El Centro, Mexico City. (Courtesy of bridgesandballons.com)

Chef Gabriela Camara's Guide to Mexico City

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Mexico City has evolved as a bucket list destination—but San Franciscans know this already—it seems everyone is talking about CDMX (formerly known as DF).

If you are among the last of your friends to visit the new North American capital of cool, cut through the tourist hoopla with this itinerary from native celebrity chef Gabriela Camara, who was the culinary darling of CDMX, home to her much beloved restaurant, Contramar, well before Hayes Valley foodies began lining up for stylish, authentic Mexican fare at Cala. Buen viaje!


Where to Stay in Mexico City

Carlota—a historic, design-savvy, pet-friendly hotel in Cuahtémoc.

Camara recommends staying either in Condesa, Roma, or Cuauhtémoc—these neighborhoods, all easily walkable and within close proximity to each other, contain enough amazing restaurants, bars, and galleries to keep you busy during your stay. The neighborhoods are also within close proximity to each other and are easily walkable. Roma Norte in particular is like Mexico City's Mission District—you'll find fixies, skinny jeans, and ironic mustaches everywhere. Camara recommends staying in Airbnbs—they're plentiful and inexpensive.

Eat + Drink in CDMX

(Courtesy of Restaurante el Cardenal)

Marisqueria El K-guamo

Camara is known for her love of seafood, so when she recommends a street cart specializing in mariscos, you know it's the best. El K-guamo has been serving some of the freshest, most delicious seafood in the Centro for more than 40 years. Camara suggests the mixed-fish quesadilla or the insanely yummy fried-fish filet slathered in mayo and topped with a bright salsa and creamy avocado. // Marisqueria El K-guamo, Ayuntamiento at the corner of López 82 and 83 (Centro Historico), tripadvisor.com

El Cardenal

The original location of El Cardenal—on Calle Palma in the Centro since the 1960s—is Camara's preferred white-tablecloth spot. Suited servers bring traditional Mexican fare with no stuffy vibes or prices. Go for lunch and get the mole negro—chicken leg is braised until tender and topped with a rich thick dark mole sauce that's smokey, sweet, and slightly spicy. Make tacos out of it with the accompanying tortillas for utter perfection in a meal. // El Cardenal, Palma #23 (Centro Historico), restauranteelcardenal.com

Maximo Bistro

Chef Eduardo Garcia has cooked in New York's Le Bernadin as well as Pujol, one of the best restaurants in Mexico City (and, for that matter, the world). Here, the food is a bit more accessible and familiar (think smoked salmon ceviche, or a mushroom risotto) using local and organic Mexican ingredients with European techniques. Reservations are recommended. // Tonala 133, Colonia Roma. maximobistrot.com.mx

Bosforo

Bosforo may be the coolest place in Mexico City. It's a super small, dark mezcal cantina with strong drinks. There's a DJ that constantly spins loud, moody, minimal wave that makes you feel like you're in space. It's attached to a restaurant next door—order the grasshopper quesadilla to help soak up all the alcohol. // Luis Moya 31, Col Centro, facebook.com

Tacos Hola

The perennially popular Tacos Hola offers some of Camara's favorite stewed tacos, or guisados, on fresh handmade tortillas—the braised chard with onions and tomatoes is particularly good. // Av. Amsterdam 135, Cuauhtémoc, Hipódromo, tripadvisor.com

Frida Kahlo Museum

The can't-miss Frida Kahlo museum here happens to be the big, beautiful blue home that once belonged to the artist. "She is such an icon of 20th Century Mexican culture," says Camara, "and Coyoacán is a beautiful neighborhood." After touring Frida's house, head to the Coyoacan market nearby for some tostadas. // Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100, museofridakahlo.org.mx

Museum of Anthropology

This massive and noteworthy museum of pre-Hispanic art thoroughly covers each region of Mexico and its history, displaying beautiful and historical pieces of art and artifacts. Get there early—there's a lot of ground to cover. // Av Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Gandhi S/N, Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560, mna.inah.gob.mx

House of Gaga

No, this is not Lady Gaga's CDMX pied-à-terre. Mexico City is full of eclectic galleries showcasing the wonderful work of artists of all genres. Gaga specializes in contemporary art from talent around the globe. It's Camara's favorite because, she says, "it is a good example of how DF is so cosmopolitan yet still thrives on its local roots." // Av Amsterdam 123, Hipódromo, houseofgaga.com

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