When I travel, there’s something I usually forget—my hotel room number, what language I’m supposed to speak, an address, an umbrella, an extra layer, a boyfriend…uh…. But in Mexico City, I think just forgot to stop eating. And it’s not like I rolled my food-lovin’ behind from one restaurant to the next, but everywhere you turn in Mexico City, some kind of culinary delight is staring right back at you—from gourmet to street and savory to sweet. With a knack for attentive service, rich flavors, interesting mixtures and enough creativity send Padma into a cartwheeling frenzy…plus a whole lot of tequila, Mexico City’s foodie scene is up there with the best in the world.
And oddly, no one tried to shoot me, stab me, kidnap me or rob me. Kiss me? Yes. Buy me a drink? More than once. And offer to walk me to what the locals consider the best taco in all of Mexico? You bet.
So Mexico’s got a bad rap in the news lately, and it’s kinda sorta true for certain outlaying provinces and cities (maybe don’t go to Acapulco at the moment). But Mexico City’s still got first world concerns, as I learned when my taxi driver was pulled over and ticketed for speeding (so much for the city’s legendary traffic, which, by my observation, is way worse in Los Angeles).
There’s an area called La Zona Rosa where hot gay guys and drag queens are literally falling from the sky (and a dance party bar called Marrakesh where the DJ wears only underwear), same-sex marriage (cute), and it’s where that bisexual Frida Kahlo liberated the unibrow and made some of the world’s most amazing artwork. Now that you’re not scared (don’t be so GOP), think about heading down, it’s only 5 hours from New York. Aeromexico is an option to fly, but there’s also a new low cost carrier that flies direct from New York City called Interjet.
It’s a huge city, so plan to stay for a while (like at least a week, better two) if you’d like to see everything and still get a feel for the local scene (you’ll need at least one day to sleep in and recover from all the tequila and beer, two if that recovery includes a local). So when you do head south of the border, here’s at least one plan on how to eat your way through the city while simultaneously getting in some quality culture, shopping and flirting time.
1—Date Night at Pujol
Don’t mind the way the name of this restaurant sounds in English, it is, in fact, a Spanish surname and one of the world’s top 50 restaurants as declared by Restaurant Magazine. It’s a small and intimate space where you’ll want to dress sharp (a jacket wouldn’t be out of the ordinary) with a prix fixe menu that includes modern dishes using classic Mexican ingredients like… toasted ant larvae—which, resembles white beans in appearance and taste really sweet, smoked baby corn on a skewer (divine) and a sea bass taco so good that it will make you giggle.
We’d suggest making a night of it and head over to chic mixed gay-straight bar MNRoy afterwards to work off some of those calories, or just to top’em of with a whole lot of Mezcal. Both are in the upscale neighborhood of Polanco.
2—Ruins then Azul Historico
It’s actually against the law to go to Mexico City and not go see some Ancient Aztec stuff. So, do it. Go downtown and check out the Templo Mayor, which is basically what’s left of the center piece of Tenochtitlan (Mexico CIty’s Aztec name) and was found about 40 years when the city starting digging up land to make electric happen. Take plenty of pictures, shoot through the requisite museum (which is really cool) and then hop in a cab over to Azul Historico, a gorgeous upscale traditional Mexican restaurant set in an outdoor piazza.
Here, winner of the Cancun food festival Ricardo Muñoz Zurita offs up a menu of traditional, though gourmet, Mexican fare. Like Chile Nogada, a seasonal dish that’s comprised of a mild green chile stuffed with pears, apes, bananas, pomegranate pork and slathered in a sweet creamy sauce. If you’re feeling intrepid, you could also try the chicken breast Mezcal (we’re not so sure how that works but they promised it was made from the breast of a chicken) or the grasshopper guacamole. This spot’s also open for a lovely breakfast—get the chilaquiles (basically nachos smothered in creamy stuff)—so you can start here and then go walk amongst Mexico’s ancient ruins.
3—Chilling at Solea and The Whiskey Bar, and @ the W Hotel
There’s a few reasons we’re gonna go ahead and recommend that you stay in the W Hotel. Firstly, its the best W Hotel we’ve ever stayed in. No offense to all the other nice W’s, but this one’s got the trifecta of amazing rooms (hammocks in the shower, spacious and a suite with balcony that’s got a set up for a DJ), impeccable customer service (everyone is so damn nice) and a restaurant/bar scene that’s chic, yummy and gay friendly. And also, you can chill all day at the Away Spa and Wellness Center with hunky, muscular mexicans ready to rub you all over.
Solea, the restaurant on the 2nd floor of the hotel, is a scene in its own right, with a balcony overlooking the street below and signature W modern design. Executive Chef Maruicio León specializes in contemporary Mexican steak and sea food, which is a great precursor to a disco nap in your room before heading to the Whiskey Bar on the first floor. Here, exclusive parities mix up international DJ’s, Mexico City’s movers and shakers, gays and some fashion models. Any night’s good for a suave night cap, but people from all over the city head here on Thursdays and Fridays for their own night on the town.
4—Contemporary Art at the MUAC and Café Azul y Oro
The Mexico City Museum of Modern Art is a cool place to visit and see some famous art but the real gem is at the University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC). That’s because it’s the first public collection of contemporary Mexican art and the current crop of artists coming out of Mexico City are doing cool things like creating computerized jungle soundscape rooms and political minded art that speaks to the current state of affairs in the country. Don’t worry, it’s hardly a downer, especially in the room filled with cardboard quotes. It’s bit of a hike from the city center (30 mins with light traffic) and actually, being located within the University Campus (hello cute college boys) could make you feel trapped here (There’s a taxi stand—and taxis are cheap btw— and busses but like…) though, true fans of art will find it worth the headache.
That said, plan at least one meal in the museum’s café, Azul Y Oro, which despite being really a university cafeteria, is a pleasant place to sit (gorgeous modern design, outdoor seating, casual atmosphere) and offers up gourmet Mexican dishes for not a lot of money (still not that cheap either). After you’ve chilled and had your fill, then you can try to figure out how to get back to the city center.
Every Saturday, the neighborhood of San Angel comes to life with a gigantic arts and crafts market. A cute, if touristy, place to shop for souvenirs. Ask some of the vendors where the local market is (it’s not far) and wander through kiosks selling magic man stuff and local food. Not far from here, too is combined house of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a great place to pretend you’re an early 20th century bisexual communist artist with a unibrow (We did that, it was fab). There’s clean enough street food at the San Angel market to fill you up, but for a real treat, you’ll want to walk down to Paixa (meaning peace in the ancient Aztec language) which is one of the most celebrated restaurants in the entire city. It may be a bit lavish for lunch, but fuck it, you’re in Mexico City.
6—La Condessa and Califa—The Best Tacos in Mexico City
La Condessa is often compared to Soho in New York, though anyone who’s been to the big apple would argue otherwise—it’s mostly residential and has wide, treelined avenues. However, it is a great place to stroll around, plop down at any random cafe and watch life go by. Also, there’s a gay jewelry shop, if you’re on the prowl for something shiny and marriage proposal-y.
And if you ask just about anyone in Mexico City where they can get the best taco, after trying to tell you their favorite random street vendor, they’ll settle on Califa—a modest sized taco diner set at the end of La Condessa. Go hungry because you’ll want to try just about everything. The wait staff is friendly and loves to make suggestions, but we’ll start you off with the Pastores, which actually use a middle eastern method of preparing the meat and tastes like the tear of an Aztec god.
7—La Roma and Mercado de Medellin
La Roma is the “it” neighborhood for artists at the moment, which means coolshopping and rough around the edges street vibes. For stylish menswear, check out Sicario and and Goodbye Folk, then stop in front of Vintage Hoe (That’s Heaven on Earth in case you were wondering) and take a picture for Facebook. But before shopping, fill up on some of the city’s best street food at the Mercado de Medellin on Calle Campeche
Don’t worry. This place is one of the most well groomed street food markets in Mexico, meaning you most likely won’t get Montazuma’s revenge (Be nice to the people making your food now…). That said, its a locals favorite and can get rather busy. Some things to probar (try in spanish)—chicharron (fried pork skin), tacos (duh), ague de jamica, horchata, and any of the seafood delights at the Ostioneria La Morenita (a small restaurant inside).
Related: Mexico City After Dark
Matt Bell is a New York based travel and style writer who contributes regularly to Esquire.com and Essential Homme Magazine. He has also written for Out.com, Next Magazine, American Spa Magazine and was the Senior Editor for Genre Magazine.