A Design Lover’s Guide to Mexico City
From followers of Frida to devotees of Luis Barragán’s mid-century modern style, design lovers of all sorts have long flocked to CDMX. The city, which tells a unique and compelling visual story of history, tradition, urbanization, and innovation, was named the 2018 World Design Capital, making it the first city in the Americas to receive the title. When food and travel writer Allegra Ben-Amotz moved to Mexico City from New York, she naturally fell in love with the megacity’s distinct architecture and design. Here, she shares her favorite spots in this creative wonderland.
Calle Gral. Antonio León 82, San Miguel Chapultepec I Secc, Miguel Hidalgo, 11850 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Mexico City is full of architectural masterpieces, but there is nothing like the experience of being inside a Barragán-designed home. Very few are still in good shape and open to the public, including Casa Luis Barragán (the architect’s former home and studio that’s the only private residency to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site). Once you’ve visited this more famous house, get in touch with the owners of Casa Gilardi and ask for a tour. The last project Barragán completed before he died, Casa Gilardi is known for the huge jacaranda tree decorating its interior courtyard, and for a striking hallway with vertical apertures that bounce sunlight against brightly painted yellow walls and out into an electric blue room with an indoor pool. The artist James Turrell spent a month living in the house, taking black and white photos to study Barragán’s use of light.
06700, Sinaloa 10, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Hand-poured coffee is a fairly new trend in Mexico City, and it’s only recently that coffee shops featuring amazing local roasters are starting to pop up. I live right down the street from this tiny café with a few outdoor tables, and the guys who opened it—a group of architects who work in the studio behind the shop—are now my friends. Their taste is impeccable; everything from the design of the to-go cups, to the architect’s journals on sale, to the line up for their weekly event series is done with care and attention to detail. Make sure to try one of Carlos’ incredible pastries (more like something you’d expect to find in a high-end restaurant than a coffee bar) with your hand pour.
Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Gandhi S/N, Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Housed in a 1964 structure whose modern lines and central fountain greatly complement what’s on view, this anthropology museum is a repository of the most important pre-Hispanic treasures modern Mexico has discovered. The works are displayed in exhibits that trace the entire history of the Americas’ indigenous population, from the Bering migration to the present day. Exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) in scope, many visitors choose to jump ahead to “greatest-hits” galleries focusing on name brands like the Aztecs (to see their misnamed calendar stone); the Maya and their artifacts; or the Olmec culture, famed for its colossal (and quite sensual) head sculptures dating back to Mesoamerica’s earliest recorded eras.
Orizaba, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
In a city teeming with markets, this is one of the capital’s only true farmers’ markets. Everything is grown and produced within 100 yards of the city limits. It takes place at the corner of a park in the Roma neighborhood, and wooden benches are set up so that visitors can enjoy mushroom tamales, hippie-style tacos filled with cactus and wheat berry salad, and refreshing ices in flavors like cardamom or cucumber lime. Don’t miss the booth that sells one of my favorite mezcals. It’s made in the state of Guerrero, and at the market, vendors funnel the liquor from huge vats into beer bottles decorated with colored straw and papier mâché animals.
Calle Dinamarca 44, Cuauhtémoc, 06600 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
A brother-sister expat duo has opened this chic slice of Brooklyn in Colonia Juárez, the neighborhood currently angling to be Mexico City’s hippest. No complaints on that account at Cicatriz, whose open, industrial-styled storefront is a forum for several daily moods. No-compromise coffee and a variety of alternative baked goods form the morning agenda; lunch means a major emphasis on locally sourced greens in great salads and roasted iterations; the meatball and fried-chicken sandwich are both major crowd-pleasers as well. After five, it’s time to get your drink on; the bartenders deliver superior, crafted quaffs, but free from all the fuss you’ll see at other haute mixology spots. The earnest, healthful menu is enhanced by an overall vibe of do-it-yourself chic.
Av. de Las Fuentes 180, Jardines del Pedregal, 01900 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Located in Jardines del Pedregal, an elegant suburb on the outskirts of the city, Tetetlán is worth the trip. Originally the horse stables of a home designed by Mexico’s most influential architect, Luis Barragán, the space was recently restored by an art collector who lives next door. It is many things: a café serving shade-grown local coffee, a showcase for local designers, a restaurant serving creative Mesoamerican dishes, a yoga studio, a hotel for visiting artists who are asked to donate a book to Tetetlán’s extensive collection, and a listening library. But it’s the space’s design that’s truly breathtaking: glass floors look down on the area’s local purple-black volcanic rock, and the sun pouring in from skylights is warmed by rafters painted in Barragán’s signature pink.
Lafontaine 78, Polanco, Polanco III Secc, 11550 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
This yoga studio in the Polanco neighborhood is a beautiful place to practice. The main studio is inside a geometric dome bathed in light—it’s an instant dose of sanity. I particularly like that they offer Kundalini yoga classes, a breath-based mindfulness practice that helps me feel centered. The ground floor has one of the city’s best health food cafés, Ojo de Agua, which offers fresh juices, a daily vegan soup, and surprisingly great chilaquiles.
Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
The cobalt-blue-and-brick-red residence where now-legendary Mexican visual artist Frida Kahlo grew up—and at times lived with husband Diego Rivera—is one of the city’s most consistently packed attractions; buying tickets in advance is strongly recommended. That said, the visit is essentially (and justifiably) mandatory and offers fascinating glimpses into this extraordinary woman’s life and work. In addition to holding some of her paintings, the house also functions as a showcase for her library, astounding wardrobe, and collection of pre-Columbian artifacts; it additionally bears witness to her close association with left-wing politics. What’s more, the museum portrays the artist’s struggles with depression, marital infidelities, disability, and illness. The house’s garden—home to a modest café and mostly bashful felines—makes for a great breather before more strolling in the Coyoacán neighborhood.
Local 3, Orizaba 161, Roma Nte., 06700 Cuauhtémoc, CDMX, Mexico
La Nacional isn’t as hip as some of the Mexico City’s more popular mezcalerias, like La Clandestina, but it has an incredible selection and a really laid-back vibe. It’s a great place to get a mezcal education—the menu is an intersecting web that connects agave varieties to over 100 mezcals. If you’re more fan than aficionado, just tell one of the helpful waiters what you like (smoky, sweet, or smooth), and they’ll bring over a few bottles to sniff and sample. If you want to take a walk on the wild side, ask to try one of the rarer distillations, like one filtered through chicken breast or another filtered through a whole snake.
Museo 150, San Pablo Tepetlapa, 04620 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
They intended it as their gift to Mexico, and what a gift it is. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two of the most famous artists of the 20th century, worked with renowned Mexican architect Juan O’Gorman to create Museo Anahuacalli, a temple-like structure that houses the 50,000+ pre-Hispanic objects Rivera collected during his lifetime. The museum, whose design was also influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and his notions about the role of the physical environmental in the conceptualization and construction of buildings, also showcases hundreds of pieces of artisan and craft works representative of Mexico. Note that the museum is not open on Monday or Tuesday.
Colima 129, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
This two-sided jewel box of a store—one half jewelry, one half clothing and accessories—is located on one of my favorite streets in Mexico City, where each apartment building is more beautiful in its pastel-and-wrought-iron glory than the next. Run by Suzzan Atala, the founder of Tuza Jewelry, the shop represents the height of local design. Tuza’s bold, feminine brand (known for pieces like their eclectic pendants and colorful geometric hoop earrings) shares space with other favorite local jewelers and clothing designers like Carla Fernandez, Zii Ropa, Avocet Jewelry, and Paloma Lira.
This classic Mexican market has it all: housewares, craft supplies, produce, meat and fish, pastes for making mole, and one of the best flower selections in the city. In true Mexican mercado tradition, most of the vendors will gift you freebies upon purchase: a piece of fruit, a rose, or a slice of cheese. I usually start my visit in the housewares section, which has great, traditional stuff: brightly striped kitchen towels, enamel cookware, citrus juicers, and more. After stuffing my tote bag with ripe mangoes, fresh fava beans, local mushrooms, and bunches of palm leaves, I stop by the candy section for a handful of chili-pineapple gummies.
Plaza de la Constitución S/N, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06066 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Though his reputation is now arguably overshadowed by that of his former wife, painter and muralist Diego Rivera—commissioned by Mexico’s postrevolutionary governments starting in the late 1920s to adorn several national monuments in complex, pageantry- and allegory-laden wall paintings—was among the first Mexican artists to gain worldwide acclaim. Many of his finest works are on display in the Centro Histórico. Perhaps most spectacular are Rivera’s portrayals of Mexico’s millennia-long history, as seen in the Palacio Nacional on the Zócalo (Mexico City’s main square; take a state-issued ID for admission to the palace); a more contemporary depiction of socialist workers’ struggles (and one which includes a Frida Kahlo cameo) decorates a courtyard at the Secretariat of Public Education. One of the artist’s earliest pieces can be seen inside the amphitheater at the San Ildefonso museum. Additionally, the dazzling Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central, a surrealist who’s-who of Mexico’s turbulent fin de siècle, is the chief artwork on display at the nearby Museo Mural Diego Rivera.
Havre 73, Juárez, 06600 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
The latest spot from Elena Reygadas, chef and owner of the lauded restaurant Rosetta, Café Nin has taken over the second location of her acclaimed bakery, Panadería Rosetta. Named for author Anaís Nin, the menu is eclectic and changes often. Reygadas’ signature pastas share space with dishes like Thai-inspired curry and crab and mango tostadas, and somehow it all works. Grab a seat on the breezy patio, the space feels like a funky Parisian bistro with all the crumbling charm of a Mexican hacienda. Oh, and the pastry counter is open all day.
S/N, Balderas, Colonia Centro, Centro, 06040 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
La Ciudadela has been the go-to market for handcrafts for nearly 50 years, and it features crafts and handmade objects from all over Mexico. Expect to find everything from textiles (blankets, tablecloths, and hand-embroidered clothing) to ceramics, plates, cups, and serving dishes. Other items to be had here include mirrors, furniture, jewelry and hair accessories, and all manner of small and large handcrafts, including hand-beaded masks. Toys, dolls, and stuffed animals made by hand by artisans from Chiapas are also on offer. The market is open daily.
Centenario 63, Del Carmen, 04100 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
This outdoor ceramic school in the Coyoacan neighborhood is located close to the Museo de Frida Kahlo. The head instructor is a ceramic artist whose simple, Japanese-inspired designs can be found in some of the city’s best restaurants. They also have a booth at the Bazaar del Sabado, but I recommend stopping by the studio so you can catch a glimpse of the pros at work. Watch your feet, because the owner’s cats and crazy-looking Mexican hairless dogs (the breed is called Xoloitzcuintli) have the run of the place.