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dinner daily 4pm
lunch mon-fri 11:00am-2:00pm
brunch sat-sun 9:30am-2:30pm
happy hour all night mon, tues-sun 2:30-6pm
brunch happy hour sat & sun 9:30am-11:30am
late night happy hour thurs - sat 9:30pm-11:00pm

950 PEARL STREET BOULDER, COLORADO 303.442.7771

Yucatan Food at its Finest – Day 9, The Final Hoorah in Merida

Energized because it was our last day, yet foggy because it was our second to last night, we were walking dichotomies – mirroring the country itself as it’s identity shifts from the old to the new. The crew rallied and we all headed back to Progreso to soak in the ocean one more time and to have another taste of those infamous snacks and old Mexico food.

This go-around we were on the hunt for octopus, or pulpo. Having missed our daytrip to the pulpo capital, Campeche, earlier in the trip, this was my last chance to find it, taste it, conquer it before we left. Here in Progreso, pulpo was offered in a dozen different preparations at the restaurant we chose, and, upon recommendation, we ordered diablo style and coctel (cocktail).  The pulpo in both dishes was tender and incredibly fresh. The flavors, spices, and dressings used in the preparations fell a little short of inspiring.

Disappointed in the pulpo but grinning from the morning overall, we headed back.

In need of an afternoon snack, we arrived back in Merida, albeit the wrong time a day.  The people of Merida and Yucatan like their afternoon siesta, a form of a rest or nap. Between the hours of 1pm and 7pm most of the restaurants in town are closed, but we were able to find one spot on our recommended list, Chaya Maya, that was open. We were pleasantly surprised to see 2 elderly woman hand-pressing tortillas to order, and the menu was full of all the local classics.

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Poc-Choc, Relleno Negro and a fish dish with a Mayan name I cannot remember were recommended by our waiter. Each dish came out piping hot with sides of fresh, smoking hot tortillas placed in emptied gourds.

The Relleno Negro is a very interesting dish that we had been hearing about and were eager to try. It consisted of hard-boiled eggs wrapped with chopped meat and roasted turkey. A blend of over-roasted chilies and spices stain the sauce a pitch black color and leave an inherent gritty mouth feel. Very deep and incredibly unique flavors are the foundation of this dish. Not my favorite, but definitely unique and unforgettable.

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The seafood dish was a mixture of clams, white fish and shrimp stewed in tomatoes, peppers and onions and baked in a banana leaf.  The age-old preparation of wrapping food in banana leaves transforms flavors and offers an element of earthy funk so delicious it’s hard to describe.

Poc-Choc had quickly become a favorite for us after the tacos we had on Thursday night, and we could not resist revisiting another preparation. The only problem here was that there was not enough! Thin strips of marinated pork grilled and served with pickled onions and rice. Marinated in chiles and citrus, the pork offers clean, bold flavors that make it shine.

All said and done, this was a great taste of the local fair, and we were stoked as we left.

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Our final evening of the trip somehow became one of the best. Apoala is in the central district of Merida and Calle 55 in between 56 and 58 and was designed with a very contemporary feel, while not sacrificing local charm. It is one big restaurant in a courtyard featuring 5 other restaurants, a chocolate museum and a boutique liquor store and bar. At night the square was jumping with life as local bands set up and took turns rocking the small stage. The vibe here was the first feeling of hip and contemporary life since we had left Mexico City.

The menu was wondrous. Every item was unique and creative, and it appeared they were verging into the trend of Med- Mex:  An apparent new trend blending Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine.

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Pan roasted cobia, on a bed of gnocchi with chile tarter and avocado, and tiradito of short ribs and avocado are two examples. Tacos with soft shell crab stole my heart, but the stars of the night were suckling pig tacos and ensalada verde. As I have spoken of many times throughout the week, a certain lack of vegetable is apparent when eating in Mexico. Not for a lack of them not being around, but in fear of food poisoning.

Ensalada Verde was a simple dish, yet was a perfect blend of textures and flavors.  Green beans, peas, fava beans, avocado and grilled zucchini topped with feta cheese and apple vinaigrette. So clean and bright – it was so good we ordered a second one.

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Suckling Pig was the special of the night, and if you know anything about me, it should come as no surprise that I had to taste it. Melt in your melt shredded pork, mixed with little bits of crispy skin filled the corn tortilla shells. I cannot say I even remember what else was in the taco as all I focused on was how amazing the pork tasted.

The food was not the only show-stopper; the drink menu rivals any drink menu I have seen. Unique craft cocktails filled pages, and it was hard not to order one of each. We tried three:  A mezcal sour with a perfect blend of sweet versus sour; a mezcal pineapple drink with cilantro, agave and a chile rim; and a tequila drink with Kahlua, Frangelico, cacoa and chile. All three were top notch.

The night was not over yet, as we had been invited to check out a local speakeasy. This was a true speakeasy, as you had to know the right people to get in and it was hidden down a couple dark alleys, and through the back of a building into a door that was unmarked. We were feeling a lot of excited potential.

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Upon entering, the walls were lined with mirrors. Through another unmarked door, a small intimate candle-lit room with vaulted ceilings and room for only 20 people awaited us. We later learned that this perfectly designed spot was created by the cocktail director. Beautiful and simple, and the drinks were spot on. As we were finishing up our second cocktail a 5 piece band set up on a suspended stage 12 feet off the ground. The stage jutted out 4-5 feet off the wall perpendicular to the bar and could hold max 5 people. The band was composed of a standup bass, two guitars, a violin and clarinet. They crushed it.

So unexpected, it really was the perfect send-off to an incredible day and a magical trip.

A Region Rich in Culture and History – Day 8, Merida and Progreso

On Friday morning, I woke up to my stomach’s gentle reminder that although I was eating like one, I wasn’t, in fact, a local. Heard.

So, Rustin and I gave our stomachs a break and decided to go on a driving adventure today, taking in the richness of Merida. Our local friend had suggested the ruins on the outskirts of town – they were small, but you also got access to a cenote. Excited, we headed out.

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As we left town we missed the turn (hard to see even when you’re laser focused on finding it) and ended up in the beach town of Progreso. Sitting about 30 minutes north of Merida, Progreso is a little town with a long beach stretching for miles and the feel of a small Mexican tourist town in hibernation. It was a hot day and there was a long beach, so we couldn’t help ourselves, we had to take a dip in the salty waves. And nothing goes better with the ocean than an ice cold beer and a snack – both of which we wanted to promptly have after toweling off. So we sat down at a little beach shack to do just that. All of a sudden the staff or owners arrived with free snacks . . . a lot of them. We hadn’t yet experienced anything quite like this – although we should have expected it! Merida is the snack capital of Mexico, after all. Before we knew what was happening we had multiple different plates of food.  “Gracias. No mas, por favor,” we said as we were unsure how much more was coming. There was a big variety of snacks:  pickled vegetables of all sorts, three kinds of enchiladas, flautas, the freshest ceviche, and a few other fried treasures. We did order some of our own choices from the menu, and the shrimp empanadas were my favorite:  Light and fluffy masa pockets filled with shrimp that had been stewed in tomato and onion. The acidity of the tomato with the sweetness of the fresh shrimp and the onion was just right.

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On our way back to Merida, the signs for the ruins were nice and clear – we found the parking lot with no issues. For an easy $9/ person (feels so much cheaper than $10!), Rustin and I wandered around the grounds of a former Mayan Village. A mini museum near the entrance told the village’s story of the Spanish taking over the village and surrounding lands. As we read the inscriptions, we gained a better understanding of how Merida, and really the whole of the Yucatan Peninsula, was one of the first landing points for the Conquistadors. Merida is not only the snackiest town in Mexico, it is also one of the oldest. We walked through the ruins of the ancient city and admired the two temples, half of an old and beautiful church, and the exterior walls intended for protection.

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Next up, the cenotes. Many Americans are now familiar with them, and they always impress. Cenotes are fresh water wells that were often the only source of water for the villagers. They are usually rather large and they are said to interconnect through underground tunnels or caves. This cenote was no different, measuring about 1,500 square feet and ranging from 2 feet deep on one end, and with a deep, dark cave on the other. Rustin was able to borrow some googles and dive in to determine there was a cave, but we had no idea how deep or far it went.

Locals now use the cenotes as local swimming holes, and I can attest that the water is so pure and clean that it inspires a magical feeling as you dive of the rocks into the crystal clear water.

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Back in Merida, Cade and his wife had taken the day to explore the local market and source everything needed for a home cooked meal:  Chicken legs, white cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, habaneros, and hard boiled local eggs. All mixed together with chicken livers, it made for some incredibly delicious tacos on fresh tortillas. These experiences are special in the sense that you are going back to the basics. Chicken grilled on charcoal and seasoned with only the bare essentials; a salad made from the freshest produce, using the simplest flavors and spices. Cooking like the locals allows one to better understand the soul of the cuisine.

We spent the evening laughing the night away while smoking local cigars and sipping on tequila. This home cooked meal shared with friends was well in order after a week on the road.

The Art of Snacking – Day 7, Merida

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.19.03 AM The streets of Merida are much like Puebla: small, narrow and packed in tight.  The buildings here are only two to three stories high, so as you walk it feels like a maze. The other fun part is that the streets are all numbered, at least in the central district of town.  We did not find out until much later in the day that it is actually really easy to navigate, as odd numbered streets run north-south and even ones run east-west.  We could have figured that out, but instead we wandered around, always making sure we knew which direction home was.

At first it seemed hard to find much in the way of food.  The city was hot and sweaty and it appeared like most restaurants were shut down. We had a simple breakfast on the square—Huevos Veracruz, which consisted of egg and potato enchiladas smothered in bean sauce with chorizo on top.  They served it with vegetable escabeche.  No wow factor here but good stuff nonetheless.

Later in the day our mission was clear: to hit as many spots as possible and have a bite or two at each one. First was a large restaurant that looked like it had cheap eats and beer.  And a cold beer was well in order due to the heat on the streets. The menu was geared more towards a sit-down meal, but we picked the Panuchos and Sikil Pak, two local specialties.

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Panuchos are one of my favorite dishes that nobody knows about.  It is simple, really: take a corn tortilla and flash fry it and watch it quickly puff up.  You then stuff it with refried beans and top it with shredded chicken and pickled onions.  From there the rest is up to interpretation.

Sikil Pak is a traditional Yucatan salsa or spread similar in texture to hummus.  It consists of roasted pepitas, chilies, tomatoes, onion and cilantro.  The version we had here was made tableside, which I enjoyed, but it was seriously lacking in salt and lime juice.

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Finally, as the sun started to set, the city began to come to life.  We have come to discover that people of the Yucatan are total night owls.  Every restaurant was hopping, there was live music everywhere and the entire vibe of the city took a 180.

I had done a little research and found a spot called La Negrita, highlighted by live music and little snacks.  As we walked in, the party was bumping, people were dancing and drinks were flowing.  I noticed several servers carrying around trays of little snacks, and I instantly got excited.  The food was nothing special but it was fun.  We ordered a little fritter that tasted like falafel, mixed ceviche with shrimp, fish and octopus and by mistake a side of fries.  On top of that they gave us a bowl of puffed crackers drenched in hot sauce and pineapple soaked in habanero.  It was all fun, but nothing to write home about.

Just as we were ready to move to the next spot we got a call from Cade Beerman that he had landed and was ready to hit the town. Cade is a good friend and mentor and a badass chef. He is the Culinary Director of the Big Red F and a huge driving force behind Centro, The West End Tavern, and Zolo Grill.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.25.04 AM La Exquina was recommended by a local business owner Cade had befriended on the plane,  and it did not disappoint.  We ordered panuchos, tacos and sopa de lima.  All of it was great.  Bold flavors, perfectly seasoned and simple.  The pok chok is a local favorite—and now ours as well.  Thinly shaved strips of pork marinated in chiles and lime, grilled on the plancha with onions. This is dynomyte— rich, deep flavors, bright from the citrus and chilies.

I have a new favorite taco, too. We were so excited we forgot to take photos, and we have realized we have so much here to discover that we are investing our time in Merida instead of departing for Campeche as planned.

Stay tuned as we will be visiting the local market in the morning and preparing some classic dishes ourselves.

A Rainy Day and a Transcending Meal – Day 6, Puebla and Mexico City

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One last meal in Puebla and we knew it had to be a great one. Our concierge had recommended Mural de los Poblanos as a spot for the best local fare. One block off the Zocalo, we entered through a narrow entrance into a large open courtyard.  On our right was a massive mural and on our left a beautiful fountain.

Having had such a poor experience at lunch we decided to start slow.  Mixed salad and vegetable soup (sopa poblaa), both had clean simple flavors, and it helped restore our confidence.  The soup was poured tableside and consisted of roasted squash, zucchini and peppers in a clear vegetable broth.  Next was a trio of cemitas: milanese, relleno and ceviche.  All three came on the classic sesame bun and tasted good, but the relleno stole the show. A mini relleno with a red chile sauce, it reminded me of a sloppy joe.

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With the lack of crisp vegetables—or really any vegetables—during our trip, we next ordered a salad consisting of purslane, avocado, tomato and cheese.  Purslane is a simple green that grows everywhere.  Look outside and you will probably have it growing as ground cover in your garden.  Wash it really well and add it to any salad.  It is almost like a succulent—it has a nice green watery flavor and offers a nice crispness.

A due of chalupas was next, and classically they came out with a red and green salsa and some shredded pork. Like most of the Pueblan food, they were simple and delicious.

What really stole the show was the drink at the end. I will be damned if I remember the name, but I had seen it on all the menus and had to try one.  It consisted of Rum, crème de cassis, sweet vermouth, mint, sugar and a few other ingredients I could not decipher.  It had a very floral taste, and while it was very sweet, it was nicely balanced.

Back to Mexico City.  As soon as we got off of the bus and into a cab it started raining really hard and before long it turned to hail.  Let me stop here a moment and offer a word to the wise: do not take the first cab you see when you get off a plane or bus in Mexico.  They will charge you twice the price.  Instead, walk out of the station and catch a street taxi.

Well, after another death-defying taxi ride through a crazy hail storm, we made it to our hotel.  Worn out from travel we chose to stay and eat at the hotel, as we could not really go out in the weather anyway.  Sopa Azteca was my selection and it was a welcomed comfort on a rainy day.  They had burnt the tortilla strips a little and it gave the soup another note of richness.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 10.07.11 AMTonight was the night. We had secured a spot at the famous restaurant Pujol, which is notoriously hard to get into.  Enrique Olvero opened this gem a few years back and it has quickly become one of the top restaurants in the world.  Set inside a dimly lit 40 seat dining room, Olvero and his team spin magic into classic Mexican creations.

As you sit you are presented with a paper envelope with a wax seal: your personal menu for the night.  Upon opening, it congratulates you for being a part of the night, and on thin rice paper it explains the night’s 6 course tasting menu.

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Right off the bat, they set the stage and coax you in. Course one was a sample of “street snacks” starting with a powerful single bite; Bocol Huasteco.  Essentially a little fried ball of corn and cheese.  The snacks also included a chilled asparagus soup with a dried chile “cracker,” chia tostada and baby corn with chile mayo, powdered ants, and coffee.  The corn came out in a hollowed gourd with smoking corn husks.  The smell alone opened the senses beautifully.  At this point we looked at each other with giant smiles in anticipation of what was to come.  Our palettes were singing with joy.

I have to stop myself here and not bore you with all the details.  I can think and talk about food forever, but for the sake of the story I will highlight the stars.

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Chilacayote Aguachile was one of the selections for the next course, and while I was unsure of what exactly I was ordering, I could not have been more excited when it arrived.  A salad of mint and other herbs on top of a charred avocado and shredded chayote squash, bathing in a sauce of cucumber and chile.  The dish ate so light, yet it was so filling and satisfying.  Even after what ended up being more like 10 courses, this was still one of the most memorable bites.

Next was the middle course consisting of a lamb taco on a cilantro-poblano tortilla; a suckling pig with chickpea puree on a red corn and guajillo tortilla, and octopus tostada.  Not a single one of these can be forgotten easily and I would happily make a meal of any one of these dishes over and over again. The Octopus was tossed in a habanero mayo with fresh oregano, and the tostada shell was made of squid ink. WOW!!

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On to the entrée round. It was all moving so fast, yet paced so perfectly in retrospect. Hardly ever a moment of hesitation, never a doubt of timing, just a perfect pace set by a well oiled machine, one course after the next. Rustin, Misshale and I were sharing everything so it made it hard to really dig into each dish, but it did offer a sample of everything.

The entrée round featured a confit white fish on a tomato jam, avocado mayo, cilantro and mojo de ajo, with a beautiful fried green leaf on top.  I cannot tell you what the leaf was, but it was magical. It tasted like spinach and basil made a baby.  The rabbit with pepian rojo, carrots and guajillo was my winner of the night, even though it was visually the most boring.    And the plating award went to the chicken dish with black radish, adobo chile and onion ash.

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While we sat and reveled in the moments of pleasure after the entrées, we were greeted with the mole course.  Freshly made tortillas with two varieties of mole to dip in: their mother mole, which has been cooking continuously since they first opened (947 days), and the mole nuevo.  For the mother mole, they add ingredients—whatever is in season—every day to change the flavor.  One day it could be sweet, one day spicy, the next smokey.  A revelation in itself.

The silent assassin was the dessert amuse.  We were waiting for our Happy Ending (the wording on the menu for the dessert course) and along comes a little rice bite. Coconut milk, sesame oil and leche.  It is not worth sharing the photo, since it looked like a worm or booger on the plate, but Olvaro managed to pack every ounce of flavor into this single bite. Perfection.

Last but not least came the Happy Ending.  Avocado Ice cream, cookie with a lavender cream, and churros with a chocolate rum sauce.

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All in all, Pujol is a restaurant that has it together.  Every moment was perfectly staged.  From the flavor build up of each course and the story they told, to the shot of mezcal with an orange juice back, rimmed with grasshopper salt.  This restaurant was close to perfect. Upon request they even allowed us to go in the back and view the kitchen and talk to the chef on duty, a young female chef. Overall, it was a very inspiring experience.

A City Covered in Ash – Day 5, Puebla, on the Edge of the Volcano

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After the market yesterday we walked and walked searching for a bar / cantina to grab a few drinks and watch the basketball playoffs.  Nothing. We asked around and heard rumors of a spot far away, but pretty much we just toured downtown Puebla.  It is a cool little city, narrow streets packed in and buildings no higher than 4 stories.  Parts of it feel a lot like Santa Fe, NM, while other parts feel like Florence, Italy. We still are the only caucasians in town, and we catch people looking at us a lot. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.56.15 PM Come dinner time, unsure of where to go, we randomly ran into a local named Andres.  First he wanted to take a photo with us, which lead to a lively conversation, and eventually we all headed to his favorite little taco place, serving Tacos Arabes.  

Tacos Arabes is a staple in Puebla cuisine. Pork and Onions layered on a spit and slowly roasted in front of coals.  Much like Al Pastor, it is sliced thinly to order, however with the Arabes it is served on a pita style tortilla.  It was introduced in the 1930’s by middle eastern immigrants.  It is now considered the most popular fast food in Puebla with over 300 vendors.

We were brought to a spot called Tacos of Baghdad, and for a little less than $10 US over a kilo (2.2lbs) of shaved Arabes meat plus tortillas arrived at our table.  They serve them super simple, with only lime wedges and salsa.  It fed the three of us plus we sent home half of it with our new friend.

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Starting our day the next morning, at the hotel cafe, we ordered chilaquiles in a red sauce with shredded chicken, and a ham and cheese omelette.  Simple flavors, but a nice start to the day.

We had seen photos of this beautiful temple on the hill outside of town and we really wanted to check it out.  On further research it was the tallest pyramid left in the area.  

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The entrance to the temple was through a winding series of tunnels that were maybe 6 ft high and no more than 3 ft wide. We followed the main path, but they had multiple offshoots heading in all directions, some caved in, some leading up, down, every direction.  It was creepy in the coolest way.  At one point in time, this was probably a maze you could have gotten seriously lost in.  As it was, it took us 15 minutes to briskly “escape.”  Out of the tunnels, we climbed up a series of steep stairways and ramps to reach the temple.  The temple was simple, but beautifully decorated in gold.

As we meandered down into town we stumbled upon another market by complete mistake. We were relieved to see stands packed with ripe, fresh produce.  Fish stands that were clean and organized.  The meat stalls were busy with butchers, and the cemita stands the same.  The entire market was pristine, the produce for the most part top quality even to my standards, and we left with huge smiles.

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Rather famished when we got back into town, we rushed into a horrible decision and chose a restaurant that nobody was in—a big no-no when traveling.  A note here for all of you, when traveling ALWAYS eat where others are eating.  The place looked authentic and unique at first glance, but we soon realized we had made a mistake. The food was not bad—it was really bad!  The mole poblano was drowned in sauce that was not well balanced, and the chile en nogada was way too sweet and stuffed with beans that were raw.  We have not gotten sick yet, but we are crossing our fingers.

A bottle of tequila was purchased on our way home to kill off the potential bacteria we had in our body. And here is a trick for all of you: if you like palomas and you want to save money, buy a cheap bottle of tequila, which is easy in Mexico, and a liter of fresca grapefruit.  This is what the bars sell anyway, and you can do it for a third of the price.

 

The Road to Puebla – Day 4, Mexico City to Puebla

After the craziness of a day at the market, we decided to lay low and stay close to the hotel.  Right down the street we had seen a restaurant that looked really busy the previous two nights, so we thought we would give it a try.

We had no idea what to expect—until we sat down. Sushi and ramen?  Not on the agenda, but we decided to take a night off of exploring Mexican cuisine and recharge the batteries. It was fantastic!  A simple preparation of hamachi sashimi and a big bowl of miso ramen. There’s nothing like this to really reset the system and close out a hectic day.  The cocktail alongside was a great mezcal concoction with pineapple, orange and grapefruit, with a smoked salt rim.  Delightful.

Japanese food was not the reason I was here, but I feel as though you need to step back and reflect on things sometimes, and this allowed my palate to get ready for phase two: Puebla.

Puebla is known for a few classic dishes, and we were getting amped to try them all: Mole Poblano, Chiles en Nogada, Chalupas and Cemitas.

The Mexico City bus station was easy to navigate, and we were on our way.  The bus was clean and the ride smooth.  As we drove I was reminded of the rather crazy phenomenon called unfinished potential.  Outside of the major cities and tourist areas, you see nothing but half built buildings, whether it’s the shell of a 10 story, incomplete apartment building, or houses with walled frames, but only half a roof. Realizing that this is how a lot of the world lives, while others have such comforts, is hard to accept. But this story is not about how I feel on those subjects.

Remnants of the Volcano

Remnants of the Volcano

Arriving in Puebla, we really had no idea what to expect.  We knew we had loved Mexico City so much, and we knew there would be good food, but the plan was less clear.  Everyone was wearing dust masks like you might see in parts of China.  The city appeared to be covered in a layer of gray dust, which we soon found out was due to the local volcano erupting the night before.  I found this exciting as I have never been near an active volcano.

Our hotel—which I had chosen mostly because of its location—is so rad.  Hotel Adante sits a block away from the center square, and it has a classical music theme.  Every room is named after a famous composer  and is accompanied by a photo of the composer in your room and a record player playing that music. The staff is incredibly helpful and friendly.  They have already guided us to some great spots.

Famished and wandering the ash covered streets of Puebla, it felt like we were missing something.  Are the shops closed because of the dust?  We had heard of some holiday they may be celebrating, but half the town felt closed, and we were starving.  I am often reluctant to eat at places near Town Center as it is often the cheesy or uncreative tourists traps, but we went back to the Zocalo (center square) and picked the first spot that looked good.  They greeted us with mole poblano sauce and chips, which was simple and different than your standard chips & salsa.  Our mission was still to try the local treasures, so we ordered chiles en nogada and arrachera with chalupas.  I had also been craving the classic michelada, so that would be our paired beverage. The michelada is different down here than in the States, where we seem to think it is a tomato-based beverage.  In most Mexican cities, it is classically served with lime juice, worcestershire and maybe a little hot sauce.  Delicious.  I highly recommend trying one as soon as you get off the plane next time you come down.  It really sets the mood.

Chiles en Nogada

Chiles en Nogada

Now back to the food.  Chiles en Nogada is a dish consisting of a stuffed poblano with either a picadillo filling or some other meat, topped with a walnut sauce and pomegranates.  It is visually so satisfying with the white sauce and the bright pink seeds, and parsley to garnish. Here they served the chile stuffed with a chicken and apple mixture.  The blend of sweet and savory complimented each other so well. Personally, I wanted a little more spice (heat), but overall it was a very well balanced dish that I cannot wait to recreate. The arrachera (grilled steak) with chalupas was also satisfying. Here the chalupas were soft fried corn tortillas with three different sauces and cheese: mole poblano, verde, and another one that blew us away, though I could not place what it was.  Once again, my lack of Spanish was very frustrating.   

The city appeared very easy to navigate so we started walking.  We had asked our hotel concierge for directions to a food market, which was a little confusing on our map. After a few wrong turns (we will call it a nice scenic tour), we made it.

Puebla Market Produce

Puebla Market Produce

Instantly upon walking in we both smiled.  We had found a market worth spending some time in.  These are the markets that are fun and enjoyable, clean, relatively quiet, with stands packed full of local produce.  Meat and fish butchers lined the front entrance, and we were hit right away with that distinctly harsh but somewhat enjoyable smell of walking into a fish market.  The smell quickly faded as we got deeper into the market and were surrounded by fruits and veggies.  Bananas, plantains, tomatoes, avocados, limes, herbs, and nopales were everywhere. The entire time I knew what I was looking for—my stomach and mind had an agenda.   

Cemita Magic Man

Cemita Magic Man

Cemita is the classic Pueblan sandwich, and the foundation lies with a perfect sesame seed bun. They scrape out the innards of the bun, allowing for more filling to be packed inside.  Starting with thin shavings of avocado, we watched in marvel as he then layered copious amounts of shredded queso oaxaca, thinly shaved ham, escabeche (here a spicy blend of hot chiles and onions), then a final drizzle of good olive oil, shaved white onions, and an herb called pápalo.  The freshness of the pápalo made the sandwich, and as I bit into, I could taste the heritage.  The loads of cheese, meat and hot peppers all came together, and like any great sandwich, the bun played a star roll.  Soft with the perfect amount of chew and a slight crunch.  Well worth the anticipation, and I most likely will eat at least one more before leaving town.   

Chiles for Days

Chiles for Days

Puebla had quickly grown on me, and I was grasping why so many people have called this the food capital of Mexico.  The flavors here are spot on, from the balanced sweet and savory to the spice and coziness.  I am in love with this food.  The people are undeniably kind, and the culture is deep.  

Eight hours in the city and we appear to be the only Americans.  We have not seen a single other “gringo” and it seems like we are the only potential tourists…. What a rare feeling in this world.

As we left the market, I was drawn into a shop right outside with massive sacks packed with chiles.  Varieties I had never seen—little ones, big ones, hot ones, mild ones.  It was beautiful.

La Mercado – Day 3, City Center

 

Romita, Hidden Rooftop Bar

Romita, Hidden Rooftop Bar

Where did we leave you? Oh, of course, those al pastor tacos that dreams are made of.  We took a much needed rest after a huge day. Jumping right back into it and realizing it was Saturday night, we rallied and got ready for a night out. I had heard of a hidden rooftop bar nearby that sounded cool.

From the street, it looked like we were entering into an apartment building with an accidental door open. Three winding flights up, we found a bar called ROMITA with vaulted ceilings, a garden patio, and an upper deck with a retractable roof—and once again we were in need of a reservation we did not have.  But we were lucky and got seats at the bar anyways. We tried two of their acclaimed specialty gin and tonics, and to be honest left remembering only the view.

Down the street at a Mezcaleria, we enjoyed two varieties of mezcal and some mini chalupas.  Chalupas here are more like tostadas—crispy corn tortillas topped with various ingredients.  At this particular location we tasted three varieties: a ceviche, a pork tinga, and a roasted mushroom.   The ceviche consisted of large chunks of snapper, shredded cabbage, citrusy mayo, and a lingering spice provoking the fondest memories of something from our childhood.  I can’t explain it other than it tasted like old el paso seasoning, in the best way. The roasted mushrooms were accompanied by grilled peppers and the tinga was simple in presentation but bold in flavor.  

Mini Chalupas

Mini Chalupas

By chance, we came across another hidden bar, packed between 2 other very busy restaurants / bars. Traveling up a flight of stairs it was a simply designed bar in a renovated apartment.  It appeared that they wanted it to look that way, and it was beautiful.  DJ’s were bumping some groovy tunes, and mezcal was again happily entering my body.  We had asked for mezcal old fashions, but the language barrier did not allow it.

We had called it a night until, low and behold, another Al Pastor Taco joint was calling my name.  I promise I do not search these places out, they just find me, and they are everywhere here.  Taqueria Alvaro was not as good as the day before, but delicious nonetheless.

Sundays in Mexico are a bit sleepy, especially here in Mexico City.  A very large portion of the population are church going folk, so we woke up with the same mentality. A lazy morning, tortilla espanola for breakfast and a coffee at a little bookstore as we caught up on some work.  Alvaro Street was quiet, and a stark contrast from the night before.    

At the Market

At the Market

On a previous adventure we had tried to find a boutique coffee spot making interesting cold brew concoctions, Buna Cafe Rico, but we had walked right past it. Today we did our research and found it easily, and it was definitely  worth the trip.  Like most of the coffee spots in the area, the design was sleek, modern and simple, and the coffee was superb.  We ordered two of their cold selections: an espresso tonic and an extraction fria.  The espresso was poured over tonic on ice (really good tonic) and was so simple but so delicious.  We were blown away.  The extraction method was classic cold brew, and had a great flavor, though a little too intense for this guy.

We hailed a cab a few blocks away in a neighborhood that looked identical to the financial district of LA, and headed for La Merced.  The scenery changed drastically as we entered the poorer parts of town, and as we pulled up to the market we realized where everyone was hiding.

La Merced Mercado is the largest market in all of Mexico, and the vastness sprawls beyond its walls and into the surrounding streets. Most websites recommend a guide to enter the market as it is easy to get lost in the maze of stalls, or waste time in the wrong areas.  We did not.  Upon initial entry we saw only cheap toys and cooking equipment, then it was fried fish stands, then it was more and more and more of the same.  We finally weaved our way around to some open streets where we found more food stands, produce, chilies and moles. YES!  Satisfaction, I thought.  A delicious huarache made with squash blossoms and oaxacan cheese, and enough hot chile paste to start a fire. It only cost us $1.00 US, and I would have happily paid $7 in the states. The experience alone of watching this woman press out the masa dough, throw it on the plancha and slowly love it as she than sauteed up the flowers with a little salt and delicious melted cheese was well worth it.

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As we entered back into the market, hoping for more inspiration, things took an unpleasant turn.  At first it looked super promising, with stands full of spices, chilies, produce and fish.  This part of the market was amazing.  Then we kept walking and the depression sunk in while we watched tens of thousands of locals swarming around shops filled with the cheapest toys, shoes, clothes, and trinkets.  How is this possible? we asked ourselves.  How is it that people survive like this?  And as wandered deeper into the market, it got worse and worse.  We could have spent hours there, as we only covered maybe a ¼ of the market in a matter of 2 ½ hours, but we finally found a little stand selling tacos de canasta (basket tacos) filled with meat and beans, which were good… and then, we had had enough.

The Bustling Merced Mercado

The Bustling Merced Mercado

As we stood there eating the classic street food—in which the vender packs a basket full of tortillas stuffed with different ingredients, than pours hot oil on top and covers them while he / she rides the basket to the market—we were hit with an eerie feeling. There was a loud speaker announcing the tacos, while hoards of people swarmed around us and 3 TV’s on the wall played death scenes from horror movies.  We had to go.  It took another 20 minutes to navigate a way out into the light and, while it was a memorable experience, I will not be returning.

Catedral Metropolitana

Cathedral Metropolitana

Through the city streets we wandered, looking for something promising but, because it was Sunday, everything was closed. Finally we made our way to the Zocalo, and the Cathedral Metropolitana, the largest cathedral in Mexico City.  It was awe inspiring and worth the walk, however we were rather hungry and thirsty at this point so we headed back to the hotel.  

Arriving back in our hood, we found everything was still closed, so we had a few tamales at a little shop, and went back to the hotel for a nap.  The tamales were not half bad—I’ve had better—but I was hungry and they hit the spot.

All said and done, it was a rather frustrating day for my belly and my mind, and I would vote against spending time in Mexico City on Sundays. On to Puebla tomorrow, where I hope to experience traditional Mole Poblano, Chiles en Nogada, Chalupas, and Cemitas. Hasta Luego!!!

Digging In – Day 2, Through the streets of Roma, Condesa and Hipódromo

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After leaving the mezcaleria last night, we started walking. Thanks to my brother’s strong sense of direction and our street awareness we ended up on Alvaro Obregon, a bustling street full of great restaurants, cocktail bars, coffee shops and street food.  It filled our hearts and souls with such excitement as we continued to walk, realizing we were on the right path, with the promise of great opportunities for the next day.

Huevos Revuelitos

Huevos Revuelitos

Waking up fully rested and ready to explore, we headed straight for Avaro Street in search of breakfast.  Right off the bat we found a little spot that looked promising. As had been the case since the minute we arrived, almost no english was spoken, with menus never in english… awesome! One omelet with veggies and a version of huevos rancheros, served with a rich dark pasilla chile sauce. Both were incredible, simple, clean and full of flavor. They were accompanied by fresh baked rolls. Rustin is gluten-free, and I try to watch my gluten intake, but these rolls were amazing!

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Back on the adventure trail we roamed in search of a few local coffee spots.  Like most big cities, Mexico City is going through a huge specialty coffee boom.  We were able to see a couple cool spots on Alvaro, than we headed into Roma Norte. Blown away again with the urban feel, lush canopies overhead, well kept walking medians, and the plethora of “central” plazas with massive water fountains and statues, we ventured deeper.

Arriving in the Roma Norte neighborhood we first stopped at a somewhat posh looking taqueria.  A few tacos were ordered and an appetizer called Tortitas de Huauzontle.  The clean cut staff, all in perfect matching uniforms were busy at work. One of the cooks right in front of our bar seats was frying something up that looked divine.  “Que es?” After I was told, I had to order one due to my endless curiosity of the new.

Tortitas Huauzontle

Tortitas Huauzontle

Tortitas de Huauzontle is similar in taste to broccoli, looks more like kale, and is from the quinoa family.  They fried this up mixed with a little cheese in a classic egg white blend like a relleno, served over a dark chile-tomato sauce and served with fresh verde tortillas.  Unique it was, with great texture, earthy flavors and a great vegetable flavor.

As we strolled through the neighborhood, we were in awe at how posh it felt.  The streets were covered with high end clothing boutiques, galleries, and restaurants (practically every single one was reservation only).

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Feeling a little turned off by the high-end atmosphere, we quickly changed paths and headed towards the Hipódromo and Condesa districts. A massive park on our side, filled with ancient jungle trees kept us intrigued.

Azul Condesa was our next stop, having heard of delicious guacamole with crickets, and legendary mole negro. Upon entering my mind was spinning with excitement. In the entry stood two older local women working the comals, and these were no ordinary comals—they were made of clay and the ladies were hand pressing the tortillas.

Hand Pressing Tortillas

Hand Pressing Tortillas

As we were ushered upstairs, lucky to get a table without a reservation, I noticed a chocolate cart. Curiously I contemplated its uses throughout the meal.  The crickets on the guacamole had a very interesting earthy flavor with an inherent sweet and sour taste.

We then ordered Legendario Mole Negro, served with braised chicken thighs, rice and fresh tortillas. We paired this with their classic margarita. Without a doubt this is one of my fondest food memories to date.  The rich, dark mole was the perfect balance of sweet, savory and spice, incredibly light yet fully satisfying. The margarita was no slouch either.

Guacamole with Crickets

Guacamole with Crickets

We both agreed that it was one of the best we ever had. Imagine a perfect steak with a glass of 1983 Burgundy Grand Cru. This pairing strummed my heart strings.

We finished the meal by asking about the chocolate cart, and sure enough it was for making drinks: classic mexican hot chocolates. They had 15 flavored local chocolates.  We chose guajillo and as our server explained in Spanish the history of drinking chocolate elixirs, he vigorously hand spun the chocolate into warm water.  We were in awe. View a video here.

Al Pastor Street Tacos

Al Pastor Street Tacos

The rest of the day we strolled in bliss, reveling in the joy of a great meal, fully content in mind and belly. However, based on a previous deal we had made with each other, we found ourselves eating once again two hours later on the way home.  Tacos al pastor have long been my favorite taco, and anytime I see a spit packed full of meat, with a pineapple sizzling on top, I have to stop.  It is an uncontrollable urge. Whether there are one or five, I have to try them. Call me a glutton, but I ordered 2.  They were little bites of pure bliss.  And watching the old man slice the meat and the pineapple off the spit with such ninja precision made the experience that much better.

A Chef’s Adventure in Tulum

Day 1: The First Bite

As it was, Alison and I had to fly in on the red eye to Cancun, rent a car, then drive an hour and a half south to our destination in Tulum.  Let me tell you, this sounded great when we first plannd it, but it was one hell of an adventure driving on no sleep in a country you don’t know too well.  Renting a car in a language you speak mediocre at best is also slightly difficult. And I highly recommend making sure you get the car rental from the place at the airport (I somehow managed to find one just outside the airport, and it was a bit tricky getting in touch with them at 6am).

Upon arrival at our hotel around 9am we found out we were unable to check in until noon.  We walked straight to the beach in our clothes and fell asleep for an hour to recharge. When we woke up it was time to find some grub. Feeling pretty hungry, we walked to the closest restaurant we could find, a beach front restaurant at a hotel, no idea the name (Tia Tulum?).

IMG_0811We started off with 2 Micheladas and some Guacamole.  Perfectly fried chips arrived at the table along with a generous portion of smashed avocados seasoned simply with salt, pepper, lime, garlic and a little cilantro and jalapeño.  For me it could have been a little limier and spicier, but it really spoke of the freshness of the avocado and its true flavors. Next up was a shrimp fajita plate.  Looking out on the ocean, it felt like the perfect way to start our culinary adventure. The fresh tortillas were the highlight here, as well as a smoky habanero salsa they sent out when I asked for “picante.”  The shrimp were sautéed with peppers, onions and tomato—the usual fare—and the plate was seasoned nicely.  Turns out this habanero salsa is one of about 4 ways they offer you something if you ask for hot sauce.  Most of the time they bring out some form of habanero condiment as soon as you order food.  This version was by far my favorite.  They must have roasted the chilies, then blended them with a little citrus, salt and what tasted like cinnamon. It had overwhelming heat, but a great sweetness at the end.  It left a burn that I loved so much I will never forget it.

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Later that day we headed to town to look around. Our first stop was at Rincon Poblano, where the star of the menu is the Mole Poblano.  I was very excited to try this, as I had recently fallen in love with the world of moles.  This version was served very simply: chicken leg, rice, mole and tortillas.  Again the tortillas were fresh, handmade sheets of heaven.  The chicken was perfectly cooked and the mole was rich, very sweet and loaded with flavor.  Though the sweetness was almost too much, it was a great dish.  Some pickled red onions would have taken it to the next level.  The Pacifico on the side didn’t hurt.

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Back at the hotel, we asked our host where to eat tacos.  Our new friend Carlos, the concierge, directed us towards Taqueria el Nero, where they cook al pastor on a spit.  We arrived to a restaurant packed with locals.  We sat down to an array of six salsas, which immediately intoxicated our senses. A quick sampling revealed bold, unique flavors with varying degrees of heat.  We started off with a couple tacos al pastor and a carne asada.  Within seconds of the first bite we each called for another order of the same.  They were served just the way I like: shaved thin, slice of pineapple, onion and cilantro.  You hardly need anything else in life, but a little of the avocado salsa and a touch of habanero will leave you wishing for four stomachs.  On any normal trip I would have been back every day for at least a couple of these little gems, but in the spirit of exploration, we did not return.  The price was an astonishingly low 70 pesos for five tacos and a bottle of homemade horchatta.

Special Note: the horchatta here needs an honorable mention.  For those of you who have not had horchatta in Mexico, it is different, like drinking mother’s milk: pure, smooth, heavenly and the perfect non-alcoholic option to pair with spicy tacos.

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Day 2:  Up the coast, and a whole lot of food

We woke up early to a sky full of transcendent colors, feeling revitalized from a full night’s sleep and refreshed by the salty air coming in off the ocean.  A short walk on the beach led us to a cup of coffee so enticing we returned daily.

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We arrived in town for breakfast with a plan that was soon thwarted by a sign on the door: “cerrado.”  Heading down a side street we happened upon a real gem.  A patron outside insisted we try the chilaquillas.  In we went. As it was vacation after all, we ordered two margaritas and a plate of chilaquillas with fried egg and pollo in the verde sauce. What a delight this place was!  The chips, which I had come to expect to be different than ours back home, are thicker cut, with a lot of chew and crunch.  This local variation of chips highlighted the true potential of chilaquillas. Baked in what seems to be a very light tomatillo salsa, they have just the right amount of tang. Thin strips of chicken breast, a perfect fried egg (bright orange, obviously local), and a little queso fresco composed the whole plate.  Everything was seasoned perfectly and this still remains one of the highlights of the trip.  And again on any normal trip this would have been an everyday breakfast stop.

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Wandering north in search of a beautiful bay we’d heard of, we instead found the little sea town of Akumal.  After an hour of exploring dirt roads for the right spot, we finally stumbled upon La Buena Vida. What a relief! The restaurant was packed when we walked in: always a good sign to me.  The decor was rad, with swings for seats, driftwood for art, and some crazy pre-historic creature hanging above the bar.  We sat and ordered a couple beers, ceviche and chicken empanadas. Blissfully swinging away, we waited for our food, munching on standard chips and excellent salsa.  The ceviche stole the show, no more than 20 feet from the ocean. Indulging in the perfectly poached shrimp with cured white fish, I couldn’t help but think, “this is it Dakota, this where you are meant to be, eating ceviche on the water.”  Simplicity at its best: shrimp, fish, pico, avocado and saltines.

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The empanadas were cased in a light fluffy masa dough that was divine. Too bad the filling and mango sauce missed the mark.  I take from this dish that masa dough is an amazing option for empanadas.

Onward we traveled to the next recommendation, Oscar & Lalos, sitting right off the highway, with a huge billboard reading “Stop In.”  I was immediately skeptical.  As we walked in, we were drawn to the huge patio jungle with sun streaming down through the growth.  At this point we were hardly hungry, but thought we would give it a go knowing it was out of town and we would not be back.  Maybe we didn’t order the right thing, but the baked chile relleno in a bland red sauce and 2 steak (aracharra) tacos missed the mark.

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Back at the hotel we luxuriated in the sun.  After some much needed rest, we headed back to our shady jungle oasis for a couple margaritas as we prepped for our night out.

As evening fell we chose to check out a few places on the north end of Tulum Beach claiming to have “the best fish tacos.” On our quest for inspiration we chose two locations: first Mateo’s (pictured below), then Puro Corazon next door.  At Mateo’s we tried the tacos and Caesar, and at Corazon we ended up trying a pescado-dilla.

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I doused the tacos at Mateo’s with the three sauces provided—a bright citrusy mayo, tamarind glaze and another version of habanero salsa—and my taste buds were jumping with joy.  The accompanying Caesar was a bit of a letdown though, since we had hoped for a tableside preparation.

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At Puro Corazon we listened to a great local band, playing some funk-jazz-middle eastern jams.  The drinks were killer and the pescado-dilla was interesting but not memorable.

The mescal concoctions our bar tender whipped up were some of the highlights of the trip.  Pictured is the Mezcal Peño. My favorite was the Rojillo.  The dark, smoky habanero salsa at Puro Corazon—reminiscent of the salsa we’d had on day 1—left me mystified once again. I’ll be on a quest to recreate those flavors for a long time.

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The band was a lively mix of keyboard, bass, drums and vocals.  As is so often the case, when they took a break, Alison struck up conversation with them and we got to chat with them for a little while.  They hailed from France, Argentina and Mexico City, and their styles played so well together.

Day 3:  Beautiful Sunrise and Tuna “Nachos”

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The day started with a memorably beautiful sunrise. I so rarely am awake for this event, but when staying on an eastern coast, I relish the opportunity to catch the sun rise over the ocean. Each morning we strolled up and down the beach and the sunrise was always breathtaking, but the light on this particular morning was exceptional.

For breakfast we headed back into town.  The urge to repeat and have the chilaquilas again was overwhelming, but calling upon our sense of purpose and responsibility to our mission, we went across the street to a little café.  A simple breakfast of huevos rancheros for me, and toast and bacon for Alison was good, but nothing to write home about.

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Back to the beach for some much needed time in the sun.  We relaxed and played in the ocean for most of the morning until it was time for lunch.  Choosing to stay nearby, we walked up the beach a little to Ziggy’s, a beautifully decorated beach resort, with a large bar, offering more swing seats.  We ordered a couple drinks and tuna “nachos.” Amazing!  The tuna was cut in nice size pieces, dressed in a poke style dressing, and tossed with large chunks of avocado.  Instead of regular chips, it was served on fried wonton chips and topped with pea shoots for garnish which provided a really nice “grassy” note.  The spicy aioli on the side finished the dish perfectly.  I would eat this again a million times, and I am sure I will recreate it in some form or another.

On this night we decided to take a break and try something different.  We had heard of a restaurant called Hartwood, home of Chef Eric Werner. Unfortunately, I was not aware of how crazy popular this place is.  To get into Hartwood, you have to show up the day of at 3pm sharp and wait in line to get your name on the list for either the 5pm or 8pm seating. Here is an article you should read if more interested in the amazing food culture Werner is creating.

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Eventually we ended up at a place down the road called La Famiglia.  A beautiful restaurant focusing on Italian food. We grabbed a seat there at a little bar tucked in the front corner.  Our bartender Leo was very friendly and helped guide us through a wonderful dinner.  We started off with an incredible carpaccio, followed by pesto gnocchi and a formaggio fettuccini.  All of the noodles were made fresh in house, and it was a really nice change of pace from the Mexican fare. The drink menu added a special touch, including a fantastic passion fruit mojito.

Day 4:  The Final Hoorah!!!

It was a somber feeling waking up the last day.  It was hard to believe, as is usually the story, that our trip was already coming to end.  While it felt like we had accomplished a lot, a few more days would have been perfect.  Before setting out, we prioritized our to-do list, with things for this trip and a long list of ideas for next time. Then we took our morning sunrise walk.

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Though one often almost secretly wishes for rain to ease the transition, it was another day of sublime beauty. We had heard of an incredible place in town that serves traditional German fare for breakfast. “Interesting”, I thought.  Azafrans is right off the main drag in downtown Tulum. We had actually tried to go there the day before but it was closed.  The hours on the door read Wed-Sun 8-3.  Finally, on our last day we got in, though just barely since the entire restaurant was full except for one table inside. Surprisingly, they only seated one table after us, at around 10am, before they announced no more tables, they were going to run out of food.  “That’s interesting too,” I thought, again perplexed: it’s 10am and the sign clearly says “we close at 3pm?”  Anyway, we ordered what they called the “ultimate hangover breakfast,” consisting of 2 eggs, homemade rye toast, homemade sausage, bacon, mashed potatoes and some good mustard.  We also requested a homemade bagel with brie and salami.  Both breakfasts included fresh squeezed OJ and coffee.  The coffee was fresh from Veracruz and it was “to die for” (although I much prefer the French expression “to live for”).  After enjoying our coffee for a while I glanced at the clock, only to realize that  30 minutes had gone by without any suggestion of our food coming any time soon. That said, it’s always been the case that everything is slower in Central America, so why not just take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the scenery, no matter where you are?  When our food finally arrived 45 minutes later, it was quite tasty, though not worth a 45 minute wait at breakfast.  I would go back, however, and just hope for slightly faster service.

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After breakfast we headed to one of the many local ruins.  Entering in the back way, I was stoked to find out that we had avoided the parking fee.  For a mere $5 entry fee we were able to wander the ancient Mayan Ruins, which rest right on the edge of cliffs overlooking the beach and a tortoise sanctuary. We thoroughly enjoyed our hour and a half stroll. Next time I will check out some of the other ruins, but these were pretty cool.

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After the ruins it was time for some more fun in the sun, which didn’t last long as we had at this point in our trip gotten used to a lot of food and drink and were already getting hungry again.  So off we strolled. A beautiful walk ensued, down the Tulum Beach road, which is kind of in the jungle.  Finally we’d had enough and headed out to the beach where we happened across a little beach bar bumping some reggae.  The sign out front read “ceviche and 2 cocktails for 280 pesos” (about $16) which we couldn’t resist.  I am very thankful we stopped, as it turned out to be incredible. As you can see in the picture it was a huge helping.  The fish had just hit the lime juice and they gave us instructions to wait about 10 minutes before digging in. I prefer ceviche a little under cured, so we didn’t wait at all and it was divine. A massive piece of avocado on the side, and some fiery habaneros tied it all together.  Paired with a couple of cuba libres and the location, this was a slice of heaven.  Just as we were finishing, the couple next to us ordered the lobster, and WOW! was I ever disappointed that I had missed that.  A huge Spiny lobster about 1.5 feet long, back torn open, all the lobster had been cubed and tempura fried, served with tortillas and some other accoutrements.  That might have been one of the only times in my life I said, “Damn, I wish I ordered the lobster.”  But there is always next time.

After relaxing at the hotel and packing, we headed into town for one final meal.  We had been told about an amazing “fish for 2” platter at a restaurant called “La Barracuda,” which is on the far end of town.  But first we had to visit one last taco shop that all the locals had been raving about.  All the locals you ask?  Yes!  Every time I was at a bar or in a taxi, I asked, “where is the best taco?”  Of course I said it in Spanish, and 95% of the replies said Tacos Chiapaneca.  A tiny hole in the wall almost at the end of town, I had walked past it twice early in the week and did not even realize what we were missing.

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That was our first stop, where we shared 2 Al pastor, 1 carne asada & 1 chicken panucho.  All quite delicious and for an amazing price of $4! If you ask me, I would say El Nero is better, but it’s close.

After all that, we had to walk it off a bit, buy some gifts for the kiddo and check out a little Tequila shop.  I was anxious to bring back a special Mezcal that we can’t get in Colorado.  The first one they poured me had a worm and scorpion in it, and tasted incredible, but it was too expensive.  After 2 more delicious but expensive tastes, I found a reasonably priced bottle and we moved on.  Come see me in the office some night and I will give you a taste (if you are 21).

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We did finally make it to La Barracuda.  After a little confusion in ordering, we found the “fish for 2” platter and it was fantastic.  A half sheet tray filled with roasted octopus, squid, shrimp and perfectly cooked white fish, along with roasted veggies, rice, and tortillas. To top it off they served it with 3 habanero condiments. One of them was the dark roasted version I had loved so much from day one.  The plate of food was enormous!  We only ate three quarters of it but it only cost about $18.  A great place for those who love seafood. I would highly recommend this as a stop for a hungry set of travelers.

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Our adventure was at an end—almost.  During the early morning drive back to the airport, I almost killed us on one of the insane speed bumps leaving town.  It was pouring rain (be careful what you wish for) and the speed bumps in and out of Tulum are seriously extreme at 2.5’ tall.  We had rented a tiny little car and I was driving too fast between the bumps. Luckily I realized the danger right before we hit it and slammed on the breaks. We flew over the bump as if in slow motion.  Hearts racing, bodies intact, we carried on.  It was an exciting end to a phenomenal trip, which could have had a much worse ending.

Until next time, Adios, and Buenas Dias!!

 

Tulum y más allá

Travel has always been one of my passions. I grew up traveling to Cozumel to dive, and taking family trips to Baja. Now as an adult I get the incredible opportunity to travel to Mexico for work, and I get to share it with the people I love. This current trip takes me to Tulum for a getaway with my beautiful fiancee Alison. We fell in love traveling around the world together, and this is our first trip away from our 4 1/2 year old son.

Tulum offers a chance to get hands on with the cuisine I cook everyday. A place titled as a place for foodies to start being foodies. While I am not crazy about that term, I am excited to travel to a place that has a rich culinary scene based around locality. Top tier chefs have made a home here, and there is a lot of focus on super local produce and traditional Mayan cooking.

In April I swap Alison for my brother Rustin, as I head on a culinary adventure with stops in Mexico City, Puebla and Merida.

It is never easy to leave work, even harder to leave my son, at least on this trip I get to be with my love.

-Chef Dakota Coburn

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