Taco stands and mom-and-pop places abound in these two neighborhoods, with a fewer trendier cafes and popular restaurants thrown in for diversity. A staple in Santa Maria is Kolobok, one of the city’s only true Russian restaurants – think creamy, delicious borscht, intense Russian beer, and midnight-dark Russian bread. Boca del Rio in San Rafael is a throwback to an earlier era and is popular for its seafood – try the fried plantains and deep-fried garlic, if you dare. La Santa is a popular local pizza joint in San Rafael, serving up big sliced pizza reminiscent of a New York slice, while the stands at Mercado La Dalia in Santa Maria are a great option for Mexican fare.
Camino a Comala, a third-wave coffeeshop, has a home in both neighborhoods, and the newish Pan de Maria has dense donuts, heavenly pan de muerto, and all kinds of delicious imported goodies. La Oveja Negra in Santa Maria is famed for its tacos de barbacoa, while La Especial de Paris ice-cream shop in San Rafael has been making ice-cream fans happy ever since the 1920s.
Pan de Maria, Santa María La Ribera 138, Sta María la Ribera, 06400 Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX, 01 5571592039
San Rafael is known for its alternative art gallery and exhibition spaces such as the Espectro Electromagnetico and Galeria Hilario Galguera, but with unmarked entrances, you have to be in the know to find them. San Rafael is also home to the El Eco museum, a tiny exhibit space full of contemporary art. Santa Maria boasts the Kiosko Morisco right off the main plaza, with its stunning moorish architecture and fascinating history. Also off the main plaza is the Geology Museum; the building itself is a good enough reason to stop by.
San Rafael was once a center of theatrical activity, and you can see the husk of its beautiful Cine Opera on Serapio Rendon Street. You can also go back in time at the Teatro Sergio Magaña, housed inside an ancient church on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Street. Both neighborhoods have some incredible turn-of-the-century architecture that is still intact and provides lots of fun for amateur photographers.
Because both neighborhoods are still so locally focused, there aren’t a whole lot of hotel options, but the beautifully restored Patio 77 is a great B&B to stay in that will get you close to everything. The owners have created thoughtful decor schemes and their ancient windows are double-glazed to help keep out the noise. The staff are friendly and helpful, and there is a bevy of guidebooks plus a big binder that the owners have put together giving details of things to do in the neighborhood.
Make sure you take the opportunity to wander down Ribera de San Cosme Avenue, any day but Tuesday when the vendors rest, to see the massive variety of trinkets, pirated goods, and clothes on display at the stands that are set up permanently on this street. You can also take in the San Cosme market for a taste of what most neighborhoods markets in the city are like – colorful, chaotic, and full to overflowing with meat and produce.