Mexico City has been top of my travel wish list for some time.
It seemingly has everything: walls of crazy colors, vibrant vegetation on (and inside) every block, dirt cheap accommodations and uber rides, a thriving contemporary art scene, and ALL THE TACOS. Needless to say, when I got invited to a wedding in Guadalajara this fall, I made stopping in Mexico City an essential leg of the trip flanking the weekend of festivities.
If you’re visiting Mexico City as a gluten-free goddess like myself, you will have an epic few days of eating your way around the city. Since the cuisine is primarily reliant on corn, there are very few risks of cross-contamination, though if you have a sensitive immune system like me, it’s a high possibility that you will return home with some sort of critter, even if you stick to the fancy restaurants. It’s the price of admission!
Tummy troubles aside, I have no regrets. The street food around the city rivals the best restaurants, and it’s hard to resist sampling some of the region’s typical dishes straight from the “specialists.” Still, we also made it a point to tick off some of the most popular upscale eateries off our list, and those too did not disappoint.
A few things to note: though the city is much safer than it used to be, it’s still best to use uber versus taxis (again, they are insanely cheap) and not walk around alone at night in certain areas. We stayed at a lovely B&B in Condesa for under $100 a night. I’d highly recommend making that neighborhood or Roma your hub. Polanco is fancier, has less of a personality and isn’t as central.
Like Los Angeles, the city is quite spread out, but if you bring walking shoes you can still cover a lot on foot—most sites are about a 30 minute walk from Roma or Condesa (or a $4 uber).
As for the food scene, like most big cities, you can find great versions of any regional dish, but I’d recommend not leaving without trying chilaquiles for breakfast, tacos al pastor (Mexico City’s most famous taco), pozole rosso, and sangrita, a tomato-based drink that’s served alongside the best sipping tequilas to cleanse your palate. I could have drank a jug of it with every meal.
Rarely will you find a flour tortilla, which means less risk that there’s an issue with tortilla chips being thrown into the same fryer, but if you’re celiac, it’s still worth inquiring about cross-contamination and mole preparations, since it’s an everything but the kitchen sink sort of dish. I’d highly recommend, if you’re worried and don’t speak much Spanish, that you check out my friend Jodi’s gluten-free travel card for Mexico City and her travel guide for Mexico.
Read on for some of the best restaurants we ate at in Mexico City, sites and activities that shouldn’t be missed, and some other helpful recommendations I got before our trip, including where to find the best gluten-free and vegan options.
With health and hedonism,
THE BEST UPSCALE AND TRENDY RESTAURANTS IN MEXICO CITY
If you’ve sought out restaurant recs from any gringa “foodie,” Enrique Olvera’s world-renowned spot for artistic tacos was probably top of the list. He was featured on Chef’s Table a few seasons back, and like my globe-stalking of this Slovenian star, I knew that I needed to add Mexico City to my travel list just to taste his 1,000 day mole. The restaurant lived up to the hype and may just be one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. It’s especially enticing for gluten-free folks since you’re able to eat 95 percent of the menu (save for dessert).
Reservations need to me made a month or so out for the Taco Omakase or the Tasting Menu. We did the latter, which I was kind of bummed about because the concept of 10 courses of tacos might be my dream, but it ended up blowing my mind. Chef Olvera’s food is pristine, but unfussy. Surprising, yet comforting. It’s exactly what you didn’t know you wanted to be eating.
Our favorite dishes were the octopus, softshell crab, quail egg papadzul, and all the street snacks. Also, order the tamarind margarita and thank me later.
This daytime seafood spot, with waiters toting giant clams and crab claws, feels like you stepped off the wrong plane and ended up in Miami. It was described to me as where the Mexi Mad Men go for their power lunches, and I was so into this idea, and the tuna tostadas included in it, that I went not once, but TWICE during my stay.
In addition to the atun, you should also try the crab tostadas, fish al pastor tacos, and if you have enough people, the whole fish with green and red salsa, which comes with a basket of warm tortillas. Everything is incredibly fresh and expertly cooked. They also served one of the best sangritas (little shot of bloody Mary-like mix that’s served alongside sipping tequila) that I tried in Mexico.
If you’re in Mexico City on a Sunday, make a reservation at this cozy, Mexican speak-easy, which is one of the few places on our hit list that was open that night. It’s a fun, lively crowd – a mix of locals and tourists – and between the exposed brick and twinkle lights strung along the ceiling, feels like somewhere in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The service is a little slow, but luckily the delicious cocktails will keep you entertained. It’s a great spot to take a group since you can order any of the tacos as cazuelas—larger casseroles of the filling that you can share and DIY in your own warm tortillas.
I know, I know. You didn’t come all the way to Mexico City for Italian food. But if you’re looking for an escape from the parade of tacos, Rosetta has a charming ambience that’s very much of the city: a candle-lit interior that’s covered in plants, including trees that are taller than most on the exterior sidewalk. They have plenty of vegetarian options, among them a mean mushroom risotto and a delicious beet appetizer with pink mole. Make sure to make reservations in advance, or try going for lunch when it’s easier to walk in.
THE BEST CASUAL RESTAURANTS AND TAQUERIAS FOR LUNCH AND BREAKFAST
Fonda Mayora (Condesa)
We ate at this little breakfast spot in the Condesa / Hipodromo neighborhood on our last morning before leaving for the airport. They had a great chilaquiles and rancheros, along with plenty of other options. If you have a stomach of steel, you can even try the green juice!
A sister restaurant to Rosetta, this chic daytime cafe strikes a great balance between Mexican influences and more familiar dishes. For breakfast, the black rice porridge with mango is delicious, as well as the poached eggs in red sauce. They also serve an assortment of teas and homemade nut milks for your coffee. The interior is beautiful and I almost attempted to steal one of the stools and bring it back in my carry on.
Los Creadores Del Taco al Pastor (Condesa)
We mostly ate our tacos on the street in Mexico City, but after missing out on the city’s most famous taco—al pastor—we decided to pop into this taqueria that pretty much serves only that…since they claim the invented it. I’m sure Eater has sussed out the best al pastor (a shawarma-style pork with slices of pineapple) in the city, and that this is not it. But we couldn’t tell! I loved every bite of these juicy little guys, especially with the salsa and pickled vegetables served on the side.
This mezcal bar was a great place to stop before or after dinner if you want a chill place to have one more sip of smoky libations. It’s in Condesa, right near many of these restaurants. I loved the spicy margarita, and a friend of mine ordered an interesting one with avocado and basil!
OTHER EATERY AND BAR RECOMMENDATIONS
We didn’t make it to even a fraction of the recommendations on our list. Here are some more in the same area that we want to try next time:
San Angel Inn — In the south of the city, which is why we didn’t make it, but incredibly charming for lunch in their courtyard among MXC elite. Very romantic!
Lalo – Another great breakfast spot similar to Lardo.
Masala y Maiz – In a slightly more far flung neighborhood near Casa Barragon. We were told to go for lunch and check out the cool interior and cuisine, which is Indian meets Mexican!
Azul – A spot for healthier Mexican favorites with great veggie enchiladas.
La Buena Tierra – Another veg-centric place for vegetarian options.
Tacos Veganas – A completely vegan taco place in Condesa!
Marrakech Salon – Sweaty silly fun drag bar, Mexican queens singing in Spanish standing on top of the bar in sequin dresses…on my list for next time.
COOL STORES WE VISITED
If you’re into vintage finds or custom shoes, you should definitely stop in this little shop that sources great hipster shirts and sweaters, and also locally-made leather shoes and boots. It’s not too far from Rosetta and Arena Mexico if you need somewhere to stop on your walk to either.
In the upscale neighborhood of Polanco, this home store is small but packs in a lot of beautiful, artisan finds. If I wasn’t going straight to dinner at Pujol, I would have walked out of there with an entire dinner set and pile of linen napkins.
Also in Polanco, this trendy boutique has lots of local clothing designers if you’re looking for a chic caftan. They also have some vibrantly colored tequila glasses and other home goods.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN MEXICO CITY
The Best Markets of Mexico City
One of the most fun things to do is eat your way around some of the various markets. San Juan is the largest, and you can find a few tours during the day or at night through Eat Mexico if you want to really cover a lot of territory. A friend of ours raved about the nighttime taco tour. Mercado Medellin near Roma is a smaller indoor market but much more of a local’s affair. It’s a great place to pick up some dried chiles to take home with you or sample al pastor tacos. Mercado Roma is a more upscale hub of food stalls from restaurants around the city – similar to Chelsea Market in New York. They have an outpost for La Otilia, a gluten-free bakery! I didn’t love their cookies, but it’s a good option if you’re craving a sweet. Mercado de Artesanias is the craft market that is overflowing with finds. Great as a weekend activity if you like to shop and want to find some incredibly affordable wares.
This is the home of the most famous architect in Mexico, and definitely worth a visit. Tours book up months in advance, but if you are willing to risk it, I’d recommend just showing up early and hoping that the people there take pity on you, as they did us! The hallmark of his designs is that you can’t tell what kind of colorful treasures reside on the interior. This was one of the highlights of our trip.
If you’re skeptical of the magic that is Mexican wrestling due to the mediocrity of the movie Nacho Libre, please keep an open mind. This was the most fun thing we did in Mexico City and I am still giggling thinking about it. You will be surrounded by locals drinking, booing, cheering, you know…telling the wrestlers to go F themselves. It’s a rip roaring good time, especially on a Sunday afternoon in between meals. The stadium is small, so you really can’t go wrong with your seat, but I would recommend facing the side of the arena where the players walk out. The Luncha Libre show is on Tuesdays and Weekends. You can buy tickets at the booth right before the show – they don’t really sell out. Just try to avoid the annoying scalpers outside, who can be quite aggressive.
We were told that this was a museum not to be missed, but honestly, we were a little lukewarm on it. If you like antiquities, old pots and the like, you will have a great time. It’s vast and very well organized. The building is also very cool. We were probably too hungover to fully appreciate it. It was also a Sunday, when tickets were free, and it was a zoo.
My biggest regret is not making it to the floating canals on the outskirts of the city. As we learned at the Anthropology museum, Mexico City used to resemble Venice when it was first settled, meaning most of the city was built on the bottom of a lake bed that once housed a complex system of canals and waterways. Xochimilco is what’s left from that period. It’s a fun place to ride around in colorful, very instagrammable “gondolas.”
I was only in Mexico City for a weekend and was mostly interested in eating, so there are many sites that I didn’t get too. Also keep in mind that Mexico City has a great contemporary art scene (most of which Charlie has already done a million times) and many museums worth visiting.
Have you been to Mexico City? Tell me your favorite restaurants and sites! I will add them to the reader rec section and also to my to-do list for next time I go down there.