The walls of La Roma are covered in achingly hip graffiti and its residents are covered in achingly hip tattoos. Here’s my guide to just a few things on offer in Mexico City’s coolest and most bohemian neighbourhood.
Located right next door to the La Condesa neighbourhood, on the east side of Avenida Insurgentes, La Roma has stolen its neighbour’s crown as the hippest neighbourhood in Mexico City, and its shady plazas and trendy terrazas provide you with the perfect pew from which to people-watch and soak up its laid-back atmosphere.
Culture vultures and fashionistas will be delighted with the quirky museums, art galleries, pop-up bazars and independent designer shops, and the only issue any tourist might encounter is trying to select from the mind blowing selection of eateries that range from fashionable sidewalk food trucks to a bistro owned by an alumnus of one of the world’s best restaurants, with something for every taste and budget in between.
Since I could easily write endlessly about La Roma’s countless attractions, I intend to stick to the places I visited in my video post. However, I would suggest that any visitors with enough time on their hands let themselves get lost in the neighbourhood’s tree-lined streets, wandering aimlessly from one block to the next. That way you are sure to stumble upon any number of gems suited to your individual tastes. La Roma is also a residential area popular among Mexico City’s bohemian crowd and tourists should feel as safe ambling along its peaceful side streets as they do on its bustling thoroughfares.
I started off my day in La Roma in a museum that’s as quirky as its name, the Museum of the Purpose of the Object, housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building in Calle Colima.
If you check out the English version of their website, you’ll see that this niche museum was the first space in Mexico City dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and propagation of diverse expressions of design and communications. The museum has a permanent collection of over 100,000 pieces that no longer serve their main purpose and which are now shown on rotation, through the perspective of art, depending on the theme of the exhibition.
Although some 30,000 items come from the personal collection of founder Bruno Newman, the rest have been donated by collectors of various objects and includes clothes, toys, advertising materials, pharmaceuticals, music… the list is endless. The theme at the time of my visit was beauty and I loved looking at old beauty magazines and the well preserved beauty products with their retro packaging that has become so fashionable to recreate nowadays.
Don’t miss the museum shop where you’ll find products by some of Mexico’s hottest up-and-coming designers, and if you are visiting with the love of your life, make sure you bring a love lock to attach to the railings outside! You can throw away the key in the vintage mailbox in the museum’s entrance.
Since La Roma is a neighbourhood to be seen at leisure, my second stop was this quaint little tea house on a corner of Alvaro Obregon, the neighbourhood’s main thoroughfare. After choosing from over 100 teas categorised according to their desired effects and stored in elegant tea caddies, you can make your way to one of the cosy back rooms to lounge on sofas, ottomans or comfy oversized cushions as you wait for your blend to infuse.
Little signs dotted around encourage you to remove your shoes and put your feet up making this the perfect place to recharge your batteries before moving on to your next stop.
Housed in a mansion dating from 1911, the Casa Lamm cultural centre is one of La Roma’s best known landmarks.
Inside you’ll find three exhibition spaces, an art school, an art library with over 12,000 volumes, a bookstore offering both Spanish and English language books, a jewellery shop, and a restaurant overlooking a pretty garden. Spanish speakers can participate in one day courses and workshops to full time arts-based degrees. Even if time is limited, it is a great place to stop off and admire a fine example of the European-style architecture that characterises the La Roma neighbourhood.
A great little place for a coffee during the day or dinner and jazz in the evening, is Las Musas de Papa Sibarita (which I wrongly pronounced throughout my video post), and it’s one of those places I stumbled upon while wandering aimlessly through the streets of La Roma.
I was delighted to find that everything is homemade in this Italian-style slow food restaurant, including their sourdough bread (not easy to find in Mexico City), pizza and pasta. They also do two home-brewed craft beers and great coffee.
The friendly owner is well informed when it comes to special dietary requirements and can advise you on gluten free and vegan options if necessary. Visit in the evening for live jazz band accompaniment to your meal.
The only reason I didn’t eat in Las Musas de Papa Sibarita was because I had heard great things about El Parnita and it was the next stop on my itinerary. Any hipsters among you will feel right at home in this buzzing, family-run antojería, however the real attraction is the food which is served in slightly-larger-than-tapas-style portions (anotjitos) and the queues waiting to be seated are testament to just how good it is.
Before talking about the food, I just have to mention El Parnita’s matriarch Doña Bertha who runs the place with her sons. Tall and elegant, she is as striking now as she undoubtedly was in her youth. Full of vibrancy, she sat down beside me to tell me the story of El Parnita, named after her late husband who she couldn’t fathom replacing and still can’t talk about without getting teary. Pictures of him with various celebrities adorn the walls as a constant reminder of his presence that she still feels close by her at all times. She is a real character and I get the feeling that much of El Parnita’s success is down to her unique energy.
This lunch-only restaurant serves traditional Mexican family recipes at economical prices. The tacos, tortas and tlacoyos are fantastic and the sauces, made fresh every day, are one of the star attractions. As well as the usual red salsa rojo and green salsa verde, I was fascinated by the sadomasochistic habanero sauce served in a cute little molcajete. How can something so damaging to my insides be so damn addictive? Make sure to have an ice-cold michelada on standby for instant relief. El Parnita only opens from 1pm-6pm Tues-Sun so don’t miss out!
La Graciela is a microbrewery and restaurant offering its own craft beers on draught alongside popular bottled brands. The wooden décor, dark lighting and screens showing soccer games remind me of the bars back home and their homebrewed cream stout is the perfect cure for a nostalgic Irish girl.
The restaurant does German sausages, giant sandwiches and other non-Mexican dishes. One of the most interesting things about La Graciela is the little brewery off to the side where Spanish speakers can take a guided tour or workshop to learn all about the brewing process. You may even be inspired to start brewing your own beer at home.
Cine Tonalá is a multidisciplinary forum in La Roma neighbourhood with a focus on independent cinema, music and theatre. Its 100-seater comfortable and intimate theatre shows independent and art-house films so you are more or less guaranteed to find a few English language films every month.
You’ll find a great bar serving excellent cocktails as well as a restaurant with a reputation for superb stone-baked pizza.
There’s a really laid-back feel to the place and you’ll find a mixed crowd hanging out, looking cool and checking out the latest stand-up comedian or the latest film festival offerings from Mexico and abroad.
So, as I mentioned in my video post, La Roma is one of those neighbourhoods where anyone with enough time on their hands should plan to spend a whole day in order to really get a feel for life in this trendsetting haven. You can start off with breakfast in one of its pretty patisseries and fit in as much sightseeing and shopping as you desire between lunch and dinner before finishing off your day in a bar or club or with an English language film in an art-house cinema. The creativity emerging from the area is far reaching with many small businesses expanding into foreign markets so I wouldn’t be surprised if that mezcal bottle you have at home wasn’t designed right here in La Roma.
Don’t forget to check out my tips section for information on the places visited and more.