Mexico City is a high-octane place of bewildering contrasts. This capital city, the oldest in the Americas, has a knack for dispelling the myths of its place in the world with each new opening, each sumptuous bite and every warm encounter. It is equal parts sophisticated and unpretentious, curated but cool, mighty yet humble—a dizzying megalopolis that is so welcoming, it will leave you with a feeling of wonderment you just can’t shake. The city may bear the scars of its past, sure, but one thing is for certain: the splendour remains. And Mexico City is reclaiming this past. Built by the Aztecs and promptly leveled by the Spanish, the city’s dramatic history—from richest viceroyalty in the empire; from unrest to relentless, now epic in size and growth—is heralding.
Today, CDMX (as it’s colloquially known) produces almost a quarter of the nation’s GDP, making it one of the most productive cities on the planet. Things are happening. And in this city of 22 million, the transformation is blinding.
It would be unfair to say that Mexico City is having its moment. Mexico City is the moment. Home to artists like Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo, and Rufino Tamayo; architectural visionaries Alberto Kalach and Juan O’Gorman; and culinary greats Enrique Olvera and Elena Reygadas, Mexico City delights in every way, in all seasons. From art and architecture to gastronomy and a uniquely local approach to luxury, the city delicately blends the authentic with the sublime.
While Mexico City inexplicably has no Michelin guide, it boasts five restaurants on the Latin America’s 50 Best list, making it one of the greatest cities to eat, probably anywhere. In stylish Roma Norte, a few blocks from Plaza Rio de Janeiro, you’ll find the city’s it-crowd lunching at Máximo Bistrot, by chef Eduardo García and his wife, Gabriela López. In their new location, where dappled light illuminates a sea of white geraniums in a transformed industrial space, López serves up a modern interpretation of farm-to-table fare, like sweet onion cooked in whey, Comté cheese, and cruffin; and a chocolate “caviar” tart, with burnt vanilla, caramel, and pink pepper ice cream. In chic Polanco (home to haute Mexican mainstay, Pujol), chef Alejandra Flores and Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil combine traditional ingredients and techniques in a modern context, serving up spider crab in “pipián verde” with makrut lime, Thai basil, and blue corn tostadas, accompanied by corn chawanmushi, “uchepos” foam and ikura. Be sure to book a seat at the kitchen’s glorious marble-clad bar for their signature tasting menu to watch the greats at work. Further south, in the upscale Jardines del Pedregal neighborhood (a modernist masterpiece designed by Luis Barragán), you’ll find Edgar Núñez’s Sud 777, which has topped Latin America’s 50 Best list for four consecutive years. Offering a menu that changes according to the best ingredients of the season—many of which are sourced from the restaurant’s gardens—the wine list is just as impressive, with surprising natural Mexican selections. Opt for a lunchtime visit to enjoy the terrace, and don’t miss the octopus in a crust of ashes, piquillo pepper and xcatic mayonnaise; or the watermelon, mezcal, curd, chard and pomegranate salad.
Cocktail culture in Mexico City is serious business and approached just as meticulously as any dish and so reservations are required for key libation destinations (the city is home to some of the world’s best bars). At the all-female piloted Brujas, Mexican herbalism is the mot juste, with cocktails inspired by storied women like Angela Vicario (tequila altos plata infused with orange blossom water, lemongrass syrup and lime). A short distance away, on the 56th floor of Chapultepec Uno crowning Reforma’s Ritz-Carlton, Ling Ling reinterprets Japan’s bustling izakaya scene with views to match. Ensure you reserve the Tres 60 table—a coveted corner spot floating high above the city. Of particular note is that no matter the establishment, service in Mexico City is unrelentingly attentive and superior, on par with any Michelin-starred haunt, and communicated to staff by a simple turn of the head.
The city’s finest accommodations—the Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, and Four Seasons—are conveniently grouped along the city’s Parisian-inspired Paseo de la Reforma, the leafy, sweeping boulevard commissioned by Mexico’s short-lived emperor, Maximilian I, in Mexico City’s booming business district. But the best-kept secrets can be found among the quiet streets of the Roma Norte-San Miguel Chapultepec-San Rafael triangle. Like Ignacia Guest House, a dazzling Porfirian casona, or estate house, by AD100 designer Andrés Gutiérrez. Vividly plush velvets and natural textures pair with cheeky touches (think carved serpent-head bookends and reinterpreted antiquities), in a mix of private and communal spaces .
Gutiérrez’s nearby boutique, Originario, is a masterclass in color blocking, selling eccentric objets d’art and Aztec-inspired curiosities in a space that can only be described as a kaleidoscopic fever dream. Back in Polanco, ring the discreet bell and be transported by Xinú, the exclusive perfumeria in Mexico, inspired by the botany of the Americas. Works of art, the sustainable, high-design, multi-use votives feature hand-blown glass, holding scents featuring tobacco, styrax, agave, and guaiac wood. At nearby Sandra Weil, sophisticated Bauhaus-inspired garments hang delicately from a latticework of timber and copper, where you’ll find fashion week collections and ready-to-wear, and where custom pieces are also available for order.
It’s no secret: Home to 170 museums—among the top cities with the most museums in the world—100 plus art galleries and over 30 concert halls, Mexico City is inching its way into top spot not only in the quality of its offering, but in sheer scale. Then there is the Chapultepec Castle to consider. This stunning locale—which can be counted as the only palace in North America to be inhabited by royalty—represents a triumph of viceregal and Second Mexican Empire design. It echoes the tastes of Maximilian I by way of the castle’s stately decor and lavish gardens. Both interior and exterior nod to the emperor’s famous residence in Trieste, Italy.
However, no one can be credited with breathing new life into Mexico City’s cultural scene more than business magnate and philanthropist, Carlos Slim Helú, whose multiple foundations are behind the city’s finest institutions, like the Museo Soumaya, which holds the largest private collection of original Rodin sculptures outside of France. At Eugenio López Alonso’s Museo Jumex—one of the best collections of modern art in Latin America, and right across the street—works by Warhol, Duchamp and Kippenberger mix with local artists and rotating exhibits. A recent exhibition titled Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts is a must-see as it highlights paintings, mixed media and sculptural items of Greek-Italian artist Jannis Kounellis.
Cutting-edge galleries like Kurimanzutto and Galería OMR offer a tour—by reservation only—of the privately-owned Casa Gilardi and Casa Luis Barragán. The latter site is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site but was also the home of the acclaimed Mexican architect. The Barragan Foundation’s 1966 Cuadra San Cristóbal, also a private estate, is one of Mexico City’s most striking visits. So revered is Barragán, that after picking up a Pritzker Prize in 1980—an award for architectural excellence—the jury described his work as a “sublime act of the poetic imagination.” And it is in this apt turn of phrase that one can truly begin to understand the magnificence that is Mexico City.