Welcome to Travel Diaries, where view the world through an Angeleno’s perspective. For this installation, we linked with My Belonging’s Tommy Lei who traveled to Mexico City.
As a native Angeleno, who has joyously experienced the perks of immediate access to some of the best Mexican food in the world (from the mom-and-pop institutions to the likes of the experimental at BS Taqueria all within a reasonable driving radius), I find that my perceptions of the cuisine are still rather limited to just tacos, elotè, menudo, quesadillas and the like. I eagerly awaited the day that I’ll find myself Mexico City—one of Mexico’s major cosmopolitan and culinary centers—and that opportunity finally came. I arrived with the sole purpose of exploring the local art and culinary scene but left with so much more. The following are just some highlighted reasons to visit Mexico City through my eyes and camera lens.
It’s a modern city steeped with history—perhaps a shocking revelation to many is that Mexico City is a buzzing, developed and cosmopolitan city center. You’ll find practically everything you need here —from household luxury brands and high-end restaurants in Polanco to the more cozy but vibrant, low-key scene in Juarez. For the archeological and history buff, there is an abundance of historical architecture – mostly contained within Condesa and Colonia Roma – such as the Palacio de Bella Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), Templo Mayor (an ancient archeological site that is still being dug up) and the beautiful gardens of Museo Franz Mayer. Mexico City, on the whole, does an incredible job preserving the city’s historical buildings as well as maintaining the multitude canopies of trees dominating almost every street corner of the burgeoning metropolis.
According to travel guides and major media journals worldwide, Mexico City is home to some of the most spectacular museums for both cultural and modern, contemporary art. There’s roughly more than 160 of them all within one city (expert tip: Some offer free admission on Sundays!). 160 is a staggering amount of museums, so you’ll end up visiting one inevitably. We ended up touring 4 in the course of 5 days: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Casa Azul, Museo Soumaya, Museo Franz Mayer and Museo De Anthropologia. All of them amazing in their own right. The Casa Azul is such an intimate glimpse into the life of Frida Kahlo – you’ll lose yourself in the chambers of her deathbed, her studio space and wardrobe that is resembles more of a Vivienne Westwood showroom. In stark contrast, the Soumaya is a minimalist and modern art lover’s dream come true – it contains several floors of Mexico City’s most-treasured memorabilia.
The food is second to none – traditional, modern and experimental. Every restaurant stop we made left us astounded and speechless – in the best way possible. Local ingredients in Mexico City are as fresh as it gets, as evidenced the endless variety of panaderia (bread) – a staple for any Mexican meal. From our freshly-squeezed mandarin juice at Rosetta Bakery to the ant egg larva tostada at Quintonil, the food in this city can be best described as sensory overload. Each restaurant had its own modern take on traditional Mexican cuisine that is executed in a respectable, effective and delicious manner. Even something as simple as the fruit juice vendors will blow you away.
Ranging from Airbnbs to luxury hotels, accommodations are aplenty. Both Airbnb and luxury hotel options are quite affordable for the modern, urban traveler. Our Airbnb in Juarez was an airy, spacious loft located inside the Calle Gardenia – each bedroom came with its own separate patio garden. Being one with nature in the privacy of your own loft is such a sight to walk in and wake up to.
For the latter part of our stay, we checked into the W Hotel Mexico City within the affluent neighborhood of Polanco (think of it as an equivalent to Beverly Hills in LA or 5th Avenue in NY). The world-class amenities and services at the W are definitely something to rave about – but it was our suite that really took our breath away. Near panoramic views of Polanco and the city will unfold in front of your very eyes. The hotel’s restaurant, helmed by LA chef, Jose Andres, J by Jose Andres, delivers a kick-ass cocktails that expertly complements its sumptuous and decadent menu.
A city never really sleeps – Mexico City is really just like any major city in a developed country in this regard. The weekend begins as early as Thursday evenings – jueves as some locals call it. You can choose to hang out well into sunrise (there are a plethora of cantinas and clubs) or opt to lounge around at Tori Tori like us until 2am before retreating back to the hotel. Then again, you may not even have to step out of your hotel to begin with. But if you do, get an Uber (super cheap and efficient!)
You’ll discover a one-of-a-kind community that is welcoming, warm and hospitable. From the moment I arrived through the customs, I began to observe how hard-working, sensible and grateful Mexicans are. They take their occupations and roles in life very seriously, even if they are simply part of the waiting staff at a restaurant. It’s marvelous, heartwarming and inspiring —all at once—to see the amount of passion they pour into their day to day lives. In their eyes, nothing is trivial and should be taken for granted. It’s this same energy and philosophy that will forever alter the way I live my life.
Despite what you may see or hear in mainstream media with regards to the drug cartel, its presence is far removed from Mexico City – making it one of my highly-recommended destinations for 2016 and beyond. The abundance of art, food, culture and passion will enamor and resonate with any urbanite from all stretches of the globe. It truly is a magical destination that is easy to navigate and afford for any traveler on any budget – there is something for everyone. I am ready to be back even though it’s only been a short few months since I departed. With the new year here, I hope you will sincerely consider doing the same.