Travel: Where To Eat in Mexico City

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

With our quickly looming trip to Portland, Oregon this coming weekend, I figure it was about time that I post some of the delicious food we ate on our previous trip to Mexico City. I had separated the topic of where to eat in Mexico City from the Coffee Shops in Mexico City just because there were way too many pictures to bombard you guys with. Going forward, I think the city travel posts will be more similar to our tour guide made for A Day in San Francisco. With that, enjoy the following photos, and possible give them a visit if you’re ever en la Ciudad de Mexico!

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Not worth the time.

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Good, but ordinary.

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Great. Worth a visit.

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Exceptional. A must-do experience.

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Frugal friendly

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Reasonable

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Pricey


Pehua

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Pehua was the first restaurant we ate at once we landed in CDMX. We barely had time to Uber our way to our AirBNB, before we had to make our way to Pehua, located in Condesa, CDMX, for our reservation. I remember it well. The city had beautiful skies, we had hungry stomachs, and a thirst to get out there and start exploring. Sometime between when we were seated and after we had devoured all the food that you see below, it started to rain. We didn’t even realize that it was pouring outside until our waitress kindly asked us if we wanted them to call a cab for us. The cozy couch seating and delicious food had distracted us from the world outside, and gave us a wonderful introduction of the food yet to come. I would say definitely visit this place if you have extra time. Off course, the city is teeming with top restaurants in the world, which take their place in line somewhere ahead of this one. But still, you won’t be disappointed eating here.

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Floral and Fruit Appetizer
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House Bread
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Esquites de criollo Corn, Chili Mayonnaise, Watercress, Cotija Cheese, Chile Atole
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Tamal with Chicken, Mole, Cheese, and Cream
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Pork Cheek, Pineapple, Habanero Pepper, Red Onion, Cilantro

Maximo Bistrot

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Maximo Bistrot ranks #39 in Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurants and is located in Roma, CDMX. Chef Eduardo García and his wife Gabriela set up Maximo Bistrot to showcase fresh produce from in and around Mexico City. Up to two thirds of the ingredients come from local farms, including the famed floating gardens of Xochimilco in the city. Such is their commitment to local production that everything from the furniture to the serviettes is also fair trade, sustainable and local. Aside from all these admirable qualities, the food is excellent, and was second only to Pujol (see below). We decided to go with the Degustacion menu (tasting menu), wherein the chef decides what to bring out for you on that day. I loved leaving the decisions entirely to the chef, since choosing what to eat is always such a struggle for me. Plus, I continually had a surprise to look forward to! Because everything was determined by the chef, I cannot tell you what is in the food, nor can  I promise that you will be able to try it when you visit yourself. Just know that everything is AMAZING here and you cannot go wrong with the tasting menu.

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Sustainable and Local Goods
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My date
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House Bread
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This was the most amazing ceviche I have ever had.
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A simple fish served with jalapenos and cauliflower. I was scraping the mustardy emulsion to the right with my fork.
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Delicious pork, but interestingly enough, even more delicious are the caramelized carrots!
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Mango Sorbet for a palate cleanser.
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If I can guarantee that I will get this same dessert, I would go back every day. This is the best dessert I have ever had. It’s a chocolate cake with scoops of different types of ice cream and with berries and edible flowers. Delectable, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that I can’t describe.

Los Danzantes

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The neighborhood of Coyoacan surprised it. It was by far my most favorite neighborhood to visit. If I had a do-over, I would opt to stay at an AirBNB in this area, despite how distant it is from the City Centre. Walking around the streets of Coyoacan was so relaxing, and there were tons of beautiful things to see! When noon hit, we were ready for some food. Los Danzantes had good yelp reviews and was recommended by our host, so we decided to eat there. The food was fairly priced and they had a huge selection of things to eat. The ambiance was great; outdoor seating on a patio in the middle of a beautiful park as musicians stroll by and stop in front of the restaurant to play for the diners. When the sun got too hot, a shade was rolled out over the patio, hence the dark photos provided here. I only gave it this rating because, while the food selection was great, it was pretty ordinary. Plus, the food was quite heavy, which I have tried to avoid in most recent years. That doesn’t take away from the taste, and I still think people should try this if they are in the area!

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Bread, Chips, and Salsa
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Ceviche! My favorite part of the meal.
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Pork tacos. Sooo heavy! It doesn’t look like a lot, but it was difficult to finish.
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This restaurant is known for their mole! They have many types of moles originating from different parts of Mexico. These are enchiladas that Mike ordered that was bathed in two types of mole.

Pujol

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Pujol by Enrique Olvera is listed as the world top 20 restaurant in the world. The truth is that after we saw Pujol on Chef’s Table, we just knew we had to go to Mexico City. With the help of the Drift magazine that was released earlier this year highlighting the coffee scene in CDMX, the decision was pretty much a done deal. Pujol remains our top dining experience thus far. I placed three dollar signs because it is pricey, but for U.S. standards, it is not impossible to save money to eat here. The price per person sits below $100, and is very affordable for a top 50 restaurant. The food and the experience is worth every penny.

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The tasting menu
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There are six courses, with four options for most courses. Since there were two of us, we got to try an array of amazing food!
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I broke my alcohol purge (temporarily) in order to drink mezcal with Mike. When in Mexico City…
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Baby Corn with Chicatana Ant Dusting: This dish was featured on Chef’s Table. In the episode, Enrique Olvera describes how he defines rare ingredients. The sauce on this corn was made with chicatana ants, a species that flies after the first rain of every year in Oaxaca. The fact that it is time-specific, location-specific, and is only present 1-2 days a year makes this a true delicacy. It was served as part of the street snacks.
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Paired with the baby corn was this playful bite of a gordita topped with a tomato based meat and vegetable pancake.
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Baby Corn with Chicatana Ant Dusting. The Chicatana Ants taste ridiculously delicious. I would be willing to dust everything I eat from now on with the stuff.
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Octopus, Habanero Ink, Ayocote, Veracruzana Sauce: First time trying octopus! Was not disappointed.
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Chayote Squash Slices, Pico de Gallo, Edible Flowers: This was extremely amazing and between this and the octopus, this beats the competition by a mile!
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Charred Eggplant Tamale, Chard. There is an unabashedly smokey flavor with this one!
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Cauliflower, Almond Salsa Macha, Chile de Arbol: I almost want to say that this was the best part of the meal (or at least, it ties with the mole). I think Mikey would agree with me on this one. To be honest, I think he regrets getting the chard tamale 😉
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Grilled Fish, Pine Nuts, Fennel: Extremely filling. I actually did not finish the entire thing in anticipation of the mole.
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Lamb, Mint Mole, Lime, Baby Potato: This was Mike’s main dish, which I did not try but I remember him eating the entire thing pretty quickly.
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Mole Madre: 1536 days old, Mole Nuevo
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Tortillas with an hoja santa leaf.
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I was scraping the mole clean off the plate. This was as good as the hype!
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A really awful shot of Cafe de Olla and a palate cleanser that tasted like bell peppers! We knew we had to try Cafe de Olla after reading about this common cinnamon coffee in the Drift magazine.
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A better shot of the pepper-y sorbet.
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12 hour Roasted Pineapple, Molasses, Cilantro ice cream
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Anise Inflatida, Chocolate, Praline. Mike claims this was better than the dessert at Maximo Bistrot. Since I did not get to try, Maximo’s cake was still the best I ever had!
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Candy, to go.

Sadly, I did not get to photograph the perfectly coiled churro that they served after our dessert, because Mike gobbled it up while I was busy chatting away with a solo traveler I met at the garden and before I knew it, it was gone!

I kind of wish we had made a second reservation to try the rest of the menu, but I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t order the chicharron cauliflower a second time and that Mike could resist ordering the same exact dessert. Maybe this requires eating there three times…

Undoubtedly, our top 3 eats ever are as follows.

  1. Pujol (CDMX, MX)
  2. Maximo Bistrot (CDMX, MX)
  3. La Tierra (Valle de Guadalupe, MX)

Mexico is looking pretty good!

On this trip, we also grabbed churros at El Moro THREE TIMES! That’s right, three separate days, eating churros and ice cream and shake. We also ate at Restaurante Nico, which is ranked #37 on Latin America’s top 50 restaurants, for which I do not have photos.

 

How I Flew to Mexico City for FREE with Southwest Airlines + 40K Bonus Points

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When our financial planner first sat down with Mike and I to discuss our long-term goals, travelling the world was up there on our list. It was the one common ground we had. A future home? Maybe. Kids? Not sure. Interests? Cars. Art. Travel? YES! ABSOLUTELY!

All of this was learned before we decided to change gears and pay back the student debt, full-force. Unfortunately, a $6,500 monthly student payment for ten years does put quite a damper on the travel. So, we found another way.

It’s no secret that we travel the world by travel hacking. Using credit card sign-up bonuses to rack up free flights was something we started doing last November. It has been a little over six months, and we have been able to buy the following flights for 2018:

Mexico City, San Francisco, Portland, Calgary, Sydney, and Christchurch. Also on the list, Costa Rica, for which we have the points, but are waiting for a few of our travel hacking friends to catch up so that we can all travel together!

Now I know that with travel hacking, one may not need to pay money for these flights, but they do still pay for them in points. What if I told you that I was able to fly to Mexico (and San Francisco, and Portland, and Costa Rica) for COMPLETELY FREE? As in, I did not spend any points at all to fly there, nor did I spend money. How, you ask? Southwest Airlines!

Southwest Airlines has an awesome program that grants a person a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows you to take someone with you on any flight, for free. Since Mikey has the Companion Pass, I (his companion) can fly with him wherever he goes for zilch. For those of you without a permanent significant other, no worries! You can change your companion up to three times in one calendar year. So take multiple friends on multiple vacations and voila! Problem solved!

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How to get Companion Pass:

There are multiple ways to get Companion Pass. Mike and I were lucky enough to strike a deal in November of last year, which we shared with all our friends, who also got in on it. The deal was an automatic Companion Pass until the end of December the FOLLOWING year (2018) as long as you open a Southwest Airlines card. This is the one we opened in particular, although there are other options to choose from. Additionally, you receive $40k bonus points if you hit a minimum spending of $1,000 in the first 3 months. This was very easy to do since Christmas time was around the corner from when we signed up. So we used our new Southwest Credit card to pay for upcoming gifts and events that came hand in hand with the holidays, and planned to hit the minimum spend by January of 2018! Free 40,000 points, to spend however we want!

If you missed the deal, there IS another way. Reach 110k points in their rewards program in one calendar and receive the Companion Pass until the end of December the following year from when the points were unlocked. It is crucial to note that all 110k points must be reached in the same calendar year. You may be saying, “This seems like a lot! How am I ever going to reach 110k?” The answer lies in opening multiple Southwest cards. Opening one personal SW card and one Business SW card will give you 40K bonus points and 60K bonus points respectively! Additionally, everytime you refer one friend to their credit card, you will receive 10k bonus points. So referring one friend on top of opening two cards will lead you to the grand total of 110k points in one calendar year!

Since the Companion Pass lasts until December of the FOLLOWING year, you can see how the best tactic would be to hit the 110K points in the beginning months, such as January and February. If you do this, then you can get close to 2 years of Companion Pass privileges. In order to do this, you may want to consider opening the credit cards before the holidays and spending as you regular would on the cards WITHOUT hitting the bonus in those last few months. Once January hits, spend the little additional amount necessary to hit the target minimum spending in order to get your two bonuses, and refer a friend. Simple! It is very important you DO NOT hit your bonus before January, otherwise it counts for the previous year. All the points for the 110k needs to be in the same year. It is crucial. The worst that can happen is you divide the bonus points between two years (December and January), thus disqualifying them from counting towards the same Companion Pass.

Why Choose Southwest? 

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of credit cards out there that one can choose to start with, but we decided to make Southwest one of our first ones because Companion Pass is just too good to pass up. We do not know of other cards that will give you a free flight for every flight you take. With the Chase 5/24 rule, we knew that 2 Southwest cards have to make up 2/5 of those 5 cards. (The Chase 5/24 rule states that you will only be approved for a Chase credit card if you have opened less than 5 credit cards in the last 24 months. Which means that if your tactic is to open two Southwest credit cards in order to get Companion Pass, the sooner you open them, the less likely that you would accidentally violate the 5/24 rule prior to achieving Companion Pass.)

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Another great perk is that Southwest flies all over the United States, as well as  to international destinations such as Bahamas, Mexico, and Costa Rica, to name a few. Love Hawaii? Rumor has it that Southwest will be opening up flights to Hawaii sometime this year too!

Any hidden costs?

It is important to note that while there are two Southwest personal credit card options, Southwest has recently disallowed the application to both personal credit cards for one person. You must apply to a personal card and a business card in order to gain points that can combine. Also, it is important to note that there are annual fees associated with some of the credit cards that we use. These fees could be considered as a “cost” toward the flights. However, the bonus points rewarded to you after hitting the minimum spending offsets these fees, since they can be used to redeem flights that add up to much more than the single annual fee. Because annual fees are charged at every anniversary, it is important to remember to close the credit card prior to the anniversary date, to prevent being charged a renewal fee for another year.

Lastly, if you purchase flights with points, there may be taxes associated with the purchases. For example, Mike used points to buy flights to CDMX, San Francisco, and Portland, but he was taxed with roughly $11 for SF and Portland and roughly $25 for CDMX. These prices are minimal compared to the price of the flight, but they do still exist, and as a firm believer in full disclosures, I think it is imperative that this is stated in this post.

If travel hacking is something you are new to and would like to try, I really recommend starting with the Southwest Airlines credit card. Especially if you have a travel partner with you at all times! If you feel like you need to learn more about travel hacking first before committing, I suggest starting here.

Happy travels!

 

Travel: Casa Jacaranda, A Must-Do Culinary Experience in Mexico City

Casa Jacaranda is a culinary experience led by the duo Beto Estua and Jorge Fitz. Not to be missed, it allows visitors and locals alike to experience the beauty of Mexican cooking. From shopping for local produce, to making delicious, traditional Mexican dishes in their beautiful home, cooks at every experience level can enjoy a wonderful afternoon with these two, whose genuine interest is to have others learn, as well as fall in love with, Mexican cuisine. The day ends with a meal on their rooftop garden, with the other foodie enthusiasts that you have met, eating the meal that you’ve all made together and bonded over. If there is one experience that I would recommend when visiting Mexico City, this is it!

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“At Casa Jacaranda, amazing things happen,” one guest prophetically proclaimed, raising a glass of the best Paloma I have ever tasted, and I thought to myself, “Isn’t that the truth!” When Mike and I were invited to join a group for a culinary experience, I was not expecting to be completely blown away by the love for food and culture that Beto and Jorge openly exhibit. It makes one fall in love, too.

Part 1: The Market

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To begin, we were to meet up with the rest of the group at 10 AM in the morning on the corner of Campecho and Medellin, where the Medellin market now stands. This mercado has been in existence for one hundred and thirty years. Located in Roma Sur, it has historically been known as the market that houses produce from all over Mexico, including items that were not as welcome in the markets in the city center, where Roma Norte now resides. Mexican cuisine is varied and wide-spread, and typically, mercados only wanted to house ingredients specific to that region. The Medellin market has always been of a different variety, welcoming foreign items so that immigrants from other parts of Mexico have a place to grab the things that remind them most of home. Its diversity makes this a great place to start learning about what Mexico has to offer.

Beto and Jorge arrived with a small cart in tow, all smiles. After friendly hellos, hugs, besos, and a few introductions, we went right to it. Everyone in the group was kindly asked if there are any allergies or foods that must be avoided for health reasons. Considering any accommodations that must be made, Beto and Jorge then think of what dishes we are going to cook using the produce that are currently in season. They considered an appetizer, starter, main course, and dessert for our particular group, although they do change it up frequently, so don’t be surprised if your particular meal is differently structured. The sorpresa is part of what makes it so fun. Once the group agreed upon the meal, off we went into the market. Beto took charge of picking up the ingredients we needed, while Jorge gave the group of eager students a tour.

 

I couldn’t help but feel completely jealous at the availability of the Medellin market to local cuidadanos. The ability to cook with the freshest of the season’s offerings, using ingredients that will never know packaging, is one of the biggest draws of this place for me. Living in a city where I struggle on the daily to avoid plastic packaging when shopping for groceries, this was absolutely an anti-plastic, fresh-loving, local-sourcing cook’s heaven. I could tell straight-away that the feeling was mutual for our two guides. Jorge nimbly maneuvered his way through the narrow aisles, saying hi to his favorite butcher and fishmonger, noting which stalls had his favorite produce, and which did not. With him leading the way, I knew we could not go wrong.

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Right when you walk in, the colors of the market reflect what you would see brightly painted on the buildings that make up this beautiful city. Vibrant fruits, vegetables and flowers. Dried peppers overflowing from the baskets, with skins as soft and supple as a beautiful leather, and quite unlike the dried up versions that take days (months?) to be exported to Californian markets. Containers stuffed to the brim with hibiscus flowers, otherwise known as flor de jamaica, from Mexico and Africa. The difference between the two being that the Mexican variety results in less color, but more flavor. We tasted different moles from a family that has been making mole and selling it at that particular market for years. Imagine a sauce so complex, yet you can single out a hint of almond. Or one that seeps of cacao and sesame seed flavor, nutty and bold.

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We visited a merchant that has been selling his Yucatan family’s hot sauces since 1968, and tasted his amazing hot sauce poured over salt flakes. I gobbled up my cracker as Jorge joked about the American way of pronouncing ha-ba-ne-ro as “ha-ban-nie-row”. The hot sauce was deliciously sour and spicy all at once, and left a biting sting at the tip of my tongue. We brought home two bottles, and I have been diligently dousing avocado toasts ever since!

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We were introduced to a friendly man who makes the best ice cream. Story has it that at some point, 80% of the market’s Yelp reviews were solely about the ice cream stand! Jorge had to take it upon himself to start this man his own Yelp business account. The ice cream was homemade, and there were a variety of seasonal flavors that one could try. We also stopped at a coffee shop and grabbed a shot of coffee, as well as Colombian bombolinos.

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But the absolute best stop of all, hands down, was a butcher shop that serves tacos only on Saturdays, and lo and behold, I happened to pick the experience on a Saturday! Fresh carnitas being cut up in front of you using the butcher’s meats, topped with acidic sauces and pickled red onions. That will forever stand in my memory as one of those WOW moments, and if I ever return, I will make sure to come back on a Saturday and to free up my entire afternoon because that is where you will find me. As we exited the market, I felt a piece of my heart being left at that carnita stand.

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Part 2: Becoming a Chef

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After the market tour, it was a short walk from Roma Sur to Roma Norte, where Casa Jacaranda stands on a wide street, behind a (you guessed it!) jacaranda tree, in full bloom. The purple flowers swayed in the wind, inviting us into their beautiful home, whose walls exhibited multiple art pieces, and which housed a large professional kitchen that makes the perfect setting for a cooking class. Beto had gone ahead of the group  after purchasing the ingredients from the market, so that by the time we arrived, all the ingredients have been washed and laid out in perfect proportions for our class.

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We all were asked to wash our hands, and then don our aprons. What happened next is a blur of activity. I can’t remember everything that we did, but rather, exactly how it felt. To cut alongside people from other countries who are eager to learn as much as you, to listen to Beto and Jorge’s advice, wisdom, and direction as they share their grandmother’s recipes, to laugh as we joke about technique, or lack thereof, this is what the afternoon was made of. Luckily, Beto and Jorge email the recipes to their guests afterwards, so there is really no pressure to remember much at all, allowing us to sincerely immerse ourselves into the projects at hand. No yoga session has ever had me living in the present moment as thoroughly as this cooking class. It was bliss, enveloped in being attentive, but in a very care-free environment.

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Beto and Jorge had us each working on a different task, with watchful eyes and guiding hands, and as a team, we created the dishes that we had decided on. At some point there were three people cutting up tomatoes, and one man on the grill. Two people were responsible of removing chili seeds, and two were responsible for blending the sauces. We had quite the production line with the tortilla making! Two people rolling up balls of dough, three people on tortilla press duty, and one gal at the stove, cooking them as they were being handed down to her. We helped each other prepare ingredients, handed each other things that had to be added to the pot, and taste-tested along the way. We each had a say as to how hot we thought salsas should be, how acidic or spicy or strong. We were creating masterpieces with our own hands, unbeknownst to us at the time. I remember eating the food later in the day and thinking in disbelief, “We made that?!”

 

Part 3: Sharing a Meal with Friends

As we finished our final additions to the sauces and salsas, Beto started serving us some of the sopes that we had made. Off course, we had the freedom to structure it whatever way we wanted. That left me wanting to pile all the ingredients on one unfortunate sope. I mixed red sauce with green sauce, because who was to say otherwise? It was glorious. I had three sopes (maybe four?) before I told myself to slow down, since this wasn’t even the main event yet!

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Luckily, it was then that Jorge brought out a tray of grapefruit Palomas, which I happily allowed to interrupt my ravenous sope-ingesting. As we sipped on grapefruit and tequila laden cups, we laughed and talked about our own stories and lifestyles, about what we like to do, and where we plan to go next. Nothing like a good cocktail to widen the smile and loosen the limbs. We were eagerly refilling our cups for more of that refreshing drink, whose recipe was also shared.

When we’ve all had our fill, we were invited to the rooftop garden, to enjoy our meal in the sun underneath the swaying jacaranda branches. The table was already beautifully set up when we got there.

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We were served a bottle of wine to pair with our starter, which was a brightly-colored tortilla soup. I have never had tortilla soup so bold in color, and so rich in flavor. The thick and creamy dish was topped with tortilla chips, chicharrones, cream, fried peppers, avocado, and cheese. If I had a do-over, I would surely double up on the chicharrones!

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As we opened another bottle of wine, we were served our adobo meat, served with rice and veggies. In my case, I opted for the pitcher of agua de jamaica instead of the additional glass of wine. I had no reservations about refilling my “water” cup throughout the rest of the meal. Can one substitute eight glasses of water with that lovely floral drink? Please say YES!

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I vaguely remember the dried peppers that we seeded so thoroughly to make the adobo sauce. It was absolutely delicious. I shared with the group the fact that we have an adobo in the Philippines too, however the Mexican adobo more closely mirrored what we called Caldereta. We discussed similarities and differences between cultures, and were reminded that we are of one human race, with intertwined and connected histories. Food kind of helps that discovery along.

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Lastly, for dessert, I tasted for the very first time a mamey fruit, served with mamey ice cream. I immediately regretted having to return to the States, where I will surely have an incredibly difficult time finding this beautiful fruit. It had the texture of a papaya and was sweet in the subtlest of ways, the way that almonds are sweet, almost fleetingly so. I was one of the two who had unabashedly taken second helpings of the ice cream, seeing as how it will be a while before I may get the chance to eat this again!

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And just when I thought I couldn’t do any more, a tray holding two bottles of mezcal and two bottles of tequila were brought up, with the artsiest shot-glasses to hold them in. One of the guests that had joined us from Rothenburg ob der Tauber just recently finished travelling in Columbia. He carried up a chocolate bar made from 100% Cacao from Colombia, to pair with the mezcal. Beto then proceeded to show us a video of him making chocolate by hand from 100% cacao, a process that entails constant grinding of the cacao for seven to eight hours without any breaks! My bread baking obsession looked pretty weak next to that. We also tasted Colombian rum, courtesy of our new friend, with hints of orange and chocolate. We were later joined by Beto’s two dogs, as we basked in the sun during our sobremesa and talked our way into the early hours of the evening.

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Unfortunately, good times, too, must come to an end. As the evening drew to a close, I thought to myself that I could not think of a better way to end our Mexico trip than to spend an entire day at Casa Jacaranda. There is no doubt in my mind that we had saved the best for last!

I would highly recommend reserving an entire day for this activity for anyone visiting Mexico City for the first time. Not only will you meet new friends, get a tour of the market, learn to cook, and have an amazing meal, but this is one sure way to take a part of Mexico home with you forever. I know that we will be replicating these recipes for years to come, and will be sharing them with family and friends on our occasional hosted dinners at home. A sincere thanks are in order to Jorge and Beto, for the wonderful experience!

 

This post is sponsored by Casa Jacaranda. All opinions are my own.

Hidden Perks of an AirBNB

There is something to be said of waking up in the morning in a city other than your own. I find the experience to be a bit transcendental, if only for the duration of our stay; The same person waking up in someone else’s shoes. The location which we choose to live greatly affects the experience.

When we were planning our trip to Mexico City, we teeter-tottered between a standard hotel in the heart of Roma, where we would have a view of the Angel de Independencia and be surrounded by other extranjeros eager to walk to streets, equally unfamiliar with the rules, and an AirBNB apartment located in the Guerrero, slightly away from the main road. I am extremely happy we went with the latter.

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The perks of AirBNB are known to many, and the world over too. It was significantly cheaper to rent this apartment for $40 per night, than it was to rent a single hotel room for upwards of $150 a night. This apartment is huge, big enough for Mike and I to permanently move into and be happy living in, and just as tempting an idea. It’s got a bit of history, being the home of a passed away father whose son wanted to dedicate the space to the man he loved. It is a mix between a modern renovation with recessed lighting and white walls, and a vintage memory, housing original kitchen tiles and a retro oven. An original brick wall acts as a beautiful backdrop in the small dining room, its corner intersecting with a contrasting black granite countertop and new wooden shelving. The shower is tall and modern, exhibiting good temperature and strong pressure as water falls onto a cobblestone floor on the opposite side of a thick pane of glass. The furnishings of the place is functional, and minimal, just our cup of tea.

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But what I love most about choosing AirBNB is the way in which it helps us feel a bit more dissociated with our identity as foreigners. Admission into the apartment required meeting up with Chacha, a friendly man with afro hair and a big smile, who happens to own the tienda downstairs and slightly next door. After guiding us into the gated alleyway, painted yellow, a perfect signature of the surrounding buildings, he dropped us off in front of a bright blue door atop red marbled stairs. After a quick explanation of how to access the keys, and with an invitation to pop by his shop for any of our daily needs, off he went to leave us feeling completely displaced, but interestingly, happy to be so.

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Light floods into the heavily windowed apartment, but even more so do the sounds, floating in through a broken window sill in the living room. Sounds of automobiles honking in the traffic of surronding busy streets, as expected in a city as populous as this. Sounds of a neighboring gal saying Buenas Tardes to Chacha as she bicycles her way into the gated alley across the street. The sound of mothers urging their ninos to walk just a bit faster as they hurry off to school. The sound of kids playing in the streets as the sun sets, and as the smells of neighboring kitchens slowly waft into our own.

Our location is close enough to the main street, La Reforma, that we can walk to it and be a straight shot away from the rest of the more affluent, tall, buildings and restuarant-laden streets (albeit a few miles down the way), where we and all the other visitors of Mexico may spend on the things we take for granted. But the location is remote enough from downtown that one turn in the opposite direction, and we see the people who live through their day to day on the streets, selling whatever they can, wearing clothes with holes and worn down shoes, sitting under plastic tents made of sticks to shield from both rain and sun.

From my window, I stare at graffiti walls on a chipping blue paint,  and trash on the streets. Discarded crates left on their sides to rot. Cars dented, chipped, fading. It smells of city streets when it gets warm in the afternoons. It’s enough to keep one grounded. A beautiful reminder that although there is a small part of this city dedicated to entertaining people with some of the Top 50 restaurants in the world and historic sites and museums that contain so much beauty, there is a larger part that is just trying to get by one day at at time.

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This is part of the feeling of being displaced. Taking part in the glamor and the glitz of what geoarbitrage can afford any American visiting Mexico, and also taking part in the reality of the people who live in it. Just as I feel in limbo with which language to speak, responding in whichever language they choose to speak with me, and not realizing when I make the switch, regardless of which person I am talking to. And for this I am grateful. I don’t think I would have ever experienced Mexico City in this way if, like many visitors, we decided to stay in the heart of it all, where every site was walkable, the streets are kept clean, and people speak English. And to hear Mike say, “I love this city”, after we just walked through an alleyway of streets filled with rubble and reeking of piss and filled with mostly men outdoors breaking down their home-made tiendas in the middle of the narrow street, it really makes me think that we could live here a few months to learn more about the culture and the people. I could get used to saying Buenos Dias to Chacha every morning, just as I could get used to the broken window sill, and the sounds of traffic, eating great food, and being surrounded by a friendly population of cuidadanos.

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With that, I would highly recommend AirBNB in an attempt to integrate with the foreigners less and the locals more. I know it may throw some out of their comfort zone, but for what reasons do we really travel and can we really understand the lifestyles of fellow humans in other countries if we purposefully blind ourselves to it? Mike and I mostly travel to understand, to get some grasp of the larger world view, and to slowly put the pieces of a grand and complicated puzzle together. We will likely spend our lives doing it and never get close, except for little decisions such as these that help us get just a little bit closer.

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