Art Nouveau and Baroque palaces, experimental art, and high-design hotels—and, of course, mouthwatering cuisine. T+L hits the streets of Mexico City.
Lay of the Land
At 571 square miles, D.F.—as Mexico City residents, or chilangos, call it—is vast, but visitors gravitate to a few key neighborhoods.
Centro Histórico: Anchored by the Zócalo plaza, the historic center is a mix of monuments and hivelike commerce.
Roma: Hipsters, artists, and boutique owners have revived this once-bourgeois neighborhood of Art Nouveau mansions.
Condesa: In Mexico City’s answer to New York’s West Village, shops, restaurants, and apartments radiate out from the Parque México.
Polanco: One of the city’s poshest districts keeps expanding north: “Nuevo Polanco” is being colonized by galleries and shopping malls.
Four boutiques we love.
Carla Fernandez: One of Mexico’s top designers, Fernandez makes clothes that marry traditional patterns and textiles to a modern silhouette. Her bias-cut ponchos and cotton minidresses might include a pointillist print of a Mayan warrior or an armadillo embroidered in silk.
Common People: The city’s most exhilarating concept store inhabits a 1940’s mansion in Polanco. A circular staircase connects three floors packed with cutting-edge merchandise from both near (vintage-style bikes from Rock&Ruedas) and far (THVM jeans from L.A.).
DFC: A neon-lit alcove in Roma shows limited-edition objets designed by New York transplants Tony Moxham and Mauricio Paniagua, who inject a big dose of camp into classic Mexican motifs. Chaquiras, beaded dolls traditionally made by Huichol Indians, for example, get drag-queen eyelashes and hairdos.
Local: This pocket-size Roma boutique is an ode to all things Mexican-made. Look out for skull-shaped rings by L’Impératrice; hand-stitched leather duffels by Paolo Angelucci; and Mancandy’s geometric clothes for men and women.
The hottest tables right now.
Pujol: It may have opened in 2000, but Pujol, in Polanco, is still the city’s most innovative showcase for Mexican cuisine. Though chef Enrique Olvera is serious about using market ingredients and newfangled techniques, he has fun, too: there will be tacos, but they will be filled with baby lamb, avocado-pea purée, and hoja santa, an aromatic herb. $$$$
Quintonil: The newest hit in Polanco is a bright room where 31-year-old Jorge Vallejo creates dishes that look like floral arrangements and taste unexpectedly delicate. Huauzontle, a broccoli-like vegetable, is fried and served with tomato salsa and a crumbly cheese from Chiapas; curlicues of chilacayote squash and charred tortillas are drizzled with mole. $$$
Contramar A high-ceilinged, blue-and-white dining room is the setting for long, loud, convivial lunches, especially on weekends. Fashionable locals come here to see and be seen, but the food is better than you’d expect. The ideal meal: oysters and pescado a la talla, grilled porgy painted with green and red sauces. $$$
Romita Comedor: The top two levels of an early-20th-century mansion on Álvaro Obregón have been turned into a theatrical greenhouse-like space with checkerboard floors and a retractable glass roof. The food takes a backseat to the scenery, but you can’t go wrong with the taco del río, made with langoustines in a tomato-and-morita-chile sauce. $$
Belmondo: Stylish members of Roma’s creative class line up for tables at this unpretentious year-old café with Midcentury chairs and industrial light fixtures. The menu is straightforward: salads, pitch-perfect sandwiches (try the grilled cheese with caramelized onions), and a well-edited list of wines by the glass. $
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
See + Do
The city is filled with lesser-known gems. Below, four that top our list.
Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso: Once you’ve seen Diego Rivera’s historical murals in the Palacio Nacional, walk a few blocks north to this 18th-century former Jesuit school, whose placid porticoes are lined with bitingly satirical works by his contemporary José Clemente Orozco.
Casa Luis Barragán: The former residence of the great Mexican Modernist is a must for architecture fans. Barragán created intensity by distilling color and structure: a long wall of intense pink, for example, or a window positioned so the shadow aligns with the wall opposite.
Museo del Juguete Antiguo: Japanese-Mexican architect Roberto Shimizu began collecting toys in 1955; now his son oversees the exhibition of 45,000 pieces in a space wedged between auto-body shops south of downtown. The displays of soldiers, Barbie dolls, and more are sure to induce joyful nostalgia.
Museo Nacional de Antropología: Among the pre-Columbian treasures housed here is the Piedra del Sol, a stone disk whose carvings reveal the cosmological sophistication of Aztec beliefs. But there are quieter riches, such as a jadeite mask from Palenque and a Toltec armored vest made from seashells.
Mexico City’s hotel scene is booming. Here, the splashy openings and longtime favorites.
Downtown México: A converted 17th-century palace, the latest from Grupo Habita is an island of chic in workaday Centro Histórico. It seamlessly mixes the old (stone walls; high ceilings) with the up-to-the-minute (a sexy rooftop bar and pool). On the mezzanine, well-curated boutiques sell local goods such as mezcal, chocolate, and Talavera pottery. $
Hotel Brick: The creative energy of Roma seems to swirl around this architectural mash-up of a century-old former mansion (which also housed, in turn, a bank, a brothel, and a locksmith) and a glass-and-steel annex. Expect a warren of restaurants, bars, and 17 rooms with houndstooth-upholstered chairs and wood paneling. At night, well-dressed chilangos gather at the terrace café to watch the comings and goings on Calle Orizaba. $$
Las Alcobas: This 35-room sanctuary in the heart of Polanco is marked by rich Yabu Pushelberg–designed interiors and thoughtful touches—a full-length three-way mirror; coffee that arrives minutes after your wake-up call. Its buzzy restaurant, Dulce Patria, is joined this spring by Anatol, run by Justin Ermini, former chef at the Mayflower Inn in Connecticut. $$
Red Tree House: A small garden draped with fairy lights and a yellow Lab named Abril welcome guests to this 17-room B&B with a winning location just off Parque México. Inside are walls painted in bright jewel tones and Mexican art; rooms range in size from the tiny Treehouse to a two-bedroom suite with a private terrace. $
Four Seasons Hotel México, D.F.: It’s all about gracefulness here, from the polished concierge staff and colonial-inspired interiors to the courtyard with its parterres and burbling fountain. Insider tip: follow hotel staffers to the street-food stands on Calle Burdeos, off the hotel entrance, where you’ll find some of the area’s tastiest tacos. $$$
Live Aqua Bosques: About 50 minutes from downtown Mexico City, near the rapidly growing Santa Fe neighborhood, is this stylish new luxury hotel. Rooms include such niceties as 420-thread-count sheets, an espresso machine, and motorized drapes—and each floor has a dedicated concierge to secure everything from dinner reservations to shoeshines. $$$
St. Regis: The city’s most elegantly modern hotel occupies the first 15 floors of a Cesar Pelli–designed building on Paseo de la Reforma. Rooms are large and plush (Yabu Pushelberg again), but the real showstopper is the panoramic view from the spa and fitness center. $$$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Best Spots for Viewing Art
Hilario Galguera, in San Rafael, shows international stars such as Damien Hirst, as well as Mexican artists (Bosco Sodi; Daniel Lezama).
A hangar-like space, Luis Adelantado, in Nuevo Polanco, is known for large-scale installations.
Labor hosts contemporary exhibits across from the Casa Luis Barragán.
Mexican artists including Gabriel Orozco are championed at Kurimanzutto.
Opening this fall: the David Chipperfield–designed Colección Jumex, with works by Olafur Eliasson, Tacita Dean, and Dieter Roth.
Get the scoop on the city from four insiders.
Tony Moxham and Mauricio Paniagua
Co-owners, DFC design
Our favorite museum is Anahuacalli, a modern pyramid of volcanic rock built by Diego Rivera; it houses the artist’s quirky collection of pre-Hispanic works. The Museo Tamayo was recently renovated—it has our favorite design shop. And the legendary Centro candy store Dulcería de Celaya is an Art Nouveau gem; we always get the panqué de elote (cornbread pudding).
My go-to lunch spot is Las Cazuelas de la Abuela (52-55/5683-8720; $), a traditional fonda that serves delicious peneques. It’s a kind of deep-fried quesadilla with green and red pipián (pumpkin-seed sauce). For tacos, don’t miss Centro’s Taquería Los Cocuyos (52-55/5518-4231; $), where the specialty is offal, or El Califa ($), in Condesa. Another must-stop: the Mercado de Xochimilco (60 Avda. Morelos) for farm-fresh produce and the city’s best barbacoa de borrego (slow-cooked lamb).
My boutique is in Polanco, but Roma is where I live. The neighborhood is full of small design shops and quaint bookstores. Sangre de Mi Sangre sells beautiful jewelry by designer Mariana Villarreal; she uses offbeat images such as skulls to make one-of-a-kind pieces. Vintage HOE (52-55/6275-5424) is a wonderful spot for cocktail dresses and leather purses. On weekends, I take my kids to Plaza de La Ciudadela to watch the danzón, a traditional dance from the eastern state of Veracruz.
A high-ceilinged, blue-and-white dining room is the setting for long, loud, convivial lunches, especially on weekends. Fashionable locals come here to see and be seen, but the food is better than you’d expect. The ideal meal: oysters and pescado a la talla, grilled porgy painted with green and red sauces.
Four Seasons Hotel Mexico, D.F.
Only a world-class hotel like the Four Seasons could make Mexico City, a hectic metropolis of 21 million, feel relaxing. Its colonial-hacienda architecture, Mexican gardens (with tropical-fruit trees, orchids, and chirping caged canaries), courtyard dining, and proximity to verdant Chapultepec Park represent an oasis of calm amid the bustle of the capital. The 240 spacious guestrooms also promote tranquility with a neutral palette of taupes and creams, deep soaking tubs, and views of elegant Paseo de la Reforma or the quiet courtyard. In keeping with Four Seasons culture, the large staff is warm, genuinely helpful, and utterly unflappable. The in-house Galería Lourdes Sosa has a rotating collection of Mexican art, including paintings by Jose Luis Cuevas.
St. Regis, Mexico City
The city’s most elegantly modern hotel occupies the first 15 floors of a Cesar Pelli–designed building on Paseo de la Reforma. Rooms are large and plush (Yabu Pushelberg again), but the real showstopper is the panoramic view from the spa and fitness center.
Taquería El Califa
If you're in the mood for good old-fashioned frijoles or pork-topped tacos al pastor, this place serves some of the best Mexican comfort food around.