WE had decided that this year was the year for Daniela to return to her birthplace, and Adam to finally get to know Mexico City. We planned a satisfying circular route to get to know some new corners of Mexico, the country we love so much.
We landed at night, and as we silently rode into the heart of the city (Pro tip- Adam isn’t allowed to talk in taxi’s in Mexico so we avoid the “tourist tax”), there was an immediate sense of familiarity and comfort. For Daniela the nostalgia started to rise, and for Adam the sense of returning to a place well know and loved was surprisingly intense.
Our Airbnb turned out to be one our favorite accommodations in a bunch of great experiences. Check it out here.
OK, first things first. Yes it was 11 at night, yes we didn’t know the area that well, and sure by most standards it’s was past supper time, we’ll be god damned if our first hours in Mexico City didn’t include some tacos on the mother f-ing side walk. After a circle around the block we found our savior, Taco Naco. Probably a cheesy mini-chain to most Chilangos, the Condesa location became our go to for quick, delicious, 24 hour food.
“Gracias a Dios por los puestos de tacos 24 horas” d.
“These tacos al pastor are by far the most delicious specimen I’ve encountered. And we’ve been here 3 hours. Can’t wait to see what else we find!” a.
ON our first full day we settled in and as Adam came to know the vibrant barrio of La Condesa, Daniela was taking it all in for the first time in 6 years. We both happily soaked in the tree lined avenues, and their cozy adjacent side streets. All in all we eased our selves into what would be our home base for the trip, with the added bonus of nostalgia for Daniela and excited discovery for Adam.
THE next day we played tourist. Hey, we’re Manhattanites cursing and scoffing every Hop on Hop Off bus that stops in the goddamn cross walk, blocking our way when we’re late for work, but we’ll admit it here; we opted to take the Mexico City Hop On Hop Off. Hey it was cheap, convenient and informative…don’t judge us.
We kind of fucked up trying to board the Turibus at Mercado Roma, but it ended up being a bonus. We got to check out this new, trendy market place that is a great example of how modern Mexico is hipsterizing while retaining the its essential identity. It turned out it’s not the correct location to catch the bus line we wanted, but after a quick taxi ride we were back on track.
WE have to admit that we loved the Hop On Hop Off Bus. With the breeze in our graying hair, comfortably in a seated position, we saw the sights. We are not lost on the fact that this might be the first sign of “oldness”; but sure was nice, efficient and cheap. Anyway, once on the bus we got to check out the top sights in Mexico City’s Historic Center. Driving down Avenue Reforma you pass much of the historical, cultural and financial monuments of Mexico.
WE hopped off at the iconic Zocalo, and although the actual plaza was closed for construction, we opted to check out the Mexico City Cathedral, also known by its full name; Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen Maria a los Cielos. The structure lives up to its name, impressing visitors with its grandeur and spiritual weight.
“Ese sentimiento y escalofríos que recuerdo al entrar aquí no cambia con el paso de los años” d.
“I can’t prove it, but I feel like this is the biggest church I’ve ever been to.” a.
AFTER we left the church most of the attractions were closed, and a light rain had started falling, so we did what any reasonable person would do in this case and found a cantina. Cantina’s in Mexico are an institution. La Opera Bar in the Centro Historico has seen the top thinkers, politicians and revolutionaries in Latin American history come through it’s door since it opened in 1876. Barflies have included everyone from Porfirio Diaz (one of Mexico’s original leaders) to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One of the more colorful legends of the spot is that Pancho Villa fired a gunshot into the ceiling during a lively debate, and the bullet hole remains on display (in photo below the alleged spot is the black dot in the upper left). Complete with white jacketed servers and Parisian decor, its a nice place to experience the European pedigree of Mexico City.
THAT night for dinner we left history in the past, and got to check out the current happenings Mexico city. We planned to meet up with Daniela’s best friend since childhood, Ulises, and he took us to a couple really great finds. At La Lavanderia, their specialties are Oaxacan cuisine, and artisanal mezcal. Yes! On Ulises’ recommendation we ordered the tlayudas, which are sort of like big crispy quesadillas filled with fried beans, cheese and a variety of veggie options. Adam had never seen this glorious creation before and it was just the beginning of opening his mind to the enormous variety of mexican regional cuisine.
The absolute highlight though was the mezcal flight we ordered that included an incredible informative lesson from our server Daniel. He enlightened us on a myriad of points regarding the tasting, distilling and origins of the ancient elixir. Best of all the amazingly high quality of the house mezcales did not leave us feeling shitty the next day! We woke up the next day literally shocked by how good we felt. We even had an artisanal nightcap at La Clandestina next door (same owners).
THE next day Ulises was off work so he joined us in our second mission to explore the Centro Historico. Number one target was the relatively recently discovered Templo Mayor and adjoining museum. So if you don’t know the history of Mexico City here we’ll try to give a quick recap. To fully appreciate where you are when you’re there it’s important to know how it came to be.
Ok….around 100 B.C. a civilization we still don’t know much about peaks at Teotihuacan, north of present day Mexico City. Inspired by the revered site, the Aztecs build the center of their empire, Tenochitlan, in 1325 A.D. just about 25 miles south of Teotihuacan. Cut to Hernán Cortés showing up, eventually defeating the Aztecs in 1521 A.D., and literally building the capitol of “New Spain” on the ruins of the Aztec metropolis. Eventually New Spain becomes Mexico.
There are signs of this cultural layering all over the city, but no where is more pronounced and revealing than the Templo Mayor. After a handful of surprise findings over in the 19th century, the enormity of what was under the city center was discovered in 1978 when the electric company was digging for line drops. After decades of excavations you can now see parts of the city that was here before the Conquistadores came in and raised it. Smack dab in the middle if the colonial historic center. Scholars assume its just a fraction of what lies under the more modern landmarks constructed to bury its history by the Spanish. The adjacent museum houses many of the most impressive artifacts.
AFTER taking in the ruins we were thirsty naturally , and headed to Cafe Porrua to get an eagle eye view of the ruins. The roof deck over looking the Templo Mayor is a great vantage point to sip a mezcal and take in the juxtaposition of ages that encapsulate Mexico City. Keep in mind it inexplicably closes early so get there before 7pm.
WE went our separate ways to take a siesta and get ready for the night. The legendary club called “Patrick Miller” was the plan, and a long night was ahead of us! Daniela and Ulises had spent many nights here in their early clubbing days, and we were happy to find that it’s still a relevant hot spot. It felt like a vibe we don’t have here in the States anymore. Revelers of all ages, shapes and creeds grooved the night away to pulsating beats. The best way to describe it is if Studio 54 was still around, and still popular with the next generations.
“No hay lugar que combine edades, creencias, sexos y estilo como este. Con el único fin de bailar hasta agotar todos tus movimientos groovy” d.
“I haven’t felt this vibe since the raves of the 90’s, and nobody is on drugs! It’s awesome.” a.
THE next day we were slow to get up. It was our last day and we had a lot of ground to cover, but thankfully we found an amazing restaurant in our hood; Green Corner. It’s not all tacos and guacamole people. The Condesa staple has delicious juices, healthy entrees and an organic market.
AFTER breakfast we went to Dani’s old neighborhood, and Adam got to experience his first tianguis! It’s pronounced tee-AN-gees, but if it seems hard to say don’t feel bad, Adam was calling it a “TING-eez” for weeks. Don’t let the word complicate what a tianguis is, it’s just a weekly market where you can get affordable food, clothing, merchandise…and even eyebrow threading. Every neighborhood has their own on a certain day, and the highlights from Daniela’s childhood was the food. We grabbed a couple cemitas (super packed sandwiches from fatty heaven) from the local legendary cemita lady and Tlacoyos. Tlacoyos are like a calzone made of blue corn dough, filled with fried beans or ricotta cheese, topped with nopales, more cheese and of course salsa.
Activate food coma.
“Llena de emociones y nostalgia…” d.
“It’s so powerful to see where Daniela grew up. It’s nice to picture her running around as a little kid.” a.
AFTER dropping off a cemita with Daniela’s abuelo we took the Metrobus to the Centro Histórico one more time to check out the Picasso/Rivera exhibit at Bellas Artes. Bellas Artes is the cultural heart of 20th century art in Mexico City, and besides it’s Art Deco architecture, it contains the most impressive collection of Mexico’s most important mural artists. Think Diego Riviera’s master pieces.
WE hopped a cab, got dropped off in Bosque Chapultepec, and decided to go find the restaurant Daniela remembered from her 18th birthday. El Bosque is one of the largest urban parks in the world and it felt like we walked every centimeter of it, wandering around lost trying to find the restaurant, but in the end it was worth it. Restaurante del Bosque is one of those world class spots around town that remind visitors how cosmopolitan Mexico City is. Pricy but satisfying cocktails and food are on order, and the location provides a luxurious ambiance.
FOR dinner we decided to check out Azul Condesa. In short it was the best service ever. Period, point blank. The food is really good, the focus on elevated regional Mexican cuisine is top notch, and the mezcal selection really made Adam happy, but the little details in service were the highlight of the night. And all this in a rather casual, not too expensive environment. The staff whirled about, informed, attentive, with every detail seemingly tenaciously orchestrated. It was so subtle and smooth that we almost didn’t even notice it, but once we realized what was going on our minds were blown. A couple examples include; different tablecloths for each course, a different candle lit for each course, and a traditional gourd for sipping your preferred mezcal. We recommend ordering the chile en nogada, if it’s in season, for the deliciousness and ceremony that Azul bestows on the cherished dish.
OUR first week in Mexico City was full of nostalgia, as real for Daniela as it was unexplained for Adam, and it felt like we were leaving home when we headed back to the airport for our flight to Oaxaca City. In reality we were just getting started, and we had an outstanding loop of destinations ahead. Oaxaca City, Oaxaca Coast, Cabo San Lucas, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and finally another week back at home base here in Mexico City.
The adventure was about to begin.