Photo by Holly Wilmeth.
Mexico City local, Alfonsina Peñaloza, tours us through her favorite places in the neighborhood of San Ángel.
Name: Alfonsina Peñaloza
Neighborhood: San Ángel, Mexico City, Mexico
Occupation: Alfonsina works for Ethos, a nonprofit that conducts research and advises governments and other organizations on economic, gender equality, and human rights issues. Though she lives in the hip Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, Alfonsina has been coming to San Ángel since she was a child. “Anyone who comes to visit me gets a tour of San Ángel,” she says.
A hundred years ago, before San Ángel was absorbed into Mexico City’s urban sprawl, it was so far from the city center that it served as a country retreat for city people who built haciendas there. It is so utterly traditional that, blessedly, nothing has changed. The neighborhood—which is what it’s become—still has a sedate, rarefied atmosphere that sets it apart from the city’s buzz. San Ángel just stays the same, growing old gracefully.
My mother and I always spent Saturdays at the bazaar. She hates resorting to Pottery Barn–esque bridal registries, so she comes here to buy wedding gifts instead: local pewter jugs, embroidered linen tablecloths, big, bold talavera bowls to use as beautiful centerpieces.
The pewter and antiques vendors have their own stands, but there are indigenous women walking around selling place mats. This is where Mamá bought the orange and red woven straw place mats that I grew up eating on, and when they’d wear out, she’d just come back and get more. When I moved into my own place, I got some of my own—pink and blue. I also bought an ex-voto here for my place. They’re offerings made to a saint after the fulfillment of a wish, often very endearing, occasionally kitsch. Frida Kahlo collected many of these. Mine is a painting of a man, a jaguar, a cactus plant, and a saint, and there’s a little story about how grateful the man is to the saint for curing his injuries from a jaguar attack in Chiapas. The spelling is appalling. It’s quirky and very Mexican, and I love it.
There are four or so stands that sell silver: rings, necklaces, bracelets—all good quality and very cheap. Some vendors even make their own jewelry. Actually, the ring I have on my finger right now came from the bazaar. I must have bought more than 30 rings by now.
My mother won’t eat the street food, but I beg to differ. There’s a phenomenal quesadilla stand at the market. It’s run by three women. They don’t have a stall; they just set up informally. The simple cheese ones are good, also the one with the potatoes, or the mushrooms, or the chicharrones (pork rinds). My favorite is with flor de calabaza, squash flowers. It is so good.
There’s so much going on behind the stone walls in San Ángel—you just don’t know what. A friend of mine got married in a church right near the bazaar, and her grandmother owned the house next door, part of an old hacienda. I had never noticed it before—just a long stone wall. She used her grandmother’s garden for the party, and it fit 800 people. I had no idea! There were paintings and all this cultural richness behind this totally inconspicuous wall. That’s what San Ángel is, to me. Full of hidden treasure.
See all of Alfonsina’s favorite places in San Ángel:
An arts and crafts market that sets up every Saturday. Don’t leave without grabbing a quesadilla and a beer. Plaza San Jacinto Saturdays, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
This place, near the 16th-century Convento de El Carmen, is famous for its churros, fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar. A mandatory stop.
My friend’s mother, Teresa Barnetche, paints these astonishing retablos of gold-plated Guadalupe virgins. They’re incredibly ornate, very Mexican and beautiful.
Right off the market hubbub is this colonial square flush with bougainvillea. You go through a narrow alleyway, and all of a sudden you’re in the most tranquil place in Mexico City.
One of the best seafood restaurants in Mexico, as far as I’m concerned. They have tostadas de atún with a chipotle sauce, a thin sashimi-like slice of tuna with avocado and fried leek on top. Absolutely delicious.
This used to be a hacienda but was turned into a restaurant almost 50 years ago. The food is phenomenal and the margaritas are famous—in fact, they’re my favorite thing on the menu. They always have a trio or pianist playing. sanangelinn.com
A traditional Mexican cantina. When I was in college, I played dominoes there every Thursday with some good girlfriends.
>> Next: The AFAR Guide to Mexico City
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