The Apoala Oaxacan fusion restaurant in Santa Lucia’s newly revamped square has only been around for about 2-3 months but the Casual Restaurant Critic has heard the name come up again and again and so yesterday, after a meeting downtown, decided to check it out. Better Half being away, this was a lunch for one but you, dear reader, can be sure that the Critic will be back with Better Half sooner rather than later, as this restaurant is true gem.
As mentioned, the Santa Lucia plaza has been spruced up and the most obvious addition there as it is most visible from calle 60 as you drive by, is the Tratto restaurant, run by the Trotter family who are very good at what they do here in Merida and offer some great upscale dining options that have raised the bar for restaurants in the formerly white city. But once again, the Critic digresses. You can park behind the Santa Lucia square, turning left off 60 into a modern and very pretty parking lot. Yes, you just saw “pretty” and “parking lot” in the same sentence; go check it out, you’ll see what the Critic means.
Approaching the restaurant, located under the arches next to the Ki Xocolatl store and chocolateria, the Critic was greeted not by an indifferent and bored individual but a smiling young man who offered a greeting and seated the Critic inside. There are tables outside but on this occasion the Critic wanted to both see the interior and check out the air conditioning.
So far, so good. A very pleasant waiter then approached the table and asked if the Critic would like a cocktail or beverage. “What do you recommend?” asked the Critic. Now normally this question is answered either with a question or a blanket “everything is great” statement that is both not true and just plain lazy. No, this waiter responded immediately and said that the house speciality was the Mayahuel cocktail. “Fine,” the Critic responded “I’ll have one of those”.
In a few moments, the drink, which features mezcal, sour orange juice and agave syrup among other exotic things was brought to the table and the Critic suddenly smelled something burning and quickly checked his pockets to see if he had put a still-lit cigarette butt away. But no, it was the drink! A small twig of what looked like fir from a Christmas tree was the garnish and it smoked aromatically as the drink was placed on the table.
OK, now the Critic is impressed.
The menu is a mixture of traditional Oaxacan food and modern preparations and ingredients with a nod to the Yucatan in passing as well, as exemplified by the cochinita on the menu which, the waiter claims, is organic.
When you order, you are presented with a tray of Oaxacan tostadas (hot) and two salsas, mildy spicy and home made. Deliciosas.
The Critic decided on the arracheras which sounded very interesting what with the ajillo chiles and Oaxacan cheese au gratin and a salad of arugula. It was not disappointing in the least. The salad was perfect and the meat exquisite, cooked to perfection and tender without achieving that horrible hammy, dissolve in your mouth texture that some local restaurants have the nerve to call arrachera steak and that would be better suited for a meal at a mental institution for toothless lunatics.
Afterwards, dessert was offered and the Critic, completely intrigued by now and with an urge to try as much as is possible for one person to try, ordered the mostachon which is a cake with pecans, features a banana cream frosting as well as raspberries, strawberries and nestled beside the cake, a dollop of homemade nieve de canela ie cinnamon sherbet.
The cake seemed a little on the hard side but the sherbet was delectable.
After asking for the bill, the Critic wandered around a little in the restaurant, exploring the fabulous bathroom (you MUST go wash your hands here!!) and at the bar, looking at the bottles and beautiful backdrop made of antique doors, a manager offered the Critic a sample of mezcal, cortesia de la casa.
Someone will undoubtedly ask about the price so it is the Critic’s obligation to let you know that Apoala is not the cheapest place to have lunch in the world. The lunch as described was $400 pesos, mas o menos, with tip. And while you can certainly fill up elsewhere for 40 pesos and enjoy a unique, “charming” location while lounging in plastic red Coca Cola chairs, what this restaurant offers is of a quality that is truly world-class.
All in all the amazing and beautifully presented food, the sublime decor, and most importantly the impeccable and gracious SERVICE, makes Apoala a serious contender for the top restaurant in Merida spot, in the Critic’s never humble opinion.