Moon asked travel author Julie Meade to tell us more about her favorite things about everyday life in Mexico City. Here’s what she had to say.
What is the biggest misconception people have about Mexico City?
Despite its fashionable new identity as one of the world’s top travel destinations, Mexico City has never fully shaken its long-standing reputation as a massive, dirty, and dangerous megalopolis — a description that, while not entirely inaccurate, belies the beauty and friendliness of the city. Visitors are often surprised to find that many of Mexico City’s central neighborhoods are filled with trees and parks, and that the city is far more low-key and easier to navigate than they expected.
What is the first place you take visitors?
A memorable meal out is always a good way to kick off a trip to Mexico City, whether it’s your first visit to town or a return trip. El Cardenal in the Centro Historico, Fonda Mayora in the Condesa, Yuban in the Roma, and Quintonil in Polanco are just a few of the excellent Mexican restaurants in the city, highlighting the country’s varied, delicious, and sophisticated cuisine with takes both traditional and contemporary. And I almost always take first-time visitors to sip tequila (with the traditional tomato-based chaser sangrita) in old-fashioned cantina La Opera on Cinco de Mayo, in the Centro Histórico.
What are the best local bites?
Mexico City has a vibrant food culture, and there are wonderful places to eat in every neighborhood and at every price range. In many cases, eating like a local is inexpensive and fun: There is a citywide obsession with tacos, tortas, and other quick bites, often called garnachas. You can find these ubiquitous (delicious) bites at street stands or at markets, in taquerias, and in casual bar-restaurants. (And it’s worth noting that there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan versions of tacos and classic garnachas, both in traditional settings and in new vegan restaurants in the Roma and the Condesa neighborhoods.)
Where is the best place to take a selfie?
On top of the Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) in Teotihuacán. It’s almost 250 feet tall and close to 2,000 years old, and the stairs to the top have been worn down by over a century of visitors.
Where can you find the best view?
From the observation deck, or mirador, at the Torre Latinoamericana in the Centro Histórico. There aren’t many skyscrapers in central Mexico City, so the views from the top of the building are panoramic and breathtaking, at any hour of the day. When it’s clear, you can see the snow-capped peaks of volcanos Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl in the southeast.
Which event is at the top of your list every year?
There are film festivals, art and book fairs, concerts, plays, public performances, and holidays celebrated in Mexico City throughout the year. Even without advance planning, most visitors will unexpectedly stumble upon a public-art installation or a free concert while exploring the city (though Time Out Mexico and Chilango are both good online sources for current listings, if you want to make plans). For art lovers, I’d recommend visiting during Zsona MACO, the city’s biggest annual art fair, when city museums and galleries put on some of their best shows. For literary types and their families, there are speakers, concerts, and creative events for bookworms big and small at the Feria Internacional del Libro, held in the Zócalo in the Centro Histórico.
How would you spend a normal day off?
I spent a lot of free time at home in the Roma Norte, going to one of the neighborhood’s dog-friendly parks with my family or eating out and having coffee in one of the zillions of wonderful eateries near home. I cook a lot, too, so I often take advantage of free hours to go to a market – either the Mercado de Medellín, in the Roma Sur, or the weekly mercado sobre ruedas (“market on wheels”) on Pachuca in the Condesa, which is held on Tuesdays and has some great farm stands and irresistible handmade quesadillas and tlacoyos for munching.
If Mexico City were a book what would it be?
Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives partially takes place in Mexico City, and Bolaño really captures the city’s energy and youth culture in the first section “Mexicans Lost in Mexico,” even though it’s set over 40 years ago. Overall, the novel’s mix of surprise, sophistication, experimentation, and fun make it a good metaphor for the city.
What is the best way to get around?
I walk everywhere. The climate is temperate, the landscape is generally flat, and the distance between neighborhoods isn’t as daunting as you might expect. For longer trips, take a radio taxi (Radio Union is my go-to) or cycle along one of the city’s numerous bike lanes (it’s much safer on two wheels now that Mexico City’s bike-share program has taken off and bike lines ribbon the central districts). The metro, Mexico City’s underground train, is another safe and far-reaching transportation option, but it is often unbearably crowded.
What is the best thing to pack for a trip?
A connected smart phone is a must for ride-hailing apps and shareable photos, but I’d take a real (higher quality) camera, too. Mexico City is visually fascinating (and architecturally unique), and it hasn’t been as exhaustively photographed as London, Paris, New York, and other famous world capitals. Also: sunscreen. At over 7,000 feet, the sun is often searing.
What do locals wish visitors knew?
Pedestrians don’t have the right of way. Tipping is customary for wait staff in restaurants (15 percent) and porters at hotels and in the airport (at your discretion). In markets or at street stands, exact change for small purchases is always appreciated (and sometimes necessary).
What is the most useful word or phrase to know?
“Gracias.” Mexican society is generally gracious and polite, and the capital is no exception, even if it’s sometimes a little rough around the edges. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, make the effort to say, “Thank you.”