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BBQ Fix

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So I think I found my new bbq fix, and it’s only a few blocks away from my house. Porco Rosso opened up on the corner of Zacatecas and Orizaba and then almost as quickly was closed down. They just reopened a month ago and as I have been telling everyone, I’m both happy and sad. Happy that it’s delicious and sad I didn’t start up my own barbeque restaurant years ago when I had the idea (but no more money that I do now).

The wrap up?

Pros:

*picnic-table ambiance

*delicious ribs — crispy on the outside, juicy in the center, they were the star for me

*great pulled pork with bits of fat mixed in for flavor

*magically fried onions (who knows how they make them)

*summery location right on Luis Cabrera park

*Pedro, the uber-friendly owner

*deep-fried Oreos and banana splits for dessert

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Cons:

*Lemon ice tea — I LOVE sweet tea, but all that lemon makes it more like lemonade.

*confused staff — there was some confusion and delay with our order, the waitress didn’t know how to follow them on twitter, the guy working the register couldn’t answer our question about the ribs (someone else helped him out), the ordering/picking system needs a little smoothing out… but hopefully they are still just working out the bugs.

*cramped space — they are waiting on a permit to expand into the rest of their lot, once they do it will be much roomier and pleasant, until then it’s a little tight on space.

As you can see the benefits far outweigh the negatives and in my opinion is better than both Pinche Gringo and Los Po’ Boys, the two other barbeque places I have tried in the city.

Got a better place? Send me a comment and I will check it out. Till then I am off to Porco Rosso to get the meat sweats.

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The New Roma Guide — Coming Soon!

Hey Readers,

If you like this blog you will LOVE my upcoming guide to living in the Roma. I need your help to make all these hours of research and writing pay off. Please help me raise money to design, print and publish my new guide! If everyone that follows this guide simply chipped in 10 bucks I could make my goal!

Click on the link below to donate to the campaign!

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My Indiegogo fundraising page!

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The Best of Breakfast – La Roma

IMG_20141010_151914579Now that my guide to living in the Roma is in its final stages of editing, I’ve had several people ask me…. “So what is the best ___ in the Roma?”

I have eaten in so many restaurants, gotten my hair cut at so many salons and meandered through so many boutiques that you might think that much of it became a blur after a while. You’d be right… but there were stand outs.

I thought I would give everyone out there a little preview to what they might find in my guide and talk about some of the “bests” that I’ve encountered. I’m starting with my favorite meal of the day: Breakfast.

Best Pastry – Panaderia Lvsitana, Valladolid 76

I haven’t stickied my fingers at any bakery in the Roma that even compares to this little Portuguese heaven. Brioche, pastel de belem, cornucopias… even the pan de chorizo is stunning. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s a treasure trove of deliciousness inside.

pan_comidoBest Cup of Coffee – Pan Comido, Tonala 99

They make it French press and they make it strong. Refreshing in a neighborhood where I haven’t run into that many good cups o’ Joe. Second runners up are Cardinal on Cordoba (yes soy milk, no decaf) and the Colombian coffee stand in Mercado Medellin (no soy milk, yes coffee from every region of Mexico).

Best Chilaquiles – Las Tlayudas, San Luis Potosi 13

Ok, so Alex Montes, the owner, is a friend of mine and he’s the one who originally told me their chilaquiles were the best in the Roma, but I wouldn’t have put them on the list if I hadn’t gone and tested out his claim myself. He’s got pasilla, morita, verde, rojo, tasajo, cecina, chicken, etc. The list is never ending and I’m telling you, while there are others in the Roma I like (and that I mention a few in the guide), these are number one.

Best expensive breakfast – Lalo, Zacatecas 173

While there were one too many waiters hovering over the community table for my liking, it didn’t ruin the food orgasm that was my croque madame. I also like that they fed me as much coffee as I wanted and let me linger over breakfast without being fussy, like some high priced places can be.

Best cheap breakfast – Talcoyo & gordita stand in front of Mercado Medellín

This stand is the one located right by the entrance of the non-food section, in front of the parking lot on the Monterrey side. These ladies have lots of rellenos for quesadillas, perfected condiment-ed tlacoyos and searing hot salsas – the perfect breakfast for under 5 bucks.

Best Outdoor seating – Cachito Mio – Guanajuato 138cachito_mio

The bench that transforms into a picnic table, neatly tucked beneath a tree, the roving white dog, and the over-the-top friendly owners that make you feel like you’ve known them all your life, make Cachito my favorite place to sit outside for breakfast. The spinach quiche and organic juice don’t hurt either.

Busiest Breakfast stop – Rosetta Panaderia, Colima 166

Rosetta’s 10 or so bar stools are in constant rotation all day long. Come for the happening scene and stay for the sweet rolls and the aroma of fresh baked bread drifting from the kitchen. (yes, almond milk!)

DSCF1752Best fresh baked bread – Delirio, Monterrey 116

I hesitate on this one because I also LOVE the bread at De la Silva bakery (in the Mercado Roma on Querétaro street), but I still choose Delirio as number one because I think it’s denser and I like heavy, dense farm-style bread. For something a little lighter, De la Silva is your bakery.

Best Vegan/Vegetarian Breakfast – Pan Comido, Tonala 99

Pan Comido wins another category with their vegan and vegetarian breakfast burritos. I also like that you can order organic eggs for 5p extra and that I can end my breakfast with a warm vegan cookie from their bakery next door.

Best Eggs Benedict – Padam, Veracruz 38

These eggs benedict rocked my world – poached eggs with smoked salmon floating padamin a sea of béchamel and sprinkled with dill – what more could you want in a breakfast? I also love the long table out front – makes you feel like you’re holding court at breakfast.

Best Tamales – Doña Emi, Jalapa 278

I know I am going to get lambasted for this since everyone has their favorite tamales, but Doña Emi never disappoints me and there is always enough filling to balance out the overload of corn masa (combined with the atole for a corn-anary) Lomo and olives are my favorite.

pet friendlyMost Pet friendly – Spice Everywhere – Yucatan 147

I have yet to try out the Spice Everywhere new location for American-style weekend brunch, but I did run in to the owner the other day who spent 15 minutes petting my dogs. She told me that they have a huge patio where you can bring pets and every dog gets a sausage. My mutts have been harassing me to go ever since.

Have some breakfast suggestions? Click on the link at the top of this post and send me a message.

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Mapping La Roma

After months working on my guide to living in my neighborhood, I know that mapping La Roma is a project of mammoth proportions. I have been diligently marking down tiendas de abarrotes, drycleaners and internet places for months, in hopes that it will serve the purchasers of my guide — knowing that the closest fruit stand can sometimes change your life.

Mapping a place, even just mentally, helps us to make sense of our surroundings, of our place in the world, helps us to find order in the chaos and noise. In a place like Mexico City, with its 20+ inhabitants and hodgepodge neighborhoods, this task can serve as a way to wrap our minds around the immense metropolis that we find ourselves in.

DSCF2927So this month one of our neighborhood associations, El Consejo Vecinal (COVE), and an independent research center in Mexico, The Center for Geographic and Geomatic Research (Centro GEO), have teamed up to map the entire neighborhood block by block. The project is currently underway and all the information will be uploaded and accessible to the public through a web-based google map by the 15th of March. Centro Geo is a Mexican research and education institution that applies the tools and techniques used in geographic research to social problems.

The way the project works is that teams of 10 volunteers (brigadas) are each detailing 20 of La Roma’s 322 blocks and collecting not only information about what businesses are where but also which areas are well-lit, which are slowly being overrun by trash and where pedestrian mobility is hindered.

In an effort to reduce the subjectivity of the volunteers they have been given a matrix of categories and subcategories into which to place their observations.  The categories are broken down into: Commercial Establishments, Services, Real Estate, Security, Mobility and Trash.

Each category includes subcategories for easy organization (Services: Schools, Real Estate: Abandoned Lot, etc) and volunteers are encouraged to take photos of anything they feel is an exemplary version of the description. Once all of this note-taking is finished, the information will be uploaded into an online map where viewers can filter for the different categories they wish to see.

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The objective, according to COVE, whose mission is to promote collaborative discussion between citizens and authorities, is to give citizens a tool for influencing public policy in their neighborhood. The map will give residents an idea of how many public parking garages there are, for instance, a number that can be cross-referenced with the amount of restaurants, to see if sufficient parking in available for the quantity of restaurants in the Roma.

IMG_0178These kinds of stats touch on some very hot button issues in the Roma, Uso de suelo, zoning in English, –  what kinds of businesses can be where and in what quantity — and available housing and housing prices. The mapping process will record how many new buildings and houses are going up, how many are in disrepair and how many are being renovated into galleries and restaurants. (A separate group of architects will be mapping properties according to which have been designated historical landmarks and in what condition they are in).

The mapping project’s proponents also point out the value of labeling which streets have adequate lighting, broken sidewalks, handicapped ramps — all with the idea that this information will allow residents to pressure the local city government for increased maintenance of its streets.

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For good or bad the project will give a much clearer picture of what’s happening on the streets of La Roma and its residents get to choose how they want to use the information that is revealed and to what end. Click on the comment box above and leave me your thoughts about what you think about this neighborhood initiative. I’ll keep you updated as to when you can access the link online.

 

 

 

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Seven Quiet Corners in the Roma

I find that as much as I love this city, its noise and chaos can get overwhelming. While workingBuddha-little_statue on my upcoming guide to the Roma I have stumbled across some incredibly quiet places, tucked down passageways and off side streets, where it’s easy to work, get your bearings or simply sit in silence for awhile … a rare opportunity in this 28 million + city. Here are my top choices for peace and quiet.

Centro de Meditación Kadampa de México, Jalapa 113, Tues to Sun 9:30 a 8:30pm

On the second floor of this education and meditation center is the World Peace cafe and shop. Smooth wooden floors, minimalistic decoration and an overall zen-like vibe greet you at the door. It’s a great place to work (or meditate) quietly. The cafe and shop are open when classes are not in session (they are located above the meditation room and therefore create noise downstairs), so check the scheduled classes there. Other than that it’s open from 9am to 9pm every day.

Casa Del Poeta, Álvaro Obregón 73 , Tues to Fri 10 to 6pm

On the top floor of the Casa del Poeta, former home of Poet Ramón López IMG_20141105_112504Velarde, between the Salvador Novo and Efraín Huerta libraries is a sunny workspace with long wooden tables and chairs. It’s quiet and almost always empty (unless there is a school group visiting the musuem). It’s a great place to get some work done undisturbed or meander through the literary collections of these three great Mexican poets.

Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia, Puebla 144

This church has long been important to the neighborhood, as its sagrada_family_lydia_careyfirst Catholic house of worship, the church home of counter-revolutionary Padre Pro and an example of the eclectic architectural style popular around the beginning of the twentieth century. Inside are some stunning Art Nouveau stain-glassed windows as well as Gonzalo Carrasco’s paintings of the Sacred Family. The doors are always open for a quick breather and moment of meditation, whomever you believe in.

Goethe Institut, Tonalá 43, Everyday, 8 to 8pm, Library – Tues to Fri 9 to 11am, 4 to 7pm, Sat 10:30 to 2pm, Sun 12 to 2pm

If the city’s chaos (and disorder) gets you down, there is nothing like some German organization to pick you back up again. Besides the tidy peace of the German-language library and small indoor/outdoor cafe, you can also take a German class, see a documentary film or enjoy a concert by Berlin’s philharmonic orchestra.

Patio Aurora, Alvaro Obregón 126, Tue 1-6pm, Wed – Sat 1- 2:30am, Sun 1-6pm

While I can’t guarantee complete silence, the Patio Aurora is a nice place to have a quiet lunch and an intimate conversation. Tucked off the street down a narrow walkway, the restaurant’s outdoor tables are almost always near empty in the afternoon hours. With the sun streaming in and the murmur of the kitchen in the background you will be surprised at how distant you feel from the bustle of the city.

Herder Bookstore, Tehuatepec 50,  Mon to Fri 9 to 6pm, First Saturday of every month

I want to live in Herder. Or at least fill my living room with its Scandinavian- style bookcases, overflowing with titles, stare out big picture windows and have someone serve me a coffee and then leave me to my thoughts. In addition to their good selection of Spanish-language titles is the German-language section, which fills up about half the store (there are no English books here). You will most likely find yourself alone in the shop, perfect for curling up in an armchair and reading a good story.

Aviario de Polanco, Tues to Sun 10 to 4pm

polanco_aviary_mexicocitystreets4I have to mention the aviary, even though it’s not in the Roma, because I stumbled upon it a few months ago and was taken aback by the loveliness and songbird soundtrack. Dozens of colorful birds fly inside what is essentially a human-size cage on one side of Polanco’s Abraham Lincoln park. Visitors walk on the inside boardwalk trying not t0 break the spell of wings and chirps, instead pointing and whispering to each other about the feathered creatures they spot in the limbs of the trees.

 

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“El Feo” made beautiful

So he says to me, “I want you to translate this for them,” pointing to my English-speaking friends.

Then he starts singing this…

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Eating Vegan in Mexico City

Vegan huitlacoche arepas on Tepic street

Vegan huitlacoche arepas on Tepic street

So I had four house guests recently, two of whom are vegan and one of which is vegetarian. I had conveniently forgotten this little culinary habit when planning what I would do with them while they were here. I had visions of us at the taco stand, us, at Jamon J Jamon, us, eating Sunday morning barbacoa. When they arrived and informed me (“I have been a vegan for five years and you NEVER remember, ” said my friend Josh) I was at a loss about what to feed them. This is my favorite food city in the world, but it’s built for people that eat carnitas, tinga de pollo and at least a tamale or two.

I guess we all went into the experience a little blind. As a first-timer to Mexico (outside of Cancún), Josh thought he could order black beans and rice and guacamole everywhere he went. I kept forgetting that they couldn’t even eat butter. The week turned into a bit of a vegan scavenger hunt. I was pleasantly surprised by some of what we ate and expectantly letdown by others. The biggest lesson I learned was that there actually are quite a few options. We ate tacos, platos fuertes, dessert and lots of random things I had never even considered vegan-acceptable. Here’s a few places we stopped:

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Tlacoyo with fava beans (you can get it without cheese)

The first day they were in town we checked out the quesadilla stand in front of the Mercado Medellín for some breakfast tacos. The vegans ate mushroom and nopal quesadillas sans cheese, tlacoyos with fava beans smothered in salsa, nopal, onions and cilantro, tlacoyos stuffed with refried beans and the vegetarian tried a tlacoyo filled with requesón. The ladies running the stand were super accommodating about our rambling and massive order. (“no cheese, no meat, less, no more salsa please”)

As I imagine all particular eaters must travel, my vegan friends came armed with the tools of war, like the Happy Cow vegan food app that provides you with a list of vegan food restaurants wherever you are in the world.  This gave them a modicum of independence while they were here. While they did accidentally buy chicharrón (pig skin) thinking it was just a chunky green salsa, they were relatively savvy about finding their way to vegan restaurants with the google map on their app.

Pan Comido was one of the winners, a place I pass almost daily and never knew was vegan friendly.

Spinach Vegan Lisa Simpson @ Pan Comido

Spinach Vegan Lisa Simpson @ Pan Comido

They fell in love with the Lisa Simpson — a soy chorizo breakfast burrito with spinach, mushrooms and refried beans. I had my own version with real egg and cheese. (ask for the pico de gallo to go on top). They also, turns out, have awesome french press coffee — I’m already a regular two weeks later.

We also became fast friends with the kids at the Por Siempre Vegana Taquería on the corner of Coahuila and Manzanillo, a place I thought was closed until I read Jim Johnson’s blog piece recently and realized I was just never there late enough (they open from 6:30pm to midnight). For me protein substitutes can’t compare to the real taste of grease, but the boys loved the wheat al pastor, and the soy chorizo tacos, and waxed poetic over the black beans and pineapple and jalapeño salsa. (and I admit that I’m still thinking about the vegan tiramisu.)

We stopped in one night at Cate de Mi Corazón (Baja California 295), a vegan restaurant in the Condesa. I was underwhelmed with my tower of portobellos, but they served some interesting hibiscus flower mole and carrot tinga tacos. They also had awesome guacamole (finally!) and vegan nachos made with potato and carrot cheese (can you still call that cheese?). Cate de Mi Corazón has a stand in the new Mercado Roma for all you SUPER hip vegans that want to give it a try in the right atmosphere.

It also turns out that my Colombian neighbor on Tepic street (between Monterrey and Tonala) who serves up Colombian arepas and sopes, makes vegan spinach tamales (using vegetable oil instead of lard).  She also feed us fantastic mushroom and huitlacoche (corn smut) arepas hot off the grill. (She’s open late too, most nights from about 9pm to 1am)

I took them to the San Juan market and simply avoided the exotic meat section, showing them instead the vast variety of fruits and vegetables, the massive selection of wild mushrooms and the overflowing baskets of dried chiles. We bought Asian noodles and chile sauce for a vegan feast they proceeded to prepare at my house when we got home (by far the best of anything I ate all week).

Completely meat & dairy free

Completely meat & dairy free

We also drank a lot of mezcal — completely meat and dairy free. And drank a lot of great Mexican craft beer (thank god they weren’t gluten free).

Some of the places that we didn’t try together but that I took a stab at later where Origenes Organic shop and restaurant and Bambú, a kind of vegetarian comida corrida where you can get a set meal everyday or a la carte items like Curry Vegetables, Falefel, and eggplant “milanesa.” Both places are good, but not amazing.

I also did some “research” and tried out Los Loosers vegan delivery service. It would have never worked when my buddies where here because it took almost a week to figure out how to order with them — they post this gorgeous photos every morning on their facebook page and you can order through social media for a delivery straight to your house. Several messages later, I finally ordered a rustic Greek sandwich with white beans, cooked carrots, spiced cabbage and sesame-flavored kale which I loved and an avocado chocolate brownie which was just alright (what can you expect with no butter?)

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But their photos are getting to me and I find myself sneaking in food porn on their fb page and planning my next order.

As far as my visitors went, I think they got to try some traditional Mexican dishes and some tweaked versions they loved. I am now prepped for all my vegan friends (there are about two) to come and visit, so bring it on. It just goes to show — once again — that Mexico City truly can satisfy any gusto, even if it’s a complicated one.

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Discovering the Polanco Aviary

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Aviario de Polanco – Polanco Aviary

Entrada/Cost: 7pesos

Horas/Hours: Martes a Domingo 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 4pm

Ubicación/Location

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Nevado de Toluca’s Chilly View from the Top

nevadodetoluca_mexicocitystreetsWhether you live in Mexico City or are just visiting, you should try to make it out to see the Xinantécatl volcano, better known as the Nevado de Toluca. According to the official government site of the city of Toluca, this is the only volcano in the world where the crater can be reached by car, only in the last few years, to protect the volcano’s natural environment have they blocked off the final 2K stretch to the mouth of Xinantécatl.

I’ve been twice now, once in April when it snowed and once this October when there was no snow, but it was briskly cold and windy. Both times it was beautiful. This last trip we started out with the idea that we would hike the entire rim of the crater (appx. a 3hr hike) but after about an hour of heavy breathing we decided we were satisfied, snapped some photos, had a moment of meditation and headed back.

The fog is often thick, blocking views of the Sun and Moon Lakes that sit sparkling inside the crater. When the sun does come out and the clouds lift, it’s a stunning sight.

There are several trails down to the lake shores (easier than trying to hike the entire rim) and around the inside of the crater. Bring dogs, mountain bikes, walking sticks or backpacks, but don’t forget your long underwear, the higher you go up, the cooler it gets. High-altitude runners and bikers often train on the park’s trails. Nevado de Toluca, at around 14,000 feet above sea level is double the altitude of Mexico City, so take this trip after a little acclimation in town first.

To get there: Here’s where it gets a little tricky, nothing is well marked or very clear on the way to the Nevado, but a decent gps will get you there easily.

You take the Mexico-Toluca highway (15D) till it becomes just 15 near Toluca, turn left off of the highway onto Salvador Diaz Miron until you get to Av. Las Torres (go right), after a short distance on Las Torres, turn left onto Calle Laguna del Volcán, this streets veers slightly left and becomes Lanceros de Toluca, follow it until you meet route 134 and go right. This will take you all the way to route 10 (there is a sign for Nevado, and a triangle turn – to your right are several food stands along the highway), turn left onto route 10. You will follow this along, through a small town (with lots of speedbumps) and then see a gravel road to your left that goes sharply up the mountain, take that and follow it into the park, once you have gone through the booth where you pay (20p) Immediately to your left is another gravel/dirt road that goes up to the left, follow that till you reach the parking at the top of the mountain (it is windy and full of potholes so be prepared). From Mexico it takes around 2 1/2 hours.

Make sure you stop afterwards at one of the food stand you see at the turn off for route 10 to eat some monster quesadillas and drink cinnamony, sweet café de olla.

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Russian food and old bones in Santa María de Ribera

DSCF3073I know it sounds lame, but I have never seen a dinosaur skeleton up close and personal before. So when we walked into the National Geology Museum in colonia Santa María de Ribera and I saw that giant mammoth skeleton in the entryway I got a little giddy. Ok, ok, I realize it’s not a dinosaur, just a very old, extinct animal, but I loved it anyway. Apparently the dinosaur bones found in Mexico are all found very north because this part of Mexico, the central region and the Yucatán peninsula, was a shallow water ocean (much like the Caribbean Ocean today) during the dinosaur days.There are theories that the Yucatán only emerged as a land mass because of the impact of the Chicxulub meteorite that shook the earth and, according to many scientists, sparked the beginning of dinosaurs’ extinction. Later, our Lake Texcoco (the one the city sits on top of) was a kind of watering hole for pre-historic animals passing through and that’s why many of their bones have been discovered here. (Like below the Talisman metro stop when workers were excavating it to build the station– note the symbol used for it).

 

The geology museum has mammoth bones, pre-historic horses, fossils of every  DSCF3076    kind and the fossilized remains of Ichtyosaurus, a pre-historic aquatic animal that died giving birth and her young’s skeleton rests inside of her own. There are also case upon case of meteorites, quartz, amethyst, Hematite and turquoise all lined up like sandwiches in a deli case.

 

DSCF3099The museum was originally built as the National Geology Institute and filled with researchers. Unbeknownst to many of its visitors there are a series of stunning paintings by José María Velasco Gómez hanging on the walls at the top of the entryway’s long, winding staircase. Each painting represents different stages of nature’s evolution -  I am especially fond of the depictions of marine life – and are Velasco’s interpretations of a set of black and white postcards drawn by landscape artist Joseph Hoffman. They hang beside incredible stain-glass windows, recreations of 10 different geological events in Mexico’s history.

After wandering through the quartz and the meteorites, we crossed the plaza to DSCF3061the Kiosco Morisco. This is a moorish-style gazebo reconstructed three times during its lifetime; the first to serve as the Mexican pavilion at the 1884 World’s Fair held in New Orleans, the second, to sit in the Centro Histórico’s alameda after the fair until was reconstructed once again in the Santa Maria de Ribera plaza. Its carving is beautifully intricate and still maintains its rainbow of red, yellow, blue and brown coloring.

 

DSCF3118There are two great places to eat right on the plaza, one Kolboko, the Russian restaurant that fills up with Russians and non-Russians alike on sunny Saturday afternoons. We ate chunky beet borsht with a dollop of cool sour cream on top, heavy Bajithka beers, pork goulash, and flaky honey cake. On the other side of the plaza is Los Jirafas, home of giant quesadillas so big that you get a metal hanger centerpiece on which to hang your beer (to save table space), DSCF3121served in a long giraffe-neck glass. All this in addition to one of the city’s first colonias built outside of the downtown Mexico City. A place that filled up with intellectuals and high-society moneymakers looking to get out of the hustle and bustle of busy Centro Histórico. These days the colonia is simply another neighborhood in the city, but it was once an escape to the countryside. The streets are a mix of 19th century mansions, ancient Mason Lodges, tenement apartment buildings and Mexico’s ubiquitous abbarotes shops.There are so many hidden gems with a few blocks radius that overwhelmed my lazy Saturday afternoon attitude.

Next time I’m going to visit the haunted house where pop singer Thalia grew up and find the building that was the fictional setting of La Casa de las Mil Vírgenes, a novel by Arturo Azuela populated by the personalities of Santa Maria de Ribera.

 

 

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