Mexico City
March 31, 2022 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Mexico City in three weeks. Obviously there is a ton of things to do. We are going to do obvious stuff, eg Frida Kahlo's place, Tenochtitlan, Xochimilco. What are some non-obvious things my wife and I should do/look out for? Food, crazy shit, art, really suggestions of any sort are welcome!
posted by josher71 to Travel & Transportation around Mexico City, Mexico (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The National Museum of Anthropology is amazing.

If you're willing to venture outside the city, you can take a bus trip to Teotihuacan, the most spectacular ancient site I have ever visited.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:17 PM on March 31, 2022 [9 favorites]

My partner and I spent a week in CDMX a few years ago, and one of our favorite things was at Parque Mexico in Condesa -- there's a bunch of trainers there with dogs (in some cases, large groups of them) and they hang out and do obedience stuff. Honestly, some of the trainers did not seem to be super-effective at getting the dogs to do what they want, but still pretty fun to see. There's cool street art around there as well.

We also saw a lucha libre show at the Arena Mexico. I'm not generally into wrestling but it was a very enjoyable performance, really liked the snacks we bought (micheladas, cups-o-noodles).

This one is pretty obvious but since you didn't mention it, I would be remiss in not bringing up Bellas Artes -- I loved the art there, especially the huge frescos.

One to maybe avoid: the Museo Antropologico. The architecture was cool, as were one or two of the exhibits, but somewhat of a let-down for me.

There was someone peddling around Roma Norte until at least 2am on a cart with a speaker that would blast repeatedly the phrase: "TAMALES! RICOS! OAXAQUENOS!" I never bought any, but when I go back that's the first thing I'm gonna do.

I feel like all the restaurants in CDMX were amazing. Nothing but good things to say about El Peltre, El Parnita, Macelleria (Italian), and El Moro for churros!

My number one favorite thing, above all, was getting caught in a random huge rainstorm and getting drenched. Apparently it rains more in CDMX than in London -- at least that's what our host shared with us.
posted by miltthetank at 3:20 PM on March 31, 2022 [6 favorites]

For food, my first recommendation is to book a walking tour with Eat Like a Local. They're outstanding, in every regard, and they'll key you into the vibe of the city, especially around the neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma, which are like our Brooklyn. Apart from those two, Cuauhtémoc, Juárez, San Rafael, Santa María la Ribera, Polanco, Coyoacán, and Del Valle are places you can go to and eat wonderfully. Beware of Polanco. I love it here, but 75% of the price of a meal goes to pay the rent.

Then, there are a TON of very good restaurants of wildly varying prices, and some of them are in non-obvious & non-touristy places, like Nico's. There's a place called Merotoro in Condesa that blows my mind, and Fónico, and Cantina Riviera del Sur, and Dante Brasa y Fuego...and tacos! Every Chilango (CDMX native) has their own favorite taquería, but I've returned to my origins and have happily found a home in El Tizoncito. Trip Advisor can provide guidance, or you can reach out to me directly, or you can check out this guide an expat entrepreneur put together. I don't know when it was last updated, but it was current a couple of years ago. I'd ask as many foreigners as you can. They have a better grasp of what the city offers to visitors.

Also, everyone: DO NOT eat those tamales oaxaqueños that miltthetank dreams about. It's not a chain. They just sell the cassette with the audio in cheap markets. You have no idea what they're made of, or how. They could be rat meat for all we know.

I'll think about museums and other stuff and write later. Good luck.
posted by Cobalt at 4:11 PM on March 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Go to Pastelaria Ideal & stock up on pastries. (I was sent there by an earlier Mefi thread!) Everything there is delicious! Even the little sandwiches that look like the ones you might get on a sad catering tray at home are amazing. It's worth visiting the cake museum upstairs, they are the tallest cakes I've ever seen.
Get breakfast at El Cardenal (you might have to wait but it's very worth it).Hosteria La Bota is also great if you need food late, its small & you can buy poetry there.
The Museum of the Object of the Object (Museo Del Objeto Del Objeto) is an excellent, weird, little museum.
The Bosque de Chapultepec is a huge beautiful park if you'd like a day of people & tree watching.
Absolutely buy an agua fresca from a cart at some point, they are so so good. (Tamarind is my favorite)
I think the Templo Mayor Museum is one of the most beautifully organized I have ever been to. (And just as a second opinion, the Museo Antropologia is incredible.)
Have fun! Mexico City is my favorite place in the world.
posted by velebita at 4:16 PM on March 31, 2022 [4 favorites]

We had an amazing dinner at Lorea a couple months ago. One of the best tasting menus I've had at 1/3 of the price you'd pay in a big coastal US city. Should be an easier reservation than Pujol.

If you like architecture, any of the Luis Barragán house tours are awesome. Make sure to book in advance. His studio has the most informative tour but I think I liked Casa Gilardi and Casa Pedregal better. And Casa Pedregal is connected to Tetetlán, which is an awesome restaurant (both in architecture and food).
posted by mullacc at 5:00 PM on March 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if Biblioteca Vasconcelos has re-open, that place is amazing.
posted by mullacc at 5:07 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Following this thread, as we plan to go this coming winter if possible.
posted by matildaben at 5:21 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Some of my favorite things were riding the subway and public bus around, Cineteca Nacional, the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco, and the Post Office.
posted by latkes at 6:20 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

We went to Ballet Folklórico at Palacio de Bellas Artes, and it was stunning!
posted by SageTrail at 8:51 PM on March 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

Get a pass for EcoBici (the bike share system) and ride around. You can pay for your pass at many of the little electronic kiosks for the system. The central parts of Mexico City are almost completely flat (being a former lake bed), so biking is easy. Get their app for your phone.

Get a fare card and ride the metro and ride the metrobus.

The UNAM Contemporary Art Museum often has something interesting. If you like classical music, it is right beside the concert hall where the UNAM Orchestra plays (this is the leading orchestra in the city, though there are many more). Take Metrobus Line 1 there.

Museo Jumex is also worth a visit for contemporary art. Museo Soumaya is right next door, but is more of a comprehensive vibe, which I find kind of dull. Afterwards go to El Turix nearby for cochinita pibil.

The tour inside the Monument to the Revolution is actually not a bad taste of Mexican political history in a kind of neat context (inside the dome structure), if that's of interest. I think they have tours in English a few times per day.

If you like food markets, there are plenty to visit, one in every neighbourhood. If you really like food markets, consider a visit to La Merced (not the best neighbourhood, but fine if you keep your wits about you) or even the Central de Abastos, which is a massive wholesale market (though it is open to all and you can of course eat there). Eat in a tianguis, open air markets that appear in different squares and intersections on different days (the barbacoa, lamb cooked in a pit, is often very good as is the cecina de res, thin partly dried strips of beef). Drink a tepache (lightly fermented pineapple).

I find it interesting to search out restaurants that serve food from different areas of Mexico. There are a whole bunch of different cuisines from different regions. You've got the obvious Oaxaqueno, Yucatan and Baja Californian, but also foods from Jalisco, Chiapas, Sinaloa, Guerrero and so on. And if that's not enough, Mexico City has great food from all over Latin America: Peruvian, Argentinian, Ecuadorean, Columbian, etc. Korean and Japanese food is also good in Juarez, if you want something totally different.

In my opinion, some of the more touristy, traditional restaurants that you often have to wait in line for are fine, but not that special (especially those in Centro). You can find food that's just as good or better elsewhere. Mid-range restaurants in Roma or Condesa can be very good, but obviously check reviews. Panaderia Rosetta often has a line, but is worth going to at least once. Pasteleria Ideal is fun to go to, but the quality is not great.

Roma, Condesa, Centro and Coyoacan are all classic areas to wander around in. You can also try Napoles, Santa Maria La Ribera, San Angel, and even Tlalpan Centro if you want to go further afield. La Coyoacana cantina is a classic and often has a line in the evening, but has a nice vibe for an afternoon drink when it is less busy (ask to sit on the patio).

Honestly, the Xochimilco trajineras are very touristy and not that pleasant. It's mostly about getting drunk on a boat (which I think is only fun in a larger group). I'd give it a pass unless that's your thing. Plaza Garibaldi (mariachis) is not very pleasant as a tourist, I think.

In general, pickpockets are pretty common on the metro and other public transit, so keep your wallet and phone safe. Be careful while biking or walking as drivers are quite aggressive. Uber is less hassle and generally safer, especially for tourists, than taxis.
posted by ssg at 9:56 PM on March 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you are going to Kahlo's house, I found the Trotsky house just down the street fascinating.

Wander around the neighborhoods people have suggested above. There is simply so much going on that you can stumble into crazy art everywhere. And good food is plentiful especially in the open-air markets mentioned above. Street taco vendors are great.
posted by vacapinta at 3:35 AM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Find some pulque. It's really weird, but some of the flavors can be good, especially if you find a fancy pulqueria. When I tried to go to las Duelistas, it kept closing really early because they would run out of pulque by late afternoon. We finally got there and it was filled with hip young people who kept feeding money into a jukebox to play Beatles songs one after another and everyone in the place was singing along. Seems like they had different flavors every day; some that made sense to us like pineapple or mango, and then some that didn't like peanut, if I remember. One of the fancier places we found, which I think is now closed, tasted much better and they had some nice fruit options and red wine flavor, which I didn't expect to like since I'm not a wine fan but really enjoyed it.

As I remember there was a great tamale and hot chocolate stand off the main square near Frida Kahlo's house; they had a business card with another location elsewhere in the city. You have to get there really early like 8am otherwise, they're probably sold out.
posted by msbrauer at 6:28 AM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, so many great answers! Thank you!
posted by josher71 at 7:09 AM on April 1, 2022

You want some crazy shit in CDMX? Here you go: Dress up in drag with two drag queens and go out on the town. My girlfriend and I did this a few years ago and it was amazing. A top life experience.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:36 AM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've only spent a total of a couple of months there, so others may have a lot more non-obvious suggestions. A few random thoughts:

Tenochtitlan is absolutely can't-miss, as you suggest. (I'd recommend not taking a tour, but reading a bit about it first and catching the Pyramides bus.) I'd also suggest the Templo Mayor belongs at the top of any must-see list.

If you do go to Xochimilco, it would be a huge waste not to hire a boat. It's shockingly expensive, but that's more or less what the locals pay. Bring big bills for the boat hire and a lot of small bills for vendors and musicians. There are also some cool and funky museums, theaters, and markets nearby. Sadly, the folk art museum seems to be closed and the awesome puppet museum seems to have been forgotten entirely by the internet. The mercado de plantas y flores de Cuemanco is a busy tourist trap, but a really fun one.

Art museums that aren't on the guidebook top twenty lists that are worth seeing: Museo Jumex, Museo Rufino Tamayo, Ex Teresa Arte Actual, Jose Luis Cuevas. The UNAM campus museum is very small but fun; the public art and archetecture outside the museum is worth a trip. (The big top 10 museums are also all great, if obvious. Especially the anthropology one.)

The view from the Torre Latinoamericana is amazing. A couple of drinks at the bar is cheaper and a lot more enjoyable than a ticket to the viewing platform. If you show up in the early afternoon, you can usually get a fantastic seat by a window. (I proposed to my spouse at the north east corner, but it's fantastic even without nostalgia.) If you're there, it's worth spending a minute to see the absurd men's restroom.

For a surreal dining experience, The blue-tile Sanborns at Av. 5 de Mayo just east of Bellas Artes is fascinating. (Don't bother with any of the other resturaunts from the same company.) La Opera, across the street, is also worth considering.

Many would disagree, but I'd personally skip the presidential palace and Belles Artes unless you're particularly excited about them (or there's an unusual show at Belles Artes.) They're not bad in any way. Just less interesting than other options in the guide book.

If you speak Spanish, events by Rancho Electrónico are a great way to meet beautifully geeky weirdos. If you don't speak Spanish, they'll be nice to you, but you won't get much out of it.
posted by eotvos at 8:21 AM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Damnit. Absolute brain fart. "Teotihuacan," not "Tenochtitlan." Please don't anybody tell my spouse I confused them. Cripes. [Edit: hmm, perhaps I misunderstood the list in the question itself. Now I'm confused. Teotihuacan is awesome.]
posted by eotvos at 8:29 AM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, with apologies for thread-sitting - reading through comments above, I'd absolutely second buying tamales from late-night bullhorn tape-player food vendors whenever possible. The steam whistle camote carts may be more of an acquired taste - I really like it - but no tamal Oaxaqueño has ever disappointed anybody. Fantastic street food may not be the best thing about DF, but it's pretty high on the list.
posted by eotvos at 8:50 AM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

My HS Spanish teacher spends 3 months at a time in CDMX. His blog is here. There are tons of pictures and writing about places he visits, including the restaurants he loves.
posted by kathrynm at 10:06 AM on April 1, 2022

There's also Tianguis Cultural El Chopo. Punks, hippies and metal-heads all get together for a large market near Insurgentes. You can take the Metrobus nearly straight there and just follow the leather jackets and mohawks. It's a really fun time and you get to see a side of Mexico City that doesn't often get reported on.
posted by Captain Sunshine at 11:12 AM on April 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Drink lots of mezcal, the presentation is very enjoyable. Mexican lagers make a lot more sense to me when they're something you have alongside a mezcal instead of the main show.
posted by benbenson at 12:53 PM on April 1, 2022

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