Mexico City has been on my bucket list for a long time, but I was always nervous to go there because of the high altitude (most people, by the way, don’t even realize CDMX – Ciudad de Mexico – lies at around 7,400 feet). With my health issues, altitude and I have, historically, not gotten along very well. But my urge to explore this famed city outweighed any of my fears, and I’m so very glad that they did. Immediately upon booking the trip, we were overwhelmed by suggestions from family, friends and Instagram followers. Though we were there for five days, that is not nearly enough time to fully explore the world’s 6th most populated city. Still, I feel like there were certain places that appeared on nearly everyone’s CDMX recommendation list, and those were the spots we prioritized.
Now, there IS one thing that almost no one told us, but I VERY much wish they had. You need reservations, not just for world-renowned Pujol or Quintonil, but for pretty much EVERYWHERE. And those reservations should be made, ideally, months in advance. One spot that I very much regret not being able to see because I lacked the foresight to book weeks in advance was Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s home, Casa Azul. I had been told to book tickets before heading over that way to avoid lines, but it turns out that advance tickets are now the only way to access Casa Azul, and they book out far in advance.
The second thing I’d like to point out is that, if you’re traveling from the USA, things are much more affordable. Restaurants that I could only dream of being able to afford in New York are about 1/2 the cost in CDMX and, though the top ones are still quite expensive, it can feel like a great place to splurge on a few world-renowned culinary experiences. All of this is to say, save your pennies to eat well in CDMX because prices are more attainable and the food will blow your mind.
Another thing I would like to say before really getting into it, is that one of my favorite things about Mexico City is just walking around. It is a truly enchanting city, with lush tropical plantings throughout and incredible architecture and design. Be sure to take walks in both Condessa and Roma Norte (even Polanco). You’ll feel like you’re perusing a botanical garden.
And finally, here are my top recommendations on where to eat, where to visit, and where to stay:
I am going to share this list in the order of what Billy and I enjoyed most:
Quintonil is currently ranked 9th on the World’s Best Restaurants list and it really isn’t hard to see why. This was likely the most magical meal Billy and I have ever experienced. I say “experienced” instead of “eaten” because the magic endured far beyond the food. The service was impeccable, the ambiance enchanting and, best of all, everyone was very kind and down-to-earth (I will never feel comfortable in elite spaces, but I felt right at home here).
Quintonil serves a tasting menu, but they went above-and-beyond to make sure to meet my dietary restrictions. There was not a single course that wasn’t an absolute home-run and, if you like wine, Billy and I are still talking about how the wine pairings were the most spot-on wine pairings we ever have experienced. Quintonil, for us, was hands-down our favorite restaurant in CDMX (which is saying a lot, because the ones I am about to mention were also incredible).
Masala y Maiz
Choosing a number two spot wasn’t easy because I think I enjoyed Masala y Maiz and Pujol about equally. So why did Masala y Maiz take my number two spot? While it is enormously popular, it doesn’t share the same renown as Pujol and exceeded my expectations (versus coming in perhaps a little below them). This is a small, but incredibly well-designed, minimalist space in the hyper-hip neighborhood, Roma Norte. The staff is incredibly friendly and, for those who don’t love tasting menus, you can actually choose what you eat at Masala y Maiz.
Not everything we ate here was a home-run (expectations were high!), but certain things absolutely were (for me, the Pollo Frito. For Billy, the Samosas). The cuisine here is a fusion of Indian, African and Mexican cuisines, and they also have a beautiful and thoughtful list of natural wines. I loved that what Masala y Maiz is doing is different and unexpected and, for that alone, this spot deserves some major props.
I will start by saying that I tried, up to 10 times per-day, to get a reservation at Pujol (pronounced pu-YAWL) from the second we booked the trip back in early August. I wasn’t successful. Even when a rare opening would pop up, it would be snatched within seconds. So, how did we end up eating here? A last-minute cancellation popped up the second we landed in CDMX and I successfully snagged it. So, if you’re like me and are struggling to snag a Pujol res, be sure to be hyper-vigilant in the 48-hours before you visit as a few cancellations to tend to pop up in that time period. Otherwise, book many months in advance.
Pujol is yet another CDMX spot snagging a “Top 50 World’s Best Restaurant” spot. And if you’re into mid-century modern design, the interior at Pujol will certainly tip off your brain’s endorphins. While I didn’t see quite the same level of service at Pujol that existed at Quintonil, the service was still quite remarkable and very friendly. The food, too, was phenomenal, but I wouldn’t describe the culinary experience as perfect, either. While, admittedly, we all have very different tastebuds, a few of the dishes on the tasting menu at Pujol fell a little short for me (and Billy agreed). This spot is, though more affordable than a NYC equivalent, still far from an inexpensive meal. All of that is to say, it was still quite amazing, but if one had to choose between Pujol and Quintonil, our personal choice would be Quintonil. Again, the bar is high for this one and, though still an incredible experience, it personally fell a tiny bit short of that very high bar.
This is a super cheap, super casual chicken-focused spot in Roma Norte and it was amazing. This was the best burrito I have ever eaten (and I eat a lot of them), and it went down nice and smooth with a nice cold Michelada (a Mexican beer served with lime juice and a spiced/salted rim).
We had lots of other great cheap eats in CDMX and the street food scene is bar none. So, if those “Top 50” spots aren’t something you’re into splurging on, you can be sure to have your tastebuds lit on fire during your trip to CDMX, particularly in the Roma Norte neighborhood. Pasillo de Humo was another favorite, located in the Condesa neighborhood and had the best mole ever. Rosetta and Contramar are two other spots that came highly recommended by everyone and their mother, but we were, unfortunately, never able to snag reservations for either.
And another thing worth mentioning is the third wave coffee scene is on fire in Roma Norte. There is really just so much to say about the food scene in CDMX (one of the best food cities on the planet), so I’m going to consciously stop here (but be sure to leave any of your personal recs in the comments section!).
Before I talk about our hotel (which I LOVED), I want to preface this by saying that my brother had urged us to stay in Roma Norte. He’s a huge CDMX fan with lots of great recs (I wish I could share his google list here, but he’d probably kill me), and kept telling me that Polanco (where we stayed) was like the sleepy Upper East Side, while Roma Norte was more like a trendy Williamsburg. He wasn’t entirely wrong, but I will say that Ubers are very inexpensive in CDMX and though Polanco was a bit sleepier, it was still very beautiful with lots of great shops and restaurants. I will say that I would highly recommend staying in one of the three following neighborhoods:
Those recommendations are based on both what we personally experienced in our short five-day trip and what came recommended to us by others. All of that is to say, CDMX is quite large and my knowledge is still quite limited, so please do leave any other recs in the comments below. Now, since I’ve only ever personally stayed in one spot, but can very confidently recommend it, I’d like to say just a few words about it:
Billy and I both agreed that our stay at las alcobas was, well, perfect. The staff was incredibly friendly, kind, helpful and operated with the utmost professionalism. The concierge was knowledgeable and eager to assist, and the cleaning staff went, truly, above-and-beyond (they’d even organize my toiletries on the sink every night to make sure they were lined up straight, and folded any clothes that were out!). Truly, I have never had such wonderful service anywhere.
The hotel was stunningly designed, with a central staircase (see above) that would make any design-lover’s heart beat just a little bit faster. The room, too, was gorgeous, with a stunning green-veined marble encapsulating the entire bathroom and beautiful textiles throughout. Truly, not a single detail was left unmastered.
The restaurant at las alcobas, Anatol, was DELICIOUS, too. We ate breakfast at Anatol nearly every morning and it never got even a little bit old. We also ate dinner at Anatol one night and the food there was incredibly underrated and extremely good. I love when a hotel has a great restaurant attached for those nights or morning where you’re just feeling exhausted and don’t want to go far for a fabulous meal (room service is also an option), and Anatol truly exceeded all expectations.
Stunningly decorated, A++++ service, fabulous food and great location. Staying at las alcobas was one of the best decisions we made during our CDMX trip.
I am going to break this up into two subsections: 1. Shopping 2. Cultural Activities (mostly because I have a lot to say about no. 1).
The two biggest reasons I was drawn to Mexico City (there are many) are food and shopping. That isn’t to say that the museum and cultural scene is lacking, I just loved the idea of eating and shopping in a spot that is so culturally rich, yet relatively affordable. There were many noteworthy retail shops (Lago and B.S.C.S. Basicos de Mexico being two that stood out). Still, per usual, I want to focus on the smallest makers and vintage. We hit up two markets that were both fabulous (cited below), but missed many more that we will have to return for. This list by Conde Nast Traveler is quite comprehensive and helpful, too.
Mercado de la Ciudadela
This market felt endless. While much of it had a lot of the same stuff, there are lots of treasures to be found here and more unique vendors scattered within this vast indoor/outdoor space. The prices are very good and this is a great spot to bring back gifts, too. I said to Billy, “we should come back and do all of our Christmas shopping here!” Some of my favorite items here were kid and baby-specific, but lots of great homewares to be had here, too.
El Bazaar Sabado
This was my favorite of the two markets (not sure why I listed it second!). There were stands that had a lot of tchotchkes, but there were lots and lots of vendors with stunningly crafted pieces. Be sure to visit both inside and out, and while inside, be aware that there is a large second floor, too. Almost everything I bought in CDMX, I bought here.
This spot isn’t exactly in Mexico City, but it is less than an hour away. I would highly recommend visiting. I have a bit of a thing for ancient ruins, and these were incredibly well-preserved and mind-blowing to experience. It can be a bit tricky getting here. While Ubers are cheap and readily-available within the borders of CDMX, we were told that hitching a ride via Uber back from Teotihuacan would be challenging. We opted to hire a driver through our hotel, and that turned out to be a perfect (and not overly expensive) option. I believe we paid $200 (+ tip) to have the car for five hours.
Teotihuacan is a pre-columbian city that was, at its peak, one of the world’s most populated cities. There are two pyramids here, both of which are incredibly well-preserved. But even beyond the pyramids, there are incredible murals, remnants of the ancient city, and the Avenue of the Dead.
I highly recommend visiting if you find yourself in the area. Teotihuacan was a highlight of our trip.
San Juan Bautista Temple & Monastery
If you do head to Teotihuacan, try to make a day of it by also visiting this historic monastery. We didn’t know about it and didn’t book enough time to really explore it, but our driver took us here and we were able to take in the exterior. I really wish we had booked more time to fully explore this historic 16th-century complex.
The Centro Historico is also worth a visit, and has some impressive sites, including some other pre-columbian ruins. Because we prioritized food, wine and shopping on this trip (and, unfortunately, were booked out from seeing Frida Kahlo’s home), we will have to return to visit more of CDMX’s cultural attractions (of which there are many).
Have any other must-see spots in CDMX? Please do leave them below in the comments section!