Stars Salma Hayek, Guillermo del Toro, Karla Souza and Demian Bichir — along with recent visitor Conan O'Brien — reveal the capital's haute hangouts and its citizens' bigly welcome for Americans not named Trump.
Donald Trump — who visited Mexico City as a candidate last August to meet with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto — is one of the few people who seems to have come away from a visit there without gaining new appreciation for the mile-high metropolis. "People from all over the world fall in love with Mexico City as soon as they see the dimension of this beautiful capital," says actress Eiza Gonzalez, star of the June film Baby Driver, of her hometown. With top-flight restaurants, a thriving cocktail scene and some 150 museums, Mexico City — or el DF, for Federal District, as it's called locally (though in 2016 it was officially renamed Ciudad de Mexico, acronym CDMX) — is both bigly and lively. "What people don't expect is how cosmopolitan and diverse it is and how far away it is from some of the media stereotypes," says Jane the Virgin star Jaime Camil.
An easy four-hour flight from Los Angeles, Mexico City (population 8.9 million) is divided into 16 districts, with hundreds of neighborhoods (among the most popular with travelers are Condesa, Polanco and Roma) — and lots of dense cosmopolitan traffic between them. "It took us two hours to go 6½ miles at rush hour one day," says Conan O'Brien, who spent a week in the city in February filming two episodes for his talk show. One thing he found — when he did a bit with a donation box soliciting money to build President Trump's border wall — is that residents have a sense of humor about their political situation. "They have big hearts, and they just understood the comedy and jumped right in," says O'Brien, who joins other industry insiders to offer THR tips for an immersive weekend in the city they wish the American president could view through their eyes. "Seeing as he's really into business endeavors, I would tell him it's the place where the American dream actually happens for millions of people and young entrepreneurs," says Mexican actress Karla Souza of How to Get Away With Murder. "Great startups and businesses thrive here, so he should start making allies and not enemies."
DINNER Make advance reservations for one of the city's two tasting-menu gourmet spots, which regularly appear on lists of the world's best restaurants. Salma Hayek, who next stars in How to Be a Latin Lover (April 28), recommends Pujol (Tennyson 133, Polanco); Souza is a fan of innovative Quintonil (Av. Isaac Newton 55, Polanco), where an 11-course tasting menu is about $95.
DRINKS At La Clandestina (Av. Alvaro Obregon 298, Condesa), "enjoy dozens of mezcals from the heart of Oaxaca soil," says Oscar-nominated actor Demian Bichir (Alien: Covenant, May 19). "It's a hipster mezcaleria that looks like a set from an El Indio Fernandez movie."
BREAKFAST "I always take visitors to El Cardenal for breakfast," says producer Nicolas Celis, who recently wrapped filming on Alfonso Cuaron's Roma in the city. Of the eatery's four locations, he prefers the one inside the Hilton in the Centro neighborhood (Av. Juarez 70), while Bichir likes the location in the town of San Angel (Av. de la Paz 32), which is "in a beautiful 100-year-old house," says the star. "What's unexpected for visitors is how pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern Mexico share time and space in this amazing city." Bichir recommends the escamoles ($13): "They are ant larva eggs cooked in butter and epazote leaves. Be brave — you will never regret it!"
CULTURE The vast collection at the National Museum of Anthropology (Av. Paseo de la Reforma, Polanco) includes major Aztec archaeological finds. "It's a must see," says Mexican actor Alfonso Herrera (Sense8, The Exorcist). The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Av. Juarez, Centro) has floors of murals by Diego Rivera and more. "The art scene is as energized as any city that I have been to, steeped in ancient traditions," says Priority Pictures producer Lizzie Friedman, who recently wrapped two weeks of shooting Paul Weitz's Bel Canto in Mexico City. "All the murals by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siquieros are truly awe-inspiring and cannot be missed. My favorite murals were at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, La Secretaria de Educacion Publica [Republica de Argentina 28, Centro], and of course Palacio Nacional de Mexico [Av. Pino Suarez, Zocalo]. There are a vast number of art galleries throughout the city. You can spend hours walking around the art galleries in Condesa, Roma and now Juarez." For deeper history, she adds, "If you have time, visit Teotihuacan Pyramids 25 miles northeast of the city. Built in 300 B.C., they were the centerpiece of an ancient Mesoamerican city. The ruins are incredible and the pyramids are among the largest in the world — scary to climb up and terrifying to climb down but well worth it."
LUNCH With more than 60 vendors and cheap eats ($4 for breakfast), Mercado Roma (Calle Queretaro 225, Roma) lets you "pick a separate place for each part of your meal, from tacos, gorditas, chilaquiles, to fresh fish and wine, ending with amazing gourmet coffee with delicate macaroons or Mexican candy for dessert," says Souza.
SHOPPING "Don't miss, every Saturday, El Bazaar Sabado (Plaza San Jacinto 11) in San Angel," says Bichir. "You'll find art and crafts from all over Mexico in a beautiful colonial sector."
COFFEE "We have a lot of Starbucks," says Camil, who recommends searching out small independent coffee houses like Chiquitito Cafe (two locations, Alfonso Reyes 232, Condesa, or Calle Rio Lerma 179, Cuauhtemoc). Herrera gets his fix at Cafe Passmar (Mercado Lazaro Cardenas, Adolfo Prieto 250, Colonia del Valle Norte).
DINNER Rojo Bistrot (Av. Amsterdam 71, Condesa), a French bistro co-founded by Bichir in 1999, is a draw for such classics as duck confit and tarte tatin, and its "very relaxed and cozy atmosphere," says the actor.
COCKTAILS "The 'It' spot is Limantour," says Gonzalez of this bar with two locations (Oscar Wilde 9, Polanco; Av. Alvaro Obregon 106, Roma). One recent drink, the Margarita Al Pastor, was a take on the popular taco with cilantro, chile and pineapple.
BREAKFAST One of O'Brien's favorite spots is Restaurante San Angel Inn (Calle Diego Rivera 50), in a former Carmelite monastery in San Angel. Hayek recommends traditional offerings such as "lengua [tongue] a la veracruzana."
BIKE "On Sundays," says Souza, "the city closes car access to the main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, and only allows bikes. It quickly becomes the best Sunday activity you can do. Bike rentals are set up throughout the city." Stay hydrated with "fresh, one-of-a-kind Mexican juices," at Ojo de Agua (Lamartine 313, Polanco), says Souza.
LUNCH Contramar (Calle de Durango 200, Roma) "is the most happening seafood restaurant," says Hayek of the spot known for its tuna tostadas with chipotle mayo and whole fish with two sauces ($17). "Everyone who's anyone is there and the food is insanely good," adds Gonzalez.
CULTURE O'Brien cites as a highlight the Leon Trotsky Museum (Av. Rio Churubusco 410, Coyoacan), the radical's home after he fled Stalinist Russia. The TV host didn't get to see the Frida Kahlo Museum (Calle Londres 247, Coyoacan), even though "I took maybe 150 selfies in front of it — people even came out of the museum," he says, but he couldn't get in. "I said, 'I just want a quick peek.' And they said no. Go to the end of the line. They are really serious about their line."
STREET FOOD Stop by an authentic taco joint like Los Cocuyos (Calle de Bolivar 54-56, Centro) or El Farolito (Isaac Newton 130, Polanco), which Camil calls "the best!" Or get adventurous, suggests Guillermo del Toro, director of November's The Shape of Water. "You can go to any cantina downtown in El Centro and have some worms and crickets," he says. "The crickets are great, but the worms are the best."
DINNER Bichir suggests Maximo Bistrot Local (Calle Tonala 133, Roma) for "French-Mexican fare. This little restaurant is owned by Lalo Garcia, who used to work at Le Bernardin in New York City, and, boy, did he learn his craft." Camil recommends Amaya (Calle General Prim 95, Juarez), a new spot with an all-natural wine list from the same chef behind the well-known MeroToro. Other great restaurant options include contemporary Mexican spot Dulce Patria (Anatole France 100, Polanco), a favorite of Gonzalez's, and oyster bar La Docena (Alvaro Obregon 31, Roma). "This spacious place originally from Guadalajara is lots of fun," says Bichir.
DANCE Salon Los Angeles (Calle de Lerdo 206, Guerrero) is a traditional Mexican dance hall that's been open since the 1930s. "I just had the wrap party for Roma there," says Celis. "We had the band Sonora Dinamita playing and it was a huge success."
At the top of the luxury scale are the Four Seasons (Paseo de la Reforma 500, Juarez; rooms from $850) and St. Regis (Paseo de la Reforma 439; from $605), which O'Brien recommends for the "absolutely spectacular service." Intimate options include the three-room La Valise (Tonala 53, Roma; from $320) and the 11-room Chaya B&B (Doctor Mora 9, Third Floor, Centro, from $115). "It's an amazing bed and breakfast in the heart of the city," says Gonzalez. Three recommended boutique hotels are Las Alcobas (Masaryk 390, Polanco, from $419) — which Gonzalez likes for its "spacious and beautiful rooms" — and two places owned by Grupo Habita: the Condesa DF (Av. Veracruz 102, Condesa; from $325) and Hotel Downtown (Isabel la Catolica 30 Colonia, Centro; from $210), which Souza says "has a very relaxed vibe and some of the best views in the historic center of Mexico City."