Mexico City in 204 Hours

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204 hours is almost enough to scratch the surface of this lively, large, and laid-back capital. Based in Roma Norte, we spent 8 full days and nights like this:

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Day 1: The Day of Fermentation

Drank nothing but juice and fermented beverages at 2 craft beer bars, 2 craft breweries, and 1 pulqueria.

Pulque is an ancient ceremonial beverage made from fermented maguey (agave) pulp. It features prominently in the history of drinking culture in this region. The beverage is now enjoying a revolution.

The texture is thick and a little slimy, which makes it much better on an empty stomach versus a full one. Plain pulque tastes weird, it’s sour but not at all in a lambic way. It’s more like when juice goes off in your fridge and has that weird fizzy texture…

This is why some people prefer “curados,” in which pulque is blended with fruits, nuts, or veggies. The selection varies each day (pulque has to be bang-on fresh, it doesn’t keep). We saw celery, pistachio, passionfruit, guava, peanut, oats, and many more. Guava and oat were among the favorites.

Pulque ABV is very low, making it a super session drink to have late in the afternoon or early in the evening.

We had plain pulque a few days later at a place called La Pulqueria Duelistas, which also ended up being my favorite pulqueria because of the grungy rock and roll atmosphere too. We also drank pulque at Pulqueria La Nuclear and Pulqueria Insurgentes. Few people actually drank pulque at Pulqueria Insurgentes; most drank cheap beers and were there for the dance party that was about to ensue. Duelistas is the most serious pulqueria of them all.

Tonight we checked out Cerveceria Escollo, La Graciela, Fiebra de Malta, and El Trappist. The former two are brewpubs; the latter two are beer bars. Of these, Trappist is the clear winner.IMG_2844

Dined at Contramar, a seafood-only restaurant with killer food.

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Smelt tacos, Contramar

Day 2: The Day of Cactus

It was Saturday, and we went to the San Angel Saturday art market. The market itself was atmospheric, but the paintings were generally average except for one surrealist artist. Surrounding the temporary market are upscale Bohemian stores selling finely crafted Mexican housewares, clothing, and objects d’art.

Deliberately drank nothing but cactus juice in its various forms, including pulque and mezcal. No beer.

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Impromptu stop at La Mil Amores Mezcaleria. Then to Pulqueria La Nuclear, where we tried plain pulque and oat curado. Then to La Nacional, and there tried Bacanora, Raicilla, Charandas, and a Mexican rum. Yeah, I cheated, sugar cane is not a cactus. Finished the night at La Clandestina, where mezcal comes not from bottles but from glass carboys above the bar.

Mil Amores del Mezcal
Mil Amores del Mezcal

Day 3: Sunday on the Canals of Xochimilco

IMG_0031Trust me on this, if you are in Mexico City on a Sunday or a Saturday and you have at least one companion, get your ass to Xochimilco. The journey is long, but this is an experience that will give you memories lasting a lifetime.

The floating vendors don’t have craft beer, but you can bring your own booze.

We tried to eat dinner at a restaurant called Yuban, but when we got there at 8:30 or so, they were already closing. Mexicans eat the bulk of their food in the daytime, and dinner is not a huge affair. It seemed like most restaurants in the hood were closed so we went to a taqueria that was actually pretty lame. You can’t win them all.

OH. If you plan ahead, as we did not, on Sundays many main streets are closed to traffic and you can have a great time renting an Ecobiki, which is the local bike-share program. You need to register in advance, though, because on Sundays the offices are closed.

Day 4: The Day Everything is Closed

Monday is useless in Mexico City. The museums are all closed, so you pretty much have to eat and drink your way through the city. What a pity.

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Ancho relleno with mole; cactus blossom enchiladas in the background. At El Cardenal.

We ate lunch at El Cardenal, which is a super old-school, businessman lunch place. The guy sitting next to us took down an entire pitcher of fruit juice in addition to a three-course meal. We tried cactus blossom enchilada (great!) and stuffed anchos with mole (the mole was very fruity and we thought too sweet, needing more heat and bitterness. Still, we left stuffed.

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Tacos Cocuyo

Late at night, we were hungry again, Taco Cocuyo, which was the only place in the city we returned to twice. That says a lot. He’s open late. We also visited the Pulqueria Duelistas today. Loved that place.

One thing that is open on Monday is the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP), a government building with wall after all of murals from Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists. It is free to enter during working hours, M-F 9-5. I love the way Diego Rivera depicts the sacrifices of laborers as akin to sacrifices of Christ. His murals are still relevant and universal in their themes, even though they are Mexican in focus.IMG_2654

Day 5: The Museum of Anthropology

IMG_2750The Museum of Anthropology is an overwhelming museum with a grand, ambitious, and well-displayed collection of ancient artifacts from pre-Columbian days and also exhibitions about modern indigenous people. To get there, we walked through the “central park” of the city, Bosque de Chapultepec, which is very nice.

Stumbled upon a friendly bottle shop selling only craft beer called Beer Box in Roma, but unlike other branches of Beer Box, this one does not have a license to drink on premises. We bought a few bottles to go.

Got our pre-dinner tipples on at El Trappist, which was our third visit. This time we splashed out on two of their most expensive Mexican beers, both of which were in 750s and one of which had a wax seal.

Dined at Maximo Bistro, a super, but not cheap, restaurant. Food and service top notch. Ordered a nopales soup that had way too much cream, and they took it back and off the bill without a word, just on the face that I didn’t finish mine. I’ve never had that happen before. Everything else was spot on, especially the pulpo and scallops.

Day 6: Meeting the Ghosts of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky in Coyoacan

The Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum) is a quick visit, as is the Trotsky Museum. Leon Trotsky lived here in his last days and was assassinated here. Both museums are interesting, but you don’t need to visit those museums to appreciate Coyoacan itself. It might be the most pleasant and peaceful area of the general D.F. zone.

We stopped at a coffee roaster on the walk into town from the metro, and later passed through the town market–which was by far the most food-oriented market we had seen yet in the D.F, in terms of the sheer number of prepared food vendors and their variety.

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Sample platter at Corazon de Maguey

Unfortunately, we did not eat there because we had been planning a meal at Corazon de Maguey, which has a superb patio overlooking a leafy, lively town square. The menu at Corazon is unique, and the food is good but not as spectacular as we hoped. Still it was a super way to spend an hour, watching life go by in the square.

Day 7: Architecture Day in Centro Historico

IMG_2816After seeing the ruins of Templo Mayor, we visited the Palacio PostalMuseo de Las Bellas Artes, and ascended to the mirador at the Torre Latino. Once up the tower, you can really get a sense of how smoggy the city is. At ground level, the air is clean, but when you’re up there, you can really see how gross the smog is in the basin.

We also got a bit of serendipity, having not planned a visit to the Palacio de Culturo Banamex (Banco Nacional), which is free to get in. I had no idea what the collection would be like, but it was really cool and was housed in a gorgeous old mansion.

"Flower Vendor"
Diego Rivera “Flower Vendor”

After wandering, we wanted nothing more than another few bites at Taco Cocuyo, which might have been my favorite place in the city. Imagine that.

This was our evening at the esteemed bar Bosforo, which totally rocks.

Day 8: Shopping

The best shopping for hipster gear is the eastern end of Colima between Insurgentes and Cuauhtemoc. We got lucky on clothes in a store called Lemur, and gawked at the handmade Mexican shoes for men and women at Goodbye Folk. Bought some fancypants cheese and snacks at local artisan shops too.

Had a nice brunchy meal at Cafe del Raiz. They take their coffee more seriously than most, and offer this method of slow-drip through a canvas bladder.IMG_2853Entonces, we wandered over into Condessa for a few last beers and a snack before picking up our rental car.

En route to our destination beer bar, El Deposito, we stumbled upon a place that had not yet been entered into Ratebeer. It is called Beer Bank and I actually preferred it to El Deposito, which I thought was on the lame side.


Summary: Bold means we liked it a lot.

Beer

IMG_2857Overview: Mexican craft beer is not bad. When in doubt, get a stout. Mexican stouts can be scrumptiously chocolately.

  • Beer Bank – friendly bottle shop/bar, good selection of Mexican and international beer
  • Beer Box (Condessa location) – friendly bottle shop with small but decent selection of Mexican and international beer
  • El Deposito (Condessa location) – lame place overall, but they have a good tap selection of Mexican microbrews
  • Escollo Cerveceria – a few average house beers (the IPA was good) and an okay selection of bottles
  • Fiebra de Malta – lame place overall, corporate vibe, awful music, but they have something most others don’t, which is a good tap selection of Mexican microbrews
  • La Graciela – friendly vibe and the brews sounded good (smoked beer, eg), but unfortunately they were “off.” However, they have guest taps.
  • El Museo de Cerveza
  • El Trappist

Food

IMG_2705Overview: We had a few forgettable meals, but mostly we ate well. To keep it simple, I’ll leave out the more average/missable stuff.

  • El Cardenal
  • Contramar
  • Cocuyo Taco
  • Corazon de Maguey (atmosphere points)
  • Cafe del Raiz – solid tamales

PulqueIMG_2608

  • Las Duelistas – Hard core atmosphere, grungy, metal vibe. Unlike the other places, they serve pulque. Totally and completely awesome, even though they close early.
  • Insurgentes – The least serious of the pulquerias we visited. Most of the people here drink beer.
  • La Nuclear – Plain pulque was available, and theirs is pretty intense. They also had a delicious avena (oat) curado. Small and cute, gotta love vintage saloon doors.

MezcalIMG_2709

  • El Bosforo – Our favorite in all ways. Hidden behind a curtain with no sign, feels truly special. Superior music and service even when crowded. Also discovered El Lamparillo, which rocks.
  • La Clandestina – houses 20-30 mezcals in giant glass barrels set above the bar! Not as clandestine as El Bosforo, but a pretty cool spot.
  • La Mil Amores Mezcaleria – irresistibly fun, the kind of place you could spend a long time with friends, but not a serious mezcaleria.
  • La Nacional – Good but not exhaustive selection. Tried Bacanora, Raicilla, Charandas, and even Mexican rum. We also ate here, and the food was not bad, just not worth seeking out.

Random

  • When we landed in Mexico City, my ears never popped, because the city’s altitude is 10k!
  • Residents are called chilangos/as.
  • In general, dress code is surprisingly conservative, casual, and sensible.

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