This is Power Trip, a recurring series on hard-to-find but always sophisticated experiences in our favorite cities around the globe.
Like Rome or Athens, Mexico City is a city that wears its history on its sleeve. Ancient ruins share space with modern civilization and major geologic discoveries frequently make the news as day-to-day life bustles on.
The Zócalo, one of the world’s largest city squares, is bordered by the National Palace on one side and the Cathedral on the other. Overhead you can see the balcony where the president appears when he addresses civilians. The square has been a meeting place since the Aztecs ruled, a fact not easily forgotten given its proximity to the ruins of Templo Mayor, and the fact that the Cathedral itself stands about as tall as the pyramids would have been before the Spaniards arrived to demolish them, piece by piece.
These stories are everywhere: each avenue offers some anecdote, mural or statue for curious passersby to admire. But between them stand monuments to another history: that of Mexico’s rich culinary heritage, in the form of restaurants and cantinas at every price point that will defy your every notion of what the words “Mexican food” connote.
To the hungry go the spoils.
Food in this city is as exciting and interactive as you want it to be. Go to one of the many list-topping restaurants, or opt for one of the immersive dining experiences that are gaining traction in the food scene.
Image via Cafe Nin
Get up early and part with your group if you must, because this is a benchmark breakfast. Get the huevos rancheros, perfectly chewy, fresh tortilla strips folded into a fluffy egg blanket. Leave with an Americano and approximately three pounds of pastries that you’ve been staring down at from the mezzanine: a few drizzled and cinnamon-y, and a passionfruit danish that would be criminal to share.
Azul (2 images)
The hip courtyard restaurant of the Downtown Hotel. In addition to coveted staples, they have a rotating menu that highlights regional delicacies from around the country. We had some crickets with our guac, mmm.
Built in 1692 as a monastery, the San Angel Inn spent a few hundred years in the hands of different counts before serving as the site of the pact between General Zapata and Pancho Villa. Now, for more than 100 years, the beautifully landscaped property is a popular upscale but old-timey dining spot. A suited band plays softly along a sunlit corridor of roses. Handsome waiters cart around glossy desserts in a massive dining hall where people once worshiped — and schemed.
Image via Casa Jacaranda
If You Want to Learn Cooking Secrets
To pick up some expertise before cooking your own incredible four-course meal, book a class with Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz at their kitchen, Casa Jacaranda. Available to groups of three or more, they’ll help you design a menu based on what’s available and seasonal, as well as suggest any dishes that may be traditional to the time of year. As they put it: “Learn the recipes and the secrets we swore to our grandmas we’d never tell!”
Mercado (4 images)
Mercado de Medellín is a traditional market where the chefs take you to grocery shop (it’s worth a visit even if you don’t do this dining experience). Narrow aisles are packed with fragrant, colorful ingredients, from dried shrimps to heaps of chiles in different stages of oxidation to preserved fruits and plastic-wrapped pastes. Rainbow strips of colored paper hang from piñatas, flags and banners, all fluttering in the warm air.
After a spin through the market, you go to their gorgeous home-cum-kitchen and prepare the meal. They make it easy for you. There are snacks and drinks, and then you take your meal on the breezy roof, flowering trees bowing around you.
Photo: The Hidden Kitchen
If You’d Rather Just Be Fed
Kitchens can seem to outsiders like controlled chaos, crowded with brusque, brilliant chefs as conversational as the spinach they’re wilting. But culinary pop-up The Hidden Kitchen (Doctores) shows otherwise, inviting private groups into their kitchens to dine on the prep table while they cook and prepare the meal adjacent. The crew are cordial, answering any questions the group might have while serving you curated wine and spirits alongside the many courses. The chef’s choice extends even to the music, and they’ll definitely be raising a glass or two with you.
Photo: Casa Ignacia
There are plenty of lovely boutique hotels built inside renovated manors. But fair warning, the ones that have rooftop bars are club first, hotel second. Small hotel + dance club = noisy, late evenings.
For more refreshing rest, Airbnb is a great option, with an abundance of private garden apartments and sprawling sunny listings for extremely affordable rates.
But to go truly boutique, try the above-pictured Ignacia Guest House (Colonia Roma), a picturesque five-suite building flanking a courtyard that secrets a bountiful orange tree. Don’t pass up the orange marmalade at breakfast, part of the menu designed by Casa Jacaranda. Bonus: Ignacia offers a $45 USD transportation service to and from the airport.
For Fun Other Than Eating, If You Insist ...
I dare you not to shriek in delight as dripping men in capes dive headlong into each other arms, kick beers from people’s hands and tear at each other’s masked faces. Because after just one Friday night spent watching these sweaty, spandexed men perform Cirque du Soleil-level performances of choreographed hyper-macho acrobattery, I was hooked.
If Lucha Libre is too heady for you, there is, seemingly, a museum for every possible subject elsewhere in the city. Some picks: Museo Frida Kahlo (art, history), Museo Soumaya (art) and Future CDMX (geography). Or, due to the abundant public art, you can do a walking tour of a neighborhood or site. Pictured above is the library at the University of Mexico, which immediately became your correspondent's favorite building. The mosaic by Juan O'Gorman is made of tiles of select stones from different regions around Mexico, except the blue which is glass.
Drinking and Dessert Also Count as Fun
Gourmet food market Mercadoroma: Watch as staff behind glass expertly swivel the churro batter into a bubbling vat of oil. A delicious, delicious spectacle.
Cocktails at Xaman: This “metamorphic space” emphasizes pre-Hispanic plants as an ingredient.
Rufino Gastrobar: A sexy, modern date spot where one could easily spend all night.
All photos by the author except where noted otherwise