Mexico City, MX
Exploring this colorful city where ancient history coexists with modern developments.
Despite my friends and family warning me about all the violence and crime reported on American news outlets about Mexico, I decided to book a trip to explore Mexico City and Teotihuacán. It's important to do your research and be a smart traveler no matter where you go because bad things can happen anywhere. One of my pet peeves is the negativity that come from people who are too afraid to explore and try to bring your energy down by focusing on the perils of venturing outside of your comfort zone.
Nevertheless, I was eager to explore Mexico City for myself and maintained a sense of trust of the people there.
We took a red-eye flight to Mexico City International Airport (MEX) from San Francisco (SFO) on a Wednesday for a four-day trip. We made it a point to check out some of the modern, fine dining restaurants that have been popping up all over town including Quintonil and PEHÜA. It was nearly impossible to get a reservation at Pujol (I looked about a month in advance) but we were luckily enough to snag a table during lunch at Quintonil and a dinner reservation at PEHÜA.
Jorge Vallejo, a former chef at Pujol, leads Quintonil's culinary experience marrying traditional ingredients with contemporary preparation techniques. We opted-out of the tasting menu and decided to order individual dishes, which also turned out to be a great idea.
We got the avocado tartar with escamoles (ant larvae) and they were just ok. I would have preferred it with a side of chips for some texture, otherwise the dish was very soft and mushy. I also ordered the crab tostada (because I can't turn down a good seafood dish) and the balance of the soft crab and crunchy tostada was perfect.
For the main course, I ordered tumbada rice with abalone, a risotto like dish seasoned with seafood broth and the abalone was cooked to perfection. The braised ox tail in a black recado (achiote sauce) was also delicious and tender. Lastly, the crispy suckling pig tacos were also good but I'd personally opt for the street variety of tacos for the price.
We were in for a surprise with our dinner at PEHÜA, another modern Mexican restaurant that's on the rise. The price point is slightly lower than Quintonil and less crowded, but I personally liked the experience more at PEHÜA. I started with an order of octopus gordita, filled with tender octopus cooked for 6-hours served on a bed of salad. My main dish was the pork jowl tacos which was actually my favorite dish of the two meals that day. I loved the unique texture of pork jowl and the chipotle marinade.
Walking and Uber was our main mode of transportation as the price of an Uber ride is extremely affordable ($3-5 USD for an UberX around the city). Our Airbnb was located in La Condesa neighborhood, pretty central to a lot of new, modern restaurants and cafes. However, it didn't take us too long to find amazing street food, or antojitos (little cravings), that wouldn't break your bank. One of the things you must try is the gorditas – crispy, fried masa patty filled with cheese, chicharrón, and nopales. They were quite greasy and a little messy to eat, but definitely worth a try when you're a little hungry.
Tacos are also abundant and favorably priced all around town, we stopped by Tacos Don Juan to grab some including longanisa, shredded pork, and grilled beef strips. They were one of the best meals I had during the whole trip for about $5 USD!
We reserved one of the days to explore Xochimilco, one of the 16 barrios of Mexico City known for the trajineras you can ride down the canals. The trajineras are boat like things adorned with colorful designs carrying a large table and lots of chairs for up to 18 people to ride. We rented one for two hours (you pay by the hour, not per person) for about $30 USD. You can bring your own snacks, drinks, and party supplies to enjoy an afternoon ride. No need to worry if you're traveling light because there are vendors on smaller boats who approach you to sell snacks, souvenirs, and alcohol like micheladas and pulque. It's such a fun way to celebrate something like your birthday or a bachelor/ette party!
The Uber ride to Xochimilco was about $15-17 USD for a 50 minute ride. The best place to pin your destination is Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas in Xochimilco where there is a little marketplace by the boat docks for you to shop for trinkets, snacks, and drinks before your ride. Be aware of tour guides on motorcycles approaching your Uber driver to try and swoop you away from your route and into their boat docks. Make sure you communicate to your Uber driver that you don't want them to follow those guides!
Our last excursion in Mexico was just outside the city in another ancient city called Teotihuacán. Original murals have been preserved and we learned that at one point, the ancient civilization who built the ceremonial structures used insect larvae found on cactus plants to paint all the buildings red. Our guide took us on a tequila tasting before taking us to climb up the stairs of both the Sun and Moon Pyramids, except I only climbed the Moon Pyramid... I highly suggest bringing sunscreen and a hat when visiting because there is no shade and you'll be out in the open for hours.