roma, Juárez, and Centro Histórico as well as the delegacion Coyoacán, where Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul is located, and delegacion Miguel Hidalgo, home of the Bosque de Chapultepec (the largest park in Latin America). Our AirBnB lent us passes to use CDMX’s bikeshare program, and we ended up using it a lot to get from one colonia to the next… it was fun to see the city that way.
Abby and I only scratched the surface of this incredibly green, vibrant city. In addition to biking a lot, we walked a lot as well. That took us through a lot of parks, each seemingly more green and tropical than the next. Outside of the unmissable Bosque de Chapultepec, I loved Parque México, Parque España and Plaza Rio de Janeiro. Walking and biking through, we saw people in groups chatting, entertainers signing, several dance lessons, chess games, people practicing tap dancing… you can tell CDMX lives through its parks.
Coincidentally, my trip coincided with cinqo de mayo, but you wouldn’t have noticed it there. I saw more celebrations coming from friends and others from the States on my Instagram feed than I did in person in Mexico. Cinqo de mayo is not Mexico’s day of independence (that’s 16 September) and other than a military observation I happened to see as I biked down an street, it was just another day.
Abby and I managed to eat fairly well in the five days we had in CDMX. Of course, with Mexico City being a huge metropolis, a major world city, it’s not surprising that we ate well. It’s truly a “foodie city” as our AirBnB host said. Everything was so flavorful and fresh: the tacos, the seafood, the pastries, the mezcal and tequila, the flan… I think it might have been harder to find a bad meal than an excellent one. The tacos were always piled high with filling, more than the fresh corn tortillas could seemingly hold. And while the tacos themselves might be simple, there was always an array of salsas and condiments to add as you pleased. I especially loved the avocado salsa verde that was set down on the table as soon as we sat down.
Of course, as people who primarily eat pescatarian, there were some limiting factors, but it wasn’t terribly difficult. More difficult was the eating schedules of Mexicans, which turned out to be unexpectedly different than our own. The first clue should have been when I went to make a dinner reservation for our first day at Contramar. I was confused: the restaurant closed at 18:30. So, instead I made a lunch reservation for 13:00. When Abby and I got to the restaurant a bit early—around 12:30—I was hoping we would be able to get a table. It was no problem, as the restaurant was empty save for one other table (who were clearly non-Mexican). Again I was confused. Where were the lunchtime crowds at this highly recommended, trendy restaurant? As we finished our meal, the restaurant was slowly filling up and when we left around 14:00, it was packed.
It turns out that lunch—a long, leisurely, large meal—is typically around 13:30-16:00. Mealtimes don’t revolve around work, rather, Mexicans work around mealtimes. Breakfast can be equally big, or split into two smaller meals. Dinner is late and light, likely because lunch was so big that it’s impossible to eat a lot before 20:00. It also explains why not many local places were open during what Americans would consider dinnertime. So we adapted in a way, finding our own eating patterns adjusting to both the Mexican hours and our hunger.
The language barrier was sometimes a challenge for me. I don’t speak Spanish and English was not omnipresent throughout the city like it is in several European cities. But it didn’t matter at all. Everyone we met who spoke as much English as I speak Spanish or less was helpful and kind. Everyone we met who did speak English was a joy to speak to. On our last day, we struck up a conversation with a guy sitting at a table next to us, Alex. First we chatted about his dog, because really, dogs are what is omnipresent in CDMX. Among the other things we chatted about, of course, was the current political climate and relationship between our two countries. We agreed the situation is heartbreaking and embarrassing, but he offered an interesting silver lining. Mexico, he said, has a chance to become less dependent on the US and there’s an increase in pride of being Mexican. Which, was kind of a nice thing to hear.
The week went incredibly fast—too fast, as enjoyable travel always does. But I feel I had an ideal initial exposure to Mexico and CDMX. Enjoy a few pictures, slide show of what I ate, and recommendations of places to eat and see below!
- Contramar: Such a good meal; if you only eat once in a more upscale restaurant, this is the place to do it. Make sure you get the tuna tostatas, take caution with the tacos de charal.
- Panaderia Rosetta: Mexican/French café with stellar pastries. We tried a guayaba (guava) pastry and a chocolate concha.
- Churrería El Moro: We went to the Cuauhtémoc location; there are several around the city. Don’t get confused like we did; the chocolate listed on the menu is drinking chocolate !
- Tacos El Caminero: Nice, local spot for some tacos and open a little later than most. Some vegetarian options available, including nopales.
- Fonda Mayora: Hot little Condesa spot.
- Páramo: Beautiful place to drink some mezcal cocktails.
- El Pescadito Condesa OR Tacos Don Juan: Disclaimer – I didn’t eat at Tacos Don Juan because I stuffed myself at El Pescadito across the street. But if you eat meat, it looked like a good corner to get both fish and meat tacos.
- Teotihuacán: Day trip outside of Mexico City for some Pre-Hispanic and UNESCO fun. I highly recommend a guide so you fully understand how incredible the site and history is, as well as going early morning to beat the heat and crowds.