Archive for the Mexico Category

Mexico City – Barrio Roma Norte

Posted in Mexico, Mexico City, Roma Norte, State of Mexico with tags , , on February 8, 2017 by gannet39

Barrio Roma is the neighbourhood to the south of Juárez where I was staying. It’s a big district so it gets divided into Roma Norte and Roma Sur. It’s where I’d probably choose live if I ever happened to migrate to Mexico City as it’s quite nice and presumably safe. And of course there are some very good bars and restaurants here…

Google map here.

Maximo Bistro (Advanced B+), Calle Tonalá 133, www.maximobistrot.com.mx

This is perhaps the best place in town; refined but unpretentious. I came here in desperate need of some good quality food after three weeks of eating not particularly well. Both Mexican and European, particularly Spanish, influences are evident in the food which is fresh and seasonal.

It’s supposed to be hard to get in to without a reservation, but I managed to get a table on a Saturday night by arriving just as they opened at 6.45. The duty manager was a bit uppity at first but he let me in after a bit of negotiation (I promised to be out by 9pm which was ample time) and became even warmer for some reason when he saw me taking pics of the food (a secondary benefit of being a blogger).

I choose a table outside on the pavement but halfway through my meal a heavy rainstorm arrived which prompted the waiters to unfurl the awnings. I didn’t mind as it was quite atmospheric to sit under the awning and watch the torrential rain pound the street just a couple of metres away.

I started with a Caipirinha de Durazno; a Brazilian cachaça rum cocktail made with peaches. It was nice but could perhaps have been a little stronger (A-).

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First I was given some complimentary aubergine and cabra goat’s cheese (B+) with some nice bread (B). After this, eight oysters which were great (A), served with a salsa which was less so (B).

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The Sauvignon Blanc went pretty well with them (B-).

For the main, some delicious Lechon Confitado (confit of suckling pig) presented on (hallelujah!) a warm plate (B+) and served with a potato puree (B+) and Salsa Tatemada or ‘charred’ salsa where the chillies have been char grilled (B).

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The house Cabernet Merlot suited this well (B). It was from the Valle de Guadalupe in California Baja.

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After this I had some Mexican cheeses which were of equal quality (A/B) to anything I’ve had from Spain. There are a few differences though as many cheeses in Mexico (eg Manchego) are made with a mixture of cows’ and goats’ milk rather than sheep’s milk. In Spain all three are used.

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To finish, some excellent homemade ice cream with raspberries and blackberries (A).

Overall a very good experience. Definitely the place to come if you are in need of some mollycoddling.

Riveira del Sur (Intermediate A), Chiapas 174

I first came to this big old cantina (at the behest of my old acquaintance Hamish who I hadn’t seen for at least ten years. He moved to Mexico City from Manchester, via a stint in New York and opened his own restaurant serving Mexican food with himself in the kitchen. Amongst other things he is now a food writer so I was very happy to put myself in his knowledgable hands.

While catching up on each other’s lives, he ordered some choice tacos and gave me an introduction to mezcal, his favourite Mexican liquor.

Hitherto I’d only drunk tequila and avoided mezcal, believing it to be inferior. Hamish put me right and explained that, while bad mezcal does exist, the good stuff is much more of an artisanal product, had more varieties and generally tasted better. I wasn’t about to argue.

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Tequila can only be made from Blue Agave, whereas mezcal can be distilled from one of more than forty different types of agave.

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We tried three different ones from a distiller called Espirituosa from Oaxaca which has very colourful bottles.

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Also Maestro Tequilero Tequila Blanco Clasico, a clear tequila that gets good reviews.

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The salt of choice for glass rims is Sal con Gusano de Maguey, or Salt with >Maguey Worm. Also known as Mezcal worms these are usually red (Gusano Rojo) but other varieties exist. They can also be put into the bottle to add flavour.

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I was too busy chatting to notice which mezcal was best or make notes about the food but everything was very good as I recall.

We had Kibis (left in the picture below) which are small meatballs (of Lebanese origin, now very common in Yucatan) made with bulgar wheat and a mix of fried meats and served with a yogurt and mint sauce.

Also Pescadilla de Cazón (right in the picture); fried corn flour pockets stuffed with dogfish, accompanied by Chiltomate, a traditional Yucatecan tomato sauce.

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Taco Lechon Asado; a roast suckling pig taco with red onion.

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Taco Poc Chuc; a Yucatan recipe of grilled pork marinated in citrus.

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So, a good spot to sample the delights of Yucatan with an extensive range of bottles on the bar. It would be interesting to go later in the evening when it becomes a busy card school.

After writing this I discovered a Guardian article about it a year later.

Tacos Nena (Elementary A), Mérida 218, on the corner with Chiapas

One night Hamish and his girlfriend brought me to this street kitchen which is one of their favourite places to get tacos.

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It’s a family business that’s been operating for more than twenty years and they now have a reputation for serving the best tacos in Roma.

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They are only open after 7pm and you might need to wait a short while for a table. You would definitely need to speak some Spanish.

And that’s it for Mexico! Next, homeward bound!

Mexico City – Chapultepec – Museo Nacional de Antropología – The Olmecs

Posted in Chapultepec, Mexico, Mexico City, State of Mexico on February 7, 2017 by gannet39

As I mentioned in my previous post on the Aztecs, the Museo Nacional de Antropología (closed Monday but open every other day from 9am to 7pm) is so large, you won’t be able to see it in one go, or even five goes, so you have to choose wisely.

I only saw the Aztec and the Oaxaca Area displays. The latter includes the Olmecs who are a favourite of mine, due to their amazing sculptures of large stone heads (see the very last picture).

Click on a photo to go to full screen slideshow mode (recommended).

So much fascinating art, I can’t wait to go back to see the other exhibits.

Should you need it, here’s my Google map.

Mexico City – Chapultepec – Museo Nacional de Antropología – The Aztecs

Posted in Chapultepec, Mexico, Mexico City, State of Mexico on February 6, 2017 by gannet39

Chapultepec, more properly called the Bosque de Chapultepec, is Mexico City’s biggest park, and in fact the largest park in Latin America. In pre-Columbian times it was a retreat for the Aztec rulers and now it serves a similar role as a green lung for the capital’s populace.

Along with other institutions it contains the marvellous Museo Nacional de Antropología (closed Monday but open every other day from 9am to 7pm) which is one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever been to. Google map here.

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However, it’s so big that I only saw a fraction of what was on display. As I had to work, I only arrived at 5pm and given my limited time (it closes at 7pm) the guy at the information desk recommended that I just see the highlights which, according to him, were the Teotihuacan, Aztec and Maya rooms.

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In practice though, I only saw the Aztecs and the Oaxaca Area displays (see next post for the latter). In fact I spent 2.5 hours in just two of the twelve rooms on the ground floor, and there are another ten rooms on the second floor! In short, choose wisely and give yourself plenty of time!

Click on a photo to go to full screen slideshow…


Amazing stuff don’t you think? See my next  post for the Olmecs (also amazing).

Mexico City – Colonia Centro – Eating & Drinking

Posted in Centro, Mexico, Mexico City, State of Mexico on February 5, 2017 by gannet39

Colonia Centro is the official neighbourhood to the east of the eastern end of Paseo de la Reforma and south of the Centro Historico. There seems to be a lot of good bars and restaurants in this area.

Los Cocuyos (Elementary B+), Calle de Bolívar 57

I came to this tiny hole-in-the-wall taqueria on the first night I arrived in Mexico. It’s a Lonely Planet top choice and also features in the Mexico City edition of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ TV show (at 12.54).

They specialise in beef tacos, particularly offal. All the space behind the counter is taken up by a big chopping board and a large cauldron of various cow parts simmering away.

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The menu lists such delicacies as Cabeza (head), Ojo (eye), Tronca de Oreja (ear), Trippa (tripe), Lengua (tongue), Sesos (brains), Trompa (snout), Cacheta (beef cheeks), Maciza (a cut from the shoulder), Suadero (a thin cut between the belly and the leg) and Longaniza (a spicy pork sausage). All the tacos cost around 15 pesos (about 50p).

I went for the Campechano, a mix of beef and Longaniza which turned out to be a safe bet (B+). The bloke behind the counter hoiked the relevant parts out of the cauldron and hacked them up with a large machete before presenting them tenderly on top of two tortillas dessed with raw onion, coriander and green salsa.

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I also liked the Lengua (B). I had a few others but was too busy chatting with some friendly locals to keep notes. As I recall, they all scored around B though, which means they were fine.

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El Huequito (Low Intermediate B+) Calle Bolívar 58, www.elhuequito.com.mx

Another taqueria, although you can sit down in this one, right next door to Los Cocuyos. El Huequito also features on Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations‘ (at 14.45).

Since 1959 the ‘Little Hole’ has been famous for its Tacos al Pastor which is considered to be the emblematic dish of the capital.

According to this article, this particular taco was inspired by the Shawarma which was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s. It differs only in that the meat is pork rather than lamb.

Cantina Tio Pepe (Intermediate B), Dolores on the corner with Independencia

I popped in to this traditional bar with my local buddy Hamish for a couple of beers one afternoon. Opened in 1890, it’s the oldest cantina in Mexico City, and it still retains many of its original fittings, including what used to be a urinal running along the bottom of the bar! Some say this is the “cheap cantina off Dolores” that William Burroughs wrote about in ‘Junky’.

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Bosforo (Intermediate B+), Luis Moya 31

My friend Hamish much prefers mezcal to tequila and this is his favourite mezcal bar. It has a hipster feel with modern surroundings, a young staff and a good range of fine mezcals.

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In the past I’ve always steered clear of mezcal because I believed it to be inferior to tequila which is regulated by a professional association. Hamish is not a fan of tequila as he finds it too bland and generic, as well as containing many additives to maintain a consistent flavour. Mezcal on the other hand comes in more varied flavours and its production is generally artesenal.

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Originally tequila was of course a kind of mezcal, but association regulations stipulate that only Blue Agave can be used in its production, as opposed to mezcal which can be produced from as many as forty different kinds of agave. This article can explain more differences.

They generally didn’t have that much taste except for one, our favourite, where an uncooked Capón (chicken) had been hung at the top of the distilling chamber! Apparently the chicken is good to eat at the end of the process.

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Hamish finally won me over, but only after plying me with several examples of the genre. I’m still a fan now, even though my hangover was pretty brutal the next day!

Pulqueria Las Duelistas (Elementary B), Calle Aranda 28

We came here on Hamish’s suggestion so that I could try Pulque, a traditional alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave.

To my palate it’s pretty disgusting (D) and I only managed a couple of sips before we left, however the place was absolutely packed out, so obviously a lot of people do like it.

I had the ‘blanco’ version for about 15 pesos. You can get fruit flavours called ‘curados’ as well which might be a bit more acceptable to the European palate. Here they included Avena (oats), Apio (celery), Guayaba (guava), Piñon (pine nut), Tamarindo (tamarind), Zarzamora (Blackberry) and Mamey (a local fruit).

Although this is quite an old place (since 1912) it’s been renovated and painted and the crowd looks very young and studenty.

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Also in this district is El Cardenal www.restauranteelcardenal.com at Juárez 70; a restaurant specialising in traditional foods. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go but if I’m ever here between February and April I’d be up for trying their Escamoles (ant caviar).

Mexico City – Cuauhtémoc

Posted in Cuauhtémoc, Mexico, Mexico City, State of Mexico on February 4, 2017 by gannet39

Cuauhtémoc is the colonia (official neighbourhood) to the north of Paseo de la Reforma at its western end. It’s a short walk from the Hotel Geneve in Juárez. Google map here.

There’s a good Japanese restaurant Cuauhtémoc.

Rokai (High Intermediate B+), www.edokobayashi.com

Unfortunately I had an upset stomach during my last few days in Mexico City and I’d generally had enough of Mexican food after three weeks of eating little else. I was also craving plain white rice which is very good for sorting out tummy trouble.

A good quality Japanese restaurant was just what I needed and this place, according to the friendly guy sitting next to me at least, is the best one in Mexico. I came twice and thoroughly enjoyed it each time.

The sushi chefs are mostly Mexican and don’t speak Japanese (which I speak better than Spanish), but there was a younger Japanese guy working there who I hit it off with. The restaurant is owned and overseen by an older Japanese ‘masta’, so all is as it should be.

Himalayan rock salt

Himalayan rock salt

A good lunch choice would be the Kai Sen Chrirashi Zushi, a bowl of sushi rice topped with ‘scattered’ sashimi such as, in this case, Akami (dark Bluefin tuna), Hamachi (sea bream), Suzuki (Japanese sea bass), Sake (salmon), Tako (octopus), Tamago (omelette) and Ikura (salmon roe).

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The Negi Toro Don (minced fatty tuna on rice, topped with Japanese spring onion) is also a good choice.

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These were never enough for me though and I added on quite a few items. Once I start eating Japanese food I can’t stop!

I enjoyed this trio of starters including Salmon Ahumado con Esparragos Albinos (smoked salmon with white asparagus), Ankimo (Monkfish liver) and Kaki (oyster) with roe.

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There are some Mexican items on the menu as well. On the second visit I tried a Tamale made with roast aubergine and goat’s cheese which was interesting.

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I think many Japanese sushi chefs would say that meat shouldn’t be served with seafood, but the Sondra beef teriyaki broke that rule.

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I can never resist at least one nigiri of Otoro (Bluefin again but the best cut from the belly).

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I was also introduced to a couple of Japanese beers I’d never encountered before, such as Orion from Okinawa…

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… and Asahi Kuronama black beer.

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A local also insisted I try the Colima which he described as the best Mexican lager. I think he’s probably right.

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The friendly guy who sat next to me on one occasion worked in the food industry and was happy to give me some recommendations for the best restaurants in Mexico City. They included Maximo Bistro which I’d been to (see my Barrio Roma Norte post) and Sud 777 which I hadn’t.

He also warned me off insect eating (a tradition which is having a resurgence) except for the Escamoles (ant pupae and larvae) at El Cardenal which are truly delicious, but unfortunately they were out of season (February to April) when I was there. Having recently eaten wood ants in the UK, which were great, I believe him.

Mexico City – Paseo de la Reforma

Posted in Cuauhtémoc, Juárez, Mexico, Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma, State of Mexico on February 3, 2017 by gannet39

Paseo de la Reforma is a broad boulevard that runs through the middle of the centre. At the western end it separates the neighbourhoods of Cuauhtémoc to the north and Juárez to the south.

Halfway along the Paseo is the statue of El Ángel de la Independencia; the angel of independence.

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A bit further along is the Fuente de La Diana Cazadora, a fountain dedicated to the hunting goddess Diana.

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The Paseo is home to some of Mexico’s tallest buildings, such as the Torre Libertad (also known as the Torre St Regis)

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Opposite is the unusual Corporativo Reforma Diana office building.

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And a little further along, the Torre BBVA Bancomer.

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Mexico City – Colonia Juárez

Posted in Juárez, Mexico, Mexico City, State of Mexico on February 2, 2017 by gannet39

For both my stays in the capital my employer put me up in a hotel in Juárez, a famous barrio in the heart of Mexico City. (Google map here).

It’s a long, triangular neighbourhood formed by Paseo de la Reforma (see my next post) to the north, Avenida Chapultepec to the south, and Avenida Bucareli (Eje 1 Poniente) to the east.

I stayed at the historic and beautiful Hotel Geneve www.hotelgeneve.com at Londres 130.

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Built in 1907, this hotel is renowned for many reasons. When it opened it was the first hotel in Mexico to accept women travelling alone and in 1910 the first sandwich in Mexico was served here. During the Mexican revolution it was a neutral zone for both revolutionaries and members of the establishment who stayed there at the same time. Famous guests include Winston Churchill, William Randolph Hurst, Charles Lindburgh, Marlon Brando and Gabriel García Márquez. Here’s a video that was made to celebrate its centenary.

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Colonia Juárez also incorporates the Zona Rosa which got its name in the 1950s for being a bohemian area populated by artists and intellectuals.

In more recent times it has become the most popular area for Mexico City’s gay community who frequent the bars around Calle Amberes.

The area west of Florencia is also called ‘Little Seoul’ as many Korean immigrants have located their businesses there.

I’m sure there are quite a few decent places to eat in Juárez. Here’s a couple I can vouch for.

Fonda El Refugio (Advanced B+), Liverpool 166

This is a relatively pricey, formal place just around the corner from the hotel. It was recommended by the receptionist for traditional Mexican food.

Although I’m quite happy to eat street food, this is the kind of place I usually have to come to avoid the possibility of getting tummy trouble which could affect my job.

There are only about half a dozen tables so service is prompt and efficient. The surroundings are simple and traditional.

I began with a stellar Margarita (A).

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I followed with Sopes which are circle of fried ground maize soaked in lime (known as ‘masa’), typically topped with refried black beans, cheese, lettuce, onions, salsa and sour cream. In my case, it was shredded chicken, guacamole and crumbled cheese, with green salsa on the side, all very nice (B+).

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Then the traditional dish of Chile en Nogada, a very big poblano chilli stuffed with picadillo (typically shredded meat with spices) and topped with pomegranate seeds and ‘nogada’, a walnut and cream sauce. It was quite rich but I liked it (B+).

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Finally, Natilla, a vanilla custard (B+)…

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…and a Liquor Agavero, which is a sweet blend of reposado and anejo tequilas and Damiana flowers which are reputed to be an aphrodisiac. It’s a liqueur that I’m particularly fond of (A+), especially with dessert.

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King Falafel (Elementary B), Londres 138

Recommended by Lonely Planet, this is a good place to come for veggies, or if you fancy a change from Mexican food. I love falafel and they do it quite well here (B).
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Please also see my Cuauhtémoc post for a good Japanese restaurant fairly near the hotel, on the other side of Paseo de la Reforma.

Mexico – Chihuahua State – Chihuahua

Posted in Chihuahua, Chihuahua State, Mexico on February 1, 2017 by gannet39

Chihuahua is the capital city of the state of the same name. My stay here was even shorter than in Parral (around eighteen hours) but I did manage to eat out once before catching the plane back to Mexico City which is why I’m bothering to write.

If I’d had longer I would have checked out the cathedral in the main square, Plaza de Armas. It has a beautiful facade (I drove past it in a taxi) and is considered by some to be the finest example of colonial architecture in the north of Mexico.

My research indicated that there are a few nice restaurants around the square eg Meson de Catedral (see my Google map).

La Casa de los Milagros (Intermediate B+), Calle Guadalupe Victoria 812

An atmospheric mansion, over 110 years old, with a covered internal courtyard and various nooks and crannies. They have live music at the weekends.

I had a T-Bone con papa asado, toreados y refritos; a steak with baked potato, roasted chile and refried beans (B).

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I stayed at the Holiday Inn www.ihg.com at Escudero 702 which was very comfortable. The suite had a kitchen should you have the time and inclination to shop and cook.

I didn’t see any of the famous dogs around but I did read up on their history which is quite interesting.

Mexico – Chihuahua State – Hidalgo de Parral

Posted in Chihuahua State, Hidalgo de Parral, Mexico on January 31, 2017 by gannet39

Parral has been a silver mining town since the days of the Spanish Empire. I only stayed for one night so my impression is very superficial, but let’s just say that I was glad my stay was brief.

If you look at the Wikipedia page there are a few suggestions of things to do, but for me the best experience was the long drive across the rugged local terrain, virtually flat except for the odd rocky outcrop.

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Here’s a map of the town with the very few places I know on it.

It seems to be quite a traditional place with men in cowboy hats and Indian women in long dresses walking around.

Some vestiges of the original mining industry remain. Visitors will notice a hill in the centre of the town which was the location of the first mine, La Prieta. The winding gear and mine buildings can still be seen, alongside a statue of the town’s patron saint, San José. I didn’t have time to walk up there but the view must be panoramic.

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The centre of town is Plaza Guillermo Baca which is overlooked by the rather unnatractive Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

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I stayed at the Best Western on Ricardo Flores Magón, which is within walking distance of all the places above. It was okay (B-), and most likely the most modern hotel in town. It has a small outdoor pool on one of the higher floors.

I also ate in the hotel as there are only four restaurants listed on TripAdvisor, none of which I particularly fancied. The food (steak, rice, tortilla) was basic but fine (B-).

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A couple of Dos Equis (two Xs) lagers went down well (B).

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I did have one interesting experience going for lunch with the headmaster and Head of English from the local Mennonite school that I was working at. Unfortunately I have no record of what we ate or where (the restaurant was opposite the front of the bus station) as I was too busy chatting, but I did learn a little about the Mennonite contribution to Mexican cuisine. In particular they are famous for a semi-soft cheese called Queso Menonita. It’s also known as Queso Chihuahua because so many Mennonites live in the state. It’s similar in flavour to a mild cheddar or Monterey Jack.

Mexico – Hidalgo State – Pachuca

Posted in Hidalgo State, Mexico, Pachuca on January 30, 2017 by gannet39

Pachuca is a mining town about 90km to the north east of Mexico city. Google map here. I stayed for just one night in August 2015. Although on the face of it the town looks pretty grim, I found the town’s culture and history to be really interesting.

To begin with it is the site of the Mexico’s largest piece of public art; the macro mural of Las Palmitas. The state government paid an artists’ collective to paint 209 houses in the barrio to form a composite mural on the theme of “la bella airosa”, (“the beautiful breezy city”), which is Pachuca’s nickname. I got my driver to take me to a viewpoint on a pedestrian bridge over the motorway so I could get this shot.

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Of particular interest to a Brit is the influence of Cornish miners who came to work in Pachuca from 1824 and well into the next century. They brought with them many cultural influences and introduced several sports to Mexico including chess, cricket, golf, rugby, tennis and most importantly football (soccer). As a result Pachuca has the oldest football club in Mexico (founded in 1900) and considers itself to be the cradle of the Mexican game.

The miners also brought culinary influences, in particular the famous Cornish pasty, known locally as ‘pastes’. The thick braided crust of the pastes allows miners to hold and eat them without having to wash their hands. The shape and pastry is exactly the same as the pasty but often has Mexican fillings such as mole, beans, chicken, pineapple and lamb mince with poblano peppers. They differ from Empanadas in that the fillings are not cooked before they are encased in pastry.

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I was determined to sample as many of these as I could in the short time I was here. There are many bakeries around town but my friend Nick, a travel writer who specialises in Mexico, recommended this restaurant as being the best place to try them.

Restaurante La Blanca (Intermediate B+), Morelos 201, restaurantelablanca.com

A pleasant traditional restaurant in the city centre. It wasn’t that busy on the Wednesday I went so the service was good. I had the Pastes Manjar Minero, which was indistinguishable from a classic Cornish pasty, except that it was served with Salsa Verde and fresh lime. It was the taste of home that I’d been yearning for (A) and the Mexican condiments worked really well with it.

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I was less keen on the Enchiladas Mineras (enchiladas stuffed with chicken, and served with green salsa, lettuce, radish, cheese and cream) but they were basically okay (C+).

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For the journey home someone bought me another batch of pasties from one of the many takeaways around town (see my Google map) this time with Mexican fillings, but they weren’t quite as good.

In the square next to the restaurant you’ll find the Reloj Monumental, a clock tower donated by a wealthy Cornish man. It has the same machinery and chimes as Big Ben and is a symbol of the city.

Up north next!

Mexico – Jalisco State – Guadalajara – Zona Centro – Places to eat

Posted in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico on January 29, 2017 by gannet39

All the places mentioned below, and quite a few more, can be found on my Google map. Please see my previous post for things to see and stuff to do.

La Fuente (Elementary A) Calle Pino Suárez 78, www.cantinalafuente.com.mx

My favourite watering hole in Guadalajara in terms of atmosphere, this is an old (since 1921) Mexican bar just around the corner from the Hotel de Mendoza.

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The ambience is very down-to-earth, with the odd quirky decorative item on the wall. It reminds me of certain spit-and-sawdust pubs in Liverpool in my student days (such as the Yates’s on Old Haymarket for those who can remember).

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The authenticity extends to customers spontaneously bursting into song on a regular basis. On one occasion there was an old guy bashing out tunes on the piano to a very appreciative audience.

The clientele are predominantly older blokes but I have seen younger women drinking together there. If you hang out by the bar you’ll most likely be engaged in conversation and offered snacks, it’s that kind of friendly place.

Modelo is my favourite Mexican lager, so I decided to give their dark beer a whirl, which is fine (B).

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I also tried a couple of reposados here. The Cabrito (B)…

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… and the Antiguo (B-).

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In terms of good food, this was the best place I found…

Birrieria las 9 Esquinas (Intermediate B+), Avenida Cristóbal Colón 384, www.las9esquinas.com

Service: B
Atmosphere: B
Food: A
Value for money: B

This is a place where you can eat Birria (a traditional Jalisco goat or mutton stew), located in Plaza de las 9 Esquinas, a pretty little square to the south of the Centro Historico.

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It was recommended by my friend Hamish who is a food writer and former chef living in Mexico.

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I began with the usual starter of salsas, tortilla chips, pickled onion and the best refried beans I’ve ever eaten (A).

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Then I had the Birria de Chivo Tatemada a Fuego Lento (slow-cooked goat stew) which was really good (B+).

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Another speciality of the house is the Barbacoa de Borrego en Pencas de Maguey (lamb barbecued in the leaves of a type of agave).

Video recipe in Spanish here.

Another safe bet for good food is…

La Chata (Intermediate B+), 120 Corona (at Juarez and Lopez Cotilla), www.lachata.com.mx

Service: B+
Atmosphere: C
Food: B+
Value for money: B+

This place serves decent grub and has a good reputation for cleanliness, which means it’s very popular. You’ll have to queue outside even during non-peak periods, but it’s worth a bit of a wait.

I can’t remember what I had in 2007 but it was certainly okay. Lonely Planet suggests you try their specialty, the Platillo Jaliscense (fried chicken with five sides). They also mention that Pozole (hominy soup) is popular, but I wasn’t too keen on it at their other branch (see my Puerto Vallarta post on food).

In terms of atmosphere, but not food, I really like this place…

La Fonda de San Miguel (Intermediate B), 25 Calle Donato Guerra, www.fondasanmiguelarcangel.com

Service: A
Atmosphere: A
Food: C-
Value for money: B

A beautiful interior that feels a bit faded a bit since I first came here in 2007. If the literary term ‘magical realism’ (cf Gabriel García Márquez) can be applied to interior design then they have achieved it here.

Tables surround a fountain in the centre of a large interior courtyard.

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Parrot motifs decorate the chairs and there is an actual parrot and some budgies in large cages.

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Modern art decorates the walls and the place seems to double as a gallery/art shop in the daytime.

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Candles and paper stars with fairy lights inside give the walls and ceiling a warm glow.

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In 2007 they had live music and dancing on stage, but the stage is no longer there so perhaps things have changed in that respect. On both occasions the service was efficient and friendly but on the second visit the staff seemed to outnumber the customers by about two to one on the Thursday night in August that I went. It might be because it’s expensive for locals and the food isn’t very good.

The starter was a smaller version of Torta de Abogada, not an actual tart but in fact a ‘drowned’ sandwich, (typical in Jalisco and particularly famous in Guadalajara) made with French bread and grilled pork. The whole sandwich is dipped or ‘drowned’ in a hot sweet sauce made primarily of Chile de Arbol and served with raw onion.

It was okay (B) but for the real thing you might want to go to Tortas Ahogadas César at Calle López Cotilla 1449 or Tortas Ahogadas las Famosas at Avenida Patria 2546 (see Google map). I wanted to but didn’t get the chance.

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For the main I had one of the house specials; Filete de Res Oro Negro, a filet of beef with Huitlacoche (aka ‘corn smut’, a kind of fungus that grows on maize), topped with grilled cheese. I’ve heard Huitlacoche described by a top chef as having a taste somewhere between a mushroom and a truffle, which is why I tried it, but sadly I found it quite unpleasant and ended up scraping it off to one side with the cheese (D). The white rice it came with was overcooked and over salted and I couldn’t finish that either (C-).

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By contrast, on my first visit in 2007 I had their other speciality, Molcajete; a spicy Oaxacan dish served in a sizzling hot stone mortar (molcajete), served with fajitas, which was much better. I even went as far to say that it was the best food that I had on the entire trip (B+).

So mixed results, but to summarise, I think you should definitely come here to experience the ambience but be careful what you order. The Molcajete would seem a good bet.

La Estancia Gaucha (High Intermediate B), 2860 Avenida Ninos Heroes (near Lopez Mateos), www.laestanciagaucha.com.mx

Service: B+
Atmosphere: A
Food: B+
Value for money: B+

I went in 2007 but it was still open in 2015. This place is a bit of a trek as it’s not really in the centre but the nice building and the good quality Argentine food make it worth the walk (or taxi?) should you want a change. You should come here if you feel the need for a steak with chimichurri and a glass of good red.

Mexico – Jalisco State – Guadalajara – Zona Centro – Stuff to see and do

Posted in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico, Zona Centro on January 28, 2017 by gannet39

This was my second time in Guadalajara. On both occasions (in 2006 and 2015) I stayed in the Hotel de Mendoza www.demendoza.com.mx at Calle Venustiano Carranza 16, which is well located for the Zona Centro. It’s not as opulent as it would seem and the wi-fi was problematic on my second visit, but the breakfast was okay.

My favourite place to go in Guadalajara is the Mercado Libertad (aka Mercado San Juan de Dios). With around 3000 vendors, it’s the biggest covered market in South America and the largest multi-product market in the world. Photo ops are plentiful.

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One whole floor is dedicated to small cafes and food stalls.

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I would have loved to eat here but the dubious hygiene and having to work meant I couldn’t take the risk (in 2007 the colleague who preceded me was struck down with stomach problems). Still I enjoyed walking around watching all the food being prepared.

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I was particularly impressed by the goat skulls with whole limes in their eye sockets and chillis for horns! Goat is a very popular meat in Guadalajara and one of the local football teams, Club Deportivo Guadalajara, are known as the Chivas (baby female goats).

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In the fruit and veg section there are mountains of avocados, a plant which originally comes from Mexico. The oldest evidence of avocado use was found in a cave located in Coxcatlán, Puebla, that dates to around 10,000 BC. The etymological origin of the name can be traced back to the proto-Aztecan word for ‘testicle’.

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Chillis also originate from Mexico and research shows they were first domesticated 6,000 years ago, again in the regions around Puebla. There are stalls in the market that sell nothing else and have huge displays of them piled high.

The Mirasol (also known as Guajillo when dried) and Arbol varieties were very common.

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Also popular are the Mulato and Ancho (a dried Poblano) which are very similar. I read that Ancho and Mirasol/Guajillo are the most commonly used dried chillis in Mexico.

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Other foodstuffs can be found on other floors. The market is seemingly endless.

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Most of the important civic buildings are also in the Zona Centro, in particular the area known as the Centro Histórico.

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La Catedral Nueva, an unlovely (in my opinion) mix of Gothic, Baroque, Moorish and Neoclassical architecture, was consecrated in 1618.

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The two towers were rebuilt in the 19th century after an earthquake. The building experienced further structural damage as a result of more earthquakes in 1932, 1957, 1979, 1985, 1995 and 2003.

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Right next door is El Sagrario Metropolitano

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…the forebear of which was the original parish church before the cathedral existed.

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A close neighbour on the Plaza de Armas is the imposing Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco (Jalisco state government building), now a museum. It’s worth popping in to see the murals by Orozco on the main staircase.

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There’s a beautiful old bandstand in front of the palace, in Plaza de Armas.

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Another venerable building is the neoclassical Teatro Degollado located in Plaza de la Liberación, behind the cathedral.

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All these places are a stone’s throw from the Hotel de Mendoza. You can find many of the places mentioned on my Google map.

There are a few nice old residential buildings dotted about as well.

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In terms of things to do, a good day out might be a ride on the Tequila Express. Operated by Ferrocarril Mexicano, it involves a train ride to the nearby town of Tequila and a guided tour around one of the factories. Food is provided and all the tequila you can drink! (not that you have to).

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You can buy tickets in the basement of one of the department stores (ask the hotel reception which one) but you should book as far ahead as you can. They had sold out two days before when I went to enquire, so I never got to go, but perhaps it was for the best!

A detail from the cathedral door…

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Please see my next post for places to eat in Guadalajara.

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Mexico – Jalisco State – Lagos de Moreno

Posted in Jalisco State, Lagos de Moreno, Mexico on January 27, 2017 by gannet39

Lagos de Moreno is a pretty little colonial town with a relaxed atmosphere.

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There’s a nice Spanish cathedral in the centre and a small square with a bandstand opposite, and not much else of note.

Google map here.

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I was here for just two nights, staying at the Lagos Inn (at Juarez 350, www.lagosinn.com) next to the cathedral, which was comfortable and friendly. The rooms are spacious, with free Wi-Fi, and the breakfast (fresh fruit and omelettes) is okay.

I ate at two good places:

Terres Calli (Intermediate A-), Don Manuel de La Vega 267, terrescalli.com

About a twenty minute walk from the hotel, this is a cultural centre with a bar and restaurant, perched up on a hill with a great view of the town and the hills around. The interior is modern and there’s some nice art on the walls. The young staff are friendly and efficient.

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You can take in the vista sitting inside in front of the big windows, or outside on the pleasant terrace. The latter is quite a popular spot for romantic couples.

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When I arrived, I could see thunderstorms sweeping across the lowlands many miles away.

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‘Stormy Weather’, closely followed by ‘Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone’, were playing over the hifi, which set the scene perfectly.

A frozen margarita added to the mood (B).

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My first course was Sopa Azteca, aka, Tortilla Soup (made with chicken broth, onions, tomatoes and served with avocado, pork scratchings, lime and cheese) which was pretty good (B+).

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The Pacholas; minced beef patties spiced with ancho chilli, cumin, bread, oil, and fried or grilled, were okay (B), and quite filling.

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I tried three tequila reposados here. My favourite was the Don Julio which had a deeper flavour than the others (A).

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The Tradiconal (B+) and Herradura (A) were pretty good too.

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Herradura tends to be the most commonly available brand in my experience.

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Another good place is…

La Rinconada (Intermediate B+), Constituyentes 425

I like the old world, slightly trad atmosphere of this place. The staff are friendly and the bartender speaks good American English.

I like the fact you can get a beer in a chilled glass here. Everywhere should do this.

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I had the Sopa de Fideo which was hearty and warming (B+).

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For the main, Borrego al Horno con Salsa de Xoconostle, pork baked in the local style, in a wrapped parcel and shredded and served with a sauce made from a local prickly pear. Once more the meat and the sauce were interesting but nothing special in terms of flavour (B). The beans that came with it weren’t up to much either (C), but the tortillas were good (B+).

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I tried a few more reposados here; Centenela (B+), Tapatio (B), Tesoro (B) and Siete Leguas (B), but none were better than what I’d had previously at Terres Calli above (they had them here as well, I was just trying different ones).

It was interesting to discover that an English sauce is very popular here. The Mexicans use Worcester sauce, aka Salsa Inglesa, to spice up Micheladas (see previous post), burritos and even pizza!

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A taxi from Leon Airport to Lagos cost 1040 pesos in 2015 and 750 pesos for the return journey. The airport doesn’t seem to have free internet and there are no easily accessible recharge points except in the booths of the Las Limas restaurant on the second floor, before you go through security.

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Mexico – Jalisco State – Puerto Vallarta – Places to eat

Posted in Jalisco State, Mexico, Puerto Vallarta on January 26, 2017 by gannet39

Most of the restaurants on my map are in the Centro Colonia which is the historic old town. Here’s another map from the tourist board. You’ll know when you’re there because all the streets are cobbled.

 

La Chata (Intermediate), 708 Paseo Diaz Ordaz, www.lachatacomidamexicana.com

Service: A
Atmosphere: B
Food: B
Value for money: A

This is the Vallarta branch of a famous Guadalajara restaurant that usually has long queues outside. This location is easier to get into and has more ambience as it overlooks the Malecón. They have a rep for serving good food in a very clean environment, which is important in a hot country like Mexico.

I came here twice. The first time I had Pozole Blanco con Pollo. Pozole is a local soup stew made with hominy (treated maize) and shredded chicken (or pork, but not this time) and served with a cabbage and radish salad which you can add to the bowl. It was unusual and interesting, but not mind-blowing (B).

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It’s much improved when fired up with some chilli sauces and oregano.

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The second time I had the Chicken Enchiladas which were pretty decent too (B). With a couple of Modellos the bill came to €250.

La Palapa (High Intermediate B*), www.lapalapa.com

Service: A
Atmosphere: A
Food: A-
Value for money: C

This is a very nice location, right on the beach (only two blocks from my hotel) with a great view of the sea. Definitely a good spot for a date with the sunset.

The food is pretty good; I had the Pulpo Asado (A-) and the Risotto con Mariscos (A). The only downside is that it’s a bit pricey, for instance a Margarita or a Herradura Reposado costs around €100 which is a bit much. Still, it is a lovely spot…

El Patio de Mi Casa (Intermediate), 111 Calle Guerrero

Service: A
Atmosphere: A
Food: C
Value for money: B

A restaurant and music bar that I stumbled across when walking the backstreets after walking out of Café des Artistes below. I was drawn in by the sounds of live jazz and stayed for drinks which were great, and a pizza, which wasn’t. Lovely service though, and the band played all my requests.

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Unfortunately I didn’t find many other good places to eat and drink; although there are a few I didn’t have time to try (check my map). The following are more places to avoid, or take a chance on…

Cafe Des Artistes (Advanced), Calle Guadalupe Sánchez 740, www.cafedesartistes.com

Service: A
Atmosphere: A
Food: C
Value for money: C

According to Lonely Planet this is considered by many to be Vallarta’s best restaurant. I absolutely hated it, primarily because they kept we waiting indefinitely for a table in the bar area despite me having a reservation. I was told I had to wait until there was a table free but in the UK table hoggers would be asked to vacate for the next customers. A culture clash perhaps but I walked out after an hour. The kind waiter did run out after me to apologise to me for the management though.

While I was there I had a Taco de Lechon Confit which wasn’t particularly good and quite expensive at €140 (C).

The Tan cocktail made with Mezcal Amores, orange, lemon, agave syrup, orange liqueur and a Sal de Gusano (worm salt) halo was interesting though (B).

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Café de Olla (Intermediate), 168A Calle Basilo Badillo

Service: A
Atmosphere: B
Food: C
Value for money: B

This is place is near the hotel and open on a Sunday which are its only selling points. I wanted to eat nearby at Pancho’s Takos at 162 Calle Basilio Badillo but it was closed on the Sabbath, so I went to this next place instead. The food isn’t great but it’s convenient and the service is very efficient.

Please see my previous post for info on stuff to do and see.

Mexico – Jalisco State – Puerto Vallarta – Stuff to do

Posted in Jalisco State, Mexico, Puerto Vallarta on January 25, 2017 by gannet39

Puerto Vallarta is Mexico’s premier west coast beach resort. I read that it has more charm and culture than Cancun, which is more of a party destination, but I haven’t been myself. This was my second time in Vallarta and it felt a bit more developed than it was in 2006. Please see my next post on what to eat and where.

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I stayed for three nights at Hotel Los Arcos at 380 Calle Olas Altas www.playalosarcos.com My room had some great views of the beach which was just a stone’s throw away. There’s also a big pool in the hotel. Here’s a video to give you more of an idea.

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It was the Mexican holiday season when I went so there were lots of families. In the afternoons there was quite a party atmosphere with Mexican pop music blaring out poolside and two-for-one Margaritas during the happy hours. I had a great time! On the downside the breakfast buffet costs €180 which is a bit pricey when you only want some fruit, cereal and a coffee.

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As you can see on my Google map, the walkway along the beachfront is called the Malecón.

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It’s a great place for a stroll or a jog.

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There are lots of quirky statues along the Malecón.

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The most famous is ‘El Caballito’, or ‘The Boy on a Seahorse’, which is a symbol of the city.

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I had a day off while I was here so I took the opportunity to get a bit of beach time. Passing vendors kept me well fed and watered. I started with some fresh oysters which were twice the price of what I paid in Coatzacoalcos but still really cheap by European standards, and really good.

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The grilled prawns slathered in hot sauce were pretty decent too, especially with a frozen Margarita.

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Many other tempting tidbits are available.

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Click on this link to see some excellent beach entertainment.

Puerto Vallarta would be a nice place to come if you wanted to study Spanish. A good place to do it might be Proulex www.proulex.com, the language school of the University of Guadalajara which has a branch at 105 Calle Libertad in the Centro Colonia.

Mexico – Veracruz State – Coatzacoalcos

Posted in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, Veracruz State on January 24, 2017 by gannet39

Coatzacoalcos is a rather unlovely oil town and isn’t a tourist destination by any means. The town itself is very linear and strung out along the Malecón Costero, the long seafront road. There’s not a lot to see except the lighthouse and a replica Mayan pyramid on the waterfront. The town is built on sand dunes and is relatively flat although on the horizon you can see the San Martín Tuxlta volcano which last erupted in 1796. I was here for just four nights. My Google map with all these places on is here.

There’s a beach but the locals told me that it was pretty dirty and if I wanted to swim it was better to go to Playa Barrillas, a beach by the river where it meets the sea.

It cost about 180 pesos and took 20 minutes to get there in a taxi. I went on my day off and had a pleasant day sitting in El Paradiso restaurant by the river bank, reading, drinking beers, eating seafood and watching the locals at play.

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The waiter advised me to get the prawns which were pretty good (B+).

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I also had some excellent freshly-caught oysters (A) which were also the cheapest I’ve ever eaten at only 60 pesos for eighteen. I was given some spicy ketchup to eat them with but preferred to stick with lime juice and a drop or two of some evil green chilli sauce out of a squeezy bottle.

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I also tried a Michelada; beer mixed with tomato juice, lime juice, salt and assorted sauces, such as hot sauce, Maggi sauce, Worcestershire sauce and served in a chilled, salt-rimmed glass, but it was too sour for my taste (C-).

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There were quite a few hawkers selling interesting looking foodstuffs which I couldn’t take a chance on (can’t risk being sick for work), and a few clowns and musicians.

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One old guy had a harp that looked like it had been made out of old bits of furniture and other string instruments. I’m not usually a fan of buskers but his music was so beautifully melancholic and moving, even if I only understood a few of the lyrics which were about love and the stars.

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I stayed at the One Hotel which is on the edge of town, next to the big Forum Plaza Mall which has a cinema and food court (KFC, Burger King, Subway etc). It was very busy at the weekends.

The hotel breakfast is pretty horrible (D+) although you do get lots of fresh fruit. On the plus side, the rooms are essentially ok, the Wi-Fi worked well and the staff were helpful and pleasant. However, if I were to go again and had a choice, I might try the Holiday Inn or perhaps the Fiesta Inn, both of which are nearby.

Adjoining the hotel on the other side is Chilis Restaurant (on Javier Anaya Villazón, www.chilis.com.mx) which is a modern sports bar type of place with lots of TV screens showing live football. The food (Mexican, pasta, ribs etc) actually isn’t too bad, or at least the Beef Fajitas (B+) weren’t. They come with a small tower of condiments and a stack of fresh tortillas.

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I was also very impressed by their Tamarind Margarita (B+) which I’d never come across before. (This has become a bit of a thing for me and I have one whenever it’s on the menu). The youthful service is pleasant and efficient. With tip and tax the meal came to around 280 pesos.

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A taxi to the centre of town is only about 50 pesos so I tried a couple of restaurants there as well:

Mr Pampas (at 17 Glorieta Pintores Mexicanos, www.mrpampas.com) is a Brazilian style churrasco ie an all-you-can-eat restaurant with a set price of 200 pesos for the food. The waiters bring spits of different kinds of meat to your table and carve them on to your plate. There’s a huge salad bar with just about everything you can imagine, including sushi.

To be honest not much of it is particularly good (except some cuts of pork and beef, and the chorizos) and I left a lot of it on my plate (B/C/D). The Caipirinhas were mixed with lemonade so you should say if you want a proper one. I guess you can’t complain too much given the price. It’s pretty brash and loud (lots of screens blaring commercial music) and very popular, as would befit the Trip Advisor #2.

On paper, and Trip Advisor (#3 in 2017), El Trocadero (at 509 Paseo Miguel Aleman, cabrito.com) would seem to be one of the better places in town but I wasn’t that impressed. The menu is on an Ipad so you can scroll through the pictures and avoid the steaks with gloopy sauces and three veg out of a bag.

I went for the local speciality of Barbacoa de Arrachera. Barbacoa is an ancient indigenous cooking method and is the origin of the word ‘barbecue’. The meat (skirt steak in my case) is steamed in a palm leaf. It wasn’t too bad (B).

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With a portion of rice and couple of Bohemia Clara the bill would have come to about 300 pesos with tip and tax but I also had a couple of shots of their best quality tequila anejo, Tres Generacion (B), which added about 170 pesos.

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Service from the old waiter was stoical but efficient and the ambience was formal and relatively quiet.

Other places suggested by the teachers were Asadero, Mar y Sal and Jean Chinchona. I was told the seafood was the thing to have and I’d concur given my other eating experiences. Tacos de Cochinita Pibil were a recommendation.

A taxi from Minatitlin Airport to the One Hotel takes 15 to 20 minutes and costs 260 pesos. The return cost 230 (in 2015). There is a solitary socket for recharging in the café before security, and again in the wall by the gate, but there doesn’t seem to be any free internet.

Over to the west coast next!

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