I've got a lot of blogging to catch up on! We semi-recently made a huge trip to Southeast Asia which I'm super excited to post about but before that, we had a trip to Mexico that was fantastic and transformative for my opinion on our southern neighbor.

Mexican culture is pervasive in America.  Despite growing up in the Midwest, which has a much lower density of Mexican residents than where I live now in the Bay Area, the exposure to Mexican food and culture was thankfully unavoidable.

Maybe part of the reason it took me until I was 32 years old to visit Mexico was that I felt like I had been so exposed to the culture and food from an early age.  Combine that with not giving a shit about resort towns in general (and most of what you hear about Mexico travel is resort towns in Cancun, Cabo, blah blah) and I think I just put the country in the back of my mind in favor of more "exotic" places.

Despite my preconceived notions, I am a Mexico convert now after our 2 weeks spent in Mexico City and Oaxaca.  I'm convinced our country's misunderstood neighbor is as culturally rich, enchanting, tasty, and worth visiting as any place you'd cross an ocean for.

Mexico City (CDMX)

I'd been eager to visit Mexico City for a while.  I tend to gravitate towards wanting to visit large cities when I travel, for whatever reason.  Something about getting off a plane somewhere unfamiliar and hectic just excites me.

Somewhere in Condesa...

Taqueria Orinoco is trendier than most other taquerias you'll find in Mexico City – the food is still great, but it feels like it caters more to a more well-off clientele, both tourists and Mexicans alike.

Some happenings in the Roma Norte neighborhood of CDMX.
The Pyramid of the Sun

Teotihuacán is a pyramid complex about an hour Northeast of Mexico City proper.  One of the more popular and important historical sites near the city, Teotihuacán is a must-visit for anyone wanting to learn about Mesoamerican history or those looking to escape Mexico City's chaos and sprawl.

It consists of 3 pyramids or temples, each previously serving a specific purpose for the ancient city.  We went on a Sunday, which means free entrance for Mexican natives.  However, despite the large crowd it was still incredible to see some of what defined this area long before its modern metropolis neighbor, Mexico City, took over.

The Pyramind of the Moon
Pyramid of the Sun, again
I did wind up buying a cool Aztec warrior thing from one of the vendors

If you're coming to Mexico City then you're probably already aware of its place in the world as a top-tier gastronomic city.  Anything is possible in Mexico City: of course the super fire street food.

Sure you can stress out about making sure you have a reservation every night like we did (we canceled our reservation at Contramar to go to Lucha and did not regret it one bit). Still, we found that the best experiences and meals were found just by walking around Roma Norte and Condesa, ducking inside places that looked good.  There wasn't a single miss on the food in Mexico City.  My advice is to pick one, maybe two places, you really, really want to go to, then play it by ear the rest of the time.  There's so much fantastic food here, and there's nothing worse than digging your vibe and reluctantly having to get a taxi across CDMX's insane traffic to fulfill a reservation.  You likely could have gotten something equally as good right around the corner.

Masala Y Maiz, one of the better meals we had in CDMX.

The taquito stand above was right around the corner from our first hotel in Mexico City.  Fantastic quality, super fresh, and I think 30 pesos for 3, which is a steal.  I knew most of the street food in Mexico City would taste good, but I was a little surprised at the overall quality and consistency of it.  They take it incredibly seriously here.

Now these tacos were the shit.  Incredibly amazing and the true definition of "simple but complex".  I believe this place was called Taqueria "Los Amigos", and it's located on the west side of Roma Norte amongst a few other street stalls.  There's not much else I can say to try and describe the al pastor tacos in words, they're just phenomenal.  We met some people who were part of a street food tour so this place must be well-known.

Touching on what I mentioned before though, we initially walked by this place on our way to a "nicer" reservation.  We decided to try this place on the way back to our hotel after dinner and wish we would have just started here from the beginning.  The food was just as good, more authentic, and a fraction of the price.

Another one of Mexico City's more popular destinations is its "downtown" area, more commonly known as Centro.  You'll find the city's center, Zocalo, featuring a massive Mexican flag, as well as the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral.

The Centro district has a lot of shopping and more typical tourist traps.  Not really our vibe, but cool to see nonetheless.  Huge fan of how CDMX has grown around its historical buildings and hasn't tried to just become a typical metropolis.

I love using public transit in new cities, especially when it's a subway or light rail.  The CDMX Metro provides easy access to most of the city, often quicker than sitting in a gridlocked Uber.  The stations (at least the ones I used) were overall cleaner than NYC and SF, and the trains were fine, too.

The view from our hotel room in Polanco, where we stayed for a couple nights after returning from Oaxaca.

Oaxaca City

I fully expected to be more of a Mexico City fan than a Oaxaca fan.  No idea why.  I think I'd just heard so much more about CDMX – sure, Mexico City can't be beat for leisurely walks to restaurants, cafes, and bars, but it honestly feels kind of like a New York, or parts of Chicago.  Obviously different, but at the end of the day Mexico City felt familiar to me.

Oaxaca on the other hand, did not.  Oaxaca felt and looked authentically Mexican.  This is the Mexico you see and hear.

The center of Oaxaca City is just a phenomenal part of the world in my opinion.  Getting an accommodation here allows you to easily walk just about anywhere you'd want to be within city limits – restaurants, mezcalerias, cafes, you name it.

Oaxaca is so, so colorful.  With all due respect, I felt something was "off" while in Mexico City.  It was never a bad feeling, just almost that I expected it to feel more "Mexican", whatever that means.

I did not have that problem in Oaxaca.  I was totally enamored by everything.  And while it's still touristy, the city felt more authentic.  Maybe it's the smaller, more centric feeling that CDMX doesn't have, but I had so much fun just walking everywhere.  The cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, smells, the mezcal culture – it was something totally new to me.  If there were nonstop flights to Oaxaca from somewhere in the Bay Area we'd go for the weekend now and then.

Absolutely loved the logo for the camera store.
One of our friends staying near our AirBnb.

While the cuisine in CDMX was good, I think Oaxaca was comparable or better.  We had some great meals and drinks.  I thought the cocktails at Sabina Sabe in Oaxaca were as good as any I had in CMDX.  Mezcal is the specialty here, of course.

And I say with the utmost sincerity, I had some of the best pizza in my life in Oaxaca at a place called Pisto al Pesto.  An extremely unassuming 2 person operation serving wood-fired pizzas.  These were incredible, I don't know how else to describe it.  Did not expect to have this level of good pizza in Mexico as a whole, let alone Oaxaca.

I think Oaxaca's food was comparable to or better than Mexico City, anyhow.  Sure, you won't find the diversity that CDMX has in Oaxaca, but we had just as many good meals and drinks in Oaxaca than we did in Mexico City.  We hit Sabina Sabe in Oaxaca multiple times – fantastic small plates and lots of good mezcal drinks.

As I alluded to a bit earlier, the streets of Oaxaca are just an immense joy to wander around in.  You're never too far from an amazing view, food cart, or somewhere to pop in for a drink.  If you're into art, there were tons of art galleries lining the street as well, especially on the north side of downtown.

Part of the Mercado de 20 Noviembre, this outdoor meat hall was a fantastic way to experience more authentic Mexican cuisine.  You walk through the hall, pick and choose any meat you want, and that individual stall prepares and cooks for you.  This place is smokey and overwhelming, but a great spot for a quick and authentic lunch.  Anytime I can choose chorizo I usually do.

These onions aren't eaten, but they add a particular flavor to the smoke that cooks the meats.

Oaxaca is a place to pick up goods and souvenirs as well.  While you'll still find your typical soulless and mass-produced (probably made in China) goods, Oaxaca provides a much more authentic and homespun vibe when it comes to things for sale.  Oaxaca's city center had tons of amazing art stores where we picked up some handmade pieces.

Oaxaca is quite a bit smaller than CDMX, so it's much easier to just get around everywhere in the city's center on foot.  Just about everything you'd want to do is within walking distance.

I knew after our first day in Oaxaca that I much favored it more than Mexico City, despite assuming the opposite before visiting.  I still loved Mexico City but parts felt like neighborhoods in NYC or Chicago – Oaxaca is so uniquely Mexican and the type of travel experience I wanted when visiting the country.  I'd love to visit again (and venture out into the country a bit)  and am already working to try and venture to some other cultural capitals of Mexico like Guadalajara – trading my mezcal for tequila.

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