Where to Eat & Drink around Mexico City’s Historic Zócalo
The reasons people fall in love with Mexico City are endless. But one thing is for sure…if you’re not a foodie yet, you will be once you’ve dined around this food mecca. Mexico City restaurants are truly some of the best in the world, and whats-more you can find an endless variety of worldly cuisines, from traditional ramen, schwarma and falafel to an epic array of Mexican and prehispanic dishes, there’s not much you can’t find in this city’s culinary scene.
A visit, or perhaps many visits, to Mexico City’s historic center with its expansive and brilliant Zócalo, or central plaza, is a quintessential experience to be included on any trip to this amazing city. With a little research and preparation, you’re sure to discover some mind-blowing places, such as the ancient Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor. Perhaps, you’ll partake in one of Mexico City’s free concerts at night or embark on an informal tour of famous artworks strewn throughout the historic zone. No matter how you spend your time in Centro Historico, you will definitely want to check out some of the fantastic bars and restaurants in the area.
But it’s good to be prepared. Why?…well, this is one of the most condensed touristic areas in Mexico City. With that comes excellent, unique, and varied options…but also many tourist traps serving mediocre, overpriced items. You’ll find while walking around the main zócalo square that the lower portions of most of the buildings have been transformed into smaller stores and restaurants–several offering second floor balconies overlooking the square.
That sounds nice in theory, but what you are likely to experience as you walk through is countless hosts desperately trying to get your business. They’ll show you the menu, yell out the specials, sometimes even try to stop in front of you to redirect you to the entrance. It’s a common practice in many parts of Mexico and many other countries around the world, and I’ve learned toto respect that this is their strategy for building business. However, I typically stay suspicious of these types of establishments. Good businesses speak for themselves and typically aren’t employing these tactics of hounding every tourist that pops by.
On one occasion we allowed ourselves to be scooped up to one of these balcony bars. Once we sat down and looked at the menu, we found the dishes to be…not terrible, but nothing out of the ordinary, and at least twice the typical price of such plates. We kindly expressed our gratitude and left before ordering drinks to find another option. It was experimental, we knew, but had hopes that we might be pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t.
A great thing about living somewhere for an extended period of time is that you have the opportunity to try so many different places and to learn from people around you what their favorite places are. You might not find yourself with the luxury of this type of time…so here it is…my favorite Mexico City restaurants and bars around the Zócalo to enjoy your day (or evening) on the town.
1. LA CASA DE LAS SIRENAS
República de Guatemala 32, Centro Histórico
There’s no shortage of great views in Centro Historico, but this one certainly takes the cake as one of the most unique. With a quaint courtyard feel on the lower level and enchanting balcony up top, you’ll enjoy the best seating overlooking some of Mexico City’s most historic sites. Looking out from the balcony, Templo Mayor sits to the left, while Latin America’s oldest and largest chapel, the Metropolitan Cathedral sits to the right. Directly in front, the views over the colorful streets is unlike any else you’ll find in the city.
The food and drinks are fantastic with a wonderful selection of modern dishes that highlight Mexican and prehispanic fare. The duck tacos, whose meat arrived steaming in banana leaves, were some of the best tacos I had in all of Mexico. The fresh corn tortillas nearly melt in your mouth. Prices are higher than other Mexico City restaurants, but the top-notch quality of the food coupled with the unbeatable views were well worth it.
Tip: We arrived shortly after opening for an early lunch/brunch before heading to Templo Mayor. We found the restaurant uncrowded with plenty of options for seating. Dinner time or weekend brunch may be much busier and reservations are suggested.
2. PATA NEGRA CENTRO HISTÓRICO
Bar Pata Negra, Av. 5 de Mayo 49, Centro Histórico, Centro
Pata Negra is one of the first bars I ever strolled into in Mexico City. When seeking out a simple, but vibey bar to enjoy a few beers early evening, I found Pata Negra to be practically perfect. The ambiance is warm and inviting in the dimly lit, elongated space. A full range of liquors, specialty drinks, wine, and domestic and international beers are available. This is the place to go if you’re looking for at intimate place to enjoy drinks and tapas. Later in the evening, live bands and DJs play upstairs, offering a great variety of events. Check out their online event calendar. Also visit their location in Condesa…a favorite spot of mine forever and ever.
3. HOSTERÍA LA BOTA
Peatonal San Jerónimo 40, Cuauhtémoc, Centro
Though Hostería La Bota isn’t directly in the Zócalo area, the quick 10 minute walk there will be rewarding. For one, you’ll discover pleasant architecture and street art on your walk. Once there, can marvel at one of Mexico City’s more quirky eateries. Hostería La Bota boasts an eclectic vibe and varied clientele. It’s the perfect place for locals and foreigners to enjoy alike. On the menu, you’ll find Mexican favorites such as molletes, tortas, quesadillas, and caldos…pazole!!! Or on the other end of the spectrum, one could enjoy pasta, pizza, and calzones…the choice is yours and many dishes are great for those on a tight budget.
You’ll find a good selection of beers with liters of local draft available. This is one of the best places for a late night after-party wind down in Centro Histórico. I’ll never forget the night of Independence Day here. Hostería La Bota was in full swing after the the Grito celebration. Families took to the streets with fire-crackers and silly string.
Service can inconsistent and/or slow…so plan to take it easy. If you come during the day, make sure to do so well after their opening time. I learned the hard way that they interpret this time with a flexible mind. On another great note though, this place is located on one of my favorite streets in the historic center. Just across the alley from The University of the Cloister of Sor Juana, the surrounding area is simply charming. Try to check it out during the day if you can.
4. DOWNTOWN ROOFTOP BAR
Calle Isabel la Catolica 30, Centro Histórico, Centro
Last, but certainly not least on the list is Downtown Rooftop Bar. With a modern, trendy style and a nice selection of signature cocktails, this terrace feels quite exclusive. Yet, ti’s open to the public, located just above the Downtown Hotel and Hostel by Grupo Habita.
The rooftop offers open air seating overlooking Centro Historico and also boasts a chic rooftop pool, open to guests staying at the hotel or with a nominal fee paid as a guest of the hostel. Pro tip—you might just consider buying a night in the hostel with the pool fee and enjoy this rooftop to its fullest. The cocktail terrace makes for a great spot for an intimate date, meet-up with friends, or even special events. Day, or night, the atmosphere is invigorating.
With an endless array of Mexico City restaurants and bars as well as special events occurring regularly in Mexico City’s Zócalo, be sure to show up hungry and thirsty to savor the vibrant flavors of this city. The best adventures are often unplanned. So let this be a guide to start your culinary journey, but don’t stop there. Explore…and please, please, please share with me your most favorite spots you discover!