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Our Favorite Restaurants in Mérida

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During our 91 days in the Yucatán, we spent a lot of time on the road. So whenever we were in Mérida, we tried to cook healthy meals and eat at home. Too many Mexican restaurants turn Mike and Jürgen into pudgy boys. Despite our best efforts, though, we couldn’t resist visiting a good percentage of Mérida’s eating establishments. Here are some of our favorites; not necessarily the city’s “top-rated” restaurants, but for one reason or another, the ones we most enjoyed.

Restaurant Tips Merida
Chaya Maya

If you’re looking for a classy place to try some classic Yucatecan cuisine, look no further than the Chaya Maya. This restaurant is a Mérida institution, with waitresses dressed in huipiles and even a woman at the entrance hand-forming the tortillas that will soon be on your table. The prices are reasonable and the food is fantastic, especially the sopa de lima and poc-chuc. There are two branches of Chaya Maya near each other, but we preferred the one on C/ 55, near the Plaza de Santa Lucia. [Location]

El Tucho

A raucous restaurant found a block away from the Plaza Grande, our initial visit to El Tucho was quite a surprise. I don’t know what we had been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this crowded hall with a band wailing away on stage. It was initially overwhelming and we almost left immediately, but I’m glad we didn’t. The food was good and, with each beer, the music sounded better. Plus, our ebullient waiter just kept on bringing out free tapas. If you don’t mind noise, head here for a fun meal in an authentically Yucatecan setting. [Location]

Bio Restaurant Cura-Kit

Here’s a restaurant that I can almost guarantee won’t appear in your guidebook. We only decided to eat at the Bio-Restaurant Cura-Kit (on C/ 48 and 71, adjacent to El Arco Hotel) because it was so close to our house. As luck would have it, it turned out to be one of our very favorites. They have daily specials at great prices, just 50 pesos for a huge plate, with a drink included. We especially liked eating here on Mondays, when the special was brochetas (chicken shish-kabobs). [Location]

La Vida Catarina

Found on C/ 60 between the Plaza Grande and Santa Lucia, La Vida Catarina was the restaurant in Mérida which we visited more than any other. It was our default; if we couldn’t be bothered to think of anything else, we knew we’d be happy here, safe inside its charming courtyard, with its daily drink specials, unobtrusive waitstaff and quiet music. Yes, quiet music! In Mexico! We came here over and over, and never could figure out why it wasn’t more crowded. [Location]

Salamanca Grill

Friends had recommended an Argentine grill called La Rueda, but when we showed up on a Monday afternoon, it was closed. A woman passing by on the street saw our looks of despair and recommended we try the nearby Salamanca Grill. Ma’am, on the off chance that you’re reading this… we thank you from the bottom of our stomachs. Our meal here was one of the best we had in Mérida. A small, dark restaurant with huge, mouthwatering steaks at prices that almost made me feel guilty. Perhaps La Rueda would have been just as good, but I can’t imagine it being better. [Location]

Restaurante Mary’s

We had walked by Restaurante Mary’s at least a dozen times, and always this cheap and simple cantina on C/ 63 was packed full with locals. That’s a good sign, and though we kept promising ourselves to check it out, we never did. Finally, on our last week in Mérida, we remembered Mary’s, and it was just as good as we suspected it would be. We’d eaten a lot of cheap, quick meals around the nearby Mercado de San Benito which weren’t bad, but none could compare in value or quality to this one. [Location]

Yucatan Cook Book

Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
Restaurant Tips Merida
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February 15, 2014 at 10:29 pm Comments (3)

A Quick Trip to Historic Maní

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After visiting the ruins of Mayapan, we made our way south to Maní. This tiny town is famous across the peninsula for its cuisine, but it was also the scene of one of the Yucatán’s darkest moments.

Mani Yucatan

If you’re about to tour the Yucatán by bus, make sure it’s not a Sunday. Or at least, not the Sunday before Christmas. Getting from Mérida to Mayapan wasn’t bad, but continuing to Maní was a nightmare. The 24-kilometer journey took more than two hours of waiting and transferring; the service was not just infrequent, but achingly slow.

Our eventual return to Mérida took three hours, since the bus looped into every tiny town and stopped for anyone who waved. There were people waiting for the bus on almost every corner. So we’d stop and pick up new passengers, and then ten seconds later, stop at the next corner. And then again, ten seconds after that. It was infuriating. Designated bus stops seem to be a concept absolutely unknown to the Yucatán. (Hey people, I’ve got a crazy idea that will save you so much time.)

When we finally arrived in Maní, we were starving, and made a beeline straight to El Principe Tutul-Xiu, a well-known and popular restaurant. On this Sunday afternoon, the crowd was considerable and we had to queue for quite a while before getting a seat. While we waited, the classically-attired waiters carried plate after plate of poc-chuc right under our noses, and I was driven to a state of almost violent hunger.

Mani Yucatan

Just as I had made up my mind to pounce, we were seated. Immediately, we ordered two portions of poc-chuc, sopa de lima and, allowing hunger to conquer judgement, an extra order of panuchos. Tutul-Xiu has been cranking out authentic Yucatecan food since 1973, and has expanded to Oxkutzcab and Mérida. The restaurant’s popularity is well-deserved; not only was it the best poc-chuc I’ve had, but the prices are unbelievable considering the size of the portions. And the festive atmosphere inside the beautiful palapa is unbeatable. Tutul-Xiu, by the way, was the name of the Maya kingdom which encompassed Maní, Mayapan and Uxmal, at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Ah yes, the Spaniards. The peninsula’s new rulers were never shy about committing atrocities against indigenous populations, but Maní was the scene of perhaps their most wanton. On July 12, 1562, Bishop Diego de Landa ordered an auto-da-fé here, burning every Maya book, idol, and codex that had been gathered from across the peninsula. With their strange and indecipherable symbols, he declared these works to be “of the devil”. Thanks to a single religious crusader’s closed-mindedness, practically the entirety of Maya literature was lost, irretrievably. Without de Landa’s interference, our understanding of the ancient culture would be incalculably greater.

So I was in a combative mood when we visited the Convento de San Miguel Arcangel, built in 1549, in the center of Maní. But as much as I was hating on everything Catholic, the convent was so lovely and peaceful, my rage soon dissipated. We were all alone in the cavernous structure, free to wander at will through the courtyards and out into the back gardens. They might have brought ruin upon the Maya but, boy, do those Catholics know how to build a convent.

Location of Maní on our Map

Travel Insurance For Your Vacation To Mexico

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January 19, 2014 at 11:39 pm Comments (4)

The Eco-Museum of Cacao

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We weren’t sure what to expect from the Eco-Museum of Cacao, found between the archaeological sites of Labná and Xlapak. Apart from a flier we’d picked up in a tourism office, we hadn’t read a thing about it, and that’s usually a bad sign. But the museum turned out to be excellent, with nicely-presented information, a chocolate-making demonstration, animals and even a re-creation of an ancient Maya rain ritual.

The Eco-Museum of Cocoa

In a world of Hershey’s and fine Belgian pralines, it’s hard to remember that the West didn’t even know about chocolate until the conquest of the Americas. When Christopher Columbus first encountered American natives, cacao beans were among the treasures he received as a gift. Ignorant to the magic contained within, he disregarded them completely. But the Europeans would learn and eventually come to consider themselves masters of a plant that won’t even grow in their land. And here come the patents and the factories and the Cadbury and the Nestlé, and everyone’s getting rich… except, of course, the Maya.

The word “chocolate” comes straight from the Mayan “Xoko-atl”, or “hot water”. In the Yucatán, it has always been a highly-venerated luxury, considered the food of the gods. The beans were even traded as currency; 100 could buy you a slave. The Yucatecan Maya were the first to develop cacao plantations, and consume their chocolate as a drink. After roasting and grinding the beans, the powder was brought to bubble over fire and then made frothy by either blowing into it or stirring it violently.

The Eco-Museum, located on the grounds of the working still-operating Tikal Cacao Plantation, presents this information in a series of lovely thatch-roofed huts that lead into the jungle. Midway through, we had a chance to see a Maya ritual to honor the rain god. It began with just a single man blowing into a conch shell. These noises were echoed from the woods surrounding us, and soon five other musicians emerged from the trees to join their leader at the altar. Their ensuing performance was bizarre and riveting.

In the final hut, we got to see how the Maya prepared their favorite drink, and then sample it. It was a great conclusion to a museum we really loved. A definite highlight of our trip along the Ruta Puuc.

Location on our Map
Eco-Museo del Cacao –

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The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
The Eco-Museum of Cocoa
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December 27, 2013 at 12:42 am Comments (0)

A Tour of Mérida’s Markets

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I’ve got one of those brains that appreciates order. I love numbers and logic, and anything organized. I always keep a list of tasks for the day, and often an item on that list will be reminding me to make another list. Seriously. Don’t even get me started on jigsaw puzzles. The challenge of arranging jumbled pieces into a coherent whole? I’m happy just thinking about it.

So, I was a little troubled during our first foray into Mérida’s market. More like, freaked out. It was chaos. Mérida had taken the jigsaw puzzle called “Shopping”, hacked up the pieces with scissors, stuffed them into a piñata, and then hit it with a rocket launcher. I’ve never seen a place as confusing, haphazard, nonsensical, noisy, and absolutely devoid of order.

Even calling the place a “market” is wrong. It’s markets! Three or four markets all loosely clumped together. Maybe there were five. Who knows? It’s impossible to say where one ends and the other begins, and anyway, they’re all spilling out into the streets. Want to buy a shoelace? Right there, next to the disemboweled chicken. D’uh. Down this lane, you can find (in order): yucca-candy, tailor, avocado-lady, voodoo shop, tortillas. How long must it take, before you can make sense of this madness?

Apparently it takes twelve years. That’s how long Rosa Soares, a British-Portuguese expat, has lived in Mexico, and she has an excellent handle on Mérida’s markets. Rosa offers guided visits to tourists, and really knows her stuff. We met her one morning in front of the city cathedral, and followed her around to her favorite spots.

I began the day diligently taking notes on the names of the various spots we visited. But let’s be honest. Although Rosa knew exactly where we were throughout the day, I lost track after about ten minutes. Anyway, attempting to impart specific names and exact locations seems somehow contrary to the anarchic spirit of Mérida’s markets.

We started with a breakfast of panuchos inside one bustling market, and then moved to another which specializes in fruit. We visited a fish hall, then exited onto a road with lunch stalls, and found the dead chickens. And then the live chickens. Rosa knew what every vegetable was, every strange snack. She brought us to a lane of shops where the specialty is sweets, and then out onto the street where we saw a store that makes sauces in bulk.

Eventually, Jürgen and I had to raise the white flag. We had been walking for over two hours, and I had the distinct impression that Rosa could have gone on for two more. For this exhausting tour, she asks for almost no money, insisting that she does it because she loves being outside, meeting people, and helping newcomers become oriented. If you’re interested in an informed tour of Mérida’s most chaotic and colorful side, get in touch.

Location of the San Benito Market (as close to the “center” of Merida’s markets as exists)
Rosa’s Market Tours – Facebook

-Other Great Markets We Visited Around The World: Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Market in Sucre, Vucciria Market in Palermo, San Telmo Sunday Market In Buenos Aires, Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan

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December 22, 2013 at 12:41 am Comments (3)

Eating in Cozumel, Part 2

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During our stay in Cozumel, we adhered to a strict regimen of breakfast, lunch and dinner, every single day, always at a new place. By the end of the week, our bellies were beginning to squeeze through the buttons of our shirts, and we were happy to be done with all the eating. But the meals we enjoyed in Cozumel were among the highlights of our trip.

Eating in Cozumel, Part 1

El Muellecito

Loud music, rock-n-roll decor, and a young crowd hungry for both food and fun are the highlights of El Muellecito (Little Dock). Even though it was a Monday evening when we showed up, we almost couldn’t find a table. There are frequent drink specials which help bring in the crowds, and great retro-rock blasting from the speakers. Perhaps most importantly, the tuna tacos I ordered were incredible.

“What’s that?!” shouts Jürgen.
“The tuna tacos are really good.”
“The music! I can’t hear you! What?”
“I said that I like my tuna tacos! You know… never mind.”
“Okay!”

“How are your tuna tacos?”

La Cocay

La Cocay serves up the best modern cuisine in Cozumel. Actually, it’s the best modern cuisine I’d had anywhere, in a very long time. The creative dishes are tinged with a Mediterranean influence, and we had difficulty deciding which delicious-sounding meal to try. It was so much fun to read the menu that I called the waiter over to ask if there was a sequel.

In the end, we went with the sesame sashimi tuna and the roasted duck breast. The plates were little works of art which I (almost) felt bad about destroying. La Cocay, which is Mayan for “firefly”, is run by an American expat who’s lived on the island for years.

Rolandi’s

Found just below El Muellecito and actually run by the same family, Rolandi’s is much different in terms of style. No loud rock here, just wonderfully prepared Italian cooking. We weren’t that hungry when we sat down, and politely passed on an appetizer. But our waiter wasn’t having any of that nonsense. He first suggested and then insisted we try the octopus carpaccio. “Well, you can bring it out,” we suggested, “but we might not eat it all.” Minutes later, the carpaccio was gone and we were literally licking the plate clean.

The rest of the food was just as good. I had a colorful and rich pasta dish, and Jürgen went for pizza. Having forgotten all that crap about “not being so hungry”, we ordered dessert: Bananas Flambé. Fun to watch, and even more fun to eat.

Kinta

Since it’s owned by the same people who run Kondesa, the super-cool garden restaurant we had patronized on our first night in the city, we had high hopes for Kinta. The two restaurants are similar, both with excellent food and chic decoration, but Kinta is more subdued. While Kondesa might be better with a group of friends, this was perfect for a quiet date.

Kinta bills itself as a Mexican bistro, and its menu is largely based on regional ingredients. There’s grilled shrimp marinated in achiote, scallops served with tomato-corn salsa and cilantro sauce, roasted pork with chiles, mushrooms, almonds, fig marmalade and potatoes… and now my keyboard is covered in drool. Great.

El Mercado

We did a lot of fine dining during our week in Cozumel, at places which cater to foreigners and the island’s well-off locals. It was excellent and interesting food, but not our normal style. So it was almost a relief to have our final meal at San Miguel’s market. Quick and easy snacks like panuchos and empanadas served by no-nonsense women who aren’t the slightest bit concerned about charming us with their breezy style. Nope. Plop your butt down on a stool in this chaotic market where people are buying yucca root and papayas, and munch down delicious tacos as fast as you can.

One thing we realized here, and have noticed in other street joints as well, is that water isn’t always on the menu. I ordered a water, and the guy asked me what kind. Cola? Lemonade? Hibiscus tea? Orange juice? And when I insisted on normal water, he gave me a “weirdo” look, and then had to go to a different stand to fetch it. We would read later that the Maya, both in the past and their ancestors today, are unaccustomed to drinking straight water, always preferring to flavor it.


Jürgen and I were invited guests at most of these restaurants, but of course are sharing our honest opinions. We can wholeheartedly recommend the places listed above, without qualm. For such a small city, San Miguel has an abundance of excellent restaurants… just another reason to stay for an extended visit!

Great Hotels On Cozumel

More Pics from El Muellecito
More Pics from La Cocay
More Pics from Rolandi’s
Another Pic from Kinta
More Pics from the Cozumel Market
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December 16, 2013 at 12:54 am Comment (1)

Eating in Cozumel, Part 1

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During our week in Cozumel, we were invited to a number of restaurants. From chic to rustic, modern to traditional, we sampled a little of everything the island has to offer. It was an intense culinary program and there were times when, regardless of how delicious the shrimp ceviche or grilled snapper was, I almost couldn’t take another bite. Here are some of our favorite finds.

The Intercontinental
Intercontinental Cozumel

Immediately upon arriving, we drove to the island’s only five-star hotel for a taste of The Good Life. We relaxed on the beach, did a bit of snorkeling, and then sat down to a delicious meal. Turns out, The Good Life tastes a lot like fresh ceviche.

Ceviche is something I’ve always been too nervous to order. It’s marinated raw fish, so you want to be pretty sure about the quality of the place before you order. But we were at a five-star resort, so I figured, “now or never”. It was incredible. I’d say that it was my favorite new food, but quite honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel confident enough to order it again.

Kondesa

Modern food in a smart garden restaurant, it was almost a given that Kondesa would become one of Cozumel’s trendiest spots when it opened in 2011. Everything about this place is cool, from the music to the decor, and the food isn’t bad either. We sampled a few great dishes, and I’d say my favorite was the guacamole sampler: traditional, fruit and nut varieties.

Or maybe I best liked the cheese fondue. Or was it the lion fish crabcakes? I don’t know, I was in the mood to enjoy everything. It was Friday night and there was a DJ spinning music in the corner. A light rain fell, forcing everyone into the interior patio, and it was a conspicuously good-looking bunch to be crowded in with. For a casual yet classy night out, Condesa is probably Cozumel’s best bet.

Casa Denis

It took us awhile to realize that, in Mexico, torta means “sandwich”. In Spain, the same word means “cake”. So when I was told that the most famous dish at Casa Denis was Torta de Camarones, I almost got up and walked out. What kind of sick freaks…

But luckily I realized my error, and was soon devouring the most delicious shrimp sandwich I’d ever encountered. They’ve had a lot of time to perfect the art. With a history stretching back 90 years, Casa Denis is a Cozumel institution.

Palmeras

Found directly between the ocean and the main square of San Miguel, Palmeras has the most enviable location in Cozumel, so it doesn’t even need to try. Customers are going to flock here regardless. So, it was a happy surprise to discover that they do indeed try. Tourists and locals alike come for breakfast to order chilaquiles and enchiladas. Yes, you read that right: in Mexico, enchiladas are for breakfast. Chilaquiles, I don’t even want to get into.

Okay fine. Chilaquiles are basically nachos: tortilla chips covered with a rich red or green sauce, smothered in shredded chicken, cream and cheese. And served for breakfast! I’m guessing that they’re called chilaquiles because, nachos for breakfast? That would be crazy. But these are chilaquiles, so dig right in, breakfast is served.

La Cozumeleña
La Cozumeleña

A hip, downtown diner serving delicious food at unbelievable prices, dependably crowded with locals… You’d have to be miserable not to immediately love a joint like La Coumeleña. We had heard that it has the best huevos motuleños in the entire peninsula. That’s quite a claim, but after devouring my entire plate in about three minutes, I’d be happy to hand them the title.


It bears noting that we were invited to dine at all of these restaurants. We were under no obligation to write positively about them, and only chose our favorites to include in this list. Luckily, almost every place we visited was great. In fact, there were more than enough for a second full list of recommendations.

Cozumel Hotels

More Pics of the Intercontinental
Intercontinental Cozumel
Intercontinental Cozumel
Intercontinental Cozumel
Intercontinental Cozumel
Intercontinental Cozumel
Intercontinental Cozumel
Intercontinental Cozumel
More Pics from Kondesa
Kondesa Cozumel
More Pics from Casa Denis
Casa Denis Cozumel
More Pics from Palmeras
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December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm Comments (3)

Where to Eat in Puerto Morelos

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For such a small town, Puerto Morelos has a number of great places to grab a bite. There were a few we loved so much, we returned to them over and over again. Here are our favorites, and one that we would urge you to stay away from.

Our unofficial office for the week was at Restaurante La Pirata. When we’re traveling, it’s always difficult to find a comfortable place in which to work, so we were thrilled to discover La Pirata. Speedy internet, friendly service, and a pleasant and relatively quiet atmosphere. Great food, as well. Apart from our hotel and Wet Set, this is where we spent most of our time during the week. [Location]

To eat like a local, head to Mimi’s, where the tables are packed, decor is kept to a bare minimum, and the tostadas are delicious. Outrageously so. Seriously, outrageous. After biting into one of Mimi’s tostadas (which cost next to nothing, by the way), I was outraged. How dare they make something so good?! I was furious. Those incredible tostadas covered with insanely delicious beans and perfectly seasoned meat… damn you Mimi, where do you get off?! I’ll have three more. [Location]

For great value set lunches on weekdays, our favorite was Al Chile. For about $5 USD, you get an appetizer, main dish and drink. The place is cute and the food is great. And if you get sleepy after such a big lunch, grab a cup of the best coffee in town at nearby Cafe de Amancia, on the corner of the main plaza. [Location]

If you’re in the mood for amazing fish tacos, search out Caribe’s, a small and speedy cafe near the water. When we ate there, a group of kids was playing around our table and teasing us, but the fish tacos I was scarfing down were so good, I likely wouldn’t have noticed if they’d been smacking my head with baseball bats. [Location]

With so many good restaurants to choose from, you have no excuse to waste your time at Olé, on the “other side” of town away from the beach. Our hotel warned us that they have a reputation for ripping off foreigners, but we went anyway. It looked like such a cool little place! The food was alright, but unspectacular and, as warned, our bill was more than double what it should have been.

Great Place To Stay In Puerto Morelos

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December 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm Comment (1)
Our Favorite Restaurants in Mrida During our 91 days in the Yucatán, we spent a lot of time on the road. So whenever we were in Mérida, we tried to cook healthy meals and eat at home. Too many Mexican restaurants turn Mike and Jürgen into pudgy boys. Despite our best efforts, though, we couldn't resist visiting a good percentage of Mérida's eating establishments. Here are some of our favorites; not necessarily the city's "top-rated" restaurants, but for one reason or another, the ones we most enjoyed.
For 91 Days