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To call Mexico City’s cantinas simply bars would be unfair. Yes, drinks are served here, but these old-school watering holes serve a much more important function, offering the neighborhood a place where locals – sometimes entire families – can gather to drink, socialize, play dominoes and, most importantly, eat. Along with their drinks, cantina patrons know they will also get botanas – assorted small portions of guisados (slow-cooked meats or vegetables), tacos, or quesadillas. Most self-respecting cantinas will offer a generous botanas spread of four or five courses, which helps make sure the drink orders keep flowing and that the regulars keep coming back.
On this leisurely walking tour, we’ll be among those regulars, eating and drinking our way through some of the city’s most iconic cantinas, open for generations and still serving traditional comida de hombres (men’s food), so named because cantinas traditionally had all-male staffs and, until even the 1970s, kept women out. The walk will take us through downtown Mexico City’s lively San Ildefonso neighborhood, home to a mix of university students and local workers and several museums and historical monuments. In this part of town, cantina culture – an essential part of Mexican social life during the first half of the 20th century – is still alive and well.
Our first stop will be at a cantina that traditionally has been frequented by professors from nearby Colegio de San Ildefonso, office workers, and Mexico City’s bohemian set, lured perhaps by the impressive array of more than 140 brands of tequila and the wait staff’s slightly more upscale look. Here we will sit down for our first round of botanas, enjoying the soup of the day, and a guisado, a stew of slow-simmered meat. Our next stop will be a tradesmen’s cantina – reminiscent of a Wild West saloon – favored by residents and blue-collar workers from the busy commercial district surrounding it. Here we will enjoy quesadillas, meatballs, and the guisado of the day, washed down with some of the cantina’s specialty drinks.
Our last stop will be at one of downtown’s oldest gay cantinas, a reminder of Mexico City’s diversity and liberalism. This unique and iconic spot operates as a cantina by day and as a dance club by night. Here we will have a few drinks and bar snacks while we enjoy the welcoming atmosphere and listen as the crowd sings along to the jukebox playing songs by beloved Mexican gay icon Juan Gabriel. It’s another reminder that in Mexico City, there’s a cantina for everyone.
Am I going to get sick from eating Mexican street food or tacos?
Mild discomfort is common for people who aren’t used to eating Mexican spices or produce. However, all the food stops on each of our tours have been personally tested — often multiple times — by our founders, as well as each of our guides. We stand by their quality and cleanliness and would not visit them if there was any doubt.
Can you pick me up from my hotel? How will I return once the tour is over?
Our tour prices don’t include transportation. If you book a tour, you’re responsible for arriving to the pre-arranged meeting spot on your own. Most Mexico City hotels provide taxi services for guests, and it’s generally easy and convenient to use them. If you choose a private tour, the guide may be able to meet you at the hotel.
Once the tour is over, we will help you get an authorized, safe taxi to your hotel, or provide directions on public transportation, if you’re interested in that.
Is English spoken?
All of our walks are given in English. Our guides are locals who are fluent in English and Spanish.
Can vegetarians or vegans take this tour?
We do not recommend this walk for vegetarians, pesceterians, or vegans, but can accommodate on our other Mexico City walks. Our tours also work for anyone with cheese, nut and wheat allergies. Please let us what know your dietary restrictions in advance.
What should I wear?
Comfortable, closed-toed shoes (no flip-flops please), pants, and shirts in layers — it can be cooler in the morning and warmer in the afternoon. Please bring an umbrella if you’re traveling in Mexico City’s rainy season, from June-September.
How much walking is involved?
Quite a bit. We want you to experience the most amount of food and culture possible, and while we are not actively walking the entire time, you will be required to walk from stop to stop. The walk is flat terrain and quite easy with lots of sitting in between, but, be prepared, Mexico City’s sidewalks can be challenging.
How much food will I get to try?
This is really up to you. We generally taste around a dozen items on each tour, but the price includes as much food as you’re open to trying. We offer a suggested portion size at each stop and you can take our recommendation if you’d like. Our goal is to have you end the tour pleasantly stuffed, not so full you can barely walk. That said, everyone’s appetite is different and we welcome all varieties!
What if it rains?
Our tours are conducted rain or shine.
Can I bring my children on this tour?
We do not recommend this walk for children as there are a couple stops into bars and will not be suitable for children. We recommend our Jamaica Mercado walk or the Xochimilco excursion if you are traveling with children.
What is your cancellation policy?
The entire reservation can be cancelled with 100% refunded minus credit card processing fees if cancelled more than 1 week in advance. Cancellations of more than 3 days, are refundable at 50% and less than 72 hours are not refundable
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