Growing up in Southern California, Mexican food was a staple and Spanish was second nature. I had briefly visited Mexico back when you didn’t need a passport, but I’m embarrassed to say that I really didn’t know much about the thriving culture that is Mexico. I mean, I wasn’t hiding under a rock and I knew and had witnessed many aspects, but until you live it and see it at its best, it’s really tough to comprehend how thriving a culture really is.
Abby Clawson Low, a designer whose work I’ve admired for ages, moved to Mexico City a few years ago and documented her adventures (you can check out her Instagram here and here) and I couldn’t help but gawk at every image. She revealed a side to it that I didn’t knew existed. She brought it to life! She recently released a book about it called This is Mexico City and it inspired me to finally make a visit just in time for her book signing. Along with former Mexico City resident and Utah Valley tamale maker expert, Nadia Coates of Casa Palomi, and my good friends Meta Coleman and Chaunte Vaughn, we hit up Mexico City with two babies and lived to tell about it.
I call our experience an “Ode to Barragan” because the focus of our trip was discovering the work of Luis Barragan. I am forever changed!
Here’s what to see, what to eat, and what to do in Mexico City! Lars approved!
Mexico City Guide
It’s pretty safe to say that Mexican food is officially my favorite cuisine, but even more so now that I’ve experienced true Mexican. We tried out a lot of restaurants that hearken back to the land and elements and it was really mind-blowing. I’m not talking greasy and cheesy like you’ve come to know at your local Mexican joint. I’m talking hearty, earthy, unusual flavors.
Taquería El Caifán This was our first meal of the trip. Our location was right in the mix of a busy street and I couldn’t tell if it was because of tourists or not. Regardless, the food was great! Delicious tacos.
Churrería El Moro If you want a churro experience, this is the place to go. The atmosphere is fun (there are several locations) and the branding is beautiful. The churros are a delight. You will probably order more than you need..but can you ever have too many?
Cafe de Tacuba If you want to feel like you’ve stepped back into Mexico’s history, you have got to experience Tacuba. The architecture is gorgeous and the uniforms are whimsical–the women wear these beautifully oversized bows. They’re a delight. And the food is delicious! We asked to see the top floors of the restaurant and they let us go up and explore. They hold events upstairs and it’s gorgeous.
Tetetlan Go just for the space alone! This area of Mexico City is built upon lava rock. Luis Barragan designed it so you could see the volcanic rock. There’s also a shop with beautiful items (best (and most expensive) huarache shoes and dresses. And the food is YUM. Really worth the trip. It’s right next door to Barragan’s residential masterpiece, Casa Pedregal.
La Lorena This one was literally around the corner from our Airbnb (we stayed here). I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here, but it’s good and in a lovely neighborhood.
El Cardenal Known for their unique twists on traditional food, this one is hearty and unique. We went to the Lomas location, which doesn’t seem to have as much atmosphere as the Palma one.
Hotel Carlota We ate here because we had just visited the shop within the hotel, Taxonomia and we were tired and didn’t want to go anywhere else, but it ended up being a great choice. The food was so delicious. I ordered the burger and man, I’m still dreaming of it.
Fonart (National Fund for the Development of the Arts and Crafts) Is where I would go for well made crafts. And if you’re looking to buy textiles in the way of tablecloths, placemats and dresses, this is the place. If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs I’d go to…
Ciudadela Market This is the type of market that I wish existed wherever I go. It’s a great place to buy presents for your friends and family. I bought a lot of wooden toys for Jasper and my team (pom poms!). If you go to the back, that’s where they sell the huaraches. I wish I would have bought a pair but I spent all my money before I got back there.
Mercado de Jamaica (flower market) Because of a case of…Montezuma’s Revenge…we had to cut our visit short (TMI I know, but I feel like it adds to the story), but you can buy everything here–food, flowers, little items. I wish I could have spent more time here. We got here in time to see the marigolds and it was gorgeous! Just the week before I was needing to use them in a display at home and the quotes I was getting were in the hundreds and here they were $6 for a large bunch.
Mercado de Antiquidades de la Lagunilla (Antique market). This Sunday-only market, is a treasure trove. I could have spent many moons piling over everything. I found some items I will cherish forever. Plus, I got to experience it with Meta, who has magnet fingers and can seemingly pull out magic from nothing.
Bazaar de Velas. Meta was on a mission to find some awesome-shaped candles, which lead us here, but I’m glad because there were some lovely finds. It’s within walking distance from Frida Kahlo’s house.
Taxonomia features modern design from Mexico designers. Really great collection for the minimal aesthetic. Stay for the restaurant and take a peek into the attached Hotel Carlota for the beautiful pool.
Things to do
Mexico City has the most museums in the world so you will never be lacking with things to do. We focused more on architecture this time around.
Museo of Arte Popular is the folk art museum. I love learning about a culture through its traditions so these types of museums will always be on my list. Plus, their gift shop is fabulous. I got a lot of my souvenirs from here.
Casa Gilardi is a privately owned home that the owners open up to tours. It was designed by Barragan and it’s one of his most colorful and unexpected. Pink, blue, purple yellow exteriors and interiors. A pool in the dining room?! You must email them to book the appointment.
Casa Pedregal another privately owned home. We had the great honor of touring the home as arranged by Abby and it was such a highlight. Built on volcanic rock, it’s unusual in its setting, colors, spatial tension. It’s also so interesting to see how people live in such a minimal palette.
Capilla de las Capuchinas was one of the most magical and holy experiences of my life. It’s another Barragan masterpiece. Once again, you have to book an appointment and the tours are run by the nuns of the convent. It’s so beautiful to see how thoughtfully the space was created for their holy purposes. No pictures allowed unfortunately.
Cuadra San Cristobal (the stables) was the highlight of my trip. Yet again, it’s a private home that the owners open up to private tours of the grounds. We spent the afternoon exploring and relaxing on the lawn. I had Baby Jasper with me on this trip and I would need periodic rests and I had one of the most memorable rests here on this lawn. Jasper made friends with the groundskeeper who held him and played with him. Such a great memory. When you think of Barragan you are probably thinking of these stables. It’s such a colorful yet subtle wonder.
Downtown. We didn’t explore too much of the downtown, but there’s such an interesting mix of big city, history, and interesting people watching. One of the things I’d recommend most were the Aztex ruins. Mexico City was built by adding on top of layers and layers, which creates a lot of shapes and formations.
Frida Kahlo house This might have been the most touristy thing we did, but it’s definitely worth it. As you know, we are big Frida fans here (we even read her bio for Book Club, dressed as her for Halloween, turned her into a head vase). The museum itself is excellent. The house and grounds are extraordinary. I really loved seeing how she and Diego lived. Definitely book tickets ahead of time.
A HUGE thank you to Nadia of Casa Palomi for putting our trip together. Nadia is not only passionate about her country but is eloquent and well-versed. She takes great pride in sharing it with us.
And a big thank you to Abby for getting us to finally get down there to visit. If you want to learn more–much much more–in an impeccably curated way, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of This is Mexico City.
Photos by Chaunte Vaughn and Meta