One of the world’s biggest cities is bursting at the seams with energy, culture, great food and enough surreality to keep it endlessly fascinating
Author Joe Keohane Photography Holly Wilmeth
DAY THREE | Having gotten a good night’s sleep, you call for a car to take you to bohemian Roma, and get out at Café Toscana (1), a coffee shop popular with the local creative types, with windows that open to the sidewalk and excellent coffee and baked goods. When you finish your cup, take a stroll past the neighborhood’s indie design stores, small bookstores and bike shops, plus a film shoot. Though buzzing with energy today, Roma was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1985, and even now many of the old colonial and beaux arts residences slump and lean.
On Zacatecas, stop at La Valise (2), a store owned by a French expat that sells only design pieces and random curios that can fit in a suitcase. On the way out you smell something good, and step into Broka (3), next door. The little year-old restaurant and bar (the space was previously a piñata store) serves one dish per day. Today, it’s chicken stuffed with mushrooms and covered with spicy poblano salsa. Delicious.
A 20-minute walk takes you to Roma’s trendier sister, Condesa, where you do a lap around Amsterdam, a street that circles the Parque Mexico, one of the city’s prettier parks, then stray south down Tamaulipas to the Centro Cultural Bella Epoca (4), a vast, spotless bookstore and cultural center. You buy a CD by Chavela Vargas, one of Mexico’s great singers, then — to achieve that very Mexican balance of high- and lowbrow — proceed across the street to El Hijo del Santo (5), a small boutique and shrine to Mexico’s greatest lucha libre wrestler that’s full of T-shirts, toys, watches and posters bearing his visage. You can’t help it — you buy a silver mask.
For dinner, you have a reservation at one of Condesa’s trendier eateries, Azul Condesa (6), a modern, colorful space popular with young, well-heeled types. You order the chile en nogada: a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with spicy-sweet diced pork and smothered in walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. For dessert you have the chocolate tamale with crème anglaise, chocolate sauce and almonds. The corn keeps telling you it’s not dessert, while the rest of the steaming dish definitively informs you otherwise.
During your postprandial walk through Condesa, you spot a tiny concrete bunker of a mezcalería called La Botica (7). On one wall is a pop art cactus; on the other, a jukebox full of great Mexican rock ’n’ roll. Dozens of varieties of mezcal are displayed in glass medicine bottles, behind a glass case of Star Wars figures posed with their arms held aloft in inscrutable triumph. You order the top-shelf añejo and the waitress climbs a ladder into a crawlspace over the bar to retrieve it, then serves it with a dish of sliced oranges coated in chili powder. It’s smooth and smoky, with no burn, completely delicious, and the fruit chases it beautifully. You had planned to do some more strolling, but instead you opt to end the night here, feet up, doing what you should be doing: feeling the pulse, pondering it, practicing it, watching the street life teem, here in one of the world’s most fascinating cities.
JOE KEOHANE has been trying to replicate esquites at home. A breakthrough has proved elusive.