From famous street food – oh yes, there will be tacos! – to the lively theatrics of Mexican wrestling. In this article, we set out to find the best of Mexico City food & fun experiences in this Mexico City Travel Guide.
Mexico City was founded by the Aztecs in 1325. Legend stated that the capital of the Aztec civilization must be founded where an eagle was seen perching on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. It just so happened this sight was seen in swampland. The Aztecs filled parts of the swamp with soil and built a grand capital. A couple of centuries later, the Spanish arrived and built Mexico City upon the grounds of the Aztec city.
The city on the swamp is still sinking today, sometimes at a rate of up to 30cm per year! Regardless, this metropolis of over 20 million people has become a melting pot for the food and culture of Mexico. From tree-lined European style avenues to old colonial houses and a barrage of tacos and other Mexican flavors. Mexico City is a microcosm of the whole country, but like any capital, it’s more than just the sum of cultures it represents.
Below, find our Mexico City travel guide to food, fun & attractions and our pick of accommodation options.
Disclaimer: We received complimentary tours or stays at Chaya B&B, Tasty Bites Food tours, Mexico a pie Lucha Libre tour. But we provide honest and independent reviews based on our experiences – this is NOT an advertorial piece. Other things listed in this article, we paid for ourselves.
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Mexico City Food
It’s impossible to avoid the endless taco options around Mexico City. So that is where our journey had to begin. In this foodie roundup: taco tours, markets and a high-end dining experience without the price tag. We sifted through our time in Mexico City to bring you our top picks of what and where to eat.
Mexico City Food Tour – Taco Tour!
Although the first tacos weren’t invented in Mexico City, the city was largely responsible for their rapid rise in popularity in the late 19th & early 20th century. In fact, we released a whole podcast about the surprising history of the taco.
By taking a taco tour around downtown, not only did we learn about some of Mexico’s most popular taco styles, we got fast-tracked to some of the best tacos in CDMX (that’s the local abbreviation for “Mexico City”). If you are only in a destination for a short time, making every calorie you chew on count is an essential part of having a top foodie experience. So having an experienced guide introduce you to the tastiest and most important flavors is a great way to get your foodie bearings from day one.
During the taco tour, you’ll get to try a multitude of taco styles including the “carnitas” at one of Mexico City’s favourite all day and night taquerias. Carnitas is similar to the French cooking style of confit – where meat is cooked in its own fat and juices. Pork is the most typical meat used for carnitas in Mexico.
On the tour, you’ll also get to try the original street food taco style – tacos de canasta. This literally means “tacos in a basket”. Simple fillings like chicken and potato are mixed into a delicious, mildly spiced paste, and stuffed inside corn tortillas. The tortillas are made as a large batch and stacked inside a basket, wrapped in cloth to keep them warm for many hours. You’ll learn more about the origin of this original taco style on the tour.
One of the biggest and tastiest surprises was a roasted turkey taco from a taqueria that’s been open since 1910. The founder’s grandson, now in his 80’s, is still to be seen in store every day. I’m not the biggest fan of turkey, but here they combine it with chicharron (crispy pork rinds) and guacamole and have managed to keep the turkey soft and succulent. No dry mouth here!
As well as tacos, you get a guided tour of some of downtown’s less visited historical spots. The stunning interior below is from a building that still has an active role in the community today – you’d never think this interior would be in the heart of Mexico City… And if you’ve never visited, you wouldn’t be able to guess what this building is used for, still to this day.
You’ve certainly heard of Tequila. And if you’ve been to Mexico, you’ll likely have heard of Mezcal too – a super strong Mexican spirit (at least 45% ABV) distilled from smoked agave. With a strong smokey but smooth punch in the face, this spirit is to be sipped & savoured, not shotted. As part of the tour the bartender at a very historic venue, with a legacy tied directly to the Mexican revolution, helped us choose the right Mezcal for our taste preference.
During the 3 hour tour, we got to sample 10 or more tacos each, so the Mezcal was an essential digestif after all those tacos!
We’ll be talking more about the fascinating history of Mezcal on our Tequila vs. Mezcal Podcast episode (coming July/Aug 2018).
We took the Tasty Bites Mexico City Centro Historico Taco Tour – Book in advance to secure your spot.
More Places To Eat In Mexico City
After taking a Mexico city food tour to get an overview of the food scene (and to ask lots of questions to supplement our online research), it was time to road test all the other places to eat in Mexico City that had made our list. Many we tried didn’t make it into our top spots. Which did? Find out below.
Lets start with a Mexico city street food classic: tacos al pastor.
Best Tacos Al Pastor Mexico City
What is pastor?
Al Pastor (Which means “shepherd style” – because it was originally made with lamb) is a Lebanese Mexican fusion dish, similar to Shwarma, but now made with pork which has been marinated in vinegar, achiote (a ground red paste) and other spices. It’s cooked on a vertical rotisserie and thin slices are shaved off into tortillas to make tacos al pastor.
You can learn the full history of Al Pastor on our podcast. But for now, all you need to know is that it’s super tasty and that it was invented in Mexico City. We did a ton of research before arriving and went on a mission to try all the top-rated pastor places. From the 2 restaurants that both claim to have invented pastor (more on that shortly) to local favourites and those regularly recommended in big publications, by food/travel bloggers and guides.
Did we find the best pastor in Mexico? And if so, which taqueria had the best? Let’s find out.
1 & 3 = El Vilsito. Recommended as a top pick by BBC, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Condé Nest, Migrationology and many more. This is a popular student stop. They open at 8pm and serve up juicy pork late into the night. This seems to be the less famous option that a lot of food writers tote as actually being the best.
2 = El Huequito. Recommended by Travel & Leisure, Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix), Matador Network and more. They claim to be the original Al Pastor, first sold in 1959. The odd thing for me is that this pastor lacks key ingredients that define pastor… There is no achiote in the marinade and they do not serve it with pineapple. Which begs the question, is this really al pastor? Or is this a proto-pastor that filled the gap between tacos arabe (the original pre-pastor dish invented in the 1930s) and the modern pastor now sold everywhere in Mexico.
4 = El Tizoncito. Surprisingly few people recommend this as the best, but it is the second contender for being the original pastor. They are believed to be the first to add pineapple to the dish (in 1966) and, they definitely marinate the meat with achiote – creating a bright red tower of pork! So, to me, this is a full pastor, unlike El Huequito. But will it taste better?
5 = Tacos los Juanes. A wildcard option against the big 3. Quoted as a locals only taco stop serving both pastor and carnitas, we needed a benchmark for comparison, and this was it. There was certainly a crowd of locals around this small street cart when we arrived.
Best Tacos Al Pastor Mexico City – The Verdict
Tacos los Juanes fell by the wayside pretty early on. While satisfyingly filling, the meat lacked flavor. It was a little too bland to be a real contender.
El Vilsito & El Huequito come in joint second. El Huequito makes meat with a fantastic charcoal flavor. Although their tangy sauce, which substitutes for pineapple, gave the dish a little kick, the overall blend of the dish, and the fact that it’s more of a taco arabe than a taco al pastor, stopped it getting the top spot. El Vilsito cook with gas, rather than charcoal. This helps crisp up the meat better. But overall the meat itself, while having the perfect juicy to crispy ratio that only super hot gas burners seem to create, lacked in flavor compared to El Huequito.
So, they both had merits and faults, which drew them level, for me.
So the winner… El Tizoncito. The meat was flavored exquisitely. The charcoal really lifted it. The selection of condiments far exceeded anywhere else and these flavors added to the taco took it to another level. The only downside is the price, given how little meat you get.
El Tizoncito took the top spot amongst the hottest recommendations in CDMX but was it the best Al pastor in Mexico??? Nope! We found one that blows all four of the above out of the water… Check out the companion notes for our Tacos podcast to find out where to eat better pastor than in Mexico City.
But first a little teaser – Item 1 is the tacos at El Tizoncito. Item 2, the al pastor at our number one spot – fully loaded! But, if you are only visiting Mexico City, then Tizoncito is the place.
Best Tacos Mexico City – Tacos Don Juan
Tacos Al Pastor may be a famous Mexico city classic, but there are many different taco styles that form the base of Mexico cit street food.
We stuffed our faces with one hell of a lot of tortilla based snacks during our time in CDMX but one place stood out for killer flavor – AND big crispy layers of grilled cheese. Tacos Don Juan.
The longaniza (sausage) with cheese (rear taco in photo) is a cheese and meat fest that pleases every taste bud. Also, try the suadero in pasilla. Suadero is a cut of beef or pork which originated in Mexico City. It’s diced brisket. Pasilla is a type of chilli which is turned into a mildly spicy sauce.
Join Tasty bites Food tours for a trip around Condesa where you’ll get to try tacos at both Tizoncito & Tacos Don Juan.
Are tacos truly an ancient dish? Learn more about the history of Tacos on our podcast.
San Juan Market Mexico City
There are a lot of markets in Mexico City. San Juan market is a mix of local oddities and international cuisine, as well as some classic home-style Mexican cooking.
The market feels more like markets in Spain than other parts of Mexico, with food stalls being directly attached to produce stalls. So, if you want to eat ceviche straight from the fishmonger, this is the place to come.
As for more exotic Mexican fare… everything from Iguana & escamole (a type of lavae) to Scorpions and the more common chapulines (grasshoppers).
Best Restaurants in Mexico City?
Pujol is widely regarded as the best restaurant in Mexico City. At least as far as the Michelin Guide is concerned. If you can’t get a reservation, and/or justify the cost (dinner and drinks are likely to set you back between $100 & $250 USD per person), then there is another more affordable option that is also creating some great dishes…
Chef Juan Cabrera previously worked as head chef at Pujol as well as in famed restaurant El Bulli, in Spain in 2006. He is now the mastermind behind Fonda Fina where they serve innovative Mexican cuisine.
We ordered the Stuffed chilli tamale, Pork belly Chapulas (left), and the Arrachera Steak (Right) and 6 beers. This came in under $40 USD
I wasn’t a massive fan of the tamale (honestly, I don’t like tamales anyway, but gave it a go. It was better than most). But the Pork belly was decadently fantastic and the arrachera instantly took top spot as the best Mexican flank steak we’ve had anywhere in the country. Melt in the mouth, medium rare with no chewiness at all! BBQ’d on charcoal for extra smoky greatness.
There are a lot of Mexico City restaurants to try, but Fonda Fina should be added to your shortlist, especially if you are in Condesa.
Fun Things To Do In Mexico City
Mexico City Wrestling – Lucha Libre
Quite literally the most fun activity in Mexico City!
Don your colourful mask and get ready for some ridiculously theatrical wrestling moves as well as a few unexpected haircuts…
Lucha Libre (which means “Free Fight”) is a freeform style of Mexican wrestling. It is designed to be more fantastical theatre than aggressive blood spilling. It’s light hearted entertainment for the audience but for the performers, there are some genuine grudges being beefed out in the ring. On the night we attended, a girl on girl fight that would result in the loser having her head shaved live on stage. Things got ugly…
We decided to take a tour with an ex-wrestler – who kept his wrestler identity a secret – as part of a Lucha Libre Walking Tour & Pub Crawl with Mexico a pie tours.
To get us ready for a lively and packed arena full of cheering, we enjoyed a Mezcal tasting, which constituted the pub crawl part of the tour. It wasn’t really a pub crawl, as it was a single bar we visited, but a few people were crawling after tasting numerous 47%+ shots of Mezcal. I talked a little bit about Mezcal earlier in this article. For much more info on Mexico’s artisan spirit, check out our full Tequila vs Mezcal podcast (coming Jul/Aug 2018).
After a walk to the arena, we donned our own masks (yours to keep as part of the tour) and got ready for some serious slam-downs. (Cameras are not allowed in the arena, but phone cameras are.)
Every Tuesday, Friday & Sunday the arena is packed with fans ready to cheer for the good fighters and boo the evil ones.
Things get pretty intense, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you may even pee yourself a little – hopefully, that’s not what the upside-down wrestler is doing in the below photo though…
And of course, you’ll experience the glory of the “micro stars”. Smaller teammates who may lend a hand by being swung around as a weapon or thrown like a missile at an opponent.
Whatever happens though, you’ll have a super fun evening!
Get A Personal Mariachi band at Cantina El Centenario
A cantina is a traditional Mexican Bar. And a Mariachi band, in case you didn’t know already, is a group of roaming Mexican musicians dressed in “traje de charro” – the typical cowboy outfits of the state of Jalisco with sombreros and tight, ornamented jackets and trousers.
Mariachis now exist all over Mexico, with varying levels of musical skill. It just so happens, the Mariachi band at Cantina El Centenario (Opened in 1948) is not only awesome, but they are there on a consistent schedule, rather than roaming from venue to venue.
Visit Wednesday to Saturday 5pm-10pm (or 11pm depending on customers) and negotiate a price for 1 or more songs.
City Tour Mexico City – Free Walking Tour
Take a free walking tour around Mexico city’s historic heart. From colonial cathedrals to Aztec ruins and old tiled homes all the way to the
Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Our local guide was super knowledgeable and ready to answer all our questions. Learn about how Mexico City was founded by the Aztecs and how the modern cathedral and other buildings in the central Zocalo were built directly upon the Aztec buildings.
Register Free for the Heart Of Mexico: Downtown Walking Tour
This 19th century castle, completed in 1863, sits atop Chapultepec Hill, an area that was sacred to the Aztecs before it was taken by colonial powers. The castle has served as both a royal castle, a military academy, a gunpowder warehouse and now as an art gallery. The gallery depicts the history of Mexico from Aztec times, through to modern day with a number of wraparound murals that are particularly impressive and make the walk up the hill totally worth it.
The other reason to make the walk up the hill is for the view, straight down the main “Paseo de Reforma” avenue, which leads all the way to the heart of downtown.
Accommodation – best places to stay in Mexico City
Chaya B&B Boutique Mexico City
We stayed at Chaya B&B Boutique Mexico City. It’s a roof top hotel just on the edge of the heart of downtown, less than 5 minutes walk from Palacio de Bellas Artes. The location is definitely one of the top selling points of the hotel, giving you easy access to all the historical monuments of downtown.
We enjoyed lazing in the rooftop hammocks in the afternoon sun, an oasis from the busy city streets (above). There is also a roof bar which has views of the Almeda central park on one side, and the church of San Hipólito on the other. A great people watching spot with surprisingly affordable beer and cocktails.
Chaya B&B is also in a fantastic location to explore everything downtown. It’s within easy walking distance to many central sights, museums, and galleries. Plus the staff are super friendly and helpful so if you are unsure of what to see, do or eat – ask them and they will absolutely help you find the perfect Mexico City experience to suit your likes.
And of course, as Chaya is a B&B, we got to enjoy a cooked to order breakfast every day with a rotating selection of Mexican classics such as Sopes and chilaquiles. Or a choice of eggs. One thing we loved was the communal dining room table where all guests can come to sit, chat, make new friends and discuss the best things to do in CDMX. It’s a great place to meet new people and get the goss on what’s going on in Mexico City.
Reserve Your Room at Chaya B&B Now
Downtown is the closest area to the main historical sights of Mexico City. But if you’d like to stay in CDMX’s leafy European style neighbourhood, then Condesa & Roma Norte is also an interesting option. Browse accommodation in that area.