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Condesa & Roma: the trendy neighborhoods of Mexico City

Please check out my latest article up on the Mexico Today website– http://mexicotoday.org/article/condesa-roma-trendy-neighborhoods-mexico-city!  This month I’m recounting some of the highlights of our favorite colonias in DF– Condesa and Roma, located just east of Chapultepec Park.

Some of the hyperlinks to the businesses I mentioned didn’t come through on the Mexico Today page, so I’m including them here for your convenience. Take a look at the article for additional commentary on each!




More Mexico Today Updates!

In other news, here are some of the great articles my fellow MT folks wrote this past month for your leisure reading:

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A race to the finish: our final days in Mexico City!

One year ago last weekend, John & I were on our way to the Mexico City airport for the flight that would end our 2+ year experience as chilangos. All our worldly possessions were packed, all our kitschy souvenirs had been purchased, all the tacos al pastor that one person should ingest in a one-month period had been ingested, and most of the tears had already been shed. (Luckily our flight was so early that our driver wasn’t able to see me crying in the dark during our pre-dawn trip to the airport.)

Having lived in several cities now, I’ve experienced a lot of these permanent departures which usually involve a period of “holy crap, we have to do all our favorite things one last time before we leave!!!” combined with “I can’t believe we haven’t been to place x; we have to go before leave!!!” I thought it might be amusing to reflect on what made the Final Hurrah list for us in Mexico City.

  1. Eating. At a lot of places. Repeatedly.

This should come as a surprise to no one, as obviously I wasn’t able to maintain my corn-fed, Midwestern figure by NOT gorging myself on the amazing food in Mexico City. But which were the top priorities??

Tacos Don Guero: corner of Rio Lerma & Rio Guadalquivir in Colonia Cuauhtemóc

John was such a regular here that it merited a photo on his last day of work. Great source of al pastor & bistec (beef), or ask for “a la gringa” to get it on a larger flour tortilla with tasty Oaxacan cheese.

John informed me that the "good" taquero is working in the background.... along with a whole lotta pastor!

Dulce Patria: Anatole France 100 in Polanco, in the Las Alcobas hotel

If we were still in DF, this place would have definitely become our go-to when visitors are in town for fancy, “modern” Mexican food. Much has already been written about Dulce Patria + Chef Martha Ortiz but let me second—the food is amazing, presentation is gorgeous, service is impeccable, and while prices are not cheap, I think they are very fair for the neighborhood + the quality of the food. Don’t skip the trendy drinks either.

I had a fantastic salmon dish...

...as well as a savory huazontle tart

P.S. -Learn more about huazontle from Lesley here!

Restaurante Lampuga: Ometusco 1 at the corner of Nuevo Leon in Condesa

Friends Scott & Aryani tipped us off to this great seafood spot . While many may argue for Contramar as the seafood go-to in Condesa (which I agree is amazing), Lampuga is open in the evening & has a nice bistro atmosphere with great food + reasonably priced wine. Great option for a seafood-centric dinner where you want to sample a variety of dishes among friends.

The Coyoacán Trifecta: start at Tostadas Coyoacán in Mercado de Coyoacán on Ignacio Allende, between Malintzin and Xicoténcatl

It would be hard to count how many times we did this circuit with friends/family on a Saturday afternoon.  First, find the brightly-colored yellow Tostadas Coyoacán stand inside Mercado de Coyoacán. Order an assortment of AMAZING tostadas—be sure not to miss the jaiba (crab), camarón (shrimp), and ceviche, and don’t be shy about trying the salsas on the counter. Get an agua de sandia (watermelon), jamaica (hibiscus flower) or maracuyá (passion fruit) to drink.

I could eat the tostada de camarón all day, especially with a glass of agua de maracuya

Next, leave the mercado & get to the intersection of Ignacio Allende and Malintzin. Walk south down Allende (in the opposite direction of vehicle traffic) until you see Café el Jarocho, where you’ll order a café de olla—basically dessert coffee with cinnamon & piloncillo (brown sugar). Continue a few more steps & pop into the Churreria on the same side of the street. Order either a bag of churros or an individual churro filled with dulce de leche. Dip these in your café de olla.

Everyone loves a churro

Then, go sit on the edge of the coyote fountain & reflect on how much food you just ingested.

My dad Larry and I, preparing for a rest post-churro.

Astrid y Gaston: Alfredo Tennyson 117 @ Masaryk in Polanco

I don’t think I’d tried many Peruvian ceviches before living in DF, where there are several high-end Peruvian restaurants: Astrid y Gaston, La Mar, and Restaurante Mankora. FYI—they are amazing. I’d always lumped most Pervuian food in the “variations on a theme of meat and potatoes” (which you’d think coming from the Midwest, I would have been more excited about). But Astrid y Gaston does an amazing job sexing up the traditional dishes as well as whipping out several flavorful, spicy ceviches. The service can be annoyingly hit-or-miss, but the food was solid. Don’t forget the popular Peruvian cocktail—the pisco sour. Thanks to my many Peruvian MBA classmates for introducing me to this fan-favorite. Though note to self: they go down easy but cost probably ~$150 pesos each at this joint, so budget accordingly!

I liked the "sampler" appetizer that let you test out several traditional Peruvian dishes.... I believe this was the "piqueo limeño para dos."

2. Finally taking a photo of someone sleeping in their car

This is one of those things where once you notice it happening, you suddenly see it EVERYWHERE. It made sense, as what else were the many drivers in DF to do while waiting on their passengers to emerge from their appointments/lunches/etc.?  But the sheer number of car sleepers we saw made it oddly fascinating to me. Finally I got the nerve to snap a pic, albeit from a healthy distance.

De riguer for the streets of Mexico City

3.       Stock up on guayaberas & lucha libre items

Check out our guayabera source here, and a smattering of possible lucha libre souvenirs here. The week before we left, I purchased yet another lucha libre purse, as well the lucha heads that are now gracing our bathroom….

4.       A few carefully selected museums

While I am generally not a huge museum fan (see #1 for where I am probably spending my time instead), Mexico City does have some amazing options. I made a special effort to get to-

Museo Dolores Olmedo: Avenida México 5843, La Noria, Xochimilco– you can drive or take the Xochimilco light rail (el Tren Ligero) to the Estación La Noria, after first taking the blue metro line #2 to Tasqueña. The metro & the light rail each cost 3 pesos.

Not only does this museum have a great collection of pieces from Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and beyond, but the property/gardens are gorgeous. Check out these two amusingly-divergent obituaries of Dolores Olmedo herself, one from her museum website & one from the Times.

A view of the gardens + main building at the Museo Dolores Olmedo

Some may be drawn to the screeching peacocks that roam the grounds, but the highlight for me was the collection of xoloitzcuintlis (or “Xolos” among their friends). These hairless dogs are rather fascinating, and the best part is that they all hang out sunning themselves next to a statue of a xoloitzcuintli. This results in hours of entertainment while you try to distinguish actual hairless dogs from statues of hairless dogs.

Dog vs. dog statues: you be the judge.

Casa Luis Barragan: General Francisco Ramírez 12-14, Colonia Ampliación Daniel Garza. Easy taxi ride from Polanco/Condesa/downtown, or take the subway to the Constituyentes stop. Tours cost $150 pesos.

This architect’s home is totally off the radar for most DF visitors, but I highly recommend a visit, particularly if you’re an engineer-y/architect-y type. There’s a little more prep involved, as you have to call (+52) 55.5515.4908 or email casaluisbarragan@gmail.com to make an appointment for a tour (available in both English & Spanish). When friend Brandi & I went, we had a great tour guide who offered lots of color commentary—but I may have been biased because he was so excited to have me on the tour. Apparently I am the same height that Luis Barragan was (6’2), so the guide regularly paused for my input of what various perspectives were like since I would be experiencing it the way Barragan did. :)

So why is this place cool?  Barragan won the Pritzker prize in 1980 (which is *the* award to win for architects, so he must be good, and he also designed the Torri Satélite that you may have seen driving north out of DF). There are several tall-guy tricks, like floating walls that were high enough for only him to peer over to spy on people & furniture designed to accommodate his tall frame.. There’s a staircase consisting of wooden planks sticking out from the wall, and fascinating mixtures of paint/shadows that offer really different perspectives depending on where you’re standing. The bedroom where his female guests slept was the only room in the house to have no religious iconography in it, which I found amusing. This description is obviously not doing it justice, but just trust me that it’s worth a trip. :)

Unfortunately I was not able to take any interior photos, as I was told there exists some tricky arrangement where his heirs sold the rights to a foundation in Europe & they own all images of his work… However, I did find a couple blogs with a few pics. All I can share with you is the rather uninspiring street view to assure you that this nearly-unmarked door is indeed the entrance to Casa Luis Barragan.

If you're looking for the Luis Barragan house, you've come to the right barely-marked place. :)

Basilica de Guadalupe: Plaza de las América #1, Colonia Villa de Guadalupe. Take either metro line #3 up to Deportivo 18 de Marzo (if you’re going from the Centro Historico) or line #7 up to El Rosario (if you’re going from Polanco), and transfer to line #6 in the direction of Martín Carrera.  Get off at the La Villa Basilica station, and walk north 2 blocks.

While this is more than a museum, I’m bucketing it here due to its historical value. This is a must-do for anyone intrigued by the history of the Catholic faith in Mexico. You can visit both the old & new churches, see the cloak that Juan Diego brought back after the Virgen appeared to him (while you’re on a moving sidewalk), light a candle, be sprinkled with holy water, get your photo taken while riding a fake horse, etc. etc.  This merits a full blog post to really describe the experience, but I’ll whet your appetite with a few highlights.

Moving sidewalks to control the crowds viewing Juan Diego's cloak w/the image of la Virgen

The unique roofline of the new basilica (since the old one on the left is sinking, like many other historic buildings in DF)

Doesn't this just scream "Christmas card photo"??

5.       One more visit to Mercado Jamaica

My “top market in Mexico City” rating for Mercado Jamaica was recently seconded by an unbiased third party. :)  Besides flowers, they always have a great assortment of accoutrements for whatever holiday is coming up on the horizon; I made one last trip to pick up some papel picados around Mexican Independence Day for my future decorating needs.  And don’t forget to visit for all your flower animal purchases!

This flower frog is not only precious, but he also had a button you could press to make him ribbit. Hilarious, people!

6.       See the Ballet Folklorico: performing at the Palacio de Bellas Artes; tickets can be purchased on Ticketmaster

I had unwisely assumed the word “ballet” in the title equated to “boring,” but after enough friends tried to convince me otherwise, I finally brought my dad to this when he visited a couple months before we left. It was awesome. Great music, amazing dancing, a guy dancing like a deer while wearing a deer head, what’s not to love? Put the Ballet Folklorico on your list, people!

7.       Get your picture taken with the Ángel: intersection of Reforma + Eje 2 (a.k.a. Rio Tiber or Florencia)

When a city has one icon widely associated with it, I feel moving away without a photo of you + that thing is ill-advised. In Mexico City, this icon is the Ángel de la Independencia, located on the main east-west drag through town. I recommend doing this on Sundays when Reforma is blocked off to vehicle traffic. This will significantly reduce your odds of getting run over while posing with the Ángel.

This is about as iconic as we're going to get folks, outside of me draped over a green VW bug.

8.       Attend a bullfight: Plaza México in Ciudad de los Deportes, tickets available on Ticketmaster once the season kicks off in November 2011. Take metro line #7 to San Antonio station, or take the Metrobús to the Ciudad de los Deportes station.

Attending a bullfight wasn’t on my “favorite things to repeat” list, but I did feel like I had to experience it + Plaza México once before leaving Mexico. The spectacle is fascinating, albeit a bit depressing. The phrase “not very sporting” kept running through my mind as we watched the bull be weakened by successive rounds of picadors + banderilleros before the matador even came onto the scene…  But it was interesting, many tasty snacks were served, and I’m glad I went. FYI for the sensitive among us if you decide to brave it—there are 5 or 6 rounds (each with its own bull), so go towards the end to ensure you’re watching the good matadors who make the process as quick & painless as possible.

Early on in one of the bull fights at Plaza México

Now I know this isn’t a comprehensive Mexico City to-do list …. You may be asking, “But where is the Anthropology Museum? Xochimilco? A street food tour? Attending a lucha match??  The Centro Historico??”  Do not fear– this is just a combination of our favorites + places we didn’t prioritize when moving there but later realized we had to do pre-departure.  :) Former and/or current Mexico City residents—what else have I missed?? Anything unusual spots or activities that were/are on your DF bucket list (or lista de cubeta, rather) before you leave this amazing city??

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Guayaberas: the must-have men’s summer shirt of Mexico

One excellent souvenir for any man visiting Mexico is the guayabera. To me, this is the consummate summertime shirt for men who want to look good but can’t be bothered to wear a stuffy suit. I won’t get into the historical debate about its origins, but within Mexico it originated in the Yucatan. Some Americans refer to it as a Mexican wedding shirt, and there is certainly no shortage of beach weddings that have taken place with the groom sporting one of these.

In Mexico City, I observed that guayaberas were standard slightly-less-formal attire for spring/summer wedding attendees, as well as a great option for an nice evening out. Heck, even Mitt Romney (random fact of the day: his father was born in Mexico!) has been spotted wearing them!

This light blue guayabera is one seeing regular wear by John on hot summer weekend nights here in DC.

For those of you who are residing in or passing through Mexico City, you may be wondering, “But where can I get a good quality guayabera without trekking down to the Yucatan?”  Luckily, I have your answer!  The store I’ve outlined directions to below isn’t really on the tourist circuit– it seems to cater more to wholesale business, e.g. I don’t recall seeing a dressing room, they’re not open on weekends.  However, the prices for the higher-quality linen shirts seemed as good as John had found anywhere in his searches and they have a solid selection of designs & colors organized by size for easy shopping.

If you’re in the market for gifts to bring back from your trip to Mexico & know your recipient’s shirt size, this could be even better than the 8,000 lucha libre masks we’ve distributed to 50% of our family and friends (albeit also a bit more $$). :) This store also had sizes down to 2 years old, which definitely made my list of “precious gift options for toddlers!”

Directions to a great guayabera store in Mexico City’s Centro Historico

Name: Guayaberas Yucachen
: La Academia 6, Piso 1, Centro, Mexico DF
–> just south of the intersection with Republica de Guatemala
Link to Google Maps Street View

Closest Metro Stop: Zocalo. From the Zocalo Metro, walk east on Seminario and take a left in ~3 blocks on Academia.

Phone Number: 55.5542.0537 acc to the Yellow Pages
Hours: Our vague recollections are this place was *not* open on the weekends or Mexican holidays and closes up shop by 6PM.
What else to know: lino means linen and algodon means cotton. There are also various fabric blends available. Linen costs more, but is the more traditional option.

As you walk north up Academia, look for the white GUAYABERAS sign overhead on the east (right) side of the street.

The entrance to the store (located on the 2nd level of the building) is inside this unassuming parking garage...

...and up these dingy stairs... The window displays filled with guayaberas will help you know you're on the right track!

Once inside Guayaberas Yucachen, row after row of shirts await your perusal!

In traditional Mexican retail store fashion, the salesperson will carefully follow your every move. ;)

Tell me these little guayaberas for 4-year-olds aren't the perfect gift that his mom will think is precious. (And yes, let's just ignore the fact that the 4-year-old will think it sucks because it's not a truck & you will become forever branded as the relative who always gives him clothes.)

Once you’ve made your guayabera purchase, expect to receive regular compliments on what a trendy hipster you are if you’re wearing it back in the US. If you are wearing it in Mexico or Cuba, this will not be as novel so don’t hold your breath. :) Take good care of it, and you will be able to constantly relive that beach wedding you may or may not have had!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Visiting the Alebrije Hotspot of Oaxaca

One of my favorite parts of my trip my recent Oaxaca trip via Mexico Today turned out to be the visit we made to the small town of San Martín Tilcajete. When John & I visited Oaxaca back in 2009, we’d heard from friends about all the little villages specializing in various handicrafts that are located within an hour’s drive from the city. To be honest, I was skeptical.  You’ve seen one Mexican handicraft, you’ve seen them all, right?

This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill handicraft!! I *loved* this turkey alebrije @ Jacobo and Maria Angeles' shop.

But this was before I had a true appreciation for Mexico’s many incredibly-specialized small towns. For instance, are you interested in seeing every piece of home decor that could possible be made out of onyx? Tecali de Herrera in the state of Puebla is your answer for all your onyx lamp needs! Hoping to buy as many trendy leather shoes for $200 pesos each as can fit in your suitcase? Head over to Leon in Guanajuato state, hub of all things leather (except for women’s shoes in size, ahem, 12 or 13).

So three years after being introduced to my first alebrije (including some extra-large ones scattered along Reforma in Mexico City), I was more optimistic about visiting the small town that’s bursting at the seams with alebrije action!

Oversized alebrijes seemed to escort us as we drove into the town of San Martin Tilcajete

For those wondering “what is that word she keeps using?”, alebrijes are colorful fantasy animals that are traditional folk art in both Oaxaca & Mexico City. There’s one history on the origination of alebrijes here— those in DF were papier mache, but those from Oaxaca are carved out of wood. Fellow blogger Alvin has more great detail on the unique tree that Oaxacans use for their alebrijes– the copal–and their sustainable farming practices.

A smattering of Oaxacan alebrijes

Many of my other blogger pals have highlighted the gorgeous finished alebrijes that we saw at the workshop of Jacobo and Maria Angeles. But I wanted to share my favorite part– the shelves of naked alebrijes, categorized by animal & awaiting their coats of paint to make themselves presentable to the world. :)

You can almost hear the howling of that dog with his back to the camera.

This bear was one of the more agile looking bears I've seen, and also one of the more pouty.

These guys were great-- frogs ready to party, some with guitars and other with jugs full of moonshine. (yes, I know; anthropomorphize much?) ;)

Here was one of the alebrije carvers hard at work, with a flurry of copal wood scattered around him.

The unique aspect about the alebrijes at this workshop was their amazing level of detail– like nothing I’d seen elsewhere in Mexico.

This gentleman carefully puts the finishing touches on this wacky dragon

Still a little dragon tail left to be painted, but look at that detail (not to mention, how did they carve the tail like that??).

And here's one of the amazing finished pieces.

How do I get to San Martin Tilcajete?

If you’re ambitious & are driving, Moon Travel Guides has a great, fairly detailed map of all the villages around the city of Oaxaca. You’ll take Highway 175 south from the city, and San Martin Tilcajete is about 23km out. It took us about an hour to get out there when you include some slow-moving traffic in the city + a festival of topes (killer speedbumps!) on the way out of town.

Look for this sign to mark the inauspicious entrance to the town of San Martin Tilcajete!

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a tour guide, I can only speak to the experience I had with the tour company with whom the Mexico Today folks made arrangements– Turismo El Convento de Oaxaca. Ulises Bonilla Martinez and his mother Maria Esther Martinez Ricardez both did a great job, and she in particular had the gift of story-telling that added a lot to the experience. The prices outlined on their brochure I received for various tours around Oaxaca state start from $180 pesos for half-day trips to Monte Alban or the nearby artisan villages, and $300 pesos for full-day outings. You can email info@oaxacaexperts.com for more details. If you want to do some shopping around, here’s a list of some other tour options to consider.

Finally, there is a great list here (in Spanish) of recent/upcoming events in Oaxaca, so be sure to monitor that for 2012’s Feria del Alebrije schedule as you plan your travel– you know how much I love a good niche festival!!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Shopping in the Mexico City Airport

As many of you regular readers may have gathered by this point, there are few things I love more than products with a Mexican theme and kitschy shops for hipsters. When these worlds combine, good things happen.

I certainly didn’t expect to find this combo inside the Mexico City airport. But as I wandered through Terminal 2 on Friday (en route to Oaxaca for the Mexico Today kickoff), I came across “DesignMX: diseño mexicano contemporáneo” located between the two Starbucks in the middle portion of Terminal 2.

Here's the low-key signage for the DesignMX shop at the MEX airport

The flurry of loud, colorful bags caught my eye as was trotting by in search of a sandwich.

I was drawn to the busy prints like a moth to a flame...

Everything in the store comes from local Mexican designers, or so I understood. The one pictured above is Sensacional de Diseño Grafico (their website is a bit hit-or-miss, but I do love the lucha computer bag in the lower right corner of the photo above). You can check out some more of the wares in the pics below– just click on the photos to see a larger version.

My old favorite itten is selling their laser-cut jewelry & decor, and my new favorite Rojo has some witty ceramic items.

T-shirts, bags, bowls, jewelry, and fun faux-crumpled plastic cups on that 2nd shelf down from the top in red/black/white.

I have always been tempted to purchase one of Mexico's popular chicken-shaped egg baskets, but I fear our dinner guests would be weirded out by our eggs sitting out at room temp.

I told myself that if I didn’t make any big purchases in Oaxaca (outside of the already-planned bottle of mezcal), I would make a return visit before my flight home. So on Sunday, I popped back in and purchased a wee gift for John:

This is such a Mexico City-specific gift, I couldn't help but spring for it.

If you’ve never driven a car in Mexico City, the above figurine (actually a coin bank!) will mean absolutely nothing to you. Those who have spent time driving, you should recognize an artist’s rendering of the bane of your existence- the “Viene Viene” dudes. To quote Noé’s packaging:

“Noé is one of the thousands of “Viene Viene” (direct translation: “come, come”) of Mexico City. These individuals claim the majority of free public parking spaces on the street in order to charge the person who wants to use it. When one decides to pay, the “viene viene” removes the bucket used to save the spot & begins to aid you in parking by saying “viene, viene, viene.” Noé  is the name of our character and its meaning comes from the play of words No E, which in Spanish translates to No Parking.”

“No E” is the abbreviation for “No Estacionarse.”  These guys were indeed on every street of even marginal popularity. Initially I found them infuriating– they didn’t own this street; how could they charge me to park on it! But eventually I became a fan– nothing ever happened to our car under their watchful eyes, and for a few additional pesos they would usually wash off all the DF grime by the time we returned. Anyway, this memorabilia was one I couldn’t resist.  (John was appropriately amused.) :)

If you’re entertained by the Viene Viene, I highly recommend checking out the designer’s site at www.arielrojo.com. They also have an awesome pig lamp that uses swirly compact fluorescent bulbs as the pig’s tail, and another bank shaped like a mattress.

As for the other designers at DesignMX besides Ariel Rojo, I’ve written about itten before, but you should also check out El Escobas & their Molote Art Toy, Liquen jewelry, MODO Museo, and the various other brands whose names I can’t read in my pictures. Check out DesignMX on Facebook, and allegedly a website is coming soon!

If you have more money to spend, the Tienda MAP (moda y arte popular) has some great souvenirs, but the prices are well above what you would pay at popular tourist spots like Ciudadela in Mexico City. They do have some great stuff though if you are running short on time; it is the wing with Gates 52-62.  Pineda Covalin also has some beautiful clothes & accessories with classed-up Mexican imagery incorporated into their fabrics, but be prepared to pay for the name/quality. (They have stores in both wings of Terminal 2 and also in Terminal 1.) Note- they do have an international website as well if anyone is inspired!

I do love this Pineda Covalin bag, but I think it was ~$200 dollars...

Finally, I would be remiss in not mentioning the best option for lucha libre kitsch at the airport– the Hijo del Santo store is also located in Terminal 2, but it is outside of the secure area near the food court by puerta 6. Don’t let this Christmas be the Christmas you come home without any Mexican wrestling-themed gifts for all your loved ones, people! Consider yourself forewarned, and happy airport shopping. :)

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.


A Visit to the Corona Brewery (aka Cervecería Modelo)

Have you ever thought to yourself, “What could I do today to support a giant, soul-crushing monopoly?”  If you happen to be in Mexico City, I have just the ticket: a visit to Cervecería Modelo, just north of Polanco!

The iconic Corona sign hovering over the large brewery in Mexico City.

The name Grupo Modelo may not immediately ring any bells for non-Mexico residents, but it is the company responsible for many well-known Mexican beers– Corona, Pacifico, Negro Modelo/Modelo, Leon, Victoria, Estrella, Montejo, and Barrilito. It also holds 63% of the Mexican beer market, with nearly all the remainder covered by Heineken/FEMSA; between the two of them, they make life difficult for any young upstarts in the Mexican beer world who are going after that last 3% market share.

That said, I am a fan of both Pacifico and Negro Modelo, and I imagine there may be other readers who have been swayed by Corona’s impressive marketing efforts, so I decided to go check things out this afternoon. I took some guidance from my husband, who went on a Modelo brewery tour a few months ago– he felt the tour was interesting if you’ve never seen the brewing process before, but if you’ve been to other breweries, this tour likely won’t knock your socks off. Needless to say, this girl has seen one or two breweries in her day, so I decided to skip straight to the good stuff: the gift shop.

WHERE: Finding the brewery was easy, and the appropriate entrance was fairly obvious. The map on Grupo Modelo’s website shows roughly where the door is located at Lago Alberto 156 in Colonia Anahuac, Mexico City. You can actually walk there quite easily from the Polanco metro station– once you exit the station, just walk up Arquimedes going north. After carefully crossing a busy street (Ejercito Nacional), you will cross under an overpass (Rio San Joaquin) and then take a right onto Lago Alberto.

You will see these large beer vats as you approach the brewery... Walk forward along the left side of these and then turn right (walking along the far side of this fenced-in area); this will put you on Lago Alberto

The view as you walk towards the entrance of the Cervecería Modelo. Your entrance will be under the flag/seal, just past where all the beer trucks are turning in.

Cross Lago Alberto & enter beneath the seal:

This was taken seconds before I got yelled/whistled at by the security guard in the middle of the photo, who obviously sensed that I was snapping highly-sensitive pics FROM A PUBLIC STREET as part of my plan to infiltrate the brewery.

Once you enter, tell the security guard at the desk that you are there to visit the “Tienda de Propaganda”. You’ll be asked for an ID (so bring some sort of ID with you), signed in & given a badge. Then someone will lead you to the gift shop. The gift shop is open Monday – Friday from 8AM to 5PM.

WHAT: The amusingly-named Tienda de Propaganda is wisely hidden inside the factory, rather than being easily accessible from the street for tourists. 😉  A Modelo employee will lead you along a roped-off sidewalk, while large trucks & carts zip along nearby. Eventually you’ll be dropped off at the uninspiringly-signed hallway leading to the store.

Just look for the Propaganda sign, and take care not to get mowed down by a rapidly-moving forklift.

I think I was hoping for a more over-the-top gift shop (and maybe the chance for a beer sample, let’s be honest), but Modelo’s Tienda de Propaganda nonetheless fulfilled its reason for being: there was no shortage of Corona-covered kitsch to be purchased!! If you are a big beer drinker and/or Modelo-brand beer fan, you should at least find some products here that will help you outpace the Jones’s in the “beer accoutrements” department. :) A lot of the stuff there, neither John nor I have seen elsewhere (though admittedly we may not have been looking that hard).

In the event that you’re on the fence about whether the Corona (and friends) Gift Shop merits a visit, here’s the smattering of its offerings that I was able to surreptitiously photograph:

Oversized 2L plastic beer bottle with screw-on plastic top? Check! ($34 pesos)

A whole bunch of shirts with beer logos/commentary on them in a mixture of English & Spanish? Yes! (prices unclear on my grainy photo, but I believe <$100 pesos)

Old-timey beer trays with old-timey ad images + a tacky surface to prevent glasses from sliding all over the place? Yep! ($42 pesos)

German-looking beer steins that would probably crack in shame if beer this light gets poured into them? Check! And Corona-branded dominos to show up the locals during your next cantina visit. (Dominos ~$140-150 pesos)

Miniature coolers with handles, a magnetic top & a built-in bottle opener? Absolutely! These are one of my favorite items-- John got us the red/blue Corona one a few months back. Prices seem to range from $350 to $600 ish. John estimates ours might hold about 18 beers, so a fun item to have on your counter for a party.

The inflatable section! I succumbed to buying a 1.5m-tall inflatable Pacifico beer bottle. And if we weren't moving back to a pool-less townhouse, I would have definitely bought the sand + palm tree floating bottle holder. I mean, your beer can float next to you in the pool AND be covered in shade at the same time. Brilliant. ($40 pesos for tall bottle)

MY 2-CENT BREWERY TOUR: As previously mentioned, I didn’t do the official brewery tour, but I did snap a couple photos on my way back to the entrance (for which I also got yelled at by a concerned man in a suit).  You’ll quickly be able to decode all the secret details I captured & perhaps start your own competitive brewery, or create an elaborate scheme for breaking into this one.

Apparently Corona & friends come from the cleanest, purest, mountain-fresh water known to man.

To keep morale high, there is colorful old-timey truck & fake beer barrels inside the main entrance. Que preciosa, eh?

The best part is that no one yelled at me for taking a photo of the Modelo cerveza-making process:

OMG! It's all out in the open now, people. I trust you will have no problem replicating these beer-making and packaging processes to create your own brewery intent on world domination!!

If you’re interested in a more elaborate tour of the Cervecería Modelo than what my photos can provide, drop an email to visitas@gmodelo.com.mx. I even received a same-day response to my inquiry! Their tours seem to skew more towards large groups, but the email I received indicated that if I was alone, I could be attached on to an existing group. Lic. Flor Santillana is the woman from the PR dept who coordinates tours, and tours are available Monday through Friday, seemingly at 9AM, 11AM and 3PM, but I would definitely call/email first, as I’m not sure they’ll accommodate you if you just show up. Additional questions, you can call 55.5262.1200 ext 2336.

Tours are available at Modelo’s other breweries as well, so if you’re in Zacatecas, Guadalajara, Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, Mazatlan, Tuxtepec in Oaxaca, or Torreon in Coahuila, check here to get the contact info & set one up!

I hope this satisfies anyone who was curious about where Coronas come from before they end up in a million photos of people’s feet on a sunny beach…. or where you should go once you convince your wife that this should be your new dining room table:

Ahhh if only we had a proper Man Cave for John back in our townhouse in Arlington, VA...

As we say in Mexico before slurping down a cold beer, ¡Salud!


I need a cactus chair

I came across an interesting blog today entitled “Hoy es un gran día para mostrarte lo mejor de México.” (Today is a great day to show you the best of Mexico.)  It’s kind of an assortment of travel hot spots, activities, and design highlights around Mexico. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, he has some great pics to peruse.

Juan Carlos’s blog tipped me off to this chair, which now has me wondering, a) how much of our existing furniture would we have to throw out in order for this chair to look good in our townhouse, and b) should I start playing the Mexican lottery in hopes of winning enough money to buy one?

Do these chairs not scream "I love Mexico"?

And look, they even have pseudo-prickles, in keeping with their namesake prickly pear cactus! (both photos courtesy Juan Carlos's blog)

These are entitled “Prickly Pair Chairs” by the designer Valentina Gonzales Wohlers, who graduated from Ibero here in Mexico City. Check out her website for more info re. the cactus chairs (under “What”, then “Furniture”, then “prickly pair chairs”) or her Facebook page for additional pics. If the prices shown here are accurate, I will be playing the lottery for a looooong time before springing for one of these…  Valentina– any discounts for people who actually live in Mexico??? 😉

This same blog also tipped me off to a new trendy hotel located just across from the US Embassy in the Zona Rosa. While I typically don’t highlight the Zona Rosa as a must-see area for visitors to Mexico City, it is a good central location with easy access to the cooler neighborhoods of Condesa, Roma, and the Centro. The new hotel is from the Room Mate chain, which we found to be quite popular when we were in Spain last year.

My understanding of the concept is that each hotel is given a person’s name & personality traits to make you feel like you’re staying at a friend’s house, combined with fun decor, reasonable price points, and good locations.  Coincidentally, Valentina is the name of the new Room Mate hotel that’s opened in Mexico City, and she is “curious, sporty, and sexy.”

The trendily-decorated lobby of Room Mate Valentina

One of the junior suites at Valentina

The decor looks fab & the price is right (or at least reasonable), starting at $76USD pre-tax for an “executive” room with free wireless, so I will be curious to see if the actual experience matches their fashionable website! Let me know if you’ve stayed here; I will try to pop by & check it out in person sometime in the near future.

In the meantime, I am accepting donations toward a Prickly Pair Chair… :)

Elisabeth Shue launches misspelled clothing line in Mexico

I would like to be the first to congratulate Elisabeth Shue on the launch of her new clothing line here in Mexico City. For anyone unfamiliar with the illustrious actress, do I really have to remind you of her classic hits like Adventures in Babysitting and Cocktail??

As children of the 80's, who didn't hold out hope for a babysitting experience as thrilling as this with a babysitter as cool/trendy as this??

Anyway, I was grocery shopping at Chedraui (supermarket/hub for fashionistas) yesterday and nearly walked right by this gem, until the dangling tag caught my eye. Elizabeth Shue!!

I expect to see this trend sweeping Mexico by storm this summer.

As an newly-minted MBA, I might advise Elisabeth to consider hiring better proofreaders to ensure a consistent brand image. However outside of the whole name-misspelled thing, I think this piece really embodies the persona that I can only assume she’s trying to project–  a skull with a stake piercing it, Ed Hardy knockoffs, slashed/rocker-chic, etc. All in all, well played, Elisabeth….well played…  :)

Doesn't she just seem to be saying, "Yes, I'm a hardcore, drinking, drug-using, pot-smoking, biker/rocker chick, and my new clothing line will show the world my true colors."?

What is the Best Festival EVER in Mexico? Ask the burros!!

Let me start by saying: Feria Nacional del Burro 2010 *exceeded* our expectations. Get ready for some heavy photo coverage, folks. :) As I mentioned on Thursday, I’d gotten wind of this Burro Festival on Twitter, and after seeing how witty their website was, I had no choice but to go. Besides, having a fond place in my heart for all farm-animals, I felt that the donkey should get its day in the sun.

And oh, how it did. We rolled into Otumba at 10:15AM this morning, after about an hour-and-15-minute drive from the middle of Mexico City. Lacking a detailed map of the Burro Festival, we were hopeful that it would become obvious where to go/park/walk, etc.  Otumba had most of the main street leading into the Zocalo blocked off & lined seductively with food/beer stands and assorted vendors, so we abandoned ship in the nearby parking lot (for $30 pesos) & began exploring!

I was able to find some burro ears in time to watch the race as one of the true, committed fans. :)

First observation: numerous people were wearing burro ears, a burro visor, or burro hat. I instantly committed to myself that I would join this elite echelon as soon as an ear vendor was spotted. We slowly perused the merchandise while arriving in the heart of the action just in time to see the start of the Parade of Decorated Burros. I was kind of expecting donkeys wearing a hat or a cape or something lame-o. Um, no: these costumes were not screwing around. Some of my favorites follow:

This construction worker burro was well-adorned with tools, though the beers & bottle of liquor were a nice touch.

Sign reads "We join the gay family-- Ricky Marty." (Unclear if they meant Ricky Martin or if Marty was intentional.) Please note the pink eyelashes.

Emiliano Zapata, complete with pistol attached to side of business trousers + shoes.

One of my favorites, the Tourist Burro. Note that his fur has been painted white, he is wearing sneakers, he has blond hair, a sun visor, a camera dangling from his neck, and a cell phone hanging off his shorts. Brilliant.

Miguel Hidalgo's burro replica. Best part of this, besides the white wig he's wearing & the Virgen poster reading "Viva Guadalupe"? The little kid walking alongside wearing a fake mustache.

Uh, a "Zebra and Peacock". Led by the donkey from Shrek. Don't ask questions, people.

This one was slightly horrifying, but innovative nonetheless. You can't see "Burricornio's" full horn, but just trust me that he is a Unicorn Burro. (or at least that is how I prefer to think of him, rather than a donkey who's been tarred and feathered. After all, I'm sure that glue is organic?)

Happily-wedded burros. I just liked the expression on the face of the right burro. But maybe that's just the effect of her wig & lipstick. Yes, that's right: lipstick.

Can I just say-- that is a bigggg man who was wearing those jeans before this burro was.

After the parade ended, we were a little unclear as to what was next on the agenda (since surprisingly, things didn’t appear to be adhering tightly to the schedule we’d printed off the website). So we did some shopping to kill time.

Yes! You can get a burro-shaped keychain with (assumably) burro fur on it AND your name engraved on the back so you don't lose it-- all for only $10 pesos!! (aka ~80 cents)

Visiting co-worker Tim purchased this sweet burro visor with Otumba emblazoned on each ear.

We also saw this man selling a "lesser" burro ear visor during the parade. (You can see the Pippi Longstocking burro in the background.)

For the more artistically inclined, burro wall decor was also available for sale.

Of course it wouldn't be Mexico if the guest of honor's likeness was not made into a piñata.

I'm not even really sure what this dangling head is promoting, but I just want to point out that John totally initiated this photo on his own-- no peer pressuring was involved on this one (for a change).

Finally, we heard an alert that it was time for the Burro Races!! This was confirmed when we observed the stringing of suuuuper strong yellow rope in front of the spectators who were lining the street around the zocalo. We noted with a mixture of amusement and concern how it was virtually impossible that a burro could penetrate this impressive barrier:

Burro Rope Barricade: another excellent "what could go wrong" example. Also note the two children wearing donkey tails.

We managed to squeeze ourselves in among the throngs of spectators in a spot along the straightaway. This seemed safer than near the 90-degree corners the burros would be required to maneuver 4 times to go around the entire zocalo.

Earlier, we captured this photo of the bleachers surrounding the start/finish of the burro race. As you can see, one must arrive early to get the premier seats for the festivities.

One of the race contestants storms down the straightaway, "riding crop" in hand.

This dude is *barely* hanging on to the rear of this burro. We didn't have a clear line of sight, but we're pretty sure he fell off while trying to make the 90-degree turn at full gallop.

After watching a few heats of the races, we wandered through the courtyard surrounding the large church just off the zocalo. The courtyard had some impressive topiaries.

Pigeon and Burrogirl. Still life, circa 2010.

This got us inspired to take our photo with real, live animals.

This un-manned donkey was a safe bet for a free photo to capture the theme of the day.

John had to pay for a photo with Mr. Brahma Bull, but it was well worth it. This guy was massive.

Emily also got in on the Brahma excitement.

After the burro-viewing & photo opps, we debated whether to participate in any of the carnival rides.

This one was simply too depressing. Poor horsies get their noses put to the grindstone while their burro brethren are off being lauded & cooed over.

Although this "Giant Claw of Death" ride looked exciting....

.... I saw one too many ride structures jacked up on pieces of wood (many less stable-looking than this) to manage to convince myself to jump on.

Finally, it was time for some lunch. Luckily, there was no shortage of establishments to choose from that were busily pumping out amazing grilled meat smells.

We plopped down at some street stall, and ended up with this amazing array of chicken, rabbit, goat, guac, onions, salsas and beers on our table. Everything was fantastic.

While we were eating, we flagged down this passing vendor selling these "I love Otumba" t-shirts. John translated the t-shirt as "I love ass", but the rest of us disagreed. Our group of 4 people purchased 6 shirts in total. :)

Recall my previous "rabbits: from playmate to plate" comment? Well, here are a few examples a bit closer to the "plate" side of the equation.

There was no shortage of pulque drinking opportunities at the Festival...

Including this pulque offering from the back of an SUV!

At this point, we felt like we’d seen the bulk of what we’d come to see. We also felt we’d injected as much of a financial boost to Otumba as possible, each of us having purchased no fewer than probably 6 items between food/beverages/souvenirs. It was time to leave our friends, the burros of Otumba, and return to Mexico City.

On the way out, we made a quick pitstop to snag a Pigcajete that we’d seen on the drive in but clearly couldn’t stop for at that point (and risk missing the fashion show?? I think not!). Pigcajetes, for those of you not in the know, are molcajetes shaped like pigs.

These stacks of Pigcajetes on the side of the road were a principle buy if I ever saw one.

Upon our arrival home, we realized we’d purchased a slightly awkward number of burro-themed items.

Our proud purchases: burro keychains, burro ears, Pigcajete, I love Otumba/ass t-shirt, BurroFest shot glass, and two hats that fold up flat.

In summary, the Feria Nacional del Burro was a wild success. Possibly one of the most entertaining celebrations I’ve been to in our two years in Mexico. John even agreed that it ranked highly, and that’s saying something. Definitely mark your calendars for next year’s Mexican Labor Day (May 1st), which should keep you apprised of the 2011 festival. In fact that day was chosen specifically to recognize the burros who do all the hard work for the rest of us! And I’d like to give a special shout-out to the town of Otumba in Estado de Mexico for putting together quite the array of burro-oriented activities, carnival rides, unique shopping, food & drink. Way to go Otumba, and way to go burros. :)

Tecali de Herrera- Mexico’s hub of all things onyx

One of the amazing pieces of onyx used as a coffee table surface, accompanied by a bowl that looks a bit like Casper the Ghost.

We took a day trip on Saturday to Tecali de Herrera, which I understand to be the hub of onyx (and marble) production in Mexico (or at least one of them). Tecali de Herrera is located about 47 km southeast of Puebla in Puebla state, and it took us a little over 2 hours to get there (with some traffic slowing us down). This was the second small town in Mexico we’ve visited that is known for making all sorts of things with one material (the first being Santa Clara del Cobre in Michoacan that is hub of copper), and it did not disappoint!

Tecali de Herrera is a sleepy little town that we found to be clean, quiet, and laden with sidewalks made of marble & onyx (definitely nonstandard for middle-of-nowhere, Mexico!). It exceeded our expectations by actually having one cool tourist attraction (besides all the onyx shops) that was totally worth seeing: the Ex-Convento de Tecali. I know what you’re thinking– “Seriously, Julie, I think I’ve seen enough churches here in Mexico.” But you’re wrong! This one is much cooler because it is the ruins of a convent– covered with grass, missing ceilings, crumbling stonework, but still offering soaring arches and massive columns. I momentarily felt like I was back in Scotland instead of a dusty pueblo in Mexico. :)

The entrance to the Ex-Convent of Tecali

Note surprising signage in well-written English! A rarity for this neck of the woods. :)

A close up of the massive wooden door that's attempting to still guard the entryway. Apparently the wooden roof was scavenged many moons ago to be used in the building of a bull ring.

A view of the remaining pillars among the grass, surprisingly green for this far into the dry season

Here I am in the center of the ex-convent action

One of the orange trees growing within the inner chambers to the right of the nave.

A view down the zocalo towards the ex-convent entrance

After our 30-peso convent visit, we clucked approvingly at the well-manicured zocalo filled with greenery and began our quest for onyx. John & I have been eyeing a style of floor lamp created out of squares of creamy-colored onyx, and decided we may as well travel to the source in order to save a few pesos. Needless to say, there was no shortage of lamps for us to consider! (As well as anything else you could possibly imagine being made out of onyx.)

Our new lamps! For any regular blog readers, yes, we have officially reached the point of total awkwardness w/r/t how many "groups of three" we have when it comes to Mexican handicrafts. I don't why everything is sold in threes; it just is.

This was just a smattering of the number of floor lamps you can choose from...

If only we had a massive space in our townhouse back in VA awaiting a friggin huge amorphous onyx bowl...

Here’s a list of the stores I got business cards from, where you can purchase all the onyx you could ask for.

  • Mezher’s Onix, Avenida 25 de Agosto #111, Tel. (224) 271.4142, ventas.nacionales@mezhers.com.mx www.mezhers.com.mx (website seems worthless, but store had some very unique pieces)
  • Flores Navarro, Avenida 25 de Agosto y Rafael Cortes, Tel (224) 271.4058, onix_fn@yahoo.com.mx, www.floresnavarro.pue-mx.com (also some unique pieces & prices seemed competitive)
  • Mariam, Avenida Rafael Cortes Oriente #5, Tel. (224) 271.4037, marmolmariam@hotmail.com (prices seemed very competitive & was only place we saw cool onyx cheese plates shaped like cheese)
  • Artesanias Marquez, Avenida Rafael Cortes #6, Tel. (224) 271.4467
  • El Dorado, Carretera Tecali-Tepeace km 1.5, Tel (224) 271.4384, onixneolitico@yahoo.com (located basically across from the Pemex station; they had some cool onyx sinks)
  • Tellez Onix Marmol Diseno, 25 de Agosto #403, Tel (224) 271.4199, tellezonix@prodigy.net.mx, www.onix-tellez.com (this is the largest, most heavily advertised place, and the prices reflect as much. worth visiting to peruse the really large selection & then finding things cheaper elsewhere)

A view of the huge selection inside the Tellez onyx shop

We quickly gathered that anything made of stone that CAN be lit from the inside, WILL be lit from the inside.

Emily reaches for a credit card to buy as many new kitchen counters as we can fit into our car. (ok, not really...but tempting...)

For eats, we were starving by the time we got to Tellez so we ate at Las Bugambilias, which is right next door. However, we also saw a cute place near the Zocalo that looked worth a shot. Bugambilias had traditional Mexican food at reasonable prices (try the enchiladas pipian verdes or the flautas de pollo).

All told, we arrived in Tecali around noon & departed about 5PM after all our tortuous purchasing decisions were made. If you’re interested in making the same day trip from Mexico City, follow the toll road towards Puebla. Stay on the toll road towards Orizaba/Oaxaca as it skirts north of the city of Puebla. You’ll pass a toll booth shortly after Puebla (Caseta de Cobro Amozoc). Keep going until km 155, and you’ll take the exit for Tepeaca as shown in the photo below.

This will be your cue to exit off the Mexico-Oaxaca toll road!

In general, follow the set of blue signs like these:

Our confidence was bolstered by the reaffirming Tecali de Herrera signage.

Once you get into Tepeaca, there is one Y-intersection that’s a little confusing, but in general go towards Tepeaca centro instead of Tehuacan. There is a general map on the Tellez website here. Tecali de Herrera is a bit of a drive for a day trip from Mexico City, but it is certainly doable. Alternatively, it would be a great side venture if you’re in Puebla for a couple days. Happy shopping & convent-viewing!

Those aware of my pork obsession will be impressed that we managed to leave Tecali without the acquisition of even ONE of these many little stone piggies!

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