If you are spending any time in Mexico City and you are looking for the perfect Mexican experience then I cannot recommend going to a traditional cantina enough. This is truly where you will find the best of old and new Mexico and it is very much a one-stop shop for all of your needs. I used to avoid these places when I first got here, pretty much because they looked a little intimidating. As I got a little more confident with the language and the pace of life here however, I made sure that I would have at least one night per week in a great cantina.
What is a Cantina?
Basically this is a bar, but it is much more than that. What the cantinas do is sell bottles of alcohol for the table, usually at a higher price than you may find elsewhere. Once you have bought this bottle, you get your mixers for free, and you then also get access to the menu. Sometimes they will give you 3 picks of the menu per bottle, sometimes even more. It may seem expensive at first but over the course of the evening you’ll find that it really isn’t as bad as it first seems.
The music which they play in these cantinas is very traditional, usually from movies from the 1950s and earlier, as well as many folk songs. The reason why this is so great is because you learn a bit about musical history, and you will occasionally hear everyone break out in song to the tunes which they all know. This is quite the experience and it really creates a togetherness between everyone at the bar.
The food choices which you get in these places is not the same as what you will find in most Mexican restaurants, or even what you will find on the street. They sell high end and very traditional Mexican cuisine. This is a great chance for you to explore more about the Mexican kitchen and I can guarantee that you will not have eaten much of the food which is on the menu, at any time in your life.
Experiencing Mexican Life
The first time I went here was with my friend Javier Burillo, who has lived in Mexico City almost all of his life. Something which he rightly pointed out about the cantina is that it is still frequented by the same kind of people it would have been many years ago. These are not necessarily tourist traps, and you will see people there on a Friday evening who have just finished work and who are looking to have a great time. If you want to get a clear picture of how many Mexicans enjoy themselves, this is the place where you can do exactly that.
Regarding a true Mexican experience, this is the place where you should go during your time here, to really get to grips with what it means.