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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
A cook serves a taco at Taqueria Los Cocuyos.
A cook serves a taco at Taqueria Los Cocuyos.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Mexico City

A cook serves a taco at Taqueria Los Cocuyos.
A cook serves a taco at Taqueria Los Cocuyos.
  • By Issa Plancarte
  • Photos by Alicia Vera
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One of the largest urban centers in the world, Mexico City overflows with life, traffic and great food. It’s a city of contrasts, a place where you’ll find street vendors and world-class fine dining on the same block. There’s always something happening, a new restaurant to try, a new museum or art exhibit, a concert from artists who travel from around the globe.

Residents are known as “chilangos,” and while the roots of that nickname have been scrutinized, many of us carry it with pride. It’s like a badge that means we can endure anything. Even though it rains most afternoons from June to October, we never carry an umbrella. We take long drives to work, eat quick lunches and stretch out long chats with post-meal coffee and desserts. At this sobremesa, or roundtable, there is always room for a carajillo, a coffee spiked with sweet liqueur. We are loud, warm and friendly. We love to show off our city.

Meet Issa Plancarte

Issa is a food writer who was born and raised in Mexico City. She loves to travel new places, find stories and write for magazines.

Want to get in touch?

Email bytheway@washpost.com
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IN THE ACTION
Roma Norte
Roma is to Mexico City what Williamsburg is to Brooklyn — a headquarters for hipsters. In recent years, Americans and Europeans have moved here, attracted by the gorgeous buildings. It was built during El Porfiriato, a period at the turn of the 19th century when Mexico was obsessed with all things French, including architecture and design. Now it boasts some of the city’s best bars, art galleries and restaurants. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Cuauhtémoc
The most beautiful avenue in Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma was built during the 19th century for Carlota, empress of Mexico. It is close to museums, embassies and five-star hotels, so you will enjoy options for restaurants and bars. Little Tokyo and a cluster of Korean businesses are within walking distance, and the neighborhood is free from the chaos that surrounds the traffic-congested Polanco district. Find this neighborhood.
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Eat

BREAKFAST
Panadería Rosetta
Elena Reygadas is a woman of many talents, but she is primarily known as the top baker in Mexico. She constantly plays with flavors and techniques from multiple cultures while also showcasing Mexican ingredients in almost-forgotten recipes such as pan de pulque, a bread that incorporates fermented agave sap. You can tell by the lines outside that it is a favorite among locals.
BTW: The most famous bread is the guava roll, but be sure to try the cream-filled doughnuts too.
Panadería Rosetta, Colima 179, Roma Nte. 06700
BREAKFAST
El Cardenal
This is hands down the best breakfast spot since 1969. Between the hot chocolate, sweet conchas served with fresh nata — a clotted cream made from fresh milk — and ant eggs omelets, you can’t miss.
BTW: El Cardenal has several locations, but the best one is on Calle de Palma. Get there early to secure a table or you might have to wait an hour before getting seated.
El Cardenal, Calle de la Palma 23, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, 06000
LUNCH
Bar El Sella
Cantinas are perfect for lunch: They serve amazing food, have good drinks and offer quick service. This place is famous for its Spanish influence, which you will find in the tortilla de patatas and pulpo a la gallega, but the piece de resistance is the chamorro taco — slow-braised pork served with tortillas, lime and salsa.
BTW: Wash down your tacos with “batas blancas,” an agua de horchata mixed with vodka.
Bar El Sella, Dr. Balmis 210, Doctores, Cuauhtémoc, 06720
LUNCH
Nicos
In 1957, Raymundo Vázquez and Elena Lupo opened a small restaurant. Today, thanks to their son Gerardo, it is one of the best in Mexico City. Nicos is famous for its breakfast, all-Mexican wine list and traditional dishes, including sopa seca de natas served at lunch. This is the place to try the family recipes that make Mexican food unique.
BTW: During August and September, you have to make a reservation to eat their version of chiles en nogada, Mexico’s national dish.
Nicos, Av. Cuitláhuac 3102, Claveria, 02080
DINNER
Meroma
After meeting at culinary school and working among some of New York’s best chefs, Mercedes Bernal and Rodney Cusic got married and decided to open their first restaurant in her hometown. The place is a farm-to-table fairy tale where waiters love to tell you about the farmers who grow their ingredients. Pasta dishes are a must, along with the roasted chicken and the grilled quail marinated in harissa.
BTW: A few blocks from their restaurant, they have opened Jarilla, a small cafe and shop where you can find wine, cookbooks, groceries and ready-to serve food.
Meroma, Colima 150, Roma Nte., Cuauhtémoc, 06700
DINNER
Páramo
When pop star Dua Lipa shared a list of her favorite restaurants in Mexico City, it had the usual suspects — Pujol, Contramar — but a lot of chilangos were surprised by a hidden gem called Páramo. It offers a wide range of tacos, craft beers and mezcals, along with a great selection of dance music. Located in the Condesa neighborhood, it is upstairs from El Parnita, a beloved seafood taco restaurant.
BTW: Don’t miss the house mezcal that owner Paulino Martínez produces in Guerrero. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll run into artists such as Scottish rock band Travis, the Arctic Monkeys, Pepe Aguilar or Jared Leto.
Páramo, Av. Yucatán 84, Roma Nte., Cuauhtémoc, 06700
LATE-NIGHT
Baltra
Inspired by Charles Darwin and named after an island he visited in the Galapagos, this is one of two places from José Luis León that have a coveted spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars. Unlike sister bar Licorería Limantour, Baltra is a cozy little neighborhood place. It’s worthy of repeat visits because the menu is constantly changing. Maps and preserved butterflies add to the explorer motif.
BTW: On Martini Tuesdays, bartenders perfect their technique for the best martinis in the city.
Baltra, Iztaccihuatl 36D, Colonia Condesa, Cuauhtémoc, 06100
LATE-NIGHT
Los Cocuyos
In the world of tacos, Mexico City is best known for suadero: brisket slowly stewed in a pot full of meats. A suadero taco is the go-to at this little window downtown, and the best way to enjoy it is with a dash of lime, cilantro, onion and salsa. Be sure to try some other delicacies such as longaniza (sausage) and lengua (beef tongue).
BTW: There is another famous taqueria nearby called El Huequito that specializes in spit-roasted pork tacos al pastor.
Los Cocuyos, Calle de Bolívar 57, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000
(Mexico City illustrator Rebeca Anaya for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. The best time to visit is in spring, when the whole area is full of trees with purple jacarandas flowers in full bloom. It is so pretty.
  2. Lunch time is at 2 p.m., which is why our breakfast is humongous. Dinner on the contrary is really light. We prefer to go out for drinks and finish with late-night tacos.
  3. We are well known as an unpunctual people, so be ready to wait 15 to 30 minutes for any appointment. Sorry.
(Mexico City illustrator Rebeca Anaya for The Washington Post)

Do

Lucha Libre
The Romans had gladiators. We have luchadores. In every acrobatic wrestling match, there are always two sides: the Técnicos (the good ones) and the Rudos, who don’t play by the rules. Every night offers different combatants, and the last show always features the superstars. Don’t be afraid to join hecklers shouting insults; it’s part of the fun.
BTW: Be sure to buy a mask on your way out. Best souvenir ever.
Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, Arena México, Dr. Lavista 189, Doctores, 06720
Paseo Ciclista
In 2006, a bike-sharing program called EcoBici changed the way chilangos travel through the city. Since then, many people have adopted them as their main transport. On Sundays most of the main roads become car-free zones, encouraging everyone to enjoy bike rides. The most popular destination is Paseo de la Reforma, where you can pedal all the way to downtown.
BTW: You can rent a bike on Sundays from several vendors or download the EcoBici app.
Av. Paseo de la Reforma, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, 06500
Arca Tierra
When the Mexicas ruled 500 years ago, Mexico City was like Venice. The city was built in the middle of a lake, so people used to travel by boats in canals. You can still get a glimpse of this lifestyle in the Xochimilco neighborhood. Arca Tierra is a project devoted to rescue this model of agriculture, and its weekly experiences bring on some of Mexico’s most recognized chefs.
BTW: Every week, Arca Tierra sells a canasta (basket) full of produce delivered to fair trade and organic shops throughout the city.
Arca Tierra, La Asunción, Chinampa del Sol, Xochimilco, 16040
Mercado de San Juan
This is the place to go if you’re feeling adventurous and want to try the full range of the Mexican diet — including insects. Here you can find all kinds of high-quality seafood, poultry, meat, fruit and vegetables. You will also see less common ingredients such as armadillo, deer or iguana. That’s why chefs love to come here.
BTW: The vendors are called marchantes. Don’t be afraid to ask them for a taste of fruit, cheese or insects; they’ll be happy to offer you one.
Mercado de San Juan, 2ᵃ Calle de Ernesto Pugibet 21, Colonia Centro, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000
Cineteca Nacional
This modern campus continues the legacy of a national film archive established in 1974. Renovated by architects Michel Rojkind and Gerardo Salinas, it’s now one of the top destinations in the southern part of the city, screening art films and hosting other attractions for movie lovers.
BTW: Be there early to have lunch at Señorito, eat an ice cream at Roxy’s and discover temporary exhibits.
Cineteca Nacional, Av. México Coyoacán 389, Xoco, Benito Juárez, 03330
Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC)
With 170 registered museums in Mexico City, it’s difficult to pick a favorite. But a lot sets MUAC apart: its proximity to the national university’s sculpture garden, amazing architecture designed by Teodoro González de León, the wide range of contemporary Mexican art in the permanent collection and temporary exhibits from around the world.
BTW: Don’t skip the gorgeous gift shop that offers artwork from local designers such as Omorika textiles made in Chiapas.
Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Av. Insurgentes Sur 3000, C.U., Coyoacán, 04510
Issa Plancarte
Issa is a food writer who was born and raised in Mexico City. She loves to travel new places, find stories and write for magazines.
Alicia Vera
Alicia is a Mexican American documentary photographer. She loves Mexico City for its explosion of the senses: The food, sounds, colors and textures make her city like no other.

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