MEXICO CITY is modernizing with third-wave coffee shops, gourmet small plate restaurants, and artisanal boutique shops. The bars have changed too, serving fancy cocktails in stylish, well-manicured spaces. For a more unique and classic experience, skip the fancy cocktails and head over to one of the many cantinas around the city. Here you can grab a beer, play dominos, and watch soccer on a tiny TV in the corner in a simple space likely unchanged for the last few decades. Below are some favorite cantinas for a cold one on your next trip to Mexico City.
1. El Centenario
On a side street in the middle of the bustling neighborhood of Condesa is El Centenario. This cantina has been around since 1948 and hasn’t changed much since then. Grab a round of beers or mezcal and ask for a set of dominos, which most cantinas in the area offer. Once you’re finished, go around the corner to get tacos at Taqueria El Greco. It’s right off the main street and very divey with only a few tables. But it’s the best place in the city to get tacos arabes, a mix between pastor and shawarma on a pita. Don’t miss either of these spots.
Vicente Suárez #42, Condesa
2. Cantina Tio Pepe
Considered the oldest cantina in Mexico City, Cantina Tio Pepe continues to maintain its classic, old-school atmosphere. Walk through the swinging doors to find a few tables and booths filled with locals drinking brandy and hipsters sipping on Modelos. The bar itself is beautiful, with intricate wood paneling and a stained-glass sign over the top saying ‘Cognac Hennessy.’ It’s divey and simple but has great service, with waiters dressed traditionally in white shirts and black vests.
Calle Dolores, Centro
3. El León de Oro
The motto of this place, “my grandfather discovered it, my father showed it to me, and I…” perfectly describes what this place is all about. Located in Escandón, El León de Oro is a traditional cantina where different generations have gathered since 1954. The place is huge, and even with recent remodels, it maintains a weird anachronistic feel (maybe it’s those amber-colored windows). The food can be a little expensive, but it’s definitely good. You’ll find plenty of cantinas in Escandón, but ask whoever you want for a recommendation, and they’ll always point you to El León de Oro.
Av. Jose Marti 103-A, Miguel Hidalgo
Covadonga in Roma Norte is a large, open space with tons of tables and a few TVs up on the wall. It feels like an old-school bingo parlor. They also have great food and offer up Spanish-style tapas instead of traditional Mexican cantina fare. Opt for the Spanish tortilla to start followed by the heartier torta milanesa. If you’re not eating at Covadonga, there are plenty of other restaurants in the neighborhood. Abarrotes Delirio has amazing sandwiches and Mercado Roma is a fun spot that offers a bunch of different options under one roof.
Puebla 121, Roma Norte
5. La Opera
Famous for Pancho Villa firing a bullet hole in the ceiling, La Opera is an authentic cantina in operation since 1876. Located in El Centro, it’s a good spot to relax between exploring the Palacio Bella Artes and the Zocalo. It has a certain allure as one of the fancier, almost too fancy, of the cantinas in Mexico City with ornate wood-paneled walls and red velvet booths. For food, order the Pulpo a la Gallega or the caracoles in chipotle sauce (snails).
Calle 5 de Mayo #10, Centro Histórico
6. La Casa Gallega
According to some local foodies, Casa Gallega could be the best place to have seafood in Mexico City. This cantina specializes in Galician cuisine, and a seafood buffet is available every weekend. The place has a nice selection of Spanish wines, perfect for pairing with their incredible pulpo a feira. Casa Gallega is in Colonia Doctores, just a couple blocks away from Metro Hospital General
Avenida Cuauhtémoc 166, Roma Norte
7. La Faena
In an old building in El Centro is La Faena, the 2nd largest cantina in the country. The bar doubles as a bizarre yet charming bullfighting museum that looks unchanged since the 60’s. Photos and paintings of matadors and corridas fill the walls while swords, capes, and other bullfighting regalia sit under glass cases. Order a couple of beers and ask for some botanas, complimentary snacks that come along with your drinks.
Calle Venustiano Carranza No. 49″B”, Centro
8. La Mascota
La Mascota is a unique, always packed cantina in El Centro. They are one of the few that still offer food with any drink order. And not only botanas but full plates of food. For free. They brought out a variety of incredible food but their adobo was the real winner. They could have put that on anything. For drinks order the mezcal con sangrita, a shot of mezcal with a glass of tomato juice, lime, and some spicy chili. If you want to eat elsewhere (which is crazy), walk a couple of blocks to Hosteria la Bota for a torta or paella. It’s a lively spot with a nice patio overlooking a pedestrian street in El Centro.
Mesones 20, Centro Histórico
9. Salon Tenampa
Salon Tenampa is a bit of a tourist trap but don’t let that dissuade you from stopping by. It’s also very fun. Located right off Plaza Garibaldi, you’ll find mariachi bands serenading tables late into the night as drunk patrons try their best to sing along. The decor is a bit over the top with papel picado strung from beam to beam, but again, this place is fun. And likely best experienced after hitting several other bars in the area. If you want something other than beer, try the ponche de granada (pomegranate punch with tequila).
Plaza Garibaldi #12, Centro
10. El Ebro
Located in Colonia Obrera, the cantina central of Mexico City, El Ebro is a big old classic that has been around for nearly ninety years. This is a place for the cantina connoisseur, a spot you can enjoy with both friends and family (yes, children are allowed). The place has a relaxed environment, with live music, good drinks, and much better food. The four-course menu is surprisingly varied, and even though the usual customers swear by their chamorro and shrimp dishes, you can’t really go wrong with any of their specialties. Of course, all this food is for free when you order more than four drinks.
Calle Alfredo Chavero 29, Cuauhtémoc, Obrera