This Is Mexico City’s Most Rambunctious Cocktail

The working-class carajillo has been elevated to an art form, and here’s where to find it.

This Is Mexico City's Most Rambunctious Cocktail

The many parts of the carajillo

All photos by author

Ask a Spaniard about a carajillo and she’ll conjure up images of construction workers spiking their morning coffee, but ask a swanky Chilango—Mexico City resident—and he’ll tell you he wouldn’t dare dine at a restaurant that didn’t have one. That’s because Mexico City has reinvented the once-disparaged beverage into THE after-dinner drink in its trendiest neighborhoods, bringing the cocktail a long way from its working-class origins.

The mighty carajillo

The mighty carajillo

Photo by author

While the story goes that the Spanish first used brandied coffee to entice Cuban soldiers in the colonial era, the ever-inventive Chilango has taken the carajillo from hot to cold, day to night, and from low to high, with its adaptation which includes espresso, ice, and Licor 43. All classism aside, the drink is to die for; and, as we Chilangos say, “a must” to end any meal and prep for the night’s festivities in true Mexico City fashion. According to Jorge Aguayo, Mexico City’s de facto food critic, “Carajillos are meant follow the good times.” Here’s where to keep them coming:

The shaken carajillo
Lunch hot-spot Decräb (and its rowdier cousin Fisher’s) has made a name for itself among Mexico City’s business crowd with the shaken carajillo. Shaken martini-style and served in a snifter, the seemingly subtle difference in the carajillos at Decräb actually makes all the difference. Add that to an ivy-covered terrace and a dizzying array of lobsters, crabs, and other delicacies, and you’ll think twice about heading back early.—Prado Norte 395, Colonia Lomas de Chapultepec

La Capital
The customary carajillo
Sometimes the best carajillo has nothing to do with the carajillo at all. Instead, the best carajillos draw their richness from the company and atmosphere that surrounds them. Enter La Capital, a central figure in Mexico City’s iconic mix of minimalist chic and mid-century modern. While the space is a joy to experience, the kitchen’s contemporary Mexican cuisine is no slouch, either. But what’s a contemporary Mexican meal without a contemporary Mexican digestif? La Capital begs for a carajillo finish.—La Capital, Nuevo León 137, Colonia Hipódromo Condesa

Butcher & Sons
The frozen carajillo
In Mexico City, carajillos go with burgers, too—at least at Butcher & Sons. Known for delicious greasy concoctions that rival even U.S. standards (think bacon-wrapped fries, cheese-covered fries), Butcher & Sons maintains its Chilango roots with popular additions like the carajillo milkshake. Made with espresso ice cream and doused in Licor 43, the carajillo milkshake is a light ending to an otherwise heavy meal. Here, it’s go big or go home, so go ahead and order the shake—even if it means waddling out to your Uber.—Butcher & Sons, Orizaba 87, Colonia Roma Norte

Nueve Nueve
The cultured carajillo
If drinking a carajillo at Nueve Nueve feels more cultured than at other restaurants around the city, that’s because it is. Located inside the cultural center Casa Lamm, this renovated mansion is a page out of the Porfiriato. It’s a place for Chilangos to see and be seen. While you won’t get a seat at the table without a reservation, a spot on the terrace overlooking the sculpture garden is well worth the wait. However, the bistro’s library bar is just as good for sipping carajillos and observing Mexico’s not-so-distant past.—Nueve Nueve Bistro, Alvaro Obregón 99, Colonia Roma Norte

La Xampañería
The party carajillo
If the carajillo in question is intended to begin the evening rather than end a meal, La Xampañería is the spot. Albeit small, this restaurant and bar brims with spirit: most nights there’s a DJ spinning catchy classics and indie pop to an addicting back beat. Mixed with the carajillo’s caffeine jolt, the ambience in La Xampañería is guaranteed to fuel a lively and long night ahead. Arrive early, down a carajillo, dance a little and head out to the next bar along the Roma/Condesa corridor, like a true Chilango.—La Xampañería, Nuevo León 66, Colonia Hipódromo Condesa

>>Next: How to Have the Most Relaxing Day in Mexico City

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