Looking out the car window, the faces flew by. Men. Women. Children. In between the faces were brightly colored flowers in full bloom. This was our first look at the city’s love affair with art and murals as the driver navigated evening rush hour traffic driving from the Mexico City airport into the city center on the Circuito Interior (Inner Circuit), a highway that circles the center of Mexico City.
The car stopped in front of Hotel Volga. My wife, Michelle, and I were greeted by name as our bags were sent to our room. We looked for the front door. There wasn’t one. Instead, the hotel’s entrance was like the opening on a Broadway stage with the curtain pulled back. We entered and descended a spiral staircase, elegant enough to be a sculpture.
On the lower floor, we walked into an atrium that soared seven stories to the rooftop dome. The open space had a long bar on one side, a lounge area with comfortable chairs and sofas in the middle and, on the other side, a casual-elegant restaurant.
Stefano Antoniazzi, the general manager, met us in the lounge. With a sweep of his hand, he told us, “Welcome to our home.” And to make the point that Hotel Volga wanted to be a home and not a traditional hotel, there was no front desk. Instead of a counter acting as a barrier to entry, Antoniazzi explained, “At Hotel Volga, you can check in wherever you want. Here in the atrium, on our rooftop lounge or in your room.” As we signed in, he offered us a “welcoming drink.”
The welcoming drink, like everything at the hotel, he said, was “open to the mood of our guests.” We could have anything we wanted, fruit juice, coffee or tea, but because we arrived in the late afternoon, he offered us the hotel’s signature cocktail, the Mezcalita Volga. Bartender Felipe Guzman flavored ice-cold mezcal with chile ancho liqueur, chocolate liqueur, Mexican brown sugar (piloncillo), Campari and passion fruit. As he handed us our cocktails, Antoniazzi told us, “Whatever you need, ask.”
And ask we did. Before we left home, we knew we only had a long weekend, so we wanted to make the best use of each day. Using emails and WhatsApp messages, we worked with concierge Ernesto Carvajal to create an itinerary that would give us a taste of Mexico City’s culture, history, art and restaurants.
He suggested we book a guide to give us a tour of the historical district around Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución), Mexico City’s main square. Because the city was very busy, he also suggested we book restaurant and museum reservations.
We liked the hotel’s location, a block from Mexico City’s most famous street, Paseo de la Reforma and the iconic Angel of Independence (El Ángel de la Independencia), celebrating Mexico’s war of independence from Spain. Dozens of cafes, bars and coffee shops were close to the hotel. The Happenings section of the hotel website listed current and upcoming events celebrating art, food culture and music.
Before we experienced the city, we wanted to explore the hotel. Designed by Aisha Ballesteros and Javier Sanchez of JSa Architecture, Hotel Volga was a visual delight. A modern take on the English Brutalist style, JSa Architecture used concrete, steel and glass to create dramatic, clean lines and open spaces.
We enjoyed walking on the sinewy, curving staircase that led from the street-level entrance to the downstairs atrium lounge. The dark-as-chocolate wood had an organic shape, like a thick vine had grown around a massive tree that was long gone but the curving vine-shape remained.
Art was everywhere we looked. A dance-club cool neon sculpture on the wall, “A Taste of Volga” occupied center stage on the atrium lounge wall. In the mezzanine art gallery, a collective exhibit titled “The Science of Levitation” displayed the works of several sculptors who created emotional figures out of stone. In the “Concept Store,” we admired the curated jewelry, fashion accessories and clothing.
The hotel had many personal touches, like an intimate meditation space in a tropical garden facing Rio Volga. The open-air rooftop had a lot going on with a bar, dining area, tropical garden, lap pool, chaise lounges and cabanas. Dramatic views of the city were framed by picture-window sized openings cut into the thick exterior walls. We leaned against the cool concrete as we looked out to appreciate Mexico City’s many architectural styles.
Our third-floor room was as artfully composed as the rest of the hotel. The illuminated sleeping platform made the king-sized bed appear to levitate. The efficient room had a seating area with a small table, large closets and a mini-bar, all designed in a pleasing modern-minimalistic style. Red and white oak gave the room an intimate, warm feeling. The private terrace with chairs and a small table faced the atrium. The glass-enclosed shower had a wonderful supply of hot water that cascaded down from the overhead waterfall fixture.
The room had numerous creature comforts, including terrycloth bathrobes and an amenity kit in a drawstring cloth pouch with a luffa sponge body scrubber, ear plugs, wooden tooth brush and comb, shower cap and razor. We appreciated that the WiFi was complimentary, as were the snacks and nonalcoholic drinks in the mini-bar that was replenished daily.
After an excellent night’s sleep on our comfortable, firm mattress, we had breakfast in Elora.
Light flooded down from the atrium dome as we read the menu with a dozen choices, from chilaquiles, avocado or smoked salmon toasts, croissants, eggs Benedict, French toast, chia pudding to fruit bowls, as well as a variety of hot and cold beverages. The attentive waitstaff was always available to bring more hot water for my wife’s tea or more of the delicious toasted sweet bread. My wife loved her omelet with sauteed mushrooms and Manchego cheese. She ordered it every day. I enjoyed the gravlax and cucumber toast with tzatziki on toast.
As we were leaving for our guided tour, we saw again the hotel’s attention to personal touches. To prepare for a yoga class, couches and chairs were removed as the lounge area was transformed into a meditative space fitted out with colorful cushions, freshly cut flowers and scented candles. Every detail was designed to create a peaceful, calming space.
A Walk Around Zócalo and the Historical District
Where to begin a tour of a metropolitan area with over twenty-two million inhabitants, sixteen neighborhoods sprawling over 573 square miles, at an elevation of 7,350 feet? Natalia Cabarga, our guide for the day, suggested that we begin at the beginning.
Zócalo. We walked through Mexico City’s main square, famous for its oversized Mexican flag and government buildings. Cabarga wanted us to see the layers of history that were laid bare next to the Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Bienaventurada Virgen María a los cielos).
As we approached the impressive cathedral, we passed vendors selling souvenirs and organ grinders called “organilleros” with stuffed monkeys who played tunes on their ancient mechanical machines. We followed the clouds of fragrant smoke to see healers waving smoldering herbs over the heads, shoulders and backs of people who wanted to be cleansed in a limpia ceremony.
We walked around the Cathedral to the archeological site of the Templo Mayor. Men in elaborate makeup were dressed in colorful costumes decorated with feathers. The shells on their ankles and wrists jangled as they walked. They offered that we could have our picture taken with them, for a small fee.
On a raised platform with a view of the excavated archeological site, we looked back in time to five hundred years before there was the Mexico City when Tenochtitlan was the capital of the Aztec or Mexica empire. In the center was the Sacred City with the most sacred of temples, the Templo Mayor. The plaques on the pedestrian walkway told the story of a warrior culture that once secured itself on an island-city in a vast lake.
After the Spaniards conquered the Mexica, they used the stones of Tenochtitlan and the Templo Mayor to build their own sacred city with the Cathedral in the center. Over time the lake was drained and more land added to create a larger city. Many centuries later, all that was left of the original Mexica city and temple were the walled outlines of houses and the temple.
In the excavated remnants of the Templo Mayor, Cabarga pointed to the bits of white sticking to the ancient stone walls. All Mesoamerican temples, she told us, were covered in white stucco. Limestone was burnt and mixed with water to create a paste that was mixed with sand and nopal cactus juice. That created the base for a fresco technique that the indigenous peoples used to decorate the temples, a technique that was used by Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera.
Murals, quiet spaces and Frida Kahlo
In the Ministry of Public Education (Secretaria de Educacíon Pública known as SEP), Cabarga told us, “Look in the staircase.” That wasn’t easy because the staircase was locked off by heavy metal gates next to a large mural called “The Rural Teacher” (“La Maestra Rural”). We peered past the iron gate. After our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we were rewarded with a wonderful sight. A vivid fresco stretched across the walls and up to the ceiling. Young women stared straight ahead as they stood against a background of verdant jungle foliage.
The Ministry was a functioning public building. But it could have been a museum since it housed priceless works by some of Mexico’s most famous artists, most notably, Diego Rivera.
From 1922 to 1928 Rivera was given a commission to transform bare walls into galleries embracing the nobility of labor, dramatizing the cruelty of oppression and celebrating the Mexican Revolution. Recruited by José Vasconcelos Calderón, the Minister of Education, Rivera created frescoes throughout the building. Vasconcelos wanted to use education and art to unify a country fractured by civil war. Diego Rivera was chosen to paint and train others to create images that would help Mexico heal.
The murals in SEP depicted festivities and work throughout the country, scenes of people doing the ordinary activities of life, doing their laundry, celebrating the Day of the Dead. He created images of men and women at work, farmers harvesting corn while others worked in steel mills or labored in primitive mines. Murals showed acts of cruelty and moments of human grace and beauty. The images looked backward at a history of injustice and oppression and forward to a world in which all people were respected and worked together for the common good. There were so many murals, we would have happily spent the entire day exploring the massive building.
Having a guide was such an advantage. Hotel Volga had introduced us to the perfect person to help us experience Mexico City’s historical neighborhood. Trained in art history, Cabarga wanted us to visit locations that had a personal meaning for her.
After we left the areas popular with visitors, not far from the Ministry of Education, Cabarga showed us her favorite church, Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar, known as “La Enseñanza.” Very different from the images created by Rivera, the walls of the small church were covered with paintings and three-dimensional reliefs. Created in the Baroque style, the ornate images were designed to instill awe and reverence in the worshipers. Cabarga pointed to the balcony that faced the altar. Covered with a lattice, the nuns prayed here, hidden from sight.
Intimate La Enseñanza used sculptures and paintings to tell the story of the Catholic church. We were struck by the emotional expressiveness of the reliefs on the wall. One in particular stood out. A bearded man looked down, an open book in his hand, while a young child peeked out from behind his right shoulder. The features of father and son showed how they are united in devotion.
El Colegio Nacional - Art Gallery
On busy, noisy Donceles Street, we walked next door to El Colegio Nacional (The National College) where the nuns once lived. Cabarga wanted us to see how colonial architecture used courtyards to create places of quiet in the heart of the city. At the entrance, we walked past a small bookstore and art gallery and entered an inner courtyard. Like a Fabergé egg that has secrets hidden within, Cabarga led us into the next courtyard and then a third called the “patio de los naranjos.” Carefully tended citrus trees were filled with fruit. Grapefruit, lemons and oranges hung heavy on the branches.
In that third and final courtyard, the city noise had completely disappeared. We could have been in the garden of a house in the country instead of in Mexico City’s busy historical district.
Cabarga wanted us to see this quiet place to appreciate how buildings were sanctuaries. And she wanted us to see something else. “Look up,” she told us. Along the balconies, heavy metal girders had been placed to reinforce the walls. “Mexico City is sinking.”
Many great metropolitan centers, like New York city, were built on bedrock. That was not the case in Mexico City. The Mexicas built Tenochtitlan on an island in Lake Texcoco and over the centuries, they expanded the city as farmers built floating gardens called “chinampas.” The Spaniards aggressively grew their new city, draining the lake and building European style buildings on the soft sandy-clay soil. The weight of the buildings we had just explored, along with the thousands of other buildings in Mexico City have compacted the soil, causing the ground and buildings to sink. Complicating the problem, to supply the city, for many years fresh water was pumped out of the underground aquifer. Even though now fresh water arrives in the city from outside sources, the damage has been done. The consequence is that on average, the earth beneath Mexico City has been settling uneveningly at an alarming rate of up to 15” a year.
Solutions are still being developed. In the meantime, some stairs that used to go up, now go down and many buildings like El Colegio Nacional require reinforcement.
After we left the historical district, we traveled across town to visit one of the city’s most well-known art museums.
Mexico City is home to a great many world-class museums. The Museum of Frida Kahlo (Museo Frida Kahlo) also known as La Casa Azul was high on our list. Having booked our tickets online for the day and time we wanted to visit, when we arrived, we joined the line with others who had chosen that same time. As we entered, we stopped at the reception desk to pay a small fee so we could take photographs.
It was good that we had allowed 90 minutes to explore the house and enjoy the garden. There was much to see and we shared Frida’s home with a great many visitors. To avoid bumping into people, we found ourself in an involuntarily choreographed dance with the others who were walking through her family’s home at the same time.
We walked into the family’s kitchen and the small rooms with displays of Frida’s work and photographs taken by her father. Then up the narrow staircase to Frida’s bedroom. Like everyone else, we tilted our heads up to look at the mirror suspended above Frida’s canopied bed. When she was eighteen, she suffered life-altering injuries. In an accident that almost killed her, a bus slammed into the streetcar where she was riding. Her body shattered, a full-body cast forced her to lie flat for months. Her family cared for her. Frida would not give up, determined to recover, no matter the pain. And yet, throughout her life, as she recuperated after suffering dozens of surgeries, she returned to that bed where the mirror allowed her to paint self-portraits.
In a bungalow outside the house, we walked through darkened rooms painted black with illuminated showcases of her colorful clothes and the many braces she was forced to wear to help alleviate the pain caused by persistent back pain.
Outside the house, we sat on a bench and enjoyed the beauty of her garden filled with tropical plants and fountains. Painted cobalt “Maya” blue, Cabarga told us, “to honor the pre-Hispanic cultures,” the walls of the house were calming. This was Kahlo’s sanctuary where she spent her first and last days.
On our next trip, we want to visit the modernist houses (Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo) where Kahlo lived with Diego Rivera after they married. There they had separate but equal living spaces and studios where they created their memorable art. Theirs was a complicated relationship with both pursuing affairs, divorcing and then remarrying even as they continued to support one another’s creative and political work.
In the end, suffering physically, Kahlo returned to La Casa Azul. She continued to paint even as her health declined. She died July 13, 1954. For us, seeing her family’s house reinforced the sense that Frida Kahlo’s superhuman force of will helped her create remarkable art even as she confronted painfully difficult circumstances.
Where to eat
On the day we visited the historical center of the city, we had lunch at Itacate del Mar. A collaboration between two talented chefs, Gabriela Cámara and Monica López Santiago, the intimate café had tables inside and outside on the sidewalk behind the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral.
The small restaurant had a large menu with a great many choices, all of them focused on traditional Mexican dishes. Sopes, soups, eggs, chilaquiles, tostadas, fresh fruit, tortas with shrimp or octopus, guacamole, aguachile, salads and desserts. We ordered the esquites de camarón con mayonesa de habanero and the ceviche de pesca, leche de tigre, cebolia morada y cilantro. The corn with grilled shrimp had the right amount of heat as did the ceviche. Served with house made crisp tortillas, we broke off pieces of tortilla and scooped up corn, shrimp and raw fish flavored with chiles, cilantro and lime. We appreciated that the chefs used the freshest seasonal ingredients, prepared with care and an attention to detail. The dishes tasted like best-ever home-cooking.
After we spent the better part of the day walking around the city and visiting the Frida Kahlo Museum and the Modern Art Museum, we were happy to return to the comforts of Hotel Volga. And, we were hungry.
We had dinner in Elora, Hotel Volga’s main dining restaurant. With the high ceiling and expanse of the atrium and lounge, casual-elegant Elora had an inviting loft-spaciousness. A Mediterranean inspired menu created by chefs Juan Manuel González and Edo López emphasized quality, fresh ingredients.
The menu divided the offerings between COLD and HOT. The choices were varied, from fresh raw oysters, tuna carpaccio, salmon tartar and cured kampachi to beef tartar and chicken pate. For salads we could have fresh tomatoes with pine nuts, fennel and basil, cucumbers pickled and roasted with tzatziki or endive with caramelized walnuts, smoked provolone and peaches.
We liked the idea of the cucumber salad and the tuna carpaccio with citrus. We decided to share an entrée. And, again, there were many good choices.
The smoked tomato soup sounded good, as did mussels steamed in white wine with Spanish chorizo. There were pasta dishes. Tortellini stuffed with ricotta and spinach. Pappardelle simply prepared with parmesan and truffles. We could have linguini with sea urchin or a classic penne with vodka sauce. Steak with fries was prepared au proive. The pork chop was Milanese style and served with an arugula salad. We chose the grilled sea bass with a green sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes.
We enjoyed all the dishes. The cucumber salad had a refreshing flavor, with creamy, tart tzatziki balancing the crispness of the cucumber slices. Combining techniques and ingredients from Italy and Japan, the tuna carpaccio appetizer paired sushi quality tuna with citronette, peppery arugula and Parmesan cheese. The moist, tender sea bass was the definition of comfort food with a green sauce made of fish broth, parsley, garlic and anchovies. We cleaned the plate, leaving no morsel behind.
Unexpectedly, as a special moment, we had a surprise guest at dinner. Chef Edo López.
Chef Edo López, Rokai, Rokai Ramen, Sushi Tatsugoro and Kasina Cafe
López joined us and told us an amazing story. Ten years ago, he was transitioning from a career as a music manager and event producer after having moved from Tijuana where he was born to
Mexico City where he had family. Uncertain what his next career would be, he was cooking a meal for a friend who said, “You should open a restaurant.”
That seemed far-fetched, but he always loved food, so he was open to a challenge. He saw a flower shop that was closing. He rented the space and bought kitchen equipment from Cosco, with the intention of making food that was “very honest.” In the tiny space, he served small plates.
At the time, he didn’t know the restaurant would succeed. But it did. Ultimately, he transitioned the menu to what it is today. Rokai on Río Ebro, a five-minute walk from Hotel Volga, is a popular sushi bar and Izakaya.
As that first restaurant led to others, López founded the Edo Kobayashi Group. He told us he was guided by a simple plan. He loved the way the Japanese do food. Even when they make pasta or coffee, familiar products, the Japanese “do it with perfection but in their own way.” He wanted to create affordable restaurants that served quality ingredients and used the best Japanese techniques.
Ten years later, he has played a role in creating thirty restaurants and bars including 15 in Mexico City and restaurants in Cabo, Guadalajara, Monterey, Miami, Los Angeles, La Jolla, New York, Tokyo and Madrid. In a “speakeasy” setting, Tokyo Music Bar serves cocktails with vinyl records playing on a high-end hi-fi system. Not all are Japanese. Elora is Mediterranean. Rubia in Tokyo has a Mexican-Japanese menu. Lazy Susan in Mexico City serves Chinese dishes as interpreted in a Japanese kitchen.
He told us he wanted all the food he served to be informed by a Japanese aesthetic of visual artistry, simplicity and elegance. To create the healthiest meals meant using the healthiest ingredients, which meant importing some products from Japan as well as looking to local suppliers. That included his father, Eli Brizuela, with whom he created Kobayashi Farms to supply his restaurants and others with 100% organic eggs and Cobb 700 chickens. With a nod to both his Japanese and Mexican roots, with partners he created Nami Junmai sake, the first sake brewery in Mexico.
During our short stay, we ate in four of López’s restaurants, two within five-minutes walking from Hotel Volga.
Rokai Ramen was one door from López’s first restaurant, Rokai. With covered outdoor seating on either side of the sidewalk and indoor seating, the large menu offered a variety of ramen and Japanese favorites like gyoza, karaage, donburi, tempura and sushi. Since my wife is a pescetarian, she enjoyed the veggie ramen with spinach, asparagus, baby zucchini, shiitakes and topped with fried onions. I ordered the ramen with noodles and wonton, a thick slice of melt-in-your-mouth chashu, a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg, leeks and finely sliced strands of ginger. Our server pointed out that in a nod to Mexico City’s high altitude (7,349’), chicken and vegetables had to be pressure cooked to make the silky stock.
The ramen was delicious.
A few blocks away on Paseo de la Reforma, we ate at Sushi Tatsugoro. Sushi chef Ichiro Kitazawa, originally from Osaka, had lived in Mexico City for ten years. Behind a polished Hinoki wood sushi counter, he prepared an elegant omakase meal.
Most of the sushi restaurants I know have no windows. Not so at Sushi Tatsugoro. Light flooded in through the floor-to-ceiling window that filled the entire wall behind the sushi counter. As Kitazawa prepared our sushi, we looked through the window behind him to see mature jacaranda trees and, shining brightly, the statue of Diana the Huntress (Fuente de la Diana Cazadora) standing tall above Paseo de la Reforma.
For López, details matter. The name Tatsugoro was important to him. Tatsugoro Matsumoto was an immigrant from Japan to Mexico in the early 20th century. An Imperial gardener who became a landscape architect, he wanted to plant cherry trees in Mexico. When they didn’t take, he imported jacaranda trees because he loved their deep purple flowers. Today, jacaranda trees flourish though out Mexico City. Naming the restaurant Tatsugoro was López’s way of acknowledging how one person can transform a city in a good way.
From Kitazawa’s deft fingers the omakase appeared before me, one by one, presented like jewels at Tiffany’s. A single raw oyster in the shell was topped with a generous portion of Kaluga hybrid caviar. Chawanmushi egg custard was topped with icy-cold ikura (salmon roe). To accompany the sushi, miso soup was served in an elegant Beechwood bowl. López’s fragrant Nami Junmai sake paired perfectly with the fish.
For Michelle, chefs Salvador Carrasco Hernández and Julieta Ortiz Serna prepared a shrimp, crab, cucumber and avocado roll with spicy mayo. The roll was beautiful. But the deep-fried, small soft-shell crab on top made a statement that this dish was special in the best possible way. Her spicy tuna hand roll was as delicious in a different way. With simple flavors and textures, the crisp nori contrasted with the moist, tender tuna.
Kitazawa’s omakase continued. An elegant dish with thin slices of Mexican blue fin tuna and abalone sashimi. In most Japanese restaurants I know, sushi and sashimi are served with soy sauce. Not here. As a flavoring, wasabi was offered for the tuna sashimi and sea salt for the abalone. Likewise, there was no soy sauce for a perfect slice of red snapper on kombu seaweed. The next dish was blue fin tuna with a few flakes of sea salt on top. This time soy sauce made an appearance not in a shoyu dish but in the marinade that flavored the tuna to create contrasting flavors of umami saltiness and sweetness.
Then sweet, clean-tasting uni (sea urchin), toro, warm anago (eel) and, to finish, tamago, the mix of eggs and dashi elegantly folded to create an omelet with twenty layers before being wrapped in seaweed.
At Kasina Café, ten-minutes from Hotel Volga, in the Roma neighborhood, López introduced me to Minae Seo who runs the recently opened Korean bistro with her mother, Weja Lee. Besides food, the menu included Korean-style coffee like black sesame latte, French apple cider and European wines including natural wines from France and Spain. Seo told me that she loves all kinds of food and appreciates “every dish served to me because I know the hard work of the chef. From fine dining to street food.” For Kasina Café, she wanted “to provide comfort food. Like home,” like what her mom cooks for the family.
Seo’s path to opening the restaurant, like López’s, was indirect. Originally, she wanted to open a bakery because she loves to bake. López helped her see that a café would appeal to more people.
While we talked, we sipped French apple cider. Her mom sent plates to the table. A crispy Korean chive pancake with shrimp, unfermented kimchi with cabbage and apple, a salad with tofu and marinated rib eye steak with lotus root and pickled daikon.
The food was delicious and the café’s cozy interior created a relaxed setting to have a meal, a specialty coffee, wine or a dessert.
Time to go
Our suitcases were packed. But we weren’t ready to leave. Hotel Volga was so welcoming.
On our long weekend we had only scratched the surface of what Mexico City had to offer. Natalia Cabarga opened our eyes to the city’s rich history and culture. We had seen so much we liked, like Frida Kahlo’s family home and the Museum of Modern Art. But we needed more time to walk on the tree shaded streets of the Roma and Coyoacán neighborhoods, to explore the city’s many world-class museums like the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Museo Rufino Tamayo, National Palace with Diego Rivera’s “The History of Mexico” mural, Museo de Arte Popular and the remarkable modern architecture and art in Casa Estudio Luis Barragán.
The next time we are in Mexico City, Cabarga encouraged us to visit “Palacio de Bellas Artes, Museo Jumex for a world-class collection of contemporary art, Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo MUAC (part of the National University and a great Contemporary art museum), Colegio de San Ildefonso (with murals of Orozco and the first made by Rivera in 1922) and a small but really worthy museum: Museo Soumaya-Casa Guillermo Tovar de Teresa,” built in the 1910s, the house in Colonia Roma was owned by one of Mexico’s most important Mexican art collectors, “now turned into a museum with all his collection.”
On that last morning, we took a walk on tree lined Paseo de la Reforma. Happily, we arrived on what we learned later is called “Paseo en bici” (Bike Ride), a Sunday morning ritual when bikers and joggers reclaim the street from cars and buses. We walked to the Angel of Independence. In the middle of the broad boulevard, people were taking selfies with the statue behind them. In the park, under the shade of thicky planted trees, a DJ and fitness trainers were leading a dance-exercise class. My wife couldn’t resist the infectious music. She joined in.
And then, it was time to go. As we walked back to Hotel Volga, we passed a monkey grinder. Like the ones we saw at the Cathedral, he played a tune and his toy monkey waved his arm. With our bags in the car for the drive to the airport, we said good bye to Hotel Volga, knowing we would return.
When you go
Please check the Mexico City website for details about museums, parks, walking tours and upcoming cultural events.
With almost two dozen airlines flying to busy Benito Juárez International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juarez), the city is easily reached from anywhere in the world. Within the city, car service apps make travel easy and affordable. We used Uber frequently when we weren’t enjoying walking. Like many major cities, traffic during rush hour can be difficult. Plan travel times accordingly by avoiding rush hour or understanding that an off-hour ten-minute ride could become thirty or forty minutes during the busier times of the day.
Hotel Volga, Río Volga 105, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 984 169 5125, firstname.lastname@example.org. With 24/7 service, there was always someone to assist guests either at the small desk to the left of the bar in the atrium or at the front door. The hotel concierge can make reservations that include car service between the hotel and the airport, restaurant reservations and guided tours tailored to your interests.
Guides: There are many guides offering their services to help you explore Mexico City’s rich culture, history and culinary opportunities. You will have the best experience with a guide who is fluent in your language and knowledgeable about what you want to see on the tour. We can highly recommend Natalia Cabarga, +52 55 2900 0506, email@example.com, www.walkingthroughistory.com. An art historian with a master’s degree and a lover of Mexico City, Natalia was knowledgeable, friendly and English-fluent.
Balcony of the Zócalo (Balcón del Zócalo), Zócalo Central Hotel, Av. 5 de Mayo 61, Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico. An upscale restaurant on the top floor of the hotel, with a view of Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución), governmental buildings and the Cathedral of Mexico City.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House Studio Museum (Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo), Diego Rivera 2, Altavista Corner, Colonia San Ángel Inn, Álvaro Obregón, 01060 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 55 8647 5470. Designed in a modernist functionalist style by renowned Mexican architect Juan O'Gorman, each artist had their own building, separate and equal, connected by a concrete bridge. The entire compound is fenced by towering cacti. Website in Spanish only.
Edo López, chef-entrepreneur, founder of the Edo Kobayashi Group, created 12 Japanese restaurants and 3 bars in Mexico City, as well as restaurants in Spain, Tokyo, the U.S. and other parts of Mexico. Each restaurant is different. Some are elegant fine dining restaurants, others are neighborhood cafes with a casual vibe including Le Tachinomi Desu, a standing bar. Rubia, in Tokyo, has a Mexican-Japanese menu. Tokyo Music Bar, described as a “Audio Cocktail Bar,” combines his love of food, beverages and music. Izakaya Mateo Honten in Madrid is his latest. All the restaurants and bars emphasize quality of ingredients served in a stylish setting.
El Colegio Nacional, Donceles 104, Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000, CDMX Mexico, +52 55 5789 4330. Close to Templo Mayor, the historical building has a Spanish language bookstore (Libreria El Colegio Nacional), an art gallery and inner courtyards which create a quiet refuge in a busy part of the city. Website in Spanish only.
El Mayor Restaurant Bar, República de Argentina 17, Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06020 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 55 5704 7580, firstname.lastname@example.org. A restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, upstairs from Libreria Hermanos Porrúa, the oldest bookstore in Mexico City. With a view of the archeological site of the Templo Mayor and the Cathedral of Mexico City. Website in Spanish only.
Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Church of Our Lady of the Pillar), known as “La Enseñanza,” Donceles 102, Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06020 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico. An exquisite example of Baroque architecture. Website in Spanish only.
Itacate del Mar, República de Guatemala 20, Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 55 5085 7647. Open 9am-7pm. Close to the Templo Mayor. Website in Spanish only. Menus in the restaurant in Spanish and English.
Kasina Café (“Restaurante de Comida Coreana, y Barbiqu"), Guadalajara 13, Colonia Roma Norte, Delegacion Cuauhtemoc, Ciudad de Mexico, CP 06700, +55 71 63 71 01, reservations can be made by calling WhatsApp +56 12 60 48 47. A mother-daughter run Korean restaurant, focused on home-style cooking and fresh ingredients in a cozy setting with indoor and patio dining. Minae Seo is in the front of the house while her mom, Weja Lee, cooks the meals. Instagram: @kasinacafe
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Bienaventurada Virgen María a los cielos), Plaza de la Constitución, Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 0600 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico.
Ministry of Public Education (Secretaria de Educacíon Publica also known as SEP), 28 Avenue República de Argentina, 0600 Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX, Mexico. Originally built as a nunnery, the Ministry is a working governmental building, not a museum. You will be asked to show your ID when you arrive. Around the central courtyard, Diego Rivera’s murals fill the walls with towering images that depict Mexico’s history and embrace the fellowship of city and rural workers. Besides Rivera, other muralists are also on display including David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco.
Museum of Frida Kahlo (Museo Frida Kahlo, Casa Azul), Londres 247, Del Carmen Coyoacán, 04100 Ciudad de México, +52 55 5554 5999. To ensure you have tickets for the time and date you want, buy tickets weeks before you visit. A small café inside sells snacks and beverages. A gift shop sells a great many Frida Kahlo mementoes. If you wish to have a meal before or after your visit, Croasán (Croissant), Ignacio Allende 168, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100 Ciudad de México, CDMX, México, +52 55 4027 4639, is close to the museum. A bakery and café, Croasán serves a full menu in a lively dining room and outside on the sidewalk patio. Croasán’s website in Spanish only.
Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno), Avenue Paseo de la Reforma, Bosque de Chapultepec, Miguel Hidalgo, 11580 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 55 8647 5530, email@example.com. Website in Spanish only. Located in Chapultepec Park, the Museum of Modern Art is close to the National History Museum (Museo Nacional de Historia) in Chapultepec Castle, National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología) and Rufino Tamayo Museum (Museo Rufino Tamayo).
Restaurante El Mayor, República de Argentina 15, Colonia Centro, Delegación Cuauhtémoc, 06020, Ciudad de México, CDMX, México, +52 55 5704 7580. With an indoor dining room and terrace, El Mayor overlooks Templo Mayor and the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral in the historic neighborhood. A great view with good café food and beverages.
Rokai, Río Ebro 87, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 56 3035 4220. An intimate izakaya with excellent sushi in an affordable setting and an excellent selection of sake. Created by Edo López.
Rokai Ramen, Río Ebro 89, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 56 3035 4220, reservations on opentable.com.mx. Dining indoor and outside. A dozen different choices of ramen noodles and broths, as well as a full menu of Japanese dishes. Created by Edo López.
Salazar, Avenue Paseo de la Reforma 333, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX, Mexico, +55 7423 9975. Website in Spanish only. Reservations are necessary. With a view of Mexico City’s beloved icon, The Angel of Independence (Monumento a la Independencia), Salazar is a very popular bistro and bar. Developed by Edo López.
Sushi Tatsugoro, The St. Regis Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma 439, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico, +52 55 9627 7844, reservations on opentable.com.mx. An elegant setting on the second floor of the St. Regis with a wall of windows facing the statue of Diana the Huntress (Fuente de la Diana Cazadora). Regarded as one of the best sushi restaurants in Mexico City, reservations are recommended. Created by Edo López.
Templo Mayor Museum, Seminario 8, Centro Histórico del la Ciudad de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06060 Ciudad de México, CDMX, México.