Mexico City Unmasked
Steering your way to the heart of a city of nearly 10 million is no easy feat. These 20 insider tips demystify the metropolis, from its homegrown design scene to its best cheap eats.
16. You never know what's hidden in an office building
Walk through a perfume shop, up three flights of stairs, and down a deserted, fluorescent-lit hallway to find the capital's best source for native handicrafts. Founded in 1944 by artist Víctor Fosado Contreras, Víctor Artes Populares Mexicanas is now run by his daughter, Pilar Fosado Vázquez. She stocks colorful, museum-quality pieces, such as beaded Huichol bowls from Jalisco, papier-mâché Day of the Dead dolls from Guanajuato, and hand-painted glass pitchers from Puebla. Francisco I. Madero 10, Suite 305, 3rd Fl., Centro, 011-52/55-5512-1263, artespopularesvictor.com.
17. Unparalleled people-watching
The patio tables at Vucciria, an Italian restaurant across from the Parque México, look out on a compelling weekly parade: yuppies in Barbour coats walking Weimaraners, hipsters in skinny jeans, fashionistas with messy hair tottering by in heels. Get there by 3 p.m. on a Sunday to score a spot and settle in for an afternoon of grazing on carciofi fritti, a perfect cure for taco fatigue. México 157, Hipódromo Condesa, 011-52/55-5564-7441, entrées from $10.
18. The other flea market
You could easily skip La Lagunilla, the famed blocks-long market, in favor of the weekend stalls at Plaza del Ángel, set up in the arcades of a Zona Rosa shopping plaza. Easier to manage, it's the go-to spot for many of the city's antiques dealers, who come for the wildly varied selection of antiques and pop culture souvenirs, from lucha libre piggy banks and busts of Aztec princes to folding wooden klismos chairs. Arrive by 10 a.m. to get a shot at the good stuff. Londres 161, Zona Rosa.
19. There's more to the design scene than handicrafts
Gurú, a graphic-arts gallery and store, is ground zero for objects by up-and-coming Mexican artists, especially ones with a sense of humor. Think patchwork stuffed animals by Toloache Peluche ($40), cartoonish vinyl figurines from Francisco Herrera ($59), and geometric ceramic rings by El Uno y el Todo ($27). Colima 143, Roma Norte, 011-52/55-5533-7140, gurugalleryshop.com.
20. The Mexican Starbucks
A café, gallery, and bookstore in a century-old town house, Conejo Blanco is a popular meet-up spot for all, including families drawn to the former nursery for its fitting focus on kids' books. Ámsterdam 67, Hipódromo Condesa, 011-52/55-5286-7430, coffee from $2.
On Foot As in any urban environment, it pays to take commonsense precautions in Mexico City. Be aware of your surroundings, avoid walking alone at night, use ATMs inside banks during business hours, and leave the flashy jewelry at home.
By Cab Outside of their own local shopping districts, residents don't really walk. Fortunately, taxis are cheap and plentiful. Just avoid hailing, as rogue drivers have been known to mug their passengers. Instead, call a taxi de sitio (one from a private company). Taxi Mex is among the best, with metered cars, quick pickups, and registered drivers (whose license and photo should be on display). 011-52/ 55-5634-9912, taximex.com.mx.
In a Rental Car One of the secrets of driving in Mexico City is knowing when not to do it—specifically, on Fridays. Weekends unofficially begin Friday afternoon, and many office workers take off after lunch. Three-hour snarls are an unfortunate probability—even more painful if you're heading to the airport to catch a flight.
On the Subway For the times when driving isn't recommended (or even an option), there's a handy Metro system. But be aware that train cars and platforms can be a hotbed for pickpockets and petty criminals. www.metro.df.gob.mx, 25¢ one way, including transfers.