72 Hours in Mexico City
A burgeoning art scene, white-hot restaurants and chic boutiques have made Mexico City an essential stop on the Jetsetter map. Chelsea Bengier hits the streets in the DF.
Check into Hotel Carlota, a stylish new stay that opened last summer in the central Cuauhtémoc neighborhood, just north of Paseo de la Reforma (Mexico City’s main artery). Done up in contemporary Mexican style (custom wood installations, handmade rugs by Lagos del Mundo, plus a curated modern art collection), it’s one of the coolest sleeps in the city, with a farm-fresh restaurant, boutique design store, and a concrete courtyard with a glass-edged plunge pool. Or there’s Condesa df, a chic 1928 Art Nouveau building that has one of the best skyline views from its swanky rooftop.
Once you’ve settled in, hop an Uber to Polanco, an ultra upscale area 15 minutes away. (While cabs can be a bit iffy here, Uber is a super safe and reliable way to get around). First stop? El Tizoncito to taste a DF staple, tacos al pastor — thin, crispy pork slices rotated on a spit over a grill then piled onto a soft tortilla and topped with onions, cilantro, pineapple and salsa. After fueling up, make your way to Museo Jumex, one of the city’s top contemporary art museums, and its next-door neighbor, Museo Soumaya. Mexican magnate Carlos Slim founded the latter to house his eclectic private art collection, which includes the largest number of Rodin artworks outside of France. With the help of starchitect Fernando Romero (Slim’s son-in-law), the building is now a landmark of modern Mexican design.
A few blocks south is Masaryk Avenue — the Madison Ave of Mexico City. Browse the high-end shops heading east, until you hit Vinicola Urbana, a hidden rooftop vineyard that produces its own vintages. (Try the Revolution, a Chilango blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Barbera and Merlot). Finish off the day with a mouthwatering meal at one of the country’s top restaurants, Pujol. Helmed by Enrique Olvera (you may have seen him on the hit Netflix series Chef’s Table), the six-course tasting menu adds an elegant twist to classic Mexican street food. Some standouts are the baby corn dipped in a costeño chile mayonnaise with powdered chicatana ants, the suckling lamb taco with avocado leaf adobo and avocado puree (both pictured below), and the signature mole that’s been aged for 1,000 days.
Get out of dodge for the day with a trip to Xochimilco, a borough just an hour south of the city center. Once an independent pre-Columbian town, this UNESCO world heritage site is connected by a network of canals and is famous for its chinampas (floating gardens) and trajineras (gondola-like wooden boats). Spend the afternoon drifting by adobe houses, organic farms and wildlife.
Take a break for a home-cooked lunch in the charming garden at Casa Badiano de la Cruz. Chef Nora Lorena whips up family recipes handed down for generations like polque (an alcoholic drink made from fermented mague or agave sap), caraotas negras (black bean soup), verdolagas salad with cotija cheese, onion and an avocado dressing, sea bass and peppers grilled in a corn husk, and a dessert of mamey and mango fruit with cacao puro.
Back on the mainland, drive 20 minutes to Museo Dolores Olmedo, a hacienda-turned-museum that has the biggest collection of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera works in the world. (The gorgeous grounds are also full of peacocks and Xoloitzcuintli, Mexican hairless dogs.) Continue the culture kick at the UNAM Campus (another UNESCO site), a half hour north. Founded 465 years ago, the university is one of the oldest in the world and the largest in Latin America. Make sure to walk around the quad to see the buildings by famous Mexican architects like Juan O’Gorman, who designed the striking library out of stone and tile mosaic, as well as murals by noted artists such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
End the evening in the Coyoacán neighborhood, exploring the charming Francisco Sosa Avenue, past the Capilla de Santa Catarina Catholic church to Jardín Centenario, a public park surrounded by restaurants, bars and shops, where musicians play and locals lounge. Grab a plaza-facing patio table at Los Danzantes for tastings of their private label mezcal and gourmet insect menu (if you dare!).
Dedicate your Sunday morning to seeing the touristy (but totally worth it) sites. Start at Palacio de Bellas Artes, a notable theater and exhibition space, and continue on past the National Palace and Zócalo, the massive main square that was once the center of the ancient Aztec city.
The third and final stop is La Merced market, which overflows with fresh produce, piñatas, and street food stalls. Look out for the eye-popping candy and mole merchants, and make sure to pick up some made-in-Mexico artisanal crafts to bring home.
Spend the second half of the day in La Condesa and Roma, two chic neighborhoods, where artists, designers and creative types gather. Grab a bite at Fonda Mayora — the red-hot newbie opened last fall, and already has an impressive local following. If you’re lucky, score a street-side table, where vendors stroll by selling their wares. The food is traditional to the T; in other words, fonda is to Mexico what bistro is to France. Expect dishes like table-side guac, bone marrow with salsa verde, smoked oysters, pork knuckle braised in a pineapple, pepper and ancho sauce, and a hot pink hibiscus drink with chia, cinnamon and lime.
Burn off the calories with a stroll through Parque Mexico, stopping to check out the one-off boutiques along the way. There’s Carmen Rion for colorful Mexican dresses, Karani Art for graphic t-shirts and handmade heels, Casa Condesa for avant-garde furniture and pop art paintings, and Studio Roca for slick contemporary interior design.
If you’ve had your fill of Mexican food, dig into a formal French feast at La Table Krug in the St. Regis. The 11-course tasting menu and champagne pairing is to die for. And a five-minute stumble from the hotel is the trendy underground cocktail bar, Xaman, where you can toast to the last night of your trip.