Monday, June 17, 2024

CDMX expats: this guide provides new places to take your visitors

So you moved to Mexico City, and suddenly everyone you forgot you knew wants to visit. 

If a polite decline is out of the question — or perhaps you’re more social than I and you’re tired of eating Rosetta’s pastries in Parque Rio de Janeiro — I’m here to help.

Trotsky house, Coyoacan
Leon Trotsky’s house, where he lived after fleeing the Soviet Union, and where he was later murdered, is a hidden gem on the edge of the leafy center of Coyoacán. (UNAM)

It’s impossible to exhaust every opportunity CDMX has to offer. It is, however, possible to exhaust the tourist circuit. I’ve therefore compiled a list of places to go and things to see with absolutely no mention of Frida Kahlo’s museum or Restaurante Pujol.

Let’s start with coffee. Mexico City’s unending list of dreamy cafés can be hard to sift through. I’ve personally tried both the beverages and pan dulces at the following establishments, all of which satisfied me beyond measure. 

For your convenience, in the rest of this article, I’ve provided you with the neighborhood in which each attraction is located, as well as a link to each place’s website:

Casa de los Azulejos
The enormous (and grand) Sanbornes cafe in Casa de Los Azulejos is a window into a Mexico City in a world gone by. (Diego Delso/Wikimedia)
  • Nice Day Cafe, Cuauhtémoc: Try the house chai and either a scone, a chocolate concha, an oatmeal cookie, or all three.
  • Cucurucho Cafe, Cuauhtémoc: With alternate locations in the Roma, Condesa and Polanco neighborhoods, my personal preference is its flagship location. Catch me there savoring my weekly indulgence: CDMX’s best almond-milk (homemade!) cappuccino and the tastiest panque de plátano I’ve ever had.
  • Café Nin, Juárez: This place has an overwhelming selection of sweet breads and a lovely, leafy terrace.
  • Ficelle, Condesa: A French take on Mexican pastries? Sí, por favor.
  • Cafe Dónde, Centro Histórico: You’re a stone’s throw away from La Ciudadela artesanias market and a park of the same name where weekly danzones take place. This Italian-esque cafe is tucked into a beautiful apartment complex and remains semi-undiscovered.
  • Sanborns de los Azulejos, Centro Histórico: Not a cafe, but breakfast at this particular branch of the iconic family restaurant chain (located is as classically Mexico City as it gets. And it’s located in a beautiful historic building!

If you don’t want to be the one who plays guide for the weekend, why not hire an expert? My tour in Iztapalapa with Warrior Experiences was a highlight. I’ve since recommended the company to anyone wanting to know the city better. Their specialty is the Centro Histórico, offering informative yet fun walking tours or nighttime pub crawls. 

Museums are a great way to spend an afternoon with visitors or spend an afternoon taking a breather while visitors go on their own. If you’ve been to Castillo de Chapultepec or Bellas Artes 1,000 times and want something different, here is a handful of quirky, lesser-known options:

Anahuacalli, Coyoacan
Anahuacalli, the faux-temple which functioned as a workshop-cum-(intended) mausoleum for Diego Rivera, can be accessed for free when buying a ticket for Casa Azul (Alejandro Linares Garcia/Wikimedia)
  • The Leon Trotsky House, Coyoacán: This is the very spot where the famous Bolshevik revolutionary was murdered and buried. 
  • Anahuacalli Museum, Coyoacán: Its Mesoamerican architecture is enough to warrant a visit, but Diego Rivera’s collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts are the real draw. Entry is usually included in the cost of a ticket to Casa Azul (or vice versa)
  • Franz Mayer Museum, Centro Histórico: There has yet to be a boring exhibit at this museum, which boasts a beautiful library and tree lined courtyard garden.
  • Museo de Arte Popular, Centro Histórico: It’s colorful, fun, unexpected, and happy — everything one might expect from a popular art museum in Mexico.
  • Museo Soumaya Casa Guillermo Tovar de Teresa, Roma Norte: Come for the house, stay for a photoshoot in the garden. It’s gorgeous, it’s free and its neighbor, Tres Albejas, is a great spot for lunch.

After a long day of museums, is there anything better than unwinding with a crisp glass of white wine on a rooftop? Not really! You can fight the crowds at Madre Cafe, or you can go to:

Circulo Mexico
Circulo Mexico makes the most of an iconic location, by the ruins of the great Templo Mayor of Tenochititlán – an ideal place for a rooftop drink and a slice of history all at the same time. (Circulo Mexicano)
  • Circulo Mexicano, Centro Histórico: Grupo Abitas, as usual, capitalized on prime real estate directly behind the cathedral and adjacent to Templo Mayor, so while you’re sipping your spritz, you can discuss the clash of Spanish and Mexica (Aztec) architecture while actually observing it.
  • La Sabina, Santa Maria la Ribera: After checking out the charming Moroccan-style quiosco in the quirky neighborhood’s central square, enjoy a drink on the terrace of this classic Porfirio-era house-turned-restaurant.
  • Salazar, Reforma: Rub shoulders with Mexico City’s in-crowd as you chow down on fresh oysters, housemade sourdough and a fancy cocktail.
  • Carlotta Reforma Sky Bar at the Ritz Carlton, Reforma: Nurse an overpriced but oh-so-worthwhile añejo with sweeping views of Chapultepec Park at sunset.

You’re officially hungry, and let me guess: there are no tables available at Contramar. It’s fine because there are literally thousands of viable restaurant alternatives that haven’t yet made New York Times’ 36 Hours in Mexico City (and hopefully never will).

Rokai CDMX
Rokai is from the minds behind MOG and MO+F, two of Mexico City’s most popular Asian fusion restaurants. (Rokai)
  • Il Fiorino, Roma Sur: The best spaghetti alle vongole I’ve eaten outside of Italy.
  • Rokai, Cuauhtémoc: Excellent sushi and ramen options by Edo Kobayashi, the brains behind MOG and MO+F.
  • Santo Pozole, Cuauhtémoc: A local joint that serves simple, quality pozole and employs really sweet staff.
  • MUX, Roma Norte: I don’t know why this place isn’t constantly packed with international foodies, but I ain’t complaining. Don’t let its wordy, complicated menu deter you. Just point and order and devour what is sure to be one of your favorite Mexico City meals.
  • Sí Mon, Roma Norte: Choose from a long list of natural wines in a chic atmosphere alongside a trendy crowd whose overflow spills out to the sidewalk while they sip.
  • Provocateur Wine Bar & Tienda, Roma Norte: With its local vibe, great wine list and delicious, Spanish-style pinchos (with vegan options!), I couldn’t have been happier than I was the moment I stumbled on this still slightly hidden gem. 

Now the real question. Where do your visitors stay? Clearly not with you, so consider any of the following places that showcase that classic, elegant design one can only find in Mexico and optimal locale: 

Orchid House Hotel, Polanco
Orchid House, in the embassy district of Polanco, offers exquisite design in a 100-year-old townhouse, nestled near the sprawling Chapultepec Park. (Orchid House)
  • The Four Seasons, Reforma: Absolutely stunning and known to be a preferred hangout of Lenny Kravitz. 
  • Roso Guest House, Roma Norte: Stylish with the utmost attention to detail in both decor and thoughtful gifts.
  • The Orchid House, Polanco: The hotel is full of flowers and the aroma simply divine. Rooms are lovely and intimate.
  • Hotel San Fernando, Condesa: Set in a converted 1940s apartment building, this cozy hotel pairs original details like tile floors and stained glass windows with bold colors, plush furniture, a private rooftop terrace, and a sleek, ground level bar for the public to enjoy a drink and a bite.
  • Círculo Mexicano, Centro: As already mentioned, the rooftop makes the hotel worth a stay. It’s as seductive a space as you can expect from Grupo Abitas, with an untouchable location to boot.

Bethany Platanella is a travel planner and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. She lives for the dopamine hit that comes directly after booking a plane ticket, exploring local markets, practicing yoga and munching on fresh tortillas. Sign up to receive her Sunday Love Letters to your inbox, peruse her blog, or follow her on Instagram.

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