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While shooting his latest film Roma in Mexico City this past year, director Alfonso Cuaron rediscovered his hometown. It was his first extended period back in the city since the 1990s, says Cuaron, who has been based in Europe in recent years. “I was constantly confronted with the memory of my past and the Mexico City of the present, a city that is incredibly sophisticated, informed and cosmopolitan,” says Cuaron, who adds that the recent earthquake “has left scars in several areas,” but “very few places have suffered closures.” December is the best month to visit, with many Chilangos — natives of Mexico City — out of town.
“There is no morning/evening rush hour so it’s easy to get around,” says Cuaron. Between Dec. 12 and Jan. 6, Guadalupe-Reyes, which started as a religious celebration, “has now turned mostly into a continuous party known as ‘posadas‘ — with festivities in homes, restaurants, bars and clubs,” he explains. “It’s a time when Mexicans have received their Christmas bonuses, so a lot of drinking and celebrating in a relaxed atmosphere takes place.”
For those worried about safety when visiting Mexico’s capital, Cuaron advises: “Like in every big city, the most important defense is common sense.” Don’t flash expensive jewelry or cash, and keep the “gringesa” (a.k.a., obnoxious American) attitude in check. “Women should be careful walking alone at night in certain neighborhoods,” he adds, and only use licensed taxis, which are available all over the city and at designated taxi stops. Also: “There is a large and very efficient Uber service that is reliable and safe.” The Oscar-winning director’s selects for Mexico City:
“My favorite neighborhoods are Coyoacan, colonia Roma and colonia Condesa. Coyoacan is the most traditional neighborhood and dates back to Aztec times. It’s where Frida Kahlo lived and a lot of artists later on. Frida’s house is amazing, and small, so I would recommend booking tickets in advance. The square in Coyoacan gets very lively on weekends. Roma and Condesa are the hipster-cool areas with zillions of cafes and new restaurants coming up every single day. And the National Museum of Anthropology is in Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec Park, a great park in the middle of the city and one of the largest urban green spaces in the world. The Anthropology museum is amazing. On nice days, it’s a great place to have lunch.
As for any of the parks, it’s just scenic, to enjoy trees and nature in the middle of or close to a huge city. You can find national parks La Marquesa and Los Dinamos within a 45-minute drive outside the city.”
“I’m a vegetarian, and a lot of places are very veggie friendly. Rosetta (Calle Colima 166, Delegacion Cuauhtemoc, Col. Roma Norte, 06700) is Italian? with a twist. Chef Elena Reygadas, sister of director Carlos Reygadas, is always experimenting, combining amazing homemade pastas with Italian and Mexican ingredients. She’ll do ravioli with mamey, a seasonal fruit like avocado but red. Maximo Bistrot (Tonala 133, Roma Norte, 06700) is modern European and delicious. Chef Eduardo Garcia is very accommodating and improvises for me. Pujol (Tennyson 133, Polanco, Polanco IV Secc, 11570) has inventive, high-end Mexican cuisine. They serve these little corns in a clay pot — absolutely amazing.
There are also many hidden vegetarian gems. My favorites include: Gold Taco (Eugenia 1562, Narvarte Poniente, 03020); Forever Vegano (Guanajuato 54, Roma Norte, México D.F. 06700) and Pan Comido (Tonalá 91, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Norte, 06700).”
“Mexico City has a very lively bar scene. Cantinas are old-fashioned drinking establishments, and you can find many still open all over the city. My favorite is a hole-in-the-wall mezcal bar called La Clandestina (Av. Alvaro Obregon 298, Condesa, 06140), which sells amazing artisanal mezcals. Comfort Food is a great coffee place in?the Colonia Narvarte (Cumbres de Maltrata 390, local E, Esquina Mitla, Narvarte Oriente, 03020).”
“The Sunday flea market at La Lagunilla (López Rayón 46 lote 1, Centro, 06020) is an authentic antique market. For souvenirs and touristy items, the Mercado San Angel (Av Revolución S/N, Álvaro Obregón, San Ángel, 01000) is a great place to visit as it is also located in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Mexico City.”
“There are many high-end gyms all over the city. My favorite is the Centro QJ Gym (Av. Amsterdam #317, Cuauhtémoc, Condesa, 06100). Also, every Sunday, Paseo De La Reforma (the wide avenue that runs diagonally through the heart of the city) is closed to traffic and open to cyclists, runners and pedestrians until 2 p.m.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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