Here is a list of things I brought back from Mexico City last weekend: 2 kilos of mole, a stack of Mexican candy, chorizo-flavored Fritos, amazing photographs, memories of the first adults-only trip I’ve taken with my wife in 15 years, a new taste for avocado criollo, plans to make atole, the world’s greatest hangover drink, a new appreciation for insects as food, new admiration for Diego Rivera, and what my doctor tells me is likely a paramecium in my intestine.
Yeah. That last one is a doozie. But let’s set that aside for a minute, because I’m way more omnivorous than most everyone I know (recall the insects) and give me a chance to tell you about my growing romance with Ciudad de Mexico, or CDMX, as the cool kids call it.
This is my third trip to La Capital since 2019. The pandemic slowed things down, but last fall I got down there with a group of friends, and everytime I’ve gone it’s been packed with magic. I’ve seen some of the coolest modern art, eaten at one of the world’s best restaurants, drank at a speakeasy I had to go through the kitchen to get to, saw pandas at the zoo, walked through spacious, forested parks, climbed ancient pyramids that rival Giza, toured a giant market the size of ten football fields (not the biggest there, that one is about 10-times bigger), and ate and drank myself to exhaustion before collapsing in a luxurious, but still reasonably priced hotel.
And I didn’t even push the limits. I have friends that have gone to lucha libre wrestling, a late night jazz club, a bullfighting bar, and oh man, I just don’t have the constitution for what the city really has to offer. Gimme the genteel stuff!
This is a great time for Mexico. The American movement to nearshore manufacturing has brought all kinds of investment and new factories to the country. People are making all kinds of money, so since this time last year the currency has strengthened about 20% against the U.S. dollar. That’s enough so that the country is booming, but not so much that things are expensive. Everything there, from dinner and drinks, to Uber rides, to clothing (yes, there’s H&M and Zara), is a bargain.
Walking around the center of the city (which is huge, in a city of 25 million) there seems to be construction going on everywhere. Cranes dot the landscape and skyscrapers are puncturing the horizon everywhere. People have and are spending money, so nightlife is plentiful and shops are brimming. There is a sense of plenty in Mexico City.
And size. Holy cow, is it big. You might spend a week exploring neighborhoods, but you’ll likely not get far from the center unless you really try. Take a subway to the end of the line (a smooth ride with trains every 3 minutes), and you’ll only get halfway to the city’s edge. It’s filled with delightful, walkable, tree-lined middle class neighborhoods with cafes and parks. The flavor of CDMX is somewhat European, but still very much like the United States – and if your Spanish isn’t great, you can still get by because people are amazingly friendly.
Once, a friend and I decided to go to the far edge of the city to visit a historic park and neighborhood, Xochilmilco, it required the subway, then a tram, then a bus ride. The thing is, buses in the outer neighborhoods are run like private jitneys. We couldn’t find our bus, but a nice guy who didn’t speak English spent a few minutes trying to explain the busses to us as we replied in our terrible Spanish. It was utterly charming. We eventually got to the bus and decided that people in Mexico City are pretty great.
While I’m an adventurous guy (insects), you don’t have to be in order to have a great time. Stick to La Reforma, the giant street that’s a cross between Michigan Avenue and the Champs Elysse, go out to bars and restaurants in Roma, or visit Frieda Kahlo’s house to visit a cafe or an art fair in Coyoacan, both stellar, large neighborhoods. Strolling, eating, and drinking are a great way to pass the time in another country. Mexico is an excellent place for all of those things. OpenTable works great in CDMX.If you want to get more adventurous, there’s a ton of street taco stands (here’s my map) that are clean and well trafficked. There’s the aforementioned lucha libre wrestling, for which you can probably get tickets from your hotel concierge. Every kind of food – speakeasies like the one I went to, 686, where you go through the kitchen to get to the bar.
There’s also the insects. My wife and I went on a tour of Le Merced, a giant indoor market in the middle of an even huger market neighborhood (imagine a street of just appliance motor sales shops, and then a street of just lighting fixtures) where we tried a dozen different foods, local vegetables, and candies. Then, at the end, I ate some (dead) beetles that honestly tasted like bacon, and some dried ants that were actually tasty.
Yeah, I’ve got a stomach bug, but I’ll get past that. I’ll never tire of Mexico City. Neither will you.