Vibrant spirits of Mexico City

Every few months or so, I get the itch to get out of town. I’m a travel and culture junkie at heart, and particularly when the bitter cold rolls around, I begin perusing the Hopper app to see where the wind may take me. I pulled the ticket trigger, and this past week, I embarked on a five-day solo journey to the greatest metropolis in Latin America in search of food and cocktail artistry, cultural immersion and creative inspiration. Mexico City surpassed my expectations beyond measure. Each day, I’d walk down the tree and plant canopy-covered sidewalks alongside the ornate, colonial architecture of the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods, meandering in and out of mezcalerias, inhaling the fumes of gargantuan floral shrubs and al pastor permeating the air. It’s a city of sensory overload in the best way possible, and for we Louisvillians who appreciate a top-notch culinary and cocktail scene, culture and a bit of warmer weather this time of year, this barkeep is here to tell you to put Ciudad de Mexico on your list.

If you head to Mexico City, be prepared to fully immerse yourself in the food and cocktail scene. “Insects are the future of food,” said my friend Alex, who lives in Mexico City. We scored a reservation for lunch at Quintonil, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and were spoiled with an 11-course tasting menu of epic proportions that included charred avocado tartar with escamoles (ant larvae) and fish in a grasshopper adobo. In Coyoacan, Frida Kahlo’s vibrant and historic neighborhood, I had Chapulines Queso Fundido, which are giant red crickets that are flash fried and seasoned in spices and doused in Oaxacan cheese. Not bad, really! However, as a spirits enthusiast, my favorite Mexican insect pairing is with mezcal, the spirit of the city, which is traditionally served with sliced oranges covered in Chapulin — a chile and lime salt made from crushed cricket. Some mezcalerias do variations on the chile salt, such as Bar Simon in Roma Norte, where I had crushed ant cardamom with mezcal on tap. At Fifty Mils in the Four Seasons Hotel, I had a decadent libation that came in an actual terrarium, The Ant Man: Mezcal Union, avocado and chicatana ant mix, hoja santa bitter, lemongrass syrup, egg white and soda water (complete with sizable ants floating on top).

Do not miss booking a tour with guide Anais Martinez, aka “The Curious Mexican.” Anais worked for a large Mexican tourist company and recently branched out on her own, creating tours of specific markets and food (breakfast, tacos, etc.,), or she can design one for you. Anais took me on a grand libation adventure: “Mexican Spirits and Cocktails.” An exceptional journey, it was, as we meandered through the vibrant and “up-and-coming” neighborhood of Juarez on a CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico) boozy quest.

Our first stop was an authentic “pulqueria,” called La Ahija de los Apaches, next to a looming warehouse housing luchador fights. Pulque is an age-old (formerly sacred) alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant. Anais explained that pulque is somewhat of a lost art, partially because of the thick, milky consistency and sour, yeast-like taste, and also years ago it gained a false reputation of being dirty or even containing fecal matter (not true, by the way, and many folks believe the beer industry created the rumor). Anais and I indulged in oatmeal and strawberry pulque, which I found quite filling but tasty (y’all know I love fermented, sour libations).

Then, we visited establishments that all seemed to be owned by Anais’ friends, such as a craft beer tasting room and wine bar carrying local natural wine. We stopped at Joe Gelato, an ice cream shop where Joe the owner had created a special masa ice cream for her, meant to be served with a shot of pox (pronounced posh). Pox is a spirit made from fermented corn and sugarcane in rural Mayan communities, similar to moonshine (and often flavored with coconut and cocoa). Anais advised me to try it on its own, and then pour it over the gelato for a bright, slightly sweet and delightful flavor journey.

Special does not begin to describe my evening with The Curious Mexican (and her friend, Ana), as it felt reminiscent of my time with new friends visiting Louisville. When you’re passionate about your city, that kind of love and adoration oozes into every moment with visitors, so they fall in love, too. I fell in love with CDMX, quenched my travel desire, but aren’t we always thirsty for more? Cheers!