Mexico City may be renowned for its modernism — including a youthful, creative population, a vibrant contemporary art scene, and raucous nightlife — but it's the city's history, stacked up like layers of fossiliferous strata, that makes a trip here so intoxicating. The oldest edifices are concentrated in the aptly named Centro Histórico district, but you can catch glimpses of the past throughout the entire Valley of Mexico; it just all depends on what era you are looking for. Whether you're in search of the the pre-Columbian, the Porfirian 1910s, mid century modern, or just a room full of grandfather types who look straight out of an earlier era, DF's got it all.
Fonda la Margarita: At this restaurant, open for over sixty years, you'll find simply the best breakfast in town. Huge earthenware cazuelas set atop live coals where stews, like chicharrón en salsa verde and bistec en pasilla, simmer away. Their larded bean and egg scramble is supreme, flanked with hot tortillas and scalding café de la olla. Open only 5am-11am.
Adolfo Prieto 1364, Colonia del Valle
La Opera Bar: All red velvet and ornate woodcarvings, this classic spot, open since 1876, actually has bar seats, a rarity in this stand-up town. Before you get too sloshed on tequila (served with an excellent sangrita) keep your eyes peeled for the tiny hole in the ceiling where Pancho Villa shot his pistol.
5 de Mayo 10, Centro
Covadonga: A cavernous room with decor that hasn't changed since the 1950s, Covadonga is a Spanish-style cantina (as opposed to Mexican-style). Waiters push the heavy wooden tables around like Tetris to accommodate large groups, and deliver glasses of rum in highballs with sides of soda water. The crowd is a lively mix of crusty regulars, journalists, and packs of young hipsters, all taking in the restaurant's great pickles, mediocre food, and boatloads of charm.
Puebla 121, Roma
Bar Montejo: A pedestrian outpost on the outskirts of the fashionista epicenter of Condesa, Bar Montejo is a decidedly old-school cantina, a multi-floored affair serving comida yucateca. The masses descend by 3 p.m. to loosen their ties and throw back domestic beer — join the ranks!
Benjamin Franklin 261-A, Condesa/Escandón
Cantina Tîo Pepe: If you're not lucky enough to snag one of the select booths at this iconic cantina, you can always lean like a gentleman at the bar — it's one of the most gorgeous in el Centro, with lacquered wood and elaborate stained glass. There's straightforward service here: beer, tequila, and rum and Cokes, plus roving snack-men to sell you spicy toasted fava beans and chapulines.
Independencia at Dolores, Centro
Tacos de Canasta Las Especialistas: See that long, snaking line of hungry folks just west of the main zócalo? It's headed towards this hole in the wall that specializes in tacos de canasta ("basket tacos"), a DF specialty. The line moves fast towards the tiny storefront, where an attendant asks how many tacos you want to eat. You'll pay, get a token, and hand it to a man guarding a huge stainless-steel basket holding the tacos, filled with chicharrones, mole, adobo, potatoes, and beans. Spoon on some salsa, grab some jalapeños en escabeche, and get down with one of the most affordable and satiating snacks in history. Don't bother with cutlery; there isn't any.
Av Francisco I. Madero 71
Nicos: Nicos is one of the secret stars in Mexico City (in fact, we'd go so far as to say it's the single best restaurant in DF). Operating since 1957, it's a true neighborhood spot, family-run, full of locals — and, perhaps unexpectedly, a leader of the city's Slow Food scene. Chefs take visiting friends, and Mexican families treat themselves on Saturday afternoon to elegant but unpretentious preparations of Mexican dishes, great mezcal, and warm service.
Av. Cuitláhuac 3102, Azcapotzalco
El Gallo de Oro: Born in 1874, El Gallo de Oro is one of the oldest cantinas downtown, hidden behind red walls, green awnings, and a pair of swinging double doors. Like most cantinas, after three drinks you can sample the daily menu of simple, hearty fare for free — here, it's served buffet style.
Venustiano Carranza 35, Centro
Salon Tenampa: This legendary cantina, immortalized in countless mariachi songs and stories, has been open since 1925. Calling it "lively" doesn't do it justice — this is where the after-afterparty heads. Though it can be a bit of a tourist trap, the celebratory atmosphere keeps everything feeling good all the way until dawn.
Plaza Garibaldi 12, Centro
Café la Habana: A great place to have a coffee and a quiet respite from the city, and soak up some history in the process. Café la Habana is a famed social space in La Juarez where for the last sixty years, journalists, expats, locals, and politicians have convened for a pick-me-up between the pastel pink walls.
Morelos 62, la Juárez
Torre Latinoamericana: Between 1956 and 1972, the Torre was the tallest building in the city. That's no longer the case, but it still is the best vantage point to glimpse the incomparable sprawl of one of the hugest cities in the world. Instead of paying for a ticket to the observation deck, enter the building, ask for the bar, and head up in the elevator. For the price of a drink, you'll get the best view in the house — plus a drink.
Eje Central 2, Centro
D. Belisario Domínguez 72, Centro
Pastelería Ideal: This bakery, open since 1927, is a frenetic beehive of pastry production. The showroom floor swells with hundreds of varieties of breads, cakes, gelatins, pastry, and candies. Grab an aluminum tray and a pair of tongs and make your selection, which will be packaged in one of the bakery's iconic rectangular boxes. Even if you don't have a special occasion coming up, don't miss the hall of gaudy cakes on the second floor, displaying everything from soaring wedding cakes to six-tiered, clown-themed children's birthday cakes.
República de Uruguay 74, Centro
Dulcería de Celaya: An art nouveau stained-glass window marks the gracefully aging Dulcería de Celaya, a sweets shop in operation since 1874. Frutas cristalizadas, buñuelos, and polvorones are just a few of the array of traditional Mexican sweets and treats piled high on aluminum trays set in glass display cases. They're all pleasing to look at, and even better to eat.
5 de Mayo 39, Centro
Pulquería El Templo de Diana: There's sawdust on the floor of this pulqueria, and the room is filled with smooching couples and old drunks. It's located a couple blocks from the embarcaderos (the docks to catch the boats called trajineras). They offer a dozen or so pulques in flavors like celery, oat, strawberry, mango, and guava, all of which can be blended into frothy milkshake-like curados. Restorative — but they'll get you drunk, too.
5 de Mayo 65, Xochimilco