The Best Traditional Cantinas in Central Mexico City

Centro Historico
Centro Historico | © iivangm / Flickr

Mexico City cantinas are stalwarts. They open at the same time every day and serve delicious food, good cocktails and cold beer. They are a place to meet friends, lovers and family. To cry out your sorrows or celebrate your triumphs. They are universes all within themselves, and yet, also as familiar as your family dining room. Here are nine that we know you will love.

1. La India

Bar, Mexican

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© iivangm / Flickr

A classic spot for drinking and eating till your heart’s content. La India has been in the Centro for over 100 years (103 to be exact) and has had a renaissance along with other cantinas of its style now that the hipsters are taking over Mexico City. The place has a run-down seventies feel that you will encounter in most cantinas, but their menu of about 10 different items changes daily and could include things as fancy as bacalao or as simple as chicken soup. It’s a great place to kill a hangover with some shrimp broth and a michelada early in the morning.

2. La Mascota

Bar, Mexican

A tradition among cantinas is to feed their patrons, usually a free botana (snack) or two, like fried pig skin or quesadillas, but nowhere will you get fed like at La Mascota. The menu of the day usually includes 10 different dishes that will follow one after the other until you say stop. The list might contain shrimp soup, chicken soup or barbacoa, empanadas, tostados or pork in mole verde. The price of the beer is slightly higher than normal to cover the cost of the food, but you can eat and drink like a queen for under $10 (€8).

3. Salon Corona

Bar, Mexican

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© * CliNKer * / Flickr

Salon Corona is anything but a quiet place. Whether there’s a big event like a football match or people are just hanging out, you’re unlikely to be able to hear yourself think. Although Salon Corona has a few locations throughout the city, the one downtown on Bolivar street is a classic. Be sure to try some of their classics like tacos al pastor (coming from the spit they have outside), their quesadillas and the octopus torta. Although you might have to wait a few minutes to be seated, Salon Corona will prove to be an experience well worth the wait.

4. La Peninsular

Bar, Mexican

One of the city’s most famous watering holes becuase it is officially the oldest cantina in Latin America, La Peninsular opened in 1872 and didn’t let women in until 1982. Today’s drinkers are a mixed crowd, with older gentleman playing dominoes, middle-aged men with their lovers and a growing cadre of young chilangos who enjoy the vintage ambiance and “free” food (with the order of alcohol of course).

5. La Feana

Bar, Mexican

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© Housing Works Thrift Shops / Flickr

La Feana opened in 1954 and was the meeting place of Mexico City folks invovled in bull fighting. For that reason, the walls are covered in posters and memorabilia, making it more than just a cantina, but a musuem to this adopted Spanish tradition. The free botana here is a little lighter than some of the other suggestions on this list, but they have a great molcajete plate (grilled meats in a heated volcanic rock, salsas and fixings), and the potato quesadillas are famous.

6. La Mundial

Bar, Mexican

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© Robin / Flickr

La Mundial has an old-school style but isn’t run down, like an old man in a three-piece suit, sipping his coffee and reading his paper. With an ever-changing daily menu, the score here is pretty much the same as other cantinas – you keep drinking and they keep bringing you food. The arroz a la jardinera is the thing to get if they have it, and you best be ready for music, singing and some rowdy crowds on the weekend.

7. Salon España

Bar, Mexican

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© LWYang / Flickr

A little more office break than lovers’ grungy hide-out, Salon España really has an amazing location in the heart of the city and makes for a great stop on your tourist tour around town. Their menu changes according to the day, with, again, “free” botanas with the order of alcohol. They have pozole on Wednesdays, paella on Thursdays, and pork shank on Fridays. Their looonnng list of tequilas is a great way to spend an afternoon (and evening and the next morning) getting to know Mexico’s most famous spirit. There are also cocktails and cold beers on tap.

8. Salon Luz

Bar, Mexican

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© iivangm / Flickr

Salon Luz’s claim to fame is their German menu with items like bratwurst, chicken soup with hard-boiled egg, something between a hamburger and a breaded meatball, and other delights that you won’t find in just any cantina in the city. They also have a variety of other more common items, a small wine list and outdoor seating (a rarity for this kind of joint).

9. El Gallo de Oro

Bar, Mexican

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© Secretaría de Cultura Ciudad de México / Flickr

Competing for the oldest cantina in the city, this one was supposedly open in 1823 and has had various incarnations since, including a remodeling in the 70s that gave it a little bit more of a British (at that time) feel to it. It’s all about style in Gallo de Oro and they have had their fair share of famous drinkers pass through the tables here. Be sure to try the cocktail of the house if you go: a mint julep a la veracruzana – we won’t ruin the surprise, so you have to taste it for yourself.

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