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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]

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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)

The Plazas of Mérida

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Though they’re beginning to blend together, Mérida is still largely defined by its neighborhoods, each with its own personality and history. Neighborhood life is almost always centered around a central plaza, where friends and family gather to meet, eat, chat, and just hang out. Here are five of our favorites.

Plaza de Santa Lucia

Just a couple blocks north of the Plaza Grande, Santa Lucia is the cultural heart of the city. Every Thursday night, you can grab a seat for a free traditional trova concert, but all throughout the week you’ll see people dancing, singing, playing guitar or doing Zumba on the stage which sits in the corner of the plaza, ringed by busts of famous Yucatecan artists. A couple of excellent restaurants fill out the plaza with tables in the courtyard. Apoala is one of our favorites, serving excellent modern Mexican cuisine. There’s no better way to spend a humid evening in Mérida, than sitting down for a margarita and watching whatever happens to be going on in the plaza. And there’s always something going on. [Location]

Plaza de San Cristóbal

Cristóbal was our “home” plaza, so although it hardly ranks as Mérida’s finest, it’s our favorite. Because it’s ours. That’s our laundromat, right between our office supply store and our habitual cheap-lunch station. Our laundry girl knows us collectively as “Miguel”. I am Miguel, Jürgen is Miguel, and together we are The Miguel. Over the course of 91 days, she’s become intimately familiar with every piece of clothing we own, and could easily pick our underwear out of a lineup. Oh that? That’s our church, not that we’ve ever attended a service. Whoa, who’s sitting on our bench? That’s alright, go ahead and enjoy yourself, we weren’t using it anyway. Ahh… we’re going to miss you, San Cristóbal (but you’ll always be ours!) [Location]

Plaza de San Juan

The Plaza de San Juan, found a few blocks southeast of the Plaza Grande, is perhaps best known for the ancient arch which once formed part of the barrier separating the city proper from the colonias of indigenous people. But in the early nineteenth century, under the direction of its liberal priest, the church of San Juan was the meeting spot for an enlightened group known as los Sanjuanistas, who fought against the Spanish Crown on behalf of the belabored Maya and creole populations. Continually persecuted by the landed elite and the clergy, los Sanjuanistas were prohibited from meeting and often tossed into jail. But in the end, they and their allies managed to achieve a brief period of Yucatecan independence. [Location]

Plaza de Santiago

The Plaza de Santiago is just as gorgeous and refined as the neighborhood surrounding it, which is perhaps Mérida’s most desirable. The plaza boasts a grand old church built in 1637, but it’s the modern life which most commands attention: the kids on the playground, the old men sitting around the fountain, and especially the bustling market with its range of excellent and super-affordable loncherías. This is Mérida at its most colonial and, unsurprisingly, the area most attractive to expats. [Location]

Plaza de Santa Ana

Although Santa Ana is found at the foot of the Paseo Montejo, it shares none of that boulevard’s ritzy atmosphere. This is a simple plaza and park with a beautiful little church, a popular market and a few places to grab some cheap eats. In the center of the plaza is a statue of Andrés Quintana Roo, one of the heroes of Mexican independence. And this was the scene of an important moment in Mexican history. In 1867, supporters of the ruling, royalist regime clashed with Mexican republicans loyal to Benito Juarez. The republicans earned a decisive victory, which helped bring the Napoleon-backed Mexican Empire to its eventual end. [Location]

Great Hotels In Mérida

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February 3, 2014 at 6:57 pm Comment (1)

The Casa-Museo Montes Molina

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Most of the mansions along the Paseo Montejo have either fallen into a state of disrepair or been converted into banks. But the Casa Montes Molina is a fortunate exception. Owned by the Montes-Molina family for generations, visitors can today tour this amazing house, or even rent it out for special events.

Casa-Museo Montes Molina

The mansion was built in the early twentieth century by Don Aurelio Portuondo, a Cuban businessman who fell in love with a local beauty. Don Aurelio was in Mérida supervising construction of the Peon Contreras Opera House, and was so pleased with the results that he hired the same architects to design his home. After a couple decades, when his fortune had dried up, Don Aurelio sold his mansion to Don Avelino Montes, a Spanish banker who had also fallen for one of Mérida’s young lovelies: Maria Molina Figueroa. (One of the city’s prime products seems to have been its marriageable maidens).

The Montes-Molinas moved in, made some additions to the house, and established themselves permanently on the Paseo Montejo. Today, nearly a hundred years later, the family still owns the property. The furniture is all original, with exquisite chandeliers, mirrors, floor tiling and everything else you might expect inside the mansion of a fantastically wealthy twentieth-century family. The great-granddaughter of Don Avelino and Doña Maria stays here when visiting from Mexico City and, incredibly, a couple servants who waited on the family over thirty years ago are still living in the basement.

During our tour of the house, we saw one of these women scrubbing the linens by hand in a washing basin. The scene fit so perfectly with the spirit of the house, we weren’t even surprised. This place is as authentic as you can get. We’ve been to quite a few historic homes during our travels, but never sensed the spirits of those who actually inhabited them so strongly as in the Casa Montes Molina. The personal items, such as toys and old LPs on the shelves, really bring the place to life.

If you have a chance, make sure to stop by. There are a limited number of tours every day, and just a couple in English, so it’s worth calling in advance to check on times.

Location on our Map
Casa Museo Montes-Molina – Website

Great Hotels In Merida

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January 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm Comments (0)

The Corners of Mérida

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When founding cities around the Yucatán, the Spanish were nothing if not organized. Mérida’s streets are laid out on a perfectly square grid, with a naming convention that is logical almost to a fault. North-south streets have even numbers which increase as you head west, while east-west streets are odd numbers which increas as you head south. So the street to the east of Calle 54 is Calle 52. If you’re on 44/73, and go one block north then one block west, you’ll be on 42/71.

Street Corners Merida

The numbering system makes navigation and orientation easy. I could instantly calculate that 47/60 was thirteen blocks north and eight blocks west of our house. But it’s awfully dry, and potentially confusing to those not good with numbers. That’s why almost every corner in Mérida also has a special name, commemorated by a red and white plaque. The corner of 48 and 73 is the Castle. 60/63 is the Duchess. 50/69 is the Iguana. 59/68 is the Cowboy.

Especially in the past, these names were how people knew their way around Mérida. Asking for 59/64 might earn you confused looks, but anyone could give you directions to El Tigre. The names are evocative, hinting at a story or legend. On the corner of El Imposible (65/50), for example, a large mound was hampering further development and slated for removal. Locals believed it to be a permanent part of the landscape that would prove impossible to destroy. But then the Spanish leveled the ground, accomplishing “the impossible”, and giving this corner its new name.

Or take the corner of 57/66, where a tall beauty from Cuba had moved into town, inflaming the passion of every man in the neighborhood. The local women didn’t take to kindly to their new competition, and referred to her as “La Tucha de Cuba“… “Tucha” being a Mayan word for “Monkey”. Henceforth, the corner has been known as La Tucha.

Som of the corners have plaques explaining their names, but many more of these stories have been lost to time. I couldn’t find anyone who could explain why the corner of 63/44 is called El Globo (Hot Air Balloon), not even the people who worked in the shop on whose wall the plaque was hung. But a hot air balloon, here in the center of the city? It must have been quite a story.

The tourism board of Mérida should bring out a guidebook to the city’s corners; a walking tour that brings you from plaque to plaque, and relates the origins behind the intriguing names. As it stands, your imagination is left to do a lot of work. That’s alright, too; finding and photographing these plaques can still make for an enjoyable day out, even if the stories behind names like “The Sun” (at 59/70) and “The Stork” (53/62) remain shrouded in mystery.

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Street Corners Merida
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January 29, 2014 at 12:14 am Comment (1)

The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya

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The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, found on the nothern outskirts of Mérida, is one of the Yucatán’s largest and most popular new museums. From the glories of the past right up into the modern day, the museum takes visitors on a comprehensive journey through the history of the Yucatán’s original inhabitants.

El Mundo Maya Museum

Aimed to coincide with the famous Maya doomsday prophecies, the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya opened on December 21st, 2012. Not exactly the best timing… why open a museum about the Maya on the same day that worldwide interest in them was set to evaporate? But it doesn’t seem to have mattered, because the place was packed when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, despite the high ticket price and an inconvenient location outside the city.

The museum begins with an exhibition about the living Maya, instead of delving right into their illustrious history. I appreciated this; the word “Maya” conjures almost exclusively the images of an ancient race, but this is very much a modern-day people. By starting with their contemporary faces and an explanation of their current situation, the museum doesn’t allow you to forget that.

With the size of the crowd, it was difficult to experience everything the museum has to offer… the interactive exhibits, such as mapping your birthday to Maya astrology or learning how to count with their vigesimal numeric system, had long lines behind them. And it’s no fun to read detailed accounts of archaeological finds, when the impatient people waiting behind you are sighing.

So we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked, and were rather agitated by the time we left. The lesson, though, isn’t to avoid the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, but to choose a weekday, when the number of other visitors will be manageable. This is the kind of place which warrants at least a couple hours of your time.

Location on our Map

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January 23, 2014 at 7:24 pm Comment (1)

The Parque Centenario & Mérida’s Zoo

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It’s a considerable hike from the center, but the Parque Centernario (Centennial Park) on the west side of Mérida certainly warrants the effort, or the cost of a taxi, if only to visit the city zoo, which hosts a surprising number of exotic animals.

Zoo Merida

The zoo in the Parque Centenario is free to visit, which made us a bit nervous. While I generally love free stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder how well animals could possibly be cared for in an open, public zoo. Indeed, Mérida’s isn’t exactly a glorious Garden of Eden in the vein of San Diego’s or the Bioparc in Valencia, Spain. No, this is the kind of run-down and cramped operation which will probably make you a little sad.

Luckily, we were squarely still in our honeymoon phase with Mérida, and the city could do no wrong. So the fact that the hippos were confined to a tiny muddy pool didn’t really bother us. But the fact that there were hippos… thrilling! I hadn’t come to Mérida expecting to see animals ranging from chimpanzees to African lions, crocodiles and Burmese pythons, but they were all here and we had a blast touring the exhibits.

The zoo is just one piece of the Parque Centenario, a popular place for Meridianos to spend a weekend afternoon with the family. Since it was a sunny Sunday when we visited, the park was in full swing. There were pony rides, trampolines, bouncy castles, food stands, and thousands of screaming children. It was chaotic, but completely entertaining. This isn’t a park with a lot of green areas. In fact, it’s not a “park” at all, in the way I understand the word. There’s no place to have a picnic or play soccer, but there are plenty of places to have fun.

Throughout the day, we didn’t see another foreign face. It’s a 20-minute walk from the Plaza Grande, which is apparently enough to discourage most tourists. If you want to visit a different side of the city and see how locals enjoy themselves, check it out.

Location on our Yucatán Map

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November 21, 2013 at 12:52 am Comment (1)

Mérida – Capital of the Yucatán

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A gorgeous colonial-era city of nearly a million people, Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán and was our home for three months. Despite its size, it’s mostly overlooked by travelers. In fact, before deciding to move to the Yucatán, we had never even heard of it! But Mérida is an invigorating city filled with historical sights, hectic markets, friendly locals, relatively few foreigners and an impressive cultural life.

Merida Yucatan

Mérida was officially founded in 1542 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo. A Maya city named T’Hó had previously occupied the location, but by the time of the conquest, its pyramids were already in ruins and the remaining indigenous population were living in straw huts. Although Montejo and his men encountered fierce resistance, they were able to quickly subdue and dominate the out-gunned locals.

From the very beginning, the Spanish intended Mérida to be capital of the Yucatán. Its development followed a very structured layout, with a grand central plaza where the pyramid of T’Hó once stood. An enormous cathedral, just the second in the New World, was constructed on the east side of the plaza. To the north, the governmental palace was built. To the west, the Imperial Palace. And a marvelous residence for Conquistador Montejo himself on the plaza’s southern side. With this Plaza Grande as its nexus, the city sprawled out in every direction.

Despite its capital-city status, Mérida remained a relative backwater for most of its history. No highways connected it to the rest of Mexico, and a perceived lack of natural resources held its growth in check. That changed in the late 18th century with the “discovery” of henequen: a high-quality fiber made from agave. The “green gold” brought unheard-of riches to the Yucatán and Mérida expanded rapidly, becoming the first city in Mexico with street lighting and cable cars. Culture flourished, and the downtown was completely renovated. Of course, while Mérida’s lords and ladies were enjoying their exciting new wealth, the Maya (who had been using henequen for centuries) were being exploited worse than ever.

With the invention of artificial fibers, the henequen boom petered out and Mérida settled back into its regular rhythm. The traces of its former glory, however, remain. Mérida has an uncommonly active cultural and intellectual scene and its historic center is one of the largest in the Americas, with beautiful colonial buildings on every block. Throughout the week, there are free musical performances downtown. Crime is rare, with violence toward tourists practically non-existent, and Meridians themselves are about the most laid-back and friendly people imaginable.

Location on our Yucatán Map

Great Hotels In Mérida

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November 13, 2013 at 1:53 am Comments (2)
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.
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