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Mexico City

April 29, 2014
Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

Although Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world, with a sprawling geography and a population of 20 million, it does not immediately come to mind as a travel destination — but it should. This top food city had been beckoning me with its hip new hotels and emerging art scene, but the news reports about drug violence and kidnappings made me wonder about safety. Last fall, for our anniversary, my husband and I decided to explore Mexico City when we realized that five-star hotels were so affordable.

Friends who have visited or lived in Mexico City (or DF, for distrito federale) advised me not to wear any jewelry and to use taxi stands to hail metered cabs rather than hailing them on the street. As it turned out, navigating Mexico City was like navigating any other big city; since I wasn’t planning on visiting remote areas, I was quite safe, and a modest amount of jewelry didn’t draw any unwelcome attention. But the cab situation proved a little more tricky. Even though we used taxi stands or insisted on the hotel calling our taxi, it was a challenge to get the cab drivers to turn on their meters. After talking with some locals, I found salvation in two car service apps, Yaxi, a more local version of Uber that calls local drivers who will use the meter, and Uber, which is as seamless in Mexico City as in any other city. With these tools at hand, you will be off to a great start on your Mexico City adventures.

Understanding the lay of the land will help you navigate this massive city and target your travel plans.

Centro Histórico — The historic part of town with monuments, government buildings and Zócalo plaza. Heavily touristic.

Condesa — Shops, restaurants and art deco apartments abound in this West Village-like neighborhood with Parque México at its center.

Roma — The Williamsburg and East Village of DF, this neighborhood has many small boutiques featuring interesting designers. It’s a treat to simply stroll the streets, checking out the once bourgeois neighborhood’s beaux-arts townhouses.

Polanco — The posh part of town. This is where most high-end boutiques and restaurants are located, with that Madison Avenue feel.

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng A. Las Alcobas

We stayed at Las Alcobas — a boutique hotel that’s also good for business travelers. The cozy 35-room hotel’s service and amenities are very good, and it is home to Dulce Patria and Anatol, two great restaurants. Anatol serves wonderful breakfasts in a private breakfast room; I woke up each morning eager to try a new variation of huevos.... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng B. Downtown México

If you prefer a boutique hotel that’s a little hipper, you might also consider the newly opened Downtown México. Housed in a converted 17th-century palace, it is filled with restaurants and fun shops and has the vibe of an Ace Hotel, despite its location in the heart of the tourist-heavy historic area of Centro Histórico.

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng C. Condesa DF

Another option is the chic Condesa DF right off Parque México in Condesa, the West Village of Mexico City. It’s a beautiful hotel. Downtown and Condesa DF are part of the same boutique hotel chain, Groupo Habita.

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng D. Contramar

Every resource I tapped recommended Contramar, the power-lunch seafood restaurant in Roma. And it’s not hard to understand why, with its mouth-watering signature dishes such as this marinated tuna loin with crispy leeks and chipotle mayonnaise and avocado, and this whole grilled butterflied fish served with choice of adobo rub, parsley rub or... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng E. Pujol

Pujol is what brought me to Mexico City. It put the city’s fine dining on the map, consistently ranking on Restaurant Magazine’s list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Chef Enrique Olvera combines the traditions of Mexican comfort food with local ingredients and modernist techniques; though I have no Mexican background, I sensed an... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng F. Quintonil

Chef Jorge Vallejo’s dishes are as delicious as they are delicately beautiful at Quintonil, another one of Mexico City’s must-try restaurants. Vallejo explained that he “tries to give special attention to all our pre-Hispanic ingredients but seen in a contemporary way.” One such herb is the indigenous quintonil for which the restaurant... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng G. Azul Centro Histórico

If you are staying in the Downtown México hotel or visiting the Centro Histórico neighborhood, Azul Centro Histórico is a great option for lunch. It is located in the courtyard of the converted palace that houses the hotel, restaurants and shops. With its tall trees and an open air rooftop, the restaurant has a great atmosphere. It’s a popular... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng H. El Bajio

El Bajío is a classic. Carmen “Titita” Ramírez and her husband founded the original El Bajío over 40 years ago. With the help of investors, El Bajío has expanded to over 10 locations, but foodies still love the restaurant and say that Ramírez has maintained the quality control at all of its branches. It’s a family... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng I. Tacos Hola

Tacos Hola isn’t difficult to find — just look for the crowd of people standing and eating tacos at the corner of Amsterdam and Michoacán in Condesa. Make your way through the crowd and edge up to the counter to look at all the varieties. Beware: you will want to try them all.

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng J. El Turix

El Turix is a hole in the wall in Polanco serving only one type of taco, the cochinita pibil, slow-roasted pork from the Yucatán Peninsula. The corn tortillas are dipped in the pork jus before being doused with roasted pork, making the taco so deliciously juicy that you won’t be able to resist having seconds.

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng K. Colonia Polanco

On Saturday, the bustling street market at Colonia Polanco sells everything from clothes and housewares to produce and fruits, but I found the street food to be the most exciting part. I loved the tacos, tlacoyos and large cups of guacamole. It’s a great place to try a little of everything.

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng L. La Contra

With all the innovative high-end dining in Mexico City, including restaurants like Pujol, Quintonil, Biko and MeroToro, I naturally began looking for corresponding innovation in the Mexican wine scene. When I probed a little, friends in the food and wine industry pointed me to La Contra, a boutique wine store that specializes in Mexican... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng M. Templo Mayor

If you want to stay local and not travel the 50 minutes out of town to visit the Maya ruins of Teotihuacan, consider visiting the Templo Mayor archeological site and museum in Centro Histórico. The historic downtown area of Mexico City was the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, and the excavation of Templo Mayor in 1978 revealed a pyramid... full article

Frida Kahlo N. Frida Kahlo Museum

You can’t visit Mexico City and not check out the Frida Kahlo Museum. It’s about 30 minutes from the city center, in the neighborhood of Coyoacán (not far from the Leon Trotsky House Museum). The distinctive cobalt-blue house is where Frida Kahlo was born and died. Seeing her living quarters along with her artwork gave me a brand new... full article

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng O. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Studio

On the way back to central Mexico City, stop in San Ángel to visit the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Studio, where Rivera and Kahlo lived and worked for a period of time, and where Rivera died. Designed by architect Juan O’Gorman, the two avant-garde buildings, one red representing Diego and the other bright blue for Frida, are a... full article