A great view at sunset in Mexico city, delightful conversation, and a Carajillo, Mexico's answer to the espresso martini. What more could you want? Recipe included and details for how to take in the view yourself.

A Carajillo with a view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes

Slowly, I felt a grin spread across my face. It as a Monday evening in February, and here I was in Mexico City, sipping a Carajillo on a balcony overlooking the Palacio de Bellas Artes at sunset. “It’s Monday,” I said to the friend I just met as we both scored prime seats at the worst kept secret in CDMX.

What luck with the seats

“Salud,” he replied, and we both cracked up at our luck, for we had cut through the Sears directly across from the Palacio de Bellas Artes and ridden the elevator up to Finca Don Porfirio and got seated just before the line started to form. I took another sip of my espresso drink—a Carajillo is a Mexican cocktail made with Licor 43, a vanilla-flavored liqueur made with 43 ingredients, shaken with espresso. While you go to Finca Don Porfirio for the view, not the coffee, my Carajillo in that moment tasted absolutely wonderful.

I snapped yet another photo.

Palacio des Bellas Artes in CDMX is visible, as are surrounding buildings and the mountains in the far distance. It is getting to be sunset on a clear, sunny day

Chatting with my new friend

My new friend from Washington State looked out over the square, past the Alameda Central and Palacio Postal to the mind-bogglingly huge city and the mountains framing it beyond and told me of his trip that had started out with an old boyfriend in a coastal town. They’d had fun, but eventually, my new friend remembered why they broke up, and he’d parted ways to spend time in CDMX. He was leaving the next day.

Sharing our CDMX highlights

I’d arrived late Friday evening and had another week in the city, so I asked him what he loved. He’d immediately told me about pyramids at Teotihuacán—I was going in a couple of days—and the Diego Rivera murals. “Make sure to bathe in sunscreen when you go to the pyramids,” he warned me. “That sun is intense.”

Travel makes for easy conversation with strangers

He hadn’t gotten to Frida Kahlo’s house, alas. Sitting in that garden was the highlight of my trip, besides the mole I’d just had earlier that afternoon. It was that easy kind of conversation that I never have with strangers unless I’m traveling. The kind where it’s like you’ve known someone forever, even though, or perhaps because, you’re never going to see them again.

A demonstration from a above

A demonstration broke out below—I’d seen protestors gathering with signs amongst the trinket vendors and usual throngs of people who gather in city centers. “I have no idea what they’re marching about,” my new friend said. I didn’t, either. We watched the small crowd turn the corner headed toward Plaza de la Constitución. I made a note not to walk down that way later.

Enter more new friends

We’d just gotten onto the subject of mezcal, when a man leaned over, and with the softest voice said, “I’ve been taking photos of all of the nude male statues in Mexico City. Would you like to see them?”

For the second time that evening, I cracked up laughing. My friend leaned over, and then Rodrigo, the photographer, showed me a statue that was really quite interesting. “It was paid for by the Rotary in the US,” he said. “This surprised me.”

Lively conversation

A lively conversation ensued about travels and the lovers of my new friend and Rodrigo. Rodrigo’s companion was practicing his English and shared with us the tragic history of Lake Texcoco, which had been drained to make way for what is now Mexico City.

It was an odd juxtaposition, the historical interlude, but his English was excellent, certainly a lot better than my Spanish. The Palacio de Bellas Artes, like so many other buildings in Mexico City, was sinking, he told us. Due to the ongoing extreme water shortage, the fountains in front of it were drained. This made him sad, and it made me think of the difference between visiting a place and living there.

Changing light

All the while, the sun set over the Palacio de Bellas Arts, the stained glass dome shining orange in the sunset. It grew a bit cooler as the sky faded into oranges and pinks.

A setting sun and time to go

Slowly, I finished my Carajillo as the sun went down. People would walk up to the bar and snap selifies and take videos. My new friends finished their cakes and drinks, and it was getting to be time to go. By this time, the line had snaked back to the elevators, and we didn’t want to hog our places. So, we rode the elevator down, said our goodbyes, and walked off into the evening.

A memory that makes me smile—and want a Carajillo

That sunset was one of my favorite moments from my trip. As were Carajillos, which I decided would replace the espresso martini in my cocktail pantheon after I had better representatives of them on my trip. I like the taste of espresso martinis, but I’ve never been a fan of being wide awake and drunk at the same time.

The Carajillo is more of a sipper without the boozy taste or as much of a kick. The vanilla flavor of the Licor 43 comes through, but it’s not overpowering, and the sweetness balances the espresso.

A simple recipe for a delicious Carajillo

While there’s a layered (puesto) version of the Carajillo, we’re making the much easier shaken (shakeado) version, and it couldn’t be easier.

Simply brew some espresso (I used a Moka pot), and add equal parts espresso and Licor 43 to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Use decaf espresso if you’re concerned about caffeine. If you’d like, you could add a splash of tequila for a little more flair. 

No cocktail shaker, no problem

Don’t fret if you don’t have a cocktail shaker—I used a Mason jar.  If you used a Mason jar, just use a spoon to get out the foam you’ve made.

Shake and serve your Carajillo

Shake it up, and strain into a cocktail glass. You can serve a Carajillo on the rocks or straight up. Garnish it with a coffee bean, a piece of star anise, or a slice of dried orange. ¡Salud!

A carajillo cocktail on a wooden table, garnished with a piece of star anise

Carajillo

Think of a Carajillo as a less boozy cousin to the espresso martini. This Mexican drink uses Licor 43, a Spanish liqueur with a lovely complex vanilla flavor and espresso.
Don't worry if you don't have a cocktail shaker. I used a Mason jar. You'll just want to make sure to use a spoon to get out the lovely foam you've made after you pour the Carajillo.
If you use a Moka pot to make your espresso, let it cool for a few minutes before proceeding.
The ratio is 1:1, so it's very easy to scale if you have guests.
Cook Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute
Course Drinks
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 1 cocktail

Equipment

  • 1 cocktail shaker or Mason jar, chilled

Ingredients
  

  • 1 shot espresso or very strong coffee
  • 1 shot Licor 43
  • ice
  • 1 star anise, espresso bean, or dried orange slice to garnish optional

Instructions
 

  • In a cocktail shaker with ice (I used a mason jar with lid), add the espresso and Licor 43
    1 shot espresso or very strong coffee, 1 shot Licor 43, ice
  • Shake vigorously for 15–20 seconds
  • Strain into a cocktail glass, or a rocks glass over ice. If you used a Mason jar like me, use a spoon to get out the lovely foam. Garnish with an espresso bean, star anise, or a slice of dried orange. Best drank overlooking the Palacio de Bellas Artes in CDMX, but we do what we can. ¡Salud!
    1 star anise, espresso bean, or dried orange slice to garnish
    A carajillo cocktail on a wooden table, garnished with a piece of star anise

Video

Keyword Carajillo, Coffee, coffee drinks, Licor 43
Tried this recipe?Let me know what you think!
A carajillo cocktail in a plastic glass with a old-fashioned portrait of a man. The Palacio des Bellas Artes in CDMX is visible in the background

Get this view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes from Finca Don Porfirio

To visit Finca Don Porfirio’s fantastic balcony, go into the Sears directly across from the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Head to the elevators in the back and take the elevator to the eighth floor and get in line. You’ll initially be seated anywhere there’s room out on the balcony and they’ll take your order. When a spot opens up at the balcony bar, a server will guide you to a seat.

You can stay as long as you’d like, so far as I could tell.

About the Palacio de Bellas Artes

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City is a fine arts museum and concert hall.

It was commissioned in the early twentieth century by Mexican president Porfirio Díaz in the early twentieth century and completed in 1934. Diaz was particularly enamored of French architecture, and it has elements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Inside, you’ll find murals by Diego Rivera and Jose Celemente Orozco, among others. There’s a fee to see the murals, which I definitely recommend doing, but you can visit the building for free.

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