Mexico City, Mexico
A world-class hub of food and culture, so close and so very cheap
Why you should go: Clued-in travelers have long headed to this pulsing metropolis of 21 million souls, where they've explored world-class museums, a vibrant independent art scene, and stunning colonial architecture. And while Mexico City's profile is definitely on the rise, the Ciudad de Mexico, or CDMX as it's known locally, remains an overlooked destination in comparison to the shining stars in the firmament of international travel. That's a downright shame: with its warm, welcoming culture, leafy, tree-lined colonias, and wonderfully delicious food, there are endless reasons to visit Mexico City. It can go head to head with the world's more touristed cities any day -- and at a fraction of the price.
What you'll be eating: Few places in the world take eating as seriously as Mexico City. Street food reigns supreme, and you can hardly walk a few steps without being enticed by the aromas wafting from the little carts where hard-working, immensely talented cooks serve up delectable (and cheap -- we're talking less than $3 for a complete lunch) snacks all day long. In the morning, visit a tamalero, a vendor who serves hearty, corn-based breakfast items: in addition to tamales, he'll offer sweet cinnamon-and-vanilla-scented cups of atole, a hot, smooth corn drink. Ready for lunch? Seek out a tlacoyo, an eye-shaped disc of blue corn masa griddled and stuffed with creamy mashed fava beans or porky chicharron. Mexico City's tacos are equal to all the hype, available all day in every neighborhood, and filled with a huge range of meats. For a taste of the ultra-local, look for tacos al pastor, little corn tortillas folded around seasoned pork and warm, juicy bits of sweet pineapple. Said to be brought to the Mexico City area by Lebanese immigrants in the 19th century, the style has proliferated across the country but reaches its apex in CDMX.
If you're the type of diner who prefers an unhurried, sit-down meal, take note. In recent years, the city's fine-dining scene has exploded: star chef and CDMX native Enrique Olvera's Pujol, located in the tony neighborhood of Polanco, is probably the best-known example. It more than merits its many accolades, plating refined fare that demonstrates an intimate knowledge of traditional Mexican ingredients deployed in surprising ways -- and at about $100 for a seven-course meal, it won't blow up a vacation budget. Other excellent white-tablecloth restaurants include nearby Quintonil, where Jorge Vallejo creates Instagram-worthy dishes that taste as good as they look, and Maximo Bistrot, a cozy little corner spot in Roma with an excellent wine list.
What to do between meals: The vast expanse of Mexico City is divided into diverse neighborhoods known as colonias, and one of the most rewarding activities is to stroll among them, leisurely taking in the bustle of the city. Architecture buffs should check out Roma Norte, where expansive early-20th-century mansions now house cultural centers, bookstores, and art galleries; nightlife lovers can bar-hop around Condesa, the city's most tourist-friendly area, packed with cafes and clubs. The art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Mexico City's famed twice-married couple, is on display all over the city, but for a more unusual glimpse into the life of the former, visit the Museo Anahuacalli in Coyoacan, which houses Rivera's unparalleled collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts. Gallery enthusiasts can hit up Kurimanzutto, which represents pan-media modern artist Gabriel Orozco and relative newcomer Labor. For local color, CDMX's main square, the Zocalo, is always fun to walk around, and Chapultepec, the city’s Central Park, offers an oasis of green apart from the packed and frenetic streets of Downtown. -- Lauren Rothman, Thrillist contributor