Friday, December 22, 2006

Cocina Economica

If you'd have grown up in the Yucatan you'd have been lucky enough to have been eating this food all your life. It's fast food made by Grandma. It might literally be in Granny's living room. The construction workers take out from here. The rich folks in the suburbs send their maids out to collect food from these places. And you can wander in to one and pretty much bet on having your best food experience in Merida. They generally offer 3 or 4 dishes per day.

I go to a place that I don't remember the name of on calle 54 between 39 and 41 on the right side of the street.

see Lorna Gails recommendations here

all of my neighbors rave about Tio Will. I've got to go before we sell the house.

Get out of town

Calle 26 #208 entre 25 y 27
Any food fiend at all would just get off the plane and go directly to lunch at El Principe Tutul-Xiu for lunch in Mani. The only good Poc-Chuc I have ever eaten comes from this outdoor restaurant. It is perfection. Have a local Montejo beer and guacamole. Have dessert.

Update Nov. 2007 They have a new location of El Principe Tutul-Xiu in Oxkutzcab that is just as good but not as ambient as the Mani location.

Hacienda Temozon del sur
Even if the food is not good (and sometimes it is) you'll enjoy this restaurant. You might need a reservation on holidays and weekends.

Hacienda Ochil
It's a parrador with fine craft shops, a museum and lunch on a beatiful veranda under whirling fans and peacocks. Well hopefully not under the strolling screaming peacocks. Decent local food in an exceptional setting.

Update Nov. 2007 They now have a buffet on the weekends that's really nice. The food has improved here recently and they have cleared the land in the back of the restaurant and now you can walk down to the cenote.

calle 27 x 28 y 30
Near the pyramid Kinich serves very good local cuisine. The meat is overcooked but everything else is fine. The parrots name is Paco.
Hacienda San Jose Cholul
near Izamal
perfect place to eat. you might have to ignore the food. Sometimes I think they get the gardner to fill in as cook. Sometimes when the cook shows up the food is very good. They seldom have a full house but during holidays or high season you might reserve.

Hacienda Tepich
between Merida and Acanceh
The bunny that you might find on your plate has most recently resided on the ground floor of this funky hacienda near the Mayapan ruins. The Chilmole Pavo en Relleno Negro is divine. It's a stuffed turkey in a blackend chile pepper sauce. Great place to eat if your not from North Dallas.


calle 13 x 36
Colonias Buenavista
German deli. Real & real good. Best bread in town. Troll ambiance.

Calle 21 No. 107 at Calle 22, Colonia Itzimn√°.
Nice house, Nice neighborhood. Bad Art. Bad Food. Too bad we could use a good Spanish Restaurant.

El Meson del Segoviano
50a x 57
Another Spanish restaurant. I have been here once 3 years ago when it opened. I'd give it a second chance if I ever thought about it or if I were in the neighborhood and hungry. The setting is lovely.

Casa Lucia
Santa Lucia Park
calle 60 x 55 y 53
Reminds me of alot of neighborhood restaurants in Milan from my former life in fashion. Marble and glass and laminated menus. It's not at all a bad choice for lunch. I eat there all the time. It's never been great and it's never been bad. The desserts are the only real disappointments here. They are sitting there staring at you all through your meal and they look great. They all suck. I have tried them all. They suck. I know they look really, really, really good but they allsuck. Yes the pecan pie, the chocolate layer cake, the carrot cake and even the cheesecake suck. Sorry. Have that order of fries and skip the dessert. Even the bathrooms make you feel like your in Milan.

Not my favorites

La Tratto
Prolongation Montejo no 479
The ambiance and decor says "I want to be a model in South Beach circa 1990". Too late, baby. The menu can be found in any mall in any town in the USA. The service is sweet, so what. Every one is nice in Merida. The pasta is overcooked, surprise. You get 2 for 1 pasta on Wednesday and 2 for 1 steak on Monday. But you have to eat with people who want two for one pasta on Wednesday or 2 for 1 steak on Monday. The sauces are to die for. Literally you could die if you eat the steak au poivre or any of the pasta sauces. Avoid, Avoid, Avoid. I go here once a year, inevitably.

Circuito Colonias between Calle 60 and Prolongación Montejo
While you are avoiding La Tratto you can go to the Trotters newest restaurant. The ambiance and decor here say "I'm shopping in the basement at Macy's circa 1980 and I need a knosh, now". It's a bistro, whoppee. It's full of the creme de la creme of Yucatan society. These are the people who brought us Cancun and their BMW driving spawn. It's not about the food. It couldn't be. Otherwise they would not call Elmers glue and potatoe flakes "Mashed Potatoes". It's about being seen spending a lot of money for mediocre food and oxiodized wine. But dear reader being happy that you have a place that is so lovely to do it.
Sit at the bar. If you can take your eyes off the bartender watch the crowd. Have a couple of drinks. Order something. push it around. Order a couple of drinks. Stumble out to your car. See how many BMWs you can smash on the way out of the parking lot. PS. I go here all the time.

Prolongation Montejo and the rail road tracks
I ordered the Bolognese sauce on spagetti here. I got a plate of meatloaf with a spiral of pesto on a bed of pasta in a watery ketchup sauce. I was not even surprised. Another diner ordered the Arrabiata and she had the same watery ketchup sauce with some tabasco added. YUM, YUM. I am surprised that this restaurant is still open 4 years later. I went back once with friends from NY to show them the Brooklynn Bridge replica and the Statue of Liberty in a kidney shaped pool. But I restricted myself and my guest to beer, vodka and peanuts.

Los Alemedros
50 x 57
Widely reccomended. Why? Poorly prepared food in a sad cafeteria environment. Even the original verson in the village of Ticul is mediocre. Run don't walk!

Peon Contreras
Ulysses thought the Sirens charming as well but on closer inspection he learned the Sirens can be lethal. So is the cafe at Peon Contreras. There I've warned you silly sailors. Steer clear.

More lunch options

Cafe Club
55 x 60 y 58
We eat lunch here twice a week. Don't speak to us we are not nice people. We eat the soup of the day that is served with microwaved bread from Costco and butter. We order a pitcher of fresh watermelon, or cantelope or payaya juice. Sometimes we order a club sandwich. We actually pay to park so we can eat this soup. Why do we eat here? I don't know. The soup is good. It's simple. It's easy. It's fast. You can sit outside. The waitress is always happy. The owner nice. You can read the local paper (which costs as much as the NY Times) for free. Don't order the daily special unless you have lost all your teeth and taste buds.

Cafe Almeda
58 x 55 y 57
It's a fight to the death to sit out back on the plastic chairs under the umbrellas. So you'll be forced to sit in the dark front room with the blaring TV tuned to the insipid soap opera. It's sometimes worth loosing the fight. I like the eggplant, hummous, tabouli and the skewered grilled lamp. I try to remember to ask them to hold the cheap vegtable oil. If I were really smart I'd carry a vial of virgin olive oil in my pocket. Order the hard and the soft pita. I've never had a bad lunch here, ever. But I sometimes with I had a gun.

Carls Jr.
Home Depot parking lot
If you are thinking that you need to eat at McDonalds or Burger King what your body is really trying to tell you is jump in a cab and to out to the suburbs and have lunch at Carl's Jr. They don't have the chili fries anymore but they do have the hand packed ice cream malts and shakes. Don't get sidetracked and stop at Checkers. Persevere and go to the end of prolongation Montejo. Across from Sam's club in the Home depot parking lot lies bliss, Carls Jr. Order. supersize, duh. move over to the counter and ask for jalapenoes, mustard, mayo, ketchup and pickles. Fill up your big plastic cup 1/2 coke 1/2 Fresa. Sit as far from the kiddie room, the smoking area and the TV as you can. But don't sit too close to the soda fountain either. Grab all the local papers. The best one has a color photo of the highway carnage on the cover. Slide into a booth and wait for your burger and fries. If the fries are cold, shed tears, they will replace them with new ones. Get a cab back the zocalo, go into the oldest cathedral of the Americas and beg for forgiveness. Take a nap.

Update Nov. 2007 RIP CARL'S JR. disappeared and Burger King took it's place. They moved to a location you'd never find and it's not the same as before. In fact it sucks!!!! But you can console yourself perhaps with the new Starbuck's which is two blocks north of home depot. Alas I can not as I've never seen the value or the charm of Starbucks....

Tourists Traps

I don't go to these places ever but I know people who do. See the reviews on everyone elses website.

Portico el Pergrino
57 x 60 y 62
Pretty but they always make me feel like a tourist. I never get to the food because the groveling makes me jump out of my skin.

59 x 62 y 60
Those wily Trotters have done it again....inside Joke but the joke is on you if you eat here. It's like a Mexican restaurant at Six Flags over Texas. It's not the food that's bad necessarily. It's the music, the costumes and the ambiance. Down a half bottle of Herradura before you go and maybe you won't notice.

Bella Epoca
60 x 59 y 61
Like the village in NY or the Latin Quarter in Paris there are just places that you want to avoid gastronomically. If you cannot avoid the Bella Epoca then sit upstairs on the balcony. (2 tables only) and only order the panuchos and guacamole. If you fall into the trap don't blame me.

El Burladero
57 x 62 y 60
We went here 4 years ago with the writer from Travel & Leisure. Since then it has been sold and should be avoided at all costs. Well okay, go inside. Have a shot of tequila. Look at the decor. Go to the bathroom. Leave.


Dream On. Chances are you have better Mexican food where you come from be it San Diego, Berlin or Podunk. The Yucatan is not famous for it's Mexican food. You can eat at Panchos or Las Brasas. They both have decent (sort of) mexican food but you'll be disappointed. here are a couple of places that you can have taco's that will not disappoint

Drive along calle 20 between Circuito Colonias and Parque Itzima in Colonias Mexico Norte and look for the mobile home with a crowd on your left. If you eat here for breakfast or an early lunch you may never eat anywhere else. You'll pray daily that they open a location closer to home and expand their hours. Yucatan Living's website has photos.

The best coffee shop in town is nearby. Caffe Latte is just off the southwest corner where Av. Perez Ponce dead ends into Itzmna Square.

Ana Sabrina
Saturday at Noche Mexicana
Sunday in Santa Lucia Park
Beautiful Ana Sabrina and her beautiful tacos only on weekends. My favorite Papas con chorizo. Sunday in Santa Lucia can be fun. A flea market, live Swing & Salsa, great dancers and people watching. I love her, I love her food. Soulful.

UPDATE: June 11, 2008

I'm not the only one who loves Ana's food. Mark Bittman from the New York Times came to Merida and raved about Ana and her taco stand. Surely she will open a restaurant soon. Till then it's Sunday's in the Park.

La Reina de Itzalana
Santiago Market
57 x 72
They are not called tacos but the local fast food here is excellent. Five years ago when we were building our first house we ate here 3 or 4 times a week. The panuchos and salbutes are the best. All the tamales are great. I like the simple consume more than the lime soup but they are both exceptional. The fresh fruit aguas and liquados are great. There is a decent ice cream stand a few steps away toward the church.

La Parranda
60 x 59
I never ever go here but it is a chain that has decent food. I don't go here because they took over the space of my favorite old coffee shop that had the feeling of Havana in the 50's. Not that I was in Havana in the 50's, mind you. Anyway order the tacos al pastor a hybrid combo of Mexican/Lebanese origin. It's the best place to people watch. Around the corner is one of the best places to shop for crafts, Codice at 59 x 60.

UPDATE: June 11, 2008 Codice is gone so there is no where to shop at all. Have an extra beer and take a nap instead.

Seafood for lunch

El Cangrejito
57 x 64 y 66

The crab is the name of this, the best, seafood taco stand in the world. Well maybe. The owner can be a crab too but lately he has been awfully friendly. Don't let him scare you. Sit down order a beer and ask for one or two of everything. That will make him happy and then you can decide what you like. Don't be offended if he serves his loyal clientel before he sneers at you. I never sat in the back room until a couple of weeks ago. It is a treasure trove of kitsch and it takes the edge off the wait for your food. The best things to order are cherna, langousta, venado, pulpo, camarones and of course cangrejito.

Marlin Azul
62 x 57 y 59
Fish soup superb. Outstanding ceviche of octopus or shrimp or fish or mixed. I like all the tacos. Fried breaded grouper is 3 dollars and enough for 2, crispy and fresh. I like the bar on the side where you can make eye contact with the servers. The room next door has AC but the waiter is less attentive and there is a mirrored wall. I'm just beyond the point of wanting to look at myself having lunch!

La Pigua
Avenida Cupules x 62

A business man's luncheon restaurant that is open from 12-6. It's pricey, it's stuffy and it's not bad at all. Reputed to be the best seafood restaurant in the Yucatan and if that's true then it is a sad state of affairs for seafood. Is it the aquariums or the decor alone that reminds me of a shopping mall in Waco,Texas circa 1975? Don't think that the grilled items on the menu will be grilled. Go for the fried anything. Fried is always good! If you are not going out to the beach this could be as close as you'll get to the real deal. Huachinago/Snapper, Robalo/Snook,Dorado/Dolphin Fish, Boquinete/Hog Fish, Pamapno, Cazon/Baby Shark, Rubia/Yellow Tail. I've warned you about the decor and ambiance, enjoy the food.... it's good.

Update: June 11, 2008

I've been to La Pigua 3 times in the past 2 weeks. I'm immune now to the decor as I sit with my back to the room and find an empty wall to stare at. I actually prefer to sit in the smoking area and not the main room. Order the ceviche, it is enough for 2 or 4 people and after that you don't need anything else except the fresh coconut cake. I think it's one of the best desserts in the world...and I've been around the world a few times leaving a sugar trail behind me. My octopus was too salty to eat but Josh's was great. Everyone one else had fish and they loved it. There was a real problem with the wine. The two things we asked for from the list were not there. Then we were offered Lancers, yes Lancers. And then a slew of chardonays...nay, nay. We passed over the Rhines and went for some mediocre bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc and our table of 6 which normally could have drank a bottle each shared one bottle and did not order another....I doubt that they will either get or heed my suggestions so dear reader.... order beer.

My Favorite places around town

If you have a car or know how to hail a cab chose to have dinner outside of centro

Kilometer 12 Merida/Progresso highway

Our first stop when guests are in town or for a holiday treat. Mostly the food is very good but I've sent a rare steak back to the kitchen twice be be thawed! They were not amused, neither was I.The hacienda is a luxury hotel with a day spa as well as the gourmet restaurant. If you've had enough gourmet in your life (and I have) then try the local cuisine here. I always sit on the terrace 'malgre' the mosquitoes and barking dogs from the village. Ask the to turn off or turn down the volume on the elevator musak. If you sit inside you risk being subjected to the live music which runs the gamut from "Feelings" to "My Way" with a drive by shot at Chopin. Now that I hate Nectar I'd say it's your best bet in town for having a good meal. Roll the dice.

Avenida 1 no. 412 x 66
Colonias Diaz Ordaz

Is it Fusion or confusion? Sometimes it's hard to tell in this trendy, tastey and pricey place. It's three years old now and having some of those awful adolescent growth spurts and ugly pimples. All of our favorites are not on the new menu. The best waiter in Merida has been replaced by the cutest and most obnoxious!. The sommelier from hell! The valet will not want to park your rented chevy pop so take a taxi. I took Travel & Leisure magazine here 3 years ago and that put them on the map with tourists. The locals love it too. It's the place to see and be seen. Go late. The wine list has gotten progressively worse as they run out of stock and ideas. There is no shortage of ideas where the food is concerned. Even the hamburger is out of this world....and I don't mean fabulous darling. They have even re-invented the cesar salad. I'll go back because where else am I going to eat with clients and friends but don't ask me to be nice. I want my waiter back and I want the duck chimichangas back on the menu. And for gods sake learn how to make a fricking martini! hint. It's not vermouth with a splash of Vodka!

calle 19 no 206 x 22
Colonias Mexico

Dying for sushi? It's worth the risk. If you're not Japanese eat here and you will most likely be happy as a tick on a poodle. WARNING!!!! Philadelphia Cream cheese is too Merida what Spam is to Manila, sophistication on steroids. That said the tuna is fine, the sea bass (robalo) extra fresh and yummy. The Octopus is great and I usually toss it out anywhere else. The fall / winter is the season for Octopus and the Japanese flock here to fish for the finest Octopi in the world so order this for a treat. Other local fish they seem to ignore but sometimes you can have good shrimp, conch or crab. The tempura roll is very fine indeed. Aside from the cream cheese hurdle you'll want to "just say no" to the soy sauce with lime. Since we eat here often they are Gringo sensitive. Thankfully the horrid waiter has been promoted to manager and the service is now adequate. I could not live here without Campay!

My Favorite places downtown for dinner are

Pane e Vino
62 x 61 y 63

If your looking at the wonderful 'art deco' Teatro Merida you'll miss out on the best Italian food downtown. Across the street Pane e Vino offers honest Tuscan food in a bohemian atmosphere with a mix of locals, expatriots and tourists. I am never sure if the owners are still cooking here or not. But since I always order the same things and they are always good I quit asking. The menu is huge and exhausting. In fact my favorite thing to do is sit up front and watch the tourists read the menu. They flip the dirty pages of the menu on the stand. They look at unpainted walls and the rustic floors. They waddle off to somewhere that may or may not be cleaner that will poison them for sure. I assume it's the menu and dirt that scares them off and not me hissing at them.I like the ragu sauce on gnocci. I loved loved loved the panacoti until they changed the sauce.

after dinner stroll around the zocalo or visit the Olimpo art gallery. In the corner to the right of the front door of the Olimpo are posted the current cultural events for the month.

La Casa de Frida
61 x 66 y 66a

The owner recently gave up on having a huge menu and I can only say amen sister! Now you can sit in the courtyard and enjoy the homage to Frida decor although you can no longer enjoy the stars. Chiles en nogada and mole are the things to order. The service has vastly improved.

before dinner you can shop at the real "Casa de las Artesanias" on calle 63 x 64 y 66 until 8 pm. Here you'll get a good idea of what you can expect to find in all the shops and here the prices are fixed and fair.

Villa Maria
59 x 68

Behind the Santiago church is a beautiful Casona with a central cloisterd courtyard. Sit alfresco under the Moorish arches in the open sky in decent weather. The Yucatecos and tourists will be sitting in the air conditioned rooms in front. The owers are from Mexico City and Austria with degrees and experience in food and hotel service that shows. Unfortunately for us the menu has not changed since they opened. But for you it will all be a new experience. I like the greek salad and the goat cheese tart. I like the steak frites too!

nearby is the market and the Santiago Square which has salsa music on Tuesday nights.

Alberto's Continental
64 y 59

It's been 3 years since Hurricane Isidoro wiped out the giant rubber trees that shaded the colonial courtyard of Alberto's. They've grown back and now you don't have to rely on the owners charm alone to enjoy a drink in the garden. Order from the Lebanese side of the menu. There are antiques for sale in the back and if your nice or cute he might open up the boutique for you after dinner.

Yucatan Today Reviews

Yucatan Today is the oldest tourist guide in town that is Gringa owned. They have a lot of local friends and a lot of local advertisers. There reviews are always positive because they always review their clients restaurants. So it's best to take their advise with a grain of salt. But their maps and addresses are for the most part (excluding the Ermita area) accurate and its a very useful tool to getting around town.


Yucatan Living Reviews

The "Working Gringo's" work as hard as we do, at least. But instead of falling asleep in front of HBO at 8pm after a quick carb fest (as I do) they go out. Check out their reviews here.

Los Dos Reviews

Los Dos cooking school has a page of restaurant reviews on their website. The explain the local cuisine and strange shop hours of local restaurants. I'd knock a couple of stars off of most of their reccommendations but that's just the kind of guy I am. I'd take objection to the term restored for the hacienda Xcanatun but I'd say it's the best place to celebrate a holiday or anniversary and can't be beat for a leisurely lunch on the veranda.