The Red Tree House—A Heavenly Oasis

by Nancy Bestor

Mark Twain once said, "Clothes make the man." This immediately reminds me of the time when I was 19 and bought Bob a somewhat hideous outfit at Macy’s in New York that he would NEVER WEAR, but smilingly accepted (and that my friends is true love). But I digress.

If clothes make the man, it can also be said that our stay at The Red Tree House Bed & Breakfast made our recent trip to Mexico City.

On a whim, we decided with Bob’s sister Laura and her husband Philip to book a long weekend in Mexico City, to celebrate our respective 20th anniversaries. I had been yearning to visit for some time, not because I knew anything about the city itself, but because I wanted to stay at the Red Tree House. Located in the beautiful Condesa neighborhood, the RTH is owned and operated by former Ashlander Craig Hudson and his partner Jorge Silva, and is everything a guest would want a small hotel to be. The rooms are beautifully decorated, the courtyard garden—where a full Mexican breakfast is served each morning, and drinks are served every evening—a delight to relax in, and the aforementioned food and drink delicious. But the service, oh the service. Each and every employee of the RTH treated us like friends. They remembered our names, discussed our days’ activities with keen interest, and helped us book whatever we needed—whether it be a dinner reservation, a driver to the Teotihuacan ruins, or a taxi to the airport. Their warm, professional and personalized service made it feel as if we were the most important guests at the hotel. They would listen with intent about where we had been, what we had eaten, and what our opinions were of our escapades.

And we had some great escapades too. My feet are still swollen from all the exploring. Highlights include our visit to the National Museum of Anthropology, which chronicles the civilizations of Mexico from the prehistoric to the present and is one of the finest museums we’ve ever encountered. Rather than try and see the whole thing, we chose a couple of key sections, including the Aztec Hall, with its famous 12-foot Sun Stone, and the Maya Hall, and its full scale replica of the tomb of King Pakal. The tremendous water fountain in the courtyard (see above) is stunning. Very close to the museum is the Castillo de Chapultepec, or Castle at Grasshopper Hill, a great stop for the views (even though it was smoggy!) and a chance to see how royalty (in this case Emperor Maximilian) lived.

On a recommendation from Victor, one of our favorite RTH employees (Who am I kidding? Every RTH employee was our favorite!), we also visited the massive and beautiful Jamaica Market. Open daily, this market offers just about everything one can imagine, with an emphasis on flowers. From cut flowers to flower arrangements and for everything from weddings and funerals to religious ceremonies, if you can’t get it at the Jamaica Market, you can’t get it. There is so much on offer that it is hard to believe that the flowers all get sold before they wilt away.

We also spent more than an hour wandering through the Centro de Artesanîas La Ciudadela, a popular artist’s market, but part of that was because I wanted to find some paper måché skulls I had seen upon our arrival. (Note to self—if you see something you want in a large, bustling and somewhat confusing craft market, BUY IT! It is nearly impossible to find it again later, and you may really annoy your husband, who was trying to convince you to buy it the first time you saw it.) On a related note, I admit that I am a terrible haggler in foreign countries. I always feel like the first price I am quoted is so good, that it just seems rude to try and talk them down. Please accept my apologies for driving up prices for everyone else.

One of our favorite and most impressive stops was our visit to Teotihuacan. The ancient ruins are a 45-minute drive from Mexico City and the RTH came through (again!) by booking us a driver, Ricardo, who drove the four of us from our hotel to the ruins, waited 2+ hours while we explored the sites, and then drove us back into Mexico City for $100 total. Teotihuacan offers the most majestic pyramids I’ve ever visited, all of which can still be climbed. Meaning "the place where men become gods," today Teotihuacan covers about 32 square miles, and is the most visited archeological site in Mexico. The largest and most famous pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, is 213 feet high, and a leg burning 248 steep steps to the top. At the end of the Avenue of the Dead lies another impressive edifice—the Pyramid of the Moon. The pyramids aren’t the only remarkable sites at Teotihuacan however. There are also many well preserved murals and stone figures throughout the ruins. This is well worth a day trip from Mexico City, or as in our case, 3/4 of a day.

If you’re a regular reader of our newsletter, you’re probably surprised that I have yet to mention food. Lest you be worried, we did eat in Mexico City. We ate often, and we ate well. Our plan was to try and squeeze four meals a day into our visit, and if I wondered whether we would be compatible travelers with Laura and Philip, their enthusiasm toward these efforts instantly squelched my worries. We were mostly successful in eating four squares, even though I can’t say any of us ever spoke the words "I’m hungry." We started our mornings with the outstanding full Mexican breakfast from the RTH, which was included in the price of our room. Every day a buffet of fresh fruit, cereal, juice, coffee, churros, and more was served along with a hot meal. We ate it all. Then we diligently planned our daily excursion to include a stop around 11 or 11:30 for a pre-lunch meal. One day this meant carne asade tacos from Las Costillas in the Condesa district, another day it was huaraches at El Huarache Azteca, down the street from the Jamaica Market. Then about 2-3pm we’d stop for a "real" lunch. In Mexico City, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and traditionally Mexicans take their time and eat several courses. Never ones to buck tradition, we ate long and we ate lots in our lunches.

Our favorite afternoon meal took place at Azul y Oro café , located at the University of Mexico. Getting to this café was quite a trek, as we first took the Metro, then walked and walked and walked in the hot sun through the huge University campus. Philip had read great things about it, however, and as many of our readers know, we are willing to go a long way for good food. Not surprisingly, we were not disappointed. Azul y Oro is the brainchild of food historian and chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, author of the 600-page Encyclopedia of Mexican Gastronomy. Our meal included fish in a mango salsa, chicken enchiladas with black mole, deep fried shrimp in a ginger mango sauce, and more. It was all inventive and delicious, and once it was determined that we spoke no Spanish, we were personally attended to by Ricardo Zurita’s sister Tila, who could not have been more friendly.

After a late afternoon siesta, we’d meet up for drinks in the courtyard of the RTH, often chatting with other guests, or our "favorite" RTH employees Eduardo, Ernesto, and Victor. Then we’d head out for a late dinner, having worked up yet another appetite with a nap and drinks. We ate two excellent dinners (both recommended by the RTH) just a hop, skip and a jump from the hotel. At El Tizoncito, we consumed 22 al pastor tacos (don’t judge, they were small) that had been cooked on a spit with pineapple, onions, and cilantro. Legend has it that El Tizoncito is the birthplace of tacos al pastor, and they were fantastic. Our other top dinner spot was Lampuga Cocina de Mar (seafood cuisine). We started with a delicious lobster broth amuse-bouche and things just got better and better. We shared outstanding shrimp and calamari tacos, a tuna sashimi, ceviche, and more. The meal ended with complementary shots of smoky mezcal.

Our trip to Mexico City ended too soon. We didn’t have time to visit Frido Kahlo’s home and studio, nor to eat at a few of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite spots. At one point while sipping drinks in the Red Tree House courtyard Laura suggested our 20th anniversary adventure should really be a first annual trip. Agreeing, I asked where we should go next year. "Right here," Laura said. "Indeed," I replied, "right here."

Notes:

  • We walked everywhere, took the Metro and buses, and took a few taxis as well. All were perfectly safe, and easy to use.
  • We did not drink tap water, but all of us did eat street food, agreeing that if we went down, we were going down together. We stayed healthy.
  • The Red Tree House is hands-down my recommendation for the best place to stay in Mexico City, even though I have not researched anywhere else. At the time of this writing, the RTH has 450 reviews on Trip Advisor, and a five star rating. Every review is gushing. I have never seen a hotel reviewed so well. Our lovely room was $115 a night, which included a full breakfast and wine/beer in the evenings. http://theredtreehouse.com

—If Red Tree House owners Craig and Jorge are not willing to adopt her, Travel Essentials co-owner Nancy Bestor will look into joining the RTH staff as a courtyard drink pourer and socializer. It could happen.