Exploring Mexico's Capital with Amanda Blakley
After decades of associating a jaunt south of the border with a margarita fueled beach vacation, Mexico, and Mexico City in particular, has arisen as a creative hub that global culturists are flocking to. When we asked which city Amanda Blakley, travel editor at Crumb and wanderlusting journalist, would be interested in covering for us, she referred to the Mexican capital as her spiritual home and was bursting with tips accumulated over a decade and a half long love affair with the city.
Often with her husband and two young sons in tow, Amanda’s unique perspective allows her to bridge the gap between historical artisanship and contemporary sophistication. She filled us in on where to find the best of everything from coffee beans to barbacoa.
Adventurous, Curious, Determined.
Describe Mexico City
There’s just something about Mexico City that reels you in. It’s not charming like Venice, exotic like Marrakech or romantic like Capri, but it has something else, something intoxicating and slightly dangerous - not in an “I’m gonna get mugged” way, but in an alluring and compelling way. As if you just need to know more, stay a while longer, visit her back roads, eat all her street food, walk all her colorful streets, soak up her spirit. There is an energy that is synonymous with the Mexican culture as a whole, but it’s intensified here.
Family always comes first and I love watching the multi-generational packs of people who gather on the weekends in the city’s gorgeous parks to share a meal. Food is such a central part of Mexican culture, and they know how to do it right with fragrant broths, spicy salsas, stews that take days of preparation. I’ve been eating my way through these streets for 14 years and I haven’t sampled a fraction of her delicacies.
Colonia Condesa & Roma are definitely my stomping grounds. The crumbling beaux-arts architecture mixed with hipster culture and local Mexican vibes are an interesting clash. My first stop is usually a late and long lunch at Contramar for their famous Mexican Flag charcoal grilled fish and the tuna tostados. The whole menu was inspired by the chef’s family travels to Zihuatanejo which is one of our cherished Mexican beach getaways.
We usually start the morning at Panaderia Rosetta for to-go pastries and quiche. We’ll then head directly to Plaza Rio de Janeiro where our little boys like to play. It’s a beautiful setting with a huge fountain in the centre and a modest playground. It’s fun to watch the city come alive from this vantage point - life begins to spill out into the streets of Roma and we get to feel like locals.
One of us will make a coffee run to nearby Buna Cafe for some of the best espresso in the city. Then we may head to a gallery in Colonia Roma or Condesa, or visit one of the city’s many street markets or museums.
An ideal evening would be an open-air dinner on the porch at Blanco Colima, if we can convince one of the grandparents to babysit.
These are my favorites in no particular order:
Tardan - Mexico’s number one hat maker. This is one of my favorite places to find an authentic souvenir. Currently into the Sevillano Walton in Negro or Gris Perla.
The Feathered (Polanco)
Mercado Ciudadela for great Mexican handicrafts (Centro historico)
Lago DF (Polanco)
Cibeles 72 (Roma Norte)
Happening Store (Roma Norte)
Casa Bosques offers a well edited collection of art + architecture books and magazines, but the store itself (hidden behind an unassuming yellow door on a cute street in Colonia Roma) make it a must-visit on any CDMX itinerary. With designer interiors and beautiful beaux-arts architecture, the store feels more like a chic apartment filled with the coolest selection of books and artful objects.
Mexico City is a treasure trove of museums and galleries, definitely something for every taste and interest.
Another two in one museum visit...
Museo Soumaya (Carlos Slim's personal collection featuring Rodin's and Dalí's & 20th century Mexican art) is side by side with the contemporary art museum, Fundación Jumex. The architecture of both museums is impressive - like most of the experimental and daring contemporary architecture in CDMX.
Mexico basically invented coffee and coffee culture, so finding a good cuppa is never hard, but here are a few of my faves:
Blend Station for that cool work-remotely vibe. Full of laptops & young people buzzing on caffeine.
Panadería Rosetta - a tiny boite of a bakery by favorite & famed Mexico City chef Elena Reygadas. Sit at the cute bar if you can get a seat or take your coffee to go and hang at nearby Rio de Janeiro Square.
Buna is another local favourite (their beans are a great souvenir too - I usually stock up on every visit).
Drip Specialty Coffee - locals-only vibe serving quality coffee.
Isn’t it romantic
For a day date I would pack a picnic and a bottle of rosé/glasses and visit the Aztec canals of Xochimilco. After a snooze in the shade we may wander over to Museo Dolores Olmedo to see the incredible private collection of Mexican art - among them many special Frida Kahlo’s.
For an evening date, my favorite place for a romantic meal is Casa Virginia - on a warm evening with the shutters open to the streets below, you feel swept away.
On any given night you are guaranteed to find an amazing concert or live music around Mexico City. We love Jazzatlan - a little jazz bar in Roma with nightly jam sessions upstairs and an intimate cocktail bar on the main level. They have a yummy menu of snacks that pair nicely with some Miles Davis.
Sunday’s in Mexico are all about family and barbacoa - a particular type of bbq’d meat generally served only on this one day. The meat (usually sheep, goat or beef) is steam cooked in an underground oven until it is so tender it literally melts in your mouth. It is always served with fresh corn tortillas, lime, various salsas, pico de gallo, onions, cilantro and lots of hot sauce. El Hidalguense in Roma Sur is a locals-only spot and the best place for an authentic barbacoa.
Coming to Mexico City and not visiting the Centro Historico is like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. Full of history and magnificent feats of architecture, it’s worth booking a walking tour to get a history debrief. Local intel alert: take in the view from La Terraza del Conquistador. It provides an incredible birds eye view minus the crowds.
If you go in the winter you MUST go skating on the massive ice rink in the Zocolo (main square of CDMX).
Chapultepec Park is another must. It’s México City’s answer to Central Park - with almost 1700 acres of beautiful forested grounds, playgrounds, museums, one castle (Castillo de Chapultepec) and even a palace (Los Piños was the former home to El Presidente but was opened to visitors when the new president took power this year). You could easily spend a full day - or more - here. We love to watch the skateboarders at the skate park near dusk, museum hop or pack a picnic lunch.
Get some action
Go see the Luchadores battle it out at Arena Mexico.
Hats & Coffee.
LeSportsac bags of various sizes and purposes, Well Told supplements (derived from superfoods), my Kimkoo silk sleep mask, LaPima sunglasses, copper-infused AlphaSole socks (cool compression socks - yes that’s a thing!), Flawless in 15 facial masks for #milehighmaskclub moments and Céla Crème de la Crème for dry plane hands, Vi Trainer heart monitor headphones and the accompanying app (so I have no excuse not to exercise).
Last but not least, the Turbo Extreme Handheld Steamer by Conair. It’s incredible and doesn’t take up too much room. Worth bringing if you need to look put-together while living out of a suitcase.
If I’m going away for more than 2 weeks with my family I generally have to pack my large suitcase. Even though kids’ clothes are tiny, the rest of the stuff is what takes up the most space. For solo travel I’m mostly a carry-on girl these days. I roll with the aluminum carry-on from AWAY.
To truly get a sense of place, seek out an interesting local - whether it be an intro through a friend of a friend or one of the Airbnb Experience guides. I love sitting down for coffee and asking a million questions about the day to day culture of living in a particular city.