the magic of mexico city
I spent a long weekend with friends exploring one of Mexico’s most glorious, mysterious, and beautiful cities. I wish we had stayed longer. I wish I understood more.
The left is the guide I wrote when I first got back. The right I wrote when I had a little more time to think.
WHAT I BROUGHT HOME
I should have written about Mexico City months ago. I visited in November 2018 with three of my sweetest, dearest friends, fully intending to document our adventures in real time. I tell myself to keep a nightly travel journal, but even when you’re writing in the moment, how can you encapsulate the air of a place—its smell, its sounds, the humid feeling of magic and history on your skin--into just a few recommendations for dinner and drink spots? I stew over those moments, those feelings, those photos until I find myself on my next trip and already forgetting to explore and explain and share the most precious pieces and places of my life with those I love.
I have a hard time coming back to reality. I jump right back into things, try to make up for lost time at home and at work. In my head, I am a world away. In that far off there that certainly is not here, I explore and learn in awe and without fear of judgement. I am alone, full of possibility, born anew upon each landing in a new city. I have yet to find the bridge between that traveling soul that I know to be me and the grounded same old skin I step back into when I return home.
This is why I often turn to photography. Impressionism has long been my favorite artistic movement—I aim to carry the ideals of Cassatt, Monet, and Renoir into the way I create photos. Here is my impression of a moment. Here is a place, a time, a feeling that I have embraced. I belong to it and it belongs to me. I will cherish it forever, it will remind me of who I was and where I was. In color. A firefly in a jar. It is my closest thing to a living, breathing replica of a place in time, large or small. I am selfish—I want to take all these moments home with me, to fill my head and heart with them, to share them with those I love. Can you blame me for it?
Similar to the solo Japan trip Marco took before he left San Francisco, my November travels through Mexico City turned out to be a bit of a farewell tour with my Los Angeles family. Only a few weeks after we returned, I decided to move to New York. Come January, California was my home no more.
For this reason and many more, Mexico City has become a very special place in my heart. It is where I unknowingly bid adieu to my best friends who helped me survive my first semi-independent adult years.
It is also where I learned about the tear gas attack on the innocent refugees hoping to head to America, while waiting in line for my flight back to the States. Scrolling through prettily typed out headlines and listicles cannot possibly encapsulate the lived experiences of the brave, hard-working souls, dreamers who awaited asylum and opportunity across the border. Who hoped to find human rights and good lives in this country I call home. And now, many of them face harsher, more deliberately cruel and unusual conditions than I can imagine.
I always try to be aware of my privilege but this was one of many sobering moments in which I was reminded of the world we truly live in. I have been allowed to come and go as I choose and make grand statements about feeling like a new and better person when I travel, while others are simply trying to avoid being brutally, wrongfully punished for their mere existence and survival.
And so, in Mexico, I was reminded of the importance of voting. Of donating. Of researching. Of slowing down. Of taking time. Of letting ourselves be empathetic and affected by the events of our cities and our world. Of learning new languages, new skills, new ways to share privilege and resources with others. Of loving my neighbors as ourselves—neighbors in our apartment buildings, neighbors who sleep on the street while we sleep cozily in our homes, neighbors inside and outside of our borders whose prayers beg for a bit of relief, a bit of help, a bit of hope. I was reminded of the importance of listening—hearing and feeling—before speaking. Of simply sharing a smile, a hello, a bit of food, a dollar. It is so easy to feel hopeless and helpless in this big world, but we can’t give in. Every shared moment, smile, hello, bit of food, dollar counts.
Travel, at its best, gives you lessons about yourself and where you come from. Often even more than you learn about others and the place you’re passing through. It is a selfish act, but I am so grateful for the ability to explore, and I don’t plan to stop. I dream of a world where everyone has these opportunities. Always learning, becoming better, aiming to do no harm and to encouraging others to do the same. Intention often doesn’t make up for consequences, but I pray that the intention to learn and grow continues to lead us all to better beautiful places in our world and in our souls.
WHERE WE STAYED
The neighborhoods most often recommended to us by hip fellow Americanos and Angelinos were La Condesa and Roma Norte. We found this beautiful, breezy, cheap Condesa Airbnb which ended up being right above a sidewalk cafe called El Tako Vegano, which we ate at multiple times. The neighborhood is buzzing with magic, greenery, and a symphony of shouting street vendors.
WHAT WE SAW
La Casa Azul - The childhood home of Frida Kahlo, which she later came to share with her on again off again lover, husband, soulmate Diego Rivera. The most beautiful and haunting home I have seen.
Xochimilco - Home of the world famous river boats! So full of color and life. Have lunch made for you on the boat for a fun added experience… but expect to pay well for it.
La Condesa / Roma Norte - The neighborhoods we stayed in and near. They’re the hottest spots in town to explore lately, and for good reason. Good food, atmosphere, and people all around.
Castillo de Chapultepec - Such a beautiful space full of art, history, and some of the best city views I’ve ever seen. This was one of my favorite spots overall.
Teotihuacan - Also known as “the place where the gods were created.” Walk down the Avenue of Death between the Pyramids of the Sun, Moon, and Serpent. Walk through their museum to learn about the cultures that created the pyramids and their surrounding civilization. And wander over to La Gruta restaurant to dine inside a cave.
Lucha Libre - I am still unsure of what to think about this whole tradition but it was certainly exciting and the giant micheladas were an experience of their own!
WHAT WE ATE (AND DRANK)
Our main objectives for this trip were to see plants and to eat. I have yet to travel to a place in the world where these two activities are easier to come by or more enjoyable. Besides El Tako Vegano (everything on their short menu is good), we ate at and loved all of the following:
Taqueria Orinoco. This traditional taqueria is casual, cheap, and had possibly the best food we ate on the whole trip. I became ill not long after eating this but I plan on going back any time and every time I return to CDMX. Worth it!
Molina de Pujol. For when you can’t afford or get a reservation at Pujol, this is its younger sister. Adorable little location, traditional tamales, great drinks too!
Nom Polanco. Perfect place for a luxurious expat Thanksgiving feast. Only 16 seats around the kitchen, in which the truly artistic chefs will make the nine-course tasting menu come to life right before you.
Contramar. BEST FOOD EVER, get the Tostadas Atun and everything else on the menu except maybe the taco with the tiny full-bodied fish on there. We weren’t freaked out by their eyes, we just thought they didn’t taste very good.
Cicatriz. “Veggie-forward,” recommended by my friend Resha, her friend Jake + his sister own it. Get some snacks, some mezcal, and some natural wine by Bichi — No Sapiens is a great one if they have it — and say hi to Jake for us!
Huset. One part hip, one part romantic, one part good food. We ended our trip with some delicious seafood and wine on their cozy indoor/outdoor twinkly light patio.
La Gruta. Touristy fun! The food was not as amazing as the other fine dining we experienced. But still 100% worth it for the cavernous atmosphere and the chance to eat some crickets.
Bosforo. Every single Angeleno I talked to about Mexico City recommended this tiny mezcal bar, and it showed when we got there. EVERY SINGLE ANGELENO IN MEXICO CITY WAS THERE. It was super-crowded but super fun (we imagine once a hole in the wall that “the hipsters” have either made great or ruined, depending on your take). Get ready to get cozy and drink a lot of great unmarked mezcal. Just pick something totally random or ask the bartender to pick for you!
WHAT WE WISH WE ATE + DRANK + SAW
We left with fully bellies and happy hearts. We also left wanting so much more. As is the case with most global metropolises, there are at least a month’s worth of museums to visit, meals to eat, bars to drink and dance at, and plants to adore in this city. Including, but not limited to:
Neveria Roxy. An old school ice cream parlor with delicious shakes.
Rosetta. We’ve heard that their food may be skippable, but their location is beautiful.
Parker & Lenox or other fun jazz bars! We went to Hanky Panky when they were not playing jazz and it was a little too crowded and scene-y for us at the time.
El Lugar Sin Nombre, or simply “Sin Nombre.” Bosforo’s sister restaurant that literally has no name. Also sometimes known as the restaurant “right across the street from that big tree.”
Casa Luis Barragán. We didn’t make one in time, but according to every Instagram of every person who has been to Mexico City, it is worth the visit. They have tours at 12:30 and 3:30 in english for 400 pesos ($20), you can buy them here.
AND ALSO Pujol, Maximo Bistrot, La Docena, El Moro Churreria, Pirwi, Pasillo de Humo, Kurimanzutto Gallery, Chiquitito Café. I am happy to go back as many times as needed to see them all and more. I love this city!