I lived in Mexico City (CDMX) for exactly a year and I absolutely loved it. The city, the country and its people very much grew under my skin. Even if I spent here only one year, I managed to develop a special relationship to this place. This was also thanks to a very special person that accompanied for the most part of my stay in Mexico. To whom I will always be very grateful for making me ‘Mexican’. I will always carry these moments deep in my heart.
It is time to turn a new page in life and with this post I want to summarise my best impressions of CDMX, the most interesting places to visit and the best restaurants. I’ll structure it by areas of the city.
General impressions with Mexico City
Let me start with saying that I absolutely LOVE Mexico City. I’ve never been in CDMX before I moved here (in June 2016) and I didn’t know much about it. The only thing I really knew was that it had a bad reputation for being dangerous and polluted. However, from the day I arrived, I fell in love with the city and really enjoyed my year here.
The bad reputation for safety that the city has is, in my experience, unjustified and exaggerated. The average Mexican is very nice and helpful. However, as in any big city there are plenty of people that want to take the advantage of you. The most important thing is to keep to the basic rules of being careful and not displaying too much wealth. One needs to know which areas are not safe and where not to go. Polanco, for example, is as safe as any European city, but there are areas very close to it that are very unsafe.
Sightseeing in CDMX
CDMX, as Mexico in general, offers a lot of cultural and historic sites to see. You need at least 3 or 4 very packed days to see the main parts of the city. You need to see the old historic centre, enjoy the atmosphere of the Condesa & Roma neighbourhoods, see the fancy Masaryk street in Polanco, stroll through Chapultepec park and explore the volcanic south of the city (Coyoacan, Xocimilco and UNAM). In each of these areas you can easily spend a whole day, not to even mention a day-trip to Teotihuacan, some of the most amazing pyramids
If I must make my list of top things to visit in CDMX they would be: (1) Parque Mexico and Avenida Amsterdam for the urban life; (2) the Anthropological Museum for history; (3) centre of Coyoacan for a peek into the old CDMX; (4) sailing on trajineras through the canals of Xochimilco for a unique Mexican experience; and (5) Teotihuacan archaeological site as a day-trip.
Food in Mexico City
In my opinion, CDMX is one of the food capitals of the world. Mexican cuisine is delicious and very varied (there’s much more than tacos). No wonder it got onto the UNESCO list as one of the main world cuisines. CDMX can offer a great selection of other world cuisines as well. Though, personally I do miss some more authentic Asian food options. The general restaurant scene is thriving and the service quality is usually very good.
Polanco is one of the fanciest neighbourhoods, where you can find all the up-market shops, most of the international hotel chains, best restaurants and fancy people. Most of that is concentrated along the Avenida Presidente Masaryk and Emilio Castelar with the adjacent Parque Lincoln. The area between Parque Lincoln and Masaryk is referred to as Polanquito (a small Polanco) and is the prime restaurant area in town.
Polanco is just next to the Chapultepec park and the Anthropological museum, both not to be missed. There are several other museums in that area, like the museo Tamayo, modern art museum, etc. Chapultepec is also great for jogging/running, especially the 2nd section where you can easily make a 1/2 marathon.
A selection of some of my favourite restaurants in Polanco
High-end Mexican food:
- Dulce Patria: A very fancy but authentic Mexican restaurant. The decor is nice and the food is delicious. Pricey but definitely worth it, especially for an introduction to modern Mexican food.
- Anatol en las Alcobas: Very modern/contemporary Mexican cuisine with foreign influences. Food is quite innovative and delicious.
- Pujol: One of the most famous restaurants in CDMX. They moved to a new location which is really beautiful. There is only a tasting menu option though. The food is very good, however, I wasn’t blown away. Unfortunately there is more fame than substance.
- Guzina Oaxaca: In my opinion the best Oaxacan restaurant in town. the food is just amazing.
- Agua y Sal: Excellent cevichería. They have a large selection of ceviches and aguachiles (Mexican version with a chili/spicy sauce) and other fish dishes. I usually like to take a variety of ceviches/aguachiles and tostadas, and that way I skip the mains. Don’t think ceviches are only Peruvian, and I wouldn’t think this restaurant is Peruvian, but very Mexican.
- Porfirios: Another trendy Mexican restaurant. The food is delicious, but unfortunately the service is relatively bad.
Day-to-day Mexican food:
- Fisher’s: Very simple and typical mexican fish dishes. It is a chain with branches all over the city, and they’re particularly famous for breakfasts and brunches (there will be a huge queue on Sundays). The chilaquiles with shrimps are delicious.
- Lampuga: Simple fish and seafood place in a nice location.
- El Bajío: Another simple and typical Mexican restaurant. Most of the dishes are very nice and the service is good etc.
- La Casa del Pastor: Fast food Mexican-style, it is there to satisfy your craving on any typical Mexican dish.
- Casa de las Enchiladas: All about enchiladas. You can select the type of tortilla, filling, sauce and garnish.
- Tizoncito: Famous for tacos al pastor (kebab-style pork tacos). It’s a chain and they are all over the town.
- Casa Portuguesa: Really nice location and a great selection of bacalao (cod) fish prepared in 20 different ways.
- Astrid y Gastón: The famous Lima restaurant has a branch in CDMX. The food is absolutely delicious, however, the service is a bit disappointing. Still very worth visiting, just be patient.
Bars & other:
- Limantour: Very nice bar in the heart of Polanquito serving delicious cocktails.
- Budapest Cafe Cukraszada: Central European cafe overlooking Parque Lincoln in a nice boutique/alternative shopping centre (Common People)
- Palacio de Hierro: Really nice food court with a terrace, excellent for lunch.
Roma & Condesa neighbourhoods
Roma and Condesa are the trendiest neighbourhoods in CDMX, full of bars and restaurants and social life. In general most young middle-class Mexicans live in this area. It is also very popular among artists, hipsters and expats.
There are not many touristy sites in Roma/Condesa, as a large part of the area was destroyed in the 1985 earthquake. The nicest area is around Parque Mexico and Avenida Amsterdam, which is an oval shaped avenue that used to be a hippodrome. However, the nicest thing in Roma/Condesa is to walk around, explore the cute tree-lined streets and enjoy in the urban life.
Close to Condesa is the Zona Rosa and Reforma areas. Zona Rosa is the old gay-area, but nowadays it’s a bit seedy and slightly unsafe at night. It is just next to Reforma the main avenue through the city that also features some of the most important monuments of the city, such as the Angel de Independencia (independence angel). It is really nice to walk along Reforma, especially on Sunday mornings when they close it for pedestrians and cyclists.
A selection of some of my favourite restaurants in Roma/Condesa
In Roma / Condesa there are many restaurants and bars. Here are just some ideas.
Mid to high-end Mexican food:
- Merotoro: Delicious Mexican food from the North combining fish and meat dishes.
- La Capital: Typical Mexican dishes in a nice environment.
- Contramar: Maybe one of my favourite restaurants in CDMX. They serve delicious fish and seafood. Their tuna tostadas are to die for, fish with the traditional or chipotle salsa is delicious, and the dessert selection is impressive. It’s only open only for lunch and they also have a branch in Polanco called Entremar.
- Maximo Bistrot: Famous chef serving a mix between Mexican and French cuisine. Good food but overpriced for what it is, also far to difficult to get a reservation.
- Romita: The venue is stunning with large windows overlooking Alvaro Obregon. Food is decent, but nothing special.
- Broka: Good food and a nice patio. To enter you need to walk through a part of the kitchen, really cool.
- De Mar a Mar (Zona Rosa): decent fish and seafood restaurant.
- Cabrera 7: The whole Luis Cabrera square is pretty nice and full of restaurants. This one has a good combination of nice decor and good food. Especially nice on the first floor balcony.
- Alipús: A mezcalería of the Alipus brand of mezcal also serves good Oaxacan food.
Day-today Mexican food:
- Casa de Toño (Zona Rosa): A very famous eatery, especially known for pozole (a Mexican stew). It is open 24h on weekends and there will be queues even late at night, but they usually go fast. It’s a chain and there are several other branches in town.
- Cerverería de Barrio: A local chain with nice atmosphere and decent food.
- El Califa: One of the famous taco chains has branches in many parts of town. The tacos are really good, but compared to the street ones they’re overpriced. Good option for visitors or not too adventurous types.
- Casa de la Tlayuda: Great Oaxacan tlayuda on Insurgentes.
- Rosetta: Delicious Italian restaurant.
- Rosetta panadería: The bakery of Rosetta. Delicious for bakery products or breakfast.
- Huset: Another place that is worth more because of its venue than the food. The internal patio is really nice, especially for brunch or lunch.
- Rokai: The best Japanese in town, well there’s not much competition anyway. Don’t even bother with any Japanese chains in Mexico city, they all put Philadelphia cheese on sushi?!
Bars & other
- La Clandestina: Great mezcaleria, they only serve mezcal and beer. Very simple but a great Mexican experience. My favourite bar in town.
- Hotel Condesa Df: They do a very nice brunch on Sundays. There’s a small selection of well prepared dishes. There’s also a nice roof-top terrace for afternoon/evening drinks. Excellent to spend a boozy afternoon.
- Hotel Mexico: Another excellent terrace overlooking Parque Mexico, great for afternoon drinks.
- Casa Quimera: A modern food court style house with many small food outlets.
- Parian Condesa: Similar to the one above. There are many small food outlets and you can order from any of them and the food will be brought to your table. Simple and nice lunch concept.
- La Embajada Jarocha: This Veracruz restaurant is more famous for live music and dancing. The food is not very good, but the atmosphere is really special and it’s an interesting experience.
The historical centre is where the ancient city of Tenochtitlan was before the arrival of the Spanish. Basically, the whole centre of CDMX is built on top of ancient ruins. Some can still be seen, like the Templo Mayor, but most have been destroyed. In the centre of the city is the Zocalo, the main square, with the cathedral and the national palace.
There are many things to see in the historical centre. The whole area around the Zocalo and the Alameda is full of historical buildings, some of the most prominent are the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Palacio de Correos.
There are also plenty of museums in the area, one of the nicer ones is the Mueso de Arte Popular.
Not far across the Reforma there is also the Monumento de Revolucion, an imposing monument structure which is really worth entering all the way to the top (including the dome).
A selection of some of my favourite restaurants in the centre:
- Azul histórico: The patio is really stunning and the food is delicious. If you’re in CDMX during August/September, the season for Chile en Nogada (the ‘most’ Mexican dish), then have it at Azul. It is a small CDMX chain with outlets in Condesa and UNAM as well. The one in the centre is nicest but they all have great food.
- Limosneros: Modern interpretation of traditional Mexican food. Delicious!
- El Cardenal: Very traditional lunch place (open for lunch only). Good food for when you’re exploring the centre. The mole poblano is particularly good and filling.
- Café Tacuba: Another very traditional Mexican food place, also the decor is quite nice.
- Balcón del Zócalo: As the name suggests, it overlooks Zocalo. So it’s a very nice place for visitors to have lunch/dinner overlooking the main square. It is very touristy, but the food is surprisingly good.
There are many other parts of CDMX that are really interesting to see and visit, especially in the South of the city. Coyoacan, in particular, is a very residential area with a square in the centre of it. The square is always full of life and people, and the whole area is really nice to walk around. A must to see in Coyoacan is the market and the Frida Kalho house.
Close to Coyoacan is also the area of San Angel, which is particularly famous for the Saturday market (Bazar Sabado) and another Diego & Frida house.
Further to the South is the UNAM campus, with several museums and the iconic central library building with its murals.
All the way to the south is Xochimilco, a left over from the time when the whole valley was a lake. Xochimilco fills up on the weekends with many people coming to spend the day with friends & family on special boats called trajineras. People bring their food and drinks and rent the trajinera for several hours. Quite an amazing experience, it gets very crowded on nice Saturdays.
Some food recommendations:
- Coyoacan market: A must for tostadas, which are enormous and very fresh.
- Ice-cream on Coyoacan square: There are several ice-cream shops on the main square of Coyoacan and they’re delicious. I particularly like a pistachio paleta (a stick) covered with chocolate and ground nuts.
- Los Danzantes: A famous Oaxaca restaurant has a branch in CDMX. The location is really nice and the mezcal is also very good. The food is decent, but I would have expected better.
- San Angel Inn: One of the iconic CDMX restaurants in a colonial villa with an awesome patio. They are particularly known for margaritas and the food was actually very good. It fills up with Mexican high-class on weekends for lunch, so reserve ahead.
- Sud 777: One of the 50 best restaurants in the south of the city. Very innovative/modern Mexican cuisine.