the cultural chameleon guide to mexico city

My friend Martha had once described Mexico City to me through its distinct smell- a fresh, ambrosial air wafting from the greenery in between the concrete jungle. This was the only thing I knew about Ciudad de Mexico, formerly referred to as ‘el DF’ (Distrito Federal). 

When I first visited in 2016 with my family, I instantly recognized that smell Martha talked about as we walked the tree-lined Paseo de la Reforma. We spent our days in late December hopping to the pyramids at Teotihuacan, the Chapultepec castle, and the Anthropology Museum. All the touristy spots.

Of course, being back in my homeland means eating good– from street tacos to cuisines from other states to breakfast spreads that keep you full until 5 pm. To my parents’ bemusement, my little brother and I ended up falling in love with the frijoles at the chain El Tizoncito. (Quite literally the food that stayed in our minds rent-free were the beans that were served as an antojito before the actual meal.) 


With the flexibility of my remote job, I returned to Ciudad de Mexico for about 3 weeks this spring to meet up with my friend Sarai as she did her cardiac surgery rotation. I was determined to explore more of the city whose smell- now punctured with sweet jacaranda, mixed with sizzling al pastor and cebollitas from street vendors- I continue to fall in love with.

building façade on Álvaro Obregón (left) Arrecife studio (right)

eats & drinks

breakfast

Casa de Toño 

$

bang for your buck breakfast, chain

A friend dubbed this the “Mexican Denny’s”- a chain restaurant with breakfast for cheap, i.e. the perfect hangover carbs to soak up last night’s tequila-fueled rampage. 

Niddo 

$$$

highly Instagrammable, trendy

Dresde 2, Juárez

Find this spot off of Paseo la Reforma and reserve a spot in line for brunch. While you wait, head to Niddo Café on the corner for a latte and pastry. If you’re going to take the plunge and get the tower of impossibly fluffy pancakes, share with a friend.   

Restaurante Ave Maria 

$

sit down restaurant, traditional

Jardín Centenario 10, Coyoacán, Villa Coyoacán 04000


We sat down for brunch here before heading to Museo Frida Kahlo. They had a lunch buffet but we got an affordable breakfast deal that came with coffee, juice, fruits, a pastry, and a breakfast dish (we got the chilaquiles and chilorio).

coffee shops

As most of my time was spent working remotely from cafés, consider this a list of my favorite spots. A star indicates that you should ask the barista for the wifi password, otherwise it’s posted or open. 

 

Postales de Café – Condesa

Specialty coffee 

$$

Mazatlán 30D, Condesa, Cuauhtémoc 06170

Another friend’s recommendation! This specialty shop roasts coffee from the Chiapas region and has 2 locations. 

Finca Don Porfirio – Centro Historico

Rooftop

$

Plaza de la República #46-A Col. Tabacalera 06030 

This café sits inside a Sears, up 11 floors, up to the rooftop, where you get a perfect view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes downtown. Expect a bit of a line if you go on a weekend, and a bit of a wait to get an actual seat with a front view since the café is pretty small. The coffee is nothing to die for though, you would go here mostly for the view. Not a great place to work from.

La Mano – Coyoacán

Event space, garden

$$

Francisco Sosa #363, Santa Catarina, Coyoacán

Wow. This absolutely was the vibe. Outside the main central part of Coyoacán, a ‘cultural garden’ lies behind huge wooden doors. This is not only a coffee shop and outdoor garden but has a small shop inside with all different types of products from local makers and cool events like floral arrangement workshops, screenings, and poetry readings. 

Cuhtli – Coyoacán

$

G. Pérez Valenzuela 90, Santa Catarina 04010

This spot was a walk away from my AirBnb and I’m glad I found it. Their pastries are delicious, and I even came back to do some work during lunchtime later that week. It sits across the Viveros de Coyoacán, so a nice stroll in the park might just be what you need after a productive coffee shop working sesh. 

Café Negro – Coyoacán

$$

Calle Centenario 16, Local B, Colonia del Carmen 04000

Café Negro roasts their own coffee, as well as has a robust menu of yummy pastries. You’ll definitely run into other remote workers at this spot.

Café Avellaneda – Coyoacán

Specialty coffee

$$

Higuera 40A, La Concepción, Coyoacán 04020

This was on the list as the specialty coffee spot in Coyoacán, but don’t bring your laptop here for a full day. A tiny spot on a side street across from a community theater, this coffee shop has specially curated coffee drinks with ingredients like pineapple kombucha, tonic water, chamomile, honey, and more. Don’t be afraid to ask or Google Translate on your phone. Be adventurous! 

Café Mandrake* – Tlalpan

$

Avenida San Fernando 19, 14050

 

I stayed in Tlalpan with my friend, as it was closer to the hospital zones, and managed to hit up Café Mandrake twice as it was a 15-minute walk from our hostel. They only have outdoor seating, so keep that in mind if it’s a rainy day and you’d like to work remotely. 

Congreso Café* –  Tlalpan

$

Congreso 79, Tlalpan Centro

 

I loved this coffee shop! When I got in, the barista was jamming to L’Imperatrice playing from the speakers and there was another customer with his laptop out, suggesting more songs for the queue. I struck up a conversation with the barista and he ended up gifting me some stickers he had made in an artists’ workshop in Tlalpan. 

Try their tamarindo cold brew, it’s an interesting taste if you’d like to try something new!

Café Galeno* –  Tlalpan

$

Another lovely coffee shop in Tlalpan, named after surgeon Galeno de Pérgamo, as the small chain is widely frequented by people in the hospital zone. They have an extensive menu of hot and cold coffees. During some downtime, I talked with the barista at length about languages and learned a lot about indigenous language education in Mexico.

lunch + dinner

Mercado Roma – Roma Norte

trendy, lots of options

$$

Querétaro 225, Roma

This food market, resembling LA’s Grand Central Market downtown, you’ll find mostly packed with tourists. But you’ll find anything from birria tacos to artisanal chocolates to a biergarten in a secret rooftop, where you can enjoy a beer before your next engagement. It’s a great meeting spot in the Roma Norte neighborhood. 

My friend and I had gotten tickets to a Soulection event that was in a tiny hidden room inside the market after hours, so keep your eyes out for smaller events that might do a pop-up there!

There’s also another location in Coyoacán, but outside of the city center.

 

Café Tacuba – Centro Historico

Sit down restaurant with visiting mariachi

$$

Calle Tacuba #28, Col. Centro 06010

I had to visit this restaurant, having grown up in a Rock en Español household with a GenX mother who played Café Tacvba’s self-titled 1992 album on repeat. But don’t let the rock band association confuse you, this historical restaurant is not what you assume of when you think of a café. Sit down for a full meal and maybe you’ll catch some mariachi making their rounds. 

Orinoco 

Northern Mexican taco chain 

$

A friend recommended hitting up Orinoco for some tacos before I left the city, and man, the hype is real. They have a limited menu because it’s that good. Try the taco de trompo

Wanwan Sakaba – Zona Rosa

Japanese, sit down

$$

Londres 209, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, 06600

“I bet you didn’t expect to eat Japanese food here in Mexico,” Sarai said to me as we ordered some sushi rolls to share and katsu bowls. Delicious if you’re craving sushi.

Barra Alipus –  Tlalpan

Casual elevated twists on traditional Mexican food

$$

Guadalupe Victoria 15, Centro Tlalpan 14000

I came to this spot for an early dinner and had a tlayuda (think a Mexican pizza) with a tamarind frozen drink. They’re known as a mezcal bar, so try any of their mezcal drinks and maybe give a couple of chapulines a taste. 

Mercado Coyoacán – Coyoacán

Traditional Mexican market

$

Ignacio Allende, Del Carmen, Coyoacán 04100

You can’t leave Coyoacán without trying the myriad of tostadas at the mercado. It’s a rule. 

Tip: Bring cash!

Corazon de Maguey – Coyoacán

Dinner spot with friends

$$$

Jardín Centenario A, Coyoacán Centro 04000


This restaurant in the touristic center of Coyoacán is also known for their tlayudas and mezcal. My favorite here, however, were the panuchos de cochinita – I ordered 2 portions because I loved them so much! My friend Anahi ordered herself some mezcal to sip on during dinner and the waiter was really kind in showing us how exactly you should drink mezcal. (Small sips, hold it on your tongue for a bit before swallowing). It definitely takes practice!

Madre Rooftop

nights

Departamento – Roma Norte

Hot spot for music lovers, ambiance

$$

Álvaro Obregón #154, Colonia Roma 06700

Departamento Studio Bar is the trendy 3-level club that has different artists DJing the first and second levels, as well as a patio rooftop bar to escape for you to get into a conversation with the people you just met. 

To make sure you get in, you will have to ‘RSVP’ your space in line by sending a message to the Whatsapp number on their Instagram profile. It’s free if you reserve your name on the list far in advance. Otherwise, expect long lines and a hefty cover. 

Something I noticed was the staff at Departamento would let in a lot of foreigners rather than Mexicans. We had walked up a previous night and they let English speakers in front of us who gave cash to the same bouncer who had told us it was a “closed party you needed to be on the list for”. I was with my Mexican friends and they turned us away even though we asked him if we could pay cover. Knowing this, I contacted them on Whatsapp in English, (which is where my foreign number helped). When we got there, my friend gave her Mexican ID first to his hesitation. I told him in Spanish then, that she was on the guest list under my name and showed him my California driver’s license, to which he immediately let us in.

Londres 207 – neighborhood

Cocktail Bar & Restaurant

$$

Londres 207, Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, 06600

This spot is right next to Wanwan Sakaba. I loved my drink, the Elderflower Fizz, which was a perfect mix of herbal and zesty citrus.

Centro de Salud – Roma Norte

Barclub

$

Avenida Monterrey 136, 06700 Cuauhtémoc

This bar club is hidden in plain sight in Roma Norte, you would totally miss this place that resembles a house, but at night the low bass comes flooding out and goes late into the night. This is where subcultures of goths, biker-leather-jacket-clad rock-types, and anyone in between bounce between the pulqueria tucked away in the corner and the heavy trance dancefloor downstairs. Expect to enjoy your night here up until you gotta eventually call it quits at 5 am. 

Café Paraíso – Roma Norte

Club, reggaeton

$$$

Avenida Plaza Villa Madrid 17, 06700 Cuauhtémoc

The goal was to find a place to dance to some reggaeton, salsa, and cumbia- and this was a lucky draw. We had stumbled into a pair of guys walking down Álvaro Obregón who invited us on the search for the next spot. They took us to Cafe Paraiso, hidden behind a huge black door. 

That night, we arrived pretty late so we didn’t catch a long line and the guys were lovely enough to pay our cover. Neon lights light up the palm trees, plants, and tiki bar. If you still have some money left over, they have aptly on-theme cocktails. 

Mama Rumba – Roma Norte

Boteco, dance

$$

Queretaro 230, Roma 06700 Cuauhtémoc

This Brazilian boteco was the perfect place to stumble on at the beginning of the night. People were tearing it up on the dancefloor to Brazilian funk, so come ready to dance. 

Gin Gin – Álvaro Obregón, Cibeles, Polanco, Condesa

Chain, sit down bar

$$$

A sit-down kitchen bar to enjoy a couple of well crafted gin cocktails over candlelight. I had the Bramble, a mix of citrus and blackberry. 

Mano Santa Mezcal – Roma Norte

Casual mezcaleria

$

Insurgentes 219, Roma Norte

Come to Mano for a laidback mezcalaria to enjoy the night chatting away with a group of friends. They don’t blast loud music and if you’re not in the mood for mezcal, they also serve beer and food. 

– – –  

My friend Sarai and I spent our last afternoon together, bar-hopping in Roma Norte and Condesa, with no planned itinerary for the rest of the day. One thing was for certain though, our goal was to find a rooftop to enjoy the cotton candy-colored-sunset. The following is our path of the night: 

Madre Roof – Roma Norte

Bougie rooftop

$$$

Calle Orizaba 139, 06700 Cuauhtémoc

I had passed this busy corner in Roma Norte, across from a plaza during a stroll I took in the neighborhood looking for vintage shops. There’s an open patio space called Madre too, but if you’d like to go to the rooftop, go to the left of the restaurant and enter the gate on the corner. 

This space was so beautifully designed and decorated, even the smell of candles was so specially curated, that I immediately wanted to move in. Definitely a must-visit as part of a treat yourself day. 

Polpo – Roma Norte

Small wine bar

$$

Av. Álvaro Obregón 130


This small gastronomic bar is a great spot for wine and tapas lovers. We ordered a couple of classic gin cocktails at the bar and watched the cooks prepare everyone’s food right in front of us. Be sure to reserve a spot if you’re coming on the weekend!

Café de Nadie – Roma Norte

Coffee shop, bar

$

Chihuahua 135, Roma Norte


I absolutely fell in love with this small bar at the end of the indoor shopping street, devastated to find it on my very last day in Mexico City. It’s an intimate bar that is a coffee shop in the daytime, where you can enjoy a great cocktail with a friend over curated music. That night it was BritPop, until later when they turned on Brazilian MPB classics- to which naturally, of course, the saudade came bubbling up to the surface as we ended our night in reminiscing.

other adventures

Isa & Pau Mani Pedi – Condesa

Nail salon

$$

Juan Escutia 64, Col. Condesa 06140

Whatsapp the number in their IG bio to book your appointment at Isa & Pau Mani Pedi in advance. It’s a bit pricey because you’re in Condesa, but it’s about the same as you’d pay in the U.S. 

 

Arrecife Studio – Coyoacán

Tattoo studio

$$$

This tattoo studio is nestled in a dreamy, private space that used to be a house and gardens. Getting my tattoo here with Susana (@shoshannart), a visiting resident artist from Guadalajara was such a lovely experience. Follow them on IG so you’re in the know if you’re thinking about getting a new piece of art!

Café Tacuba (left), A street in Coyoacán (right)

what’s on the list for next time?

Tetetlán – for architecture lovers

Jupiter Cerveceria – brewery in Condesa

Supra Roma Rooftop 

Balmori Rooftop

Tierra Garat – coffee shop

Constela Café – coffee shop

Musak Hi-fi Listening Bar – speakeasy

Rico Club – a gay club with a notoriously long line to get in!