As the hipness factor at the W Hotel’s Whisky Bar got to be too much, I paid the tab for my fancy cocktail and wandered outside, walking past a Bentley dealership and designer clothing shops. Just two blocks down, I found what I was looking for: a simple tacos al pastor restaurant with sidewalk tables, plastic chairs and bottles of cold Negra Modela. Open late, of course.

A vibrant metropolis is usually a collection of neighborhoods. That’s certainly true for Mexico City, but the sprawl and population estimates you see on paper are deceiving. Most of the action for visitors revolves around a string of easily reachable areas between the resurgent historic center and the wealthy enclaves of Polanco and Las Lomas. No matter what you explore along this stretch, it doesn’t take long to get grounded and come back to Mexico’s strong cultural identity.

Determining the best current bars and clubs can be daunting, as the ebb and flow of what’s hot and not changes constantly. The traditional cantinas that have hung on seem blissfully stuck in time, however — their waiters’ bones creaking as much as the wooden chairs, the atmosphere harking back to a time before traffic noise could drown out conversation. It’s best to explore one with a local and to set aside some time: A cantina visit evolves with complimentary botanas (bites) escalating as the number of drinks ordered rises.

For more contemporary bar hopping, it’s best to check the listings in the weekly Tiempo Libre or monthly Time Out. Both are available at newsstands or Sanborn’s stores. For jazz, the best choice is Zinco in the historic center. Pop by the Habita company’s new Downtown Mexico Hotel afterward for a late-night drink by the rooftop pool.

With this being the most progressive city in Latin America in terms of gay rights, there’s a thriving gay and lesbian community. The Zona Rosa neighborhood and Calle Cuba in the center are the best-known areas, but there are thriving hangouts in each neighborhood.

As Mexico’s capital has become safer than most U.S. cities, strolling the leafy neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa is a popular pastime again. Both are packed with cafés, bars and restaurants. Hotel Condesa df should be on the to-do list for those with limited Spanish, as should Hotel Brick in Roma — both have consistently good bars and restaurants. Or head to the corner of Orizaba and Queretaro in Roma for a cluster of hip bars. Check out a whole gaggle of mariachi bands at once at Plaza Garibaldi. This is where they gather and perform, waiting to get hired for the night. The neighboring Museum of Tequila and Mezcal is open until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

With more museums than any other city in the hemisphere, you can always find something open when the sun goes down in Mexico City. It’s especially easy the last Wednesday of the month: In the “Noches de Museos” program, museums stay open until 10 p.m.

The beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes is a museum in its own right. Take in its beauty from the outside at night; and if you can get tickets to a performance, grab them no matter what’s going on just to sit enveloped in the theater.

From humble but tantalizing street food to gastronomic destination restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, Mexico City is a renowned foodie capital. Picking “the best” restaurant here is like trying to name the best in Manhattan. The author of Good Food in Mexico City runs a blog in English that’s a good resource. Read up, ask around and check listings in guidebooks and local media — but don’t stress about it too much. In the food capital of a country with such a deservedly great reputation for its distinctive cuisine, you’re more likely to guess right than wrong.