I headed down to Mexico more than 20 years ago to study Spanish at the University of Guadalajara. After several years of fine-tuning my language skills, I decided it was time to say adios to the mariachi capital and try my luck in Mexico City, where I currently reside as a travel and entertainment writer. As a Los Angeles native, Mexico City's near-perfect weather, scintillating social life and horrendous traffic made me feel right at home.
When I have friends in town… I like to take them on a cantina/street food crawl that begins with drinks at Cantina Tío Pepe, one of the city's oldest and most atmospheric drinking establishments (Beat writer William Burroughs called it a “cheap cantina” but I'm guessing he meant that in a good way). When the munchies kick in, we move on to El Huequito, a nearby hole-in-the-wall that slices some of the most addictive tacos al pastor (spit-cooked pork) in town. After that, we hoof it to the Historic Center for a round of mezcals at Bósforo, and if the mood strikes, another taco session.
When I get bored… I hit some of my favorite markets. On Saturdays, it's always entertaining to wander around the Tianguis Cultural del Chopo, an underground flea market where black-clad punks, head bangers and other youth subcultures gather weekly. Merchants hawk band t-shirts, music CDs and cult videos, while on the market’s north end, local groups grind out hit-or-miss punk, metal and rock. Another great option for beating boredom is Mercado San Juan, a downtown market known for selling exotic food items such as chapulines (grasshoppers), escamoles (ant eggs) and an array of gourmet delicacies.
The best time to be in Mexico City … is during spring and winter vacation periods (normally in April and December) when thousands of Mexico City families flock to the beach and leave behind a remarkably calm city. Not only will you have a far more relaxing experience in an otherwise congested city but you'll also avoid the overcrowding and price gouging that occur at popular beach destinations during the high season.
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When I need to relax… I take the edge off at Chapultepec Park's Audiorama, a sublime garden where a few books are available and classical, jazz and chill-out music is piped from speakers up above in the trees. I like to bring my own reading material but the quiet calm usually has me nodding off after a page or two into the book.
One of the best things about Mexico City… is its embarrassment of riches. Consider this: the city has more than 1500 historic buildings, some 150 museums, more music and art venues than you can possibly visit, the country's most diverse nightlife scene and a staggering number of restaurants (about 53,000 at last count). Welcome to the boomtown!
One tip for travelers… is to beware of altitude sickness. Sitting about 2250 meters above sea level (7350 feet) you might find yourself getting tired, light-headed and experiencing shortness of breath over the first couple of days – even more so if you've been hitting the bars. If the thin air is making you feel a bit loopy, simply take a break from the action and drink plenty of water.
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When I want to get out of the city… I head out to the surrounding mountains. The Ajusco range in southern Mexico City has great roadside eateries serving local specialties such as spicy wild-mushroom soup, and if you like what you see, you'll find plenty of cabins rentals nestled in an aromatic pine forest. For hiking, I love exploring the third and fourth sections of Parque Nacional Los Dinamos, where the high canyon walls attract rock climbers.
When I'm looking for a cheap eat… I don't have to look far. There are street stands on just about every other corner selling a wide variety of affordable eats ranging from tacos and tortas (sandwiches) to corn-based snacks such as tlacoyos and gorditas. Peso-pinchers can also find good value at the tianguis (outdoor food markets), where vendors sell cheap fruits and veggies and classic market fare like carnitas, pozole (hominy soup) and esquites (toasted street corn).
My favorite place to see the sunset… has to be Torre Latinoamericana. The downtown skyscraper affords hypnotic sunset views from its 44th-floor observation deck and 41st-floor lounge bar. The panoramic vista also allows you to appreciate the sheer immensity of the Mexico City metropolitan area, one of the world's largest urban sprawls.
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I know I am a true local because… when I drive it brings out the chilango (Mexico City resident) in me. The traffic is no joke here and it takes all my patience to keep my hand off the horn and remain calm while stuck in gridlock. Having said that, experience has taught me that the best way to keep the road rage at bay is to get around by bike instead.
My go-to foodie spots… are in downtown and the Roma neighborhood. For Hidalgo-style barbacoa (lamb) I recommend El Hidalguense, for seafood try the tuna tostadas and pescado a la talla (grilled fish) at Contramar, and for street eats the suadero (brisket) tacos at Los Cocuyos never disappoint.