We had a wonderful time in Mexico City in 2013, when we spent 5 days over the Thanksgiving weekend, so much that we are planning another trip this Thanksgiving. As my postings about our European trips have received so much notice, I thought I would share our experiences here. Stanley had made a brief trip there some years ago, but I had never been to Mexico before. Our dear friend Vy is an American who has lived in Mexico for over 60 years and every year hosts an American Thanksgiving dinner in her Mexico City apartment, for local friends and others from the US and around the world. We thought it was a good time to finally accept her invitation as she was also celebrating her 90th birthday. Our original plan was to stay with Vy’s daughter Laurie, but due to visiting children and grandchildren, she did not have room for us, so we ended up choosing a lovely small hotel, the Residencia Polanco, just a 15 minute walk from Vy’s apartment. At less than $100 a night for a beautiful suite, it was more than reasonable.
Arriving on time in the early afternoon we looked for the driver Vy had sent, who was supposed to have a sign with Stanley’s name on it. Frustrated after waiting for half an hour, I finally called Vy, who called the driver, who expected US to have the sign !!! We found him and were off. The hotel is on Isaac Newton Street. He found the street, but kept stopping to ask directions to the hotel, as we were at the wrong end of Newton. We had a hard time convincing him to go all the way to the other end of Newton, where we quickly found the hotel. Arriving, we were confronted with the news that they did not have a room for us, but would gladly send us to another one of their hotels, in Napoles, which happens to be many miles away. I was moaning and groaning, but wisely decided to get Vy on the line. She spoke to the receptionist, who was French, and, ascertaining her nationality, Vy quickly likened her proposal to sending us to a hotel in Versailles if we had booked in the center of Paris. Remarkably, the receptionist discovered they had another hotel that backed up onto this one, around the corner, and they had a suite available. Such a miracle. We were soon situated in a perfectly agreeable suite, looking out on the other hotel, where we would return the next day. Polanco is a great neighborhood, with many of the best restaurants in the city, and bordering Chapultepec Park. We went out for a late lunch, and not finding the restaurant recommended by Vy’s daughter-in-law, on Avenida President Masaryk, settled instead for Biko, a very nice Spanish, or more accurately Basque, restaurant I had read about, where we had a splendid meal. We had a light supper later in the evening at Villa Maria, complete with Mariachis who imprisoned us at our table.
Wonderful Basque/Northern Spanish. Loved the division of the menu into modern and traditional dishes. We had some of each, and all were superb. Best non-Mexican meal we had.
Touristy but not a tourist trap. Very good traditional food, nice decor, LOUD, lots of large groups, mariachis, huge frozen Margaritas with very little alcohol, dirt cheap for the quality and quantity.
The great day, which, of course, was nothing special in Mexico. We went on a walking tour in the late morning, taking in the Tamayo Museum, before returning to freshen up. Vy suggested that we should be there by 1:30, and we were about the first to arrive. There was seating for 110 people in the apartment, all spread along the balcony that surrounds the apartment on Hegel. We sat with Vy as she held court and welcomed the arrivals for the next two hours, including Diana Kennedy, the doyenne of Mexican cuisine and cookbooks, who quickly disappeared into the kitchen and had to leave even before we all sat down to dinner at four o’clock, so we never got to meet her. The conceit here is that Vy has been giving this American-style Thanksgiving Dinner for her Mexican and other friends since her marriage in 1948. Needless to say, many of the congregants were in Vy’s age range, but Mariana and Lesley, her granddaughters, brought many younger friends and children, so it was a very pleasant atmosphere. We enjoyed meeting Vy’s friend Micheline, who had come from Ottawa, and as it turns out had lived in Teaneck in the 1940’s, which is before I was born, but she was just a few blocks from where I grew up. We also met a friend of Vy’s from the L.A. County Museum and her mother. On the back balcony, we spoke with Holly, who grew up in Santa Monica, where I have cousins. She told us about the Castillo de Chapultepec, a must see, so we kept that in mind for the next day. As we spoke, a helicopter landed on the roof of the adjoining apartment building, evidently the residence of a former President of Mexico.
We left about eight thirty, with Laurie promising to pick us up at 1:30 for lunch at her apartment. We arrived to move our bags back to the Residencia, where the first apartment (in the back) was missing a hair dryer, and some lights were not working. so we ended up being upgraded to a beautiful front room with a planted balcony. Grand Marnier, and so to bed.
I’m hoping that we might not need a hotel for our upcoming trip, but if we do, this is the one we will choose:
Based on Holly’s recommendation, we set out in the morning to cross Chapultepec Park to the Castillo. The pond in the park is a striking green, and so unlike the home life of our own dear Central Park, but obviously sorely loved by the denizens. We mounted the ramp to the Castle and were carried back to the great days of Maximilian and Carlotta, and the not so great days of Porfirio Diaz. Splendid views, lovely maintenance, and scores of young Mexicans. The castle is incredibly beautiful, and complete with all the original furnishings and art.
Back at the hotel, we were anxiously waiting for Laurie at 1:30, which soon became 2 o’clock and a call to Danny, who confirmed she was coming, and an arrival by 2:30 and there by three o’clock. Laurie’s small (as she describes it) apartment is actually a large and lovely duplex on the far end of the Park. We found Vy and Micheline already ensconced, and we joined them for cocktails. Lesley and her companion were off on a flight back to the Yucatan, so they caught a bite to eat in the kitchen. Mariana arrived after a field trip for one of her daughters to the Olmedo Museum. We sat down around four o’clock to a lunch of black bean soup, salad, and beef and potatoes, with chocolate and fudge for dessert. Vy was pointing out all of her old silver and china she had given Laurie. It was a lovely setting, and Mariana’s children were so well behaved. The maids are absolutely shadows of every act. Vy’s maid sat in the boot of the car as we drove back.
That evening, Stanley and I dined at a very nice Spanish place called DO, not far from Vy’s on Hegel and Masaryk. We had the salt encrusted fish, recommended by Laurie.
DO (Denominacion de Origen): Another Basque/Galician place, pretty traditional. Had a wonderful whole fish baked in salt crust. Pulpo Gallego was also very good. Reasonable price and nice atmosphere.
The morning was taken up with a complete tour of the Anthropological Museum, one of the greatest in Mexico and the world. Using our English accousti-guides, we moved at a leisurely pace.
Back to the hotel, and this time Laurie promptly showed at 2:30 (or so) for our lunch at Fonda El Refugio down in the Zona Rosa, where Vy has been eating since it opened in 1954. It was very classic Mexican, and Vy had pickled pigs feet; We had an assortment platter, and we got a tour of the kitchen afterwards, where they make everything from scratch, including the corn tortillas. Mariana then took us on a tour of her neighborhood in Roma Norte, which is very charming, except for the utility wires everywhere. We stopped to inspect her new apartment, yet to be occupied, which is very unlike Vy’s apartment in Polanco, but very serviceable. In true Mexican style, it has no heat (although it can get quite cold in the Winter) and no venting for the sewage system (“the drains” in English). We went on a tour of the museum where Mariana works, the MUCA, and then she took us, in the dark, to an old neighborhood where there is a craft market in a venerable building with affluent young hipsters holding forth as Bohemia in excelsis. They called a cab for us to get home, and later we dined at Quintonil,
Fonda El Refugio:
Wonderful traditional Mexican in Zona Rosa. We got a tour of the kitchen and saw how they make the tortillas from scratch (beginning with the raw corn), best tortillas you will ever have. They make their own sausages, etc. This is not to be missed.
Modern Mexican in a lovely setting. Very creative food, excellent service, a casual but classy place.
Our last day, and it started with news of the train derailment at Spuyten Duyvil. At Mariana’s suggestion, she arranged a driver to take us to the Dolores Olmedo Museum in the southern part of Mexico City. We left at 11 o’clock, but we should have left an hour sooner. Traffic approaching the museum was fierce, and there were lines for tickets and lines to get in. This was no doubt due to the special show from the Orangerie in Paris, for which they had sacrificed their best Riveras and Kahlos. We toured the house and stood in line, and admired the strange dogs (which were Rivera’s) and still had twenty minutes to run through the Museum. Then it was off to the San Angel Inn in Altavista, arriving with Vy and Laurie just steps ahead of us. That evening, we had planned to dine at a place featuring carnitas, but it was closed for a special party, so we made do with a chain restaurant of Argentinian extraction with huge portions of undistinguished food. I can’t even remember the name. Sunday night in Mexico City is not a time when many people dine out, and many restaurants are closed.
San Angel Inn:
This is a splendid old hacienda in Altavista (worth a taxi ride from Polanco), where Laurie had Sunday lunches when she lived in the neighborhood. We could not get a table in the courtyard, but just as well as it got cool as the sun set.The food was surprisingly delicious as Vy had told us it was good but not great. They mix Mexican with French. I was delighted to find brains on the menu, which Laurie, Vy and I all ordered. Wonderful with a spicy tomatillo sauce. Stanley had the tongue. There are plenty of more conventional choices for the less adventurous. The Margarita was the best I had on this trip. Huge family/birthday groups predominated, but it was still very charming.
Packed and off in the cab. To his great embarrassment, Stanley discovered that he had thrown away the return portion of his immigration form; I had only saved mine by accident. Who knew we would need this to get out of the country? He had to go to immigration, and then spend forty-five minutes at HSBC trying to pay the $22 fee. We still had time to have a simple lunch before boarding, and an uneventful and timely return.
Plans for Thanksgiving 2015:
Once again, we will be staying at Residencia Polanco.
We didn’t get to the old city on our previous trip due to a major protest march and demonstration occurring on the day we had set aside for it, so we are very much looking forward to it on the upcoming trip.
We are also planning a day trip to Teotihuacán. The ruins, located 30 miles outside of the city, are supposed to be quite spectacular. We will probably take the public bus that runs every 15 minutes, and plan on spending about half a day, rather than a bus tour that would be much more expensive and involve time-wasting stops and little time at the pyramids.
For restaurants, we are now definitely planning to go back to Quintonil. I have also reserved Pujol. We will go to El Bajio, which we missed last time due to it being closed for a private party. Returning to Fonda el Refugio is also a possibility.
Here is a quick update as of 11/27/15. We are having a great time, great food, and great sightseeing. I will be posting a full report when I return home next week.
We were delayed a day in arriving, so had a short day here yesterday, with lunch at Villa Maria and dinner at Pujol. Today we visited the old city, including the Cathedral, Gran Hotel Mexico City, Templo Mayor museum and excavations, Palacio Nacional (with its Diego Rivera murals), Museo Franz Mayer, and Museo Nacional de Arte, with lunch at El Cardenal across the street from the art museum. Tonight’s dinner will be at Astrid y Gaston, a Peruvian restaurant. Tomorrow will be Vy’s Thanksgiving dinner, which she had to reschedule from Thursday. Sunday will include a trip to the pyramids and lunch as yet to be determined, with dinner at El Bajio.