Photo by Andrea Cinta
Photo by Carlos Somonte
Written and directed by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, Netflix’s “Roma” focuses on the life of Cleo, an indigenous woman who works as a maid for a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City.
The Academy Award–nominated film shows a distinctly local side of Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood before it became a trendy spot for travelers. Here’s where you can still find the old-school essence that you see onscreen.
Director Alfonso Cuarón’s 10-time Oscar-nominated film, Roma, paints a nostalgic picture of Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood during the early 1970s. The film—a tribute to the place where Cuarón spent his childhood and to the live-in nanny who all but raised him—is filled with black-and-white scenes that show a pre-gentrified Roma before internationally celebrated restaurants, shops, and galleries popped up across this part of the city and attracted international travelers to its streets.
Now considered one of the hippest neighborhoods in the Mexican capital, Colonia Roma is divided into two sections by Coahuila Street; Roma Norte plays host to many of the city’s buzziest locales, while Roma Sur maintains a slightly more residential feel. While yes, you should follow your friend’s advice to make reservations at contemporary Roma restaurants such as Contramar, the only way to experience the authentic, old-school charm of the neighborhood is through the local businesses that called Colonia Roma home long before it was credited as cool. Here’s where to find a few.
Strolling the tree-lined avenues of Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood is a sightseeing activity in itself. The streets are filled with scenes that embody everyday life in the Mexican capital: Ladies chat behind food stands as they craft tortillas out of warm masa (dough), lone guitarists strum emphatically outside of sidewalk cafés, and cramped lavanderías (laundromats) waft the scent of fresh laundry into the streets.
In the heart of Roma lies Mercado Medellín, a more than 50-year-old structure that survived a roof collapse in the deadly 1985 earthquake and still remains a pulse point for the neighborhood. Browse vendors stands’ stacked with colorful piñatas, exotic produce, Colombian coffee, and hand-built wooden furniture—you name it, you can probably find it here. Across the street on Monterrey and Nayarit, a nameless tortillería with an orange facade has been turning out tortillas by the thousands every day for at least half a century. Taste the delicious chilaquiles made with homemade salsa verde for less than a dollar.
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On a quiet corner of Colima Street in Roma Norte, Museo del Objeto del Objeto is also worth a visit. At this art nouveau mansion, rotating exhibits from private collector Bruno Newman’s trove of random, everyday objects (such as old radio sets, kitchen appliances, film posters, fútbol cleats, and children’s clothing) hint at shifting trends and influences in Mexico over the past two centuries. To take a piece of history home, stop by the nearby Piezas Unicas, an antique store dedicated to the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, where owner and collector Ricardo Radosh sells found-and-restored treasures, including vintage furniture and wall hangings.
The neighborhood also plays host to a collection of antique bookstores such as Librería Atico, a small but mighty bookshop filled floor to ceiling with volumes up to 100 years old. Next door at Librería A Través del Espejo (which is run by the founder’s daughter), shelves are piled high with recycled novels and encyclopedias. The shop’s resident cat, Gunther, can often be found napping amid the stacks and even has his own Instagram.
Although not geographically located in Roma, Teatro Metropólitan makes a major cameo in Cuarón’s film—and it’s well worth the 40-minute walk to the city’s historic center. The 3,000-seat venue still bears its retro facade (although it has seen some renovations since it was first built in the 1940s) and hosts a range of live performances each week, from banda and mariachi groups to touring pop artists.
While you’re in Centro Historico, venture down Calle 16 de Septiembre for a torta piled high with turkey and mozzarella at La Casa del Pavo, the restaurant where characters Cleo and Adela meet their dates before the cinema in Cuarón’s film. After, go for a mezcal at Cantina Tío Pepe, which, with its original mahogany bar and consistent crowd of domino-playing patrons, feels exactly like it must have when it opened almost 150 years ago.
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Long-standing establishments are few and far between in Roma’s ever-changing landscape, thanks to continuous gentrification and a few major earthquakes that leveled some of the neighborhood’s oldest and most vulnerable buildings. Nevertheless, a handful of classics have survived, among them La Casa de Cantera, a traditional restaurant on a quiet block of Roma Sur. Old film posters and bookshelves filled with vintage classics cover the walls of the mansion-turned-restaurant’s front dining room, which once was the residence’s library. The menu’s organic cheese, chorizo, and jamón Serrano are fresh from the owner’s ranch, located an hour south of the city.
Just off Roma Norte’s Plaza Rio de Janeiro is the local outpost of Dulcería de Celaya, an 1870s sweets shop that still sells traditional confections such as powered sugar–covered besos de nuez daily. Around the corner is Covadonga, a classic Spanish cantina that’s maintained nearly the same decor and Spanish tapas menu since it opened in the 1950s. After a few chelas (beers) and plates of tortilla española, continue the party at San Luis, a retro salsa club where dim lighting and nightly live music set the scene for dancing into the wee hours of morning. Bring cash, as it doesn’t accept cards, and spend the 30-odd pesos for a one-song salsa lesson from one of San Luis’s smartly dressed ficheras.
To cure your ensuing hangover, follow up with a proper breakfast at Beatricita, a modest, tile-floored eatery that’s been serving its patrons for over 100 years. Though it’s technically in Zona Rosa, the spot is near La Roma and is beloved by locals for its famous chicken soup and plates of enchiladas in mole poblano.
Airbnb Plus: Art-Filled Home in Roma Norte
For art-loving travelers, this five-bedroom home in the heart of Roma Norte is filled with tasteful nods to the past, like midcentury-inspired furniture by notable Mexican designers, mod light fixtures, and an incredible collection of quirky and nostalgic black-and-white photography adorning the walls of nearly every room. A sleek dining/living room provides a spacious common area for lounging, with large windows overlooking the park below. The home’s two plant-filled patios and expansive private rooftop terrace make for a lovely setting for cocktails after a day of exploring the city. From $574 per night
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Nima Local House Hotel
Hidden behind an unassuming Colima Street doorway blocks from Roma’s most of-the-moment eateries and design shops, Nima Local House welcomes guests with its unparalleled sense of warmth and style. The 20th-century mansion (formerly home to distinguished Mexican historian and art collector Guillermo Tovar de Teresa) has been repurposed as a four-room boutique hotel. Homey common spaces, terraces full of plants, and a highly attentive staff provide a sense of what life might have been like for the families that lived along this Mexico City street in the past. From $390 per night
Ignacia Guest House
If you didn’t know any better, you might walk right by Ignacia Guest House without noticing it, and that’s the point. Architect Fermín Espinosa and cofounder Gina Lozada designed this luxe five-room bed-and-breakfast with the essence of its beginnings at top of mind. Much in the spirit of Cuarón’s film, which pays tribute to the director’s childhood housekeeper, the hotel is named for Ignacia, who left her village at 15 to work for the home’s former residents. The midcentury-inspired interiors include thoughtful tributes to Ignacia, including decorative ceramics brought from Ignacia’s home state of Guerrero and two commissioned portraits of the lady herself. From $268 per night
Vintage-Meets-Modern in Casa Josefa
>> Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Mexico City
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