Mexico City Travel Guide: Food, Art and History

The New York Times dropped huge praise on Mexico City when the newspaper named the city to the #1 spot on its list of 52 places to go in 2016.

Many of my friends who have traveled to the city before rejoiced on Facebook after seeing the well-deserved recognition. One friend and former resident of the city exclaimed, “Que cool!”

The city followed Milan (2015), Cape Town (2014) and Rio de Janeiro (2013). The Times said that it selects cities that promise to be particularly compelling in the coming year. Indeed, Pope Francis visited in February 2016.

Not long ago, I would have been skeptical of all the good press. Despite my love of Mexican culture and pride in my Mexican American heritage, I was fearful of visiting Mexico City. Specifically, the crime.

But my husband found a cheap airfare from Dallas and booked a weekend trip to the city also known as Mexico D.F. (shorthand for Distrito Federal or federal district) in October. Mexico City far exceeded my expectations. So much so that I am impatient to return. (Wary of approaching taxis on the street, we used Uber the entire time and felt that the drivers were very professional.)

Great food, art and history are just three of the many things that make the city absolutely amazing. I cobbled together some photo collages from my trip that reflect these three highlights.

Food

The Times declared of Mexico City that “certainly, there is no more exciting place to eat.” Not only is the food delicious and beautiful to look at, it is also very affordable. Just don’t expect Tex Mex.

We were exhausted when we first arrived in the city, and opted for a quick meal at the Mexican restaurant in the JW Marriott Hotel where we were staying, Xanat (Andres Bello 29), located in the Polanco neighborhood. Our expectations were not particularly high given that this was a hotel restaurant. But the shrimp tacos (pictured at top left) were delicious and oh so pretty to look at. In fact, this was one of the things that stunned us most about DF — the plentiful and delicious seafood. On another night, we enjoyed the ceviche sampler at Peruvian restaurant Agua y Sal Cebicheria (Campos Eliseos 199-A) – the Veracruzano and Peruano ceviches were the tastiest. On yet another night, we enjoyed an overflowing frozen margarita (as big as your head!) and octopus (pulpo) tacos, also pictured above, at El Bajio (Alejandro Dumas 7), which has several locations in the city.

But the culinary highlight of our trip was a visit to the famous El Cardenal (Palma #23) restaurant in Centro – make sure to check out the original location. Their legendary hot chocolate and freshly baked breads are to die for, and I ate chicken mole enchiladas for my main entree. I also tried the chile en nogada at the San Angel Inn (Diego Rivera No. 50), pictured at bottom left, bathed in pink sauce. While my San Angel meal was my least favorite dish, the courtyard setting of the San Angel Inn is gorgeous and worth stopping by for a daytime drink. If you’d like to sip some quality tequila, people watch, and listen to loud, boisterous mariachis in an upscale cantina, check out La No. 20 (Andres Bello 10), just down the street from the JW Marriott. Although it was one of our priciest meals, we enjoyed some delicious steak tacos and queso fundido. We were treated warmly and with impeccable service, even though we appeared to be the only Americans in the bar on a night that Mexico defeated the USA in soccer. Once Mexico won, the mariachis and customers broke out in song, beginning with Cielito Lindo.

Art

Art — and particularly murals — permeate Mexico City on a large scale. You will have to adjust to craning your neck to take in paintings that dominate entire walls, interior courtyards, and even ceilings. The top picture above of a father and daughter descending a stairwell is from Chapultepec Castle ( Primera Seccion del Bosque de Chapultepec). At bottom left above is Diego Rivera’s work “Man, Controller of the Universe,” at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Av. Juarez, Centro Historico). At  bottom right above is another Rivera masterpiece, “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon at Alameda Central Park,” which is the centerpiece of the Museo Mural Diego Rivera museum (Calle Balderas y Colon S/N, Cuahtemoc, Centro).  To learn more about how to tour Diego Rivera’s greatest works, visit my previous blog post.

History

Chapultepec Castle ( Primera Seccion del Bosque de Chapultepec), pictured above at top left, was built in the 1800s and is located on top of Chapultepec Hill in Chapultepec Park and offers a more European architectural style. The  Palacio de Bellas Artes (Av. Juarez, Centro Historico), above at top right, also is an iconic building in D.F. To really learn about the history of the Aztec, or “Mexica” people, visit the incredible National Museum of Anthropology ( Avenida Paseo de la Reforma) and grab a selfie with the iconic Aztec calendar stone. There are also are outdoor Aztec-themed exhibits, as seen pictured above. And, of course, the Centro Historico or historic center of the city is absolutely packed with historic sites such as the Metropolitan Cathedral (Avenida 16 de Septiembre), pictured above. The gold-encrusted altar inside is beautiful. Our visit was extremely moving, as a Catholic mass was taking place and the choir was singing. Also, don’t miss walking to the National Palace (Avenida Pino Suarez, Corregidora esquina Guatemala), which is filled with more Rivera murals, and Templo Mayor (Seminario 8), where you will find Aztec ruins and relics exhibited in a museum.

I also neglected to mention shopping on my list of the best sites to check out, since I know there are many more markets that I need to check out on my next visit. Just make sure to check out La Ciudadela artisans market (Calle Baldera 6 and Enrico Martinez) for the best deals on traditional souvenirs such as clothing, blankets, ceramic pieces, and more. On Saturdays, older people gather in the park nearby to dance to Cuban music. For the upscale art aficionado, check out the San Angel Saturday Bazaar in the posh San Angel neighborhood.

I know Mexico City is an amazing city, because despite all these wonderful places listed above I still have a wish list of must-see locations that I didn’t have time for on my first trip. On my next visit I am hoping to see the famous Coyoacan neighborhood, the Frida Kahlo Museum (Londres 247), the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe (Plaza de las Americas 1 – Col. Villa de Guadalupe), and a ballet folklorico dance performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

I am not done with Mexico City. Now I’m just working on recruiting others to join me on my next trip! With the good press from the Times, I’m sure I won’t be the only one making travel plans….

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20 thoughts on “Mexico City Travel Guide: Food, Art and History

      1. I have been to a beach resort in Playa del Carmen for a destination wedding. While very beautiful, it certainly was not a cultural experience since resorts are so isolating. I have also been to the border town of Nuevo Laredo. I would love to travel to the Mexican cities of San Miguel de Allende or Guanajuato some day, however!

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      1. Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Merida, Monterrey, Torreon, Puerto Vallarta 🙂 I was in Mexico for 6 months! Please check out my blog if you’re interested in Mexico!! 🙂

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  1. Beautiful post, I’ll have to show this to friends considering joining us on our next trip to Mexico City. You have to visit Guanajuato during October for the Festival Cervantino. Puebla, as the birthplace of mole, has a stunning historic center and is even more known for their food than Mexico City.

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  2. I couldn’t agree more with The New York Times for selecting Mexico City as the top place to visit in 2016, having just returned from our recent visit to CDMX this past mid-June. To me, however, the most endearing aspect of this great city is twofold: one, Mexico City boasts of a multitude of, in addition to its historical eomplex of the Basilica of Nuestra Senorita de Guatalupe, ancient-looking, most beautiful Catholic churches rarely seen elsewhere in the world; two, friendly Mexicans who are willing to lend help at any given time to us visitors as we tried to navigate our routes through the metropolis. I only wish that the Mexican City airport could provide chairs in the waiting area so that everyone could rest his or her legs before going through the security check area.

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  3. You definitely have to visit the complex of the Basilica of Guatalupe, consisting of a total of six churches and quite unique stature of Jesus Christ, by taking the metro, which for 5 pesos takes you there for a wonderful visit and lasting memories. Also don’t forget Teotihuacan pyramides. Thanks for your wonderful post.

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