Visitors to Mexico City  are often fascinated by the frenzy of action in the Centro Històrico—every nook and cranny are filled with vendors and street performers, roads are overflowing with cars and motorbikes, and the sidewalks are bustling with chilangos going about their business. I love the energy pulsating through the air downtown, but sometimes I need a change of pace—somewhere a bit more relaxed to spend a casual Saturday afternoon with some good eats and drinks!
I discovered that Coyoacàn, one of the boroughs on the south side of Mexico City, is the perfect blend of calm, laid-back, and tasty. When I lived in D.F. (how locals refer to the city, a.k.a. Distrito Federal), Coyoacàn quickly became a required stop on “Julie’s Tour” for all of our guests. And because my husband and I rarely (if ever) have turned down a good meal, we planned our visit all around food. What follows is our recommended route that we like to call the Coyoacàn Trifecta—with an optional digestif!
Stop #1: Make your way towards the Mercado Coyoacàn on Ignacio Allende, between Malintzin and Xicotèncatl. You could easily spend an hour perusing the wares of the vendors whose stalls are brimming with fruit you’ve likely never seen before. But instead, weave your way towards the back of the market towards the bright-yellow signs proclaiming “TOSTADAS COYOACÀN”… This is the home of my favorite seafood tostadas—crispy tortilla rounds piled high with shrimp, crab, ceviche, octopus, and more, accompanied by freshly-made salsas. But don’t stop at the tostadas! The aguas frescas are also a must-try. These combos of fruit, sugar and water come in over a dozen flavors, but I always go for the passion fruit or watermelon to quench my thirst.
Stop #2: With your belly satisfied (but not stuffed!), wander back out of the market to the intersection of Malintzin and Ignacio Allende. As you walk against traffic heading south on Allende, you’ll see the Cafè el Jarocho on your right. Order a cafè de olla; this is basically a dessert coffee, flavored liberally with cinnamon and brown sugar (or piloncillo). No need to add sugar before tasting it!
Stop #3: What’s an after-dinner coffee without something to dip in it? As you leave Café el Jarocho, continue a few more steps south to the Churreria de Coyoacàn. This is the home of freshly-made churros, or as I like to call them, Mexican donut sticks! If your timing’s right, you may witness churros being freshly made in large vats of bubbling oil… but we often arrived late enough in the day to miss the action. This enabled us briefly pretend that the churros came into existence via some much healthier process, perhaps freshly picked from a churro garden? But as soon as a sugary, dulce de leche-filled churro hits your lips, you’ll know that no garden could ever create a dessert so tasty. Buy either a single churro filled with a flavor (churros rellenos) or a bag of smaller churros, and dip them in your coffee.
Now that you’ve had your dessert, it’s time to find a spot to relax as you come down off your sugar high. Continue south another block to Plaza Hidalgo; you can wander around the plaza & find a spot to perch, or make your way straight through and across the street to the Jardin Centenario, where the iconic coyote fountain can be found. (Coyoacàn means ”place of the coyotes” in Nahuatl.) On a sunny Saturday, families, friends, and young couples dot the benches around the park, and people-watching is at its prime!
As I mentioned, Stop #4 is optional, but a good choice for those interested in sampling some mezcal or pulque. These two alcoholic beverages are rarely found outside of Mexico—though mezcal is definitely picking up steam as a trendy drink in the US. Mezcal is made from the agave plant, and tends to have a bit smokier flavor than its brother, tequila. Pulque, on the other hand, is a whole different animal… When you’re drinking something described as both “fermented” and “viscous,” you know it may not be everyone’s cup of tea! But find out for yourself at Corazòn de Maguey, located on the Jardin Centenario. You can sample a flight of mezcal, a small glass of pulque, and a plate of chapulines (grasshoppers typically seasoned with powdered chilis) all in one sitting! Act like a mezcal expert by asking for some orange slices (which they should serve you with the mezcal), sprinkle them with sal de gusano, and eat them in between sips. The sal de gusano is a Oaxacan combo of salt, chilis, and roasted gusano worms that’s a standard accompaniment for a session of mezcal.
Having completed your afternoon of leisurely dining & drinking around the neighborhood of Coyoacan, you should find yourself steeled to return to the heart of the city. If you’re feeling ambitious, you may want to contemplate a Saturday evening in Plaza Garibaldi, singing along with a 10-person mariachi band at the top of your lungs & eating ears of corn on a stick… Regardless, you can rest assured-- there’s never any shortage of dining and entertainment options in Mexico City!