Category Archives: Casual Restaurant Critic

The Casual Restaurant Critic is where you can read all about restaurants both in Merida, the Yucatan and beyond.

Casual Restaurant Critic Breakfasting at Habanero’s

A quick breakfast at Habanero’s which at 11 AM was surprisingly full of people. Better Half and the starving Critic had 30 minutes to snarf down a breakfast. Both had been here before and were always happy with the food and the service, and today was not disappointing at all.

The food is great and comes out of the kitchen fast, the salsas are still made to order (you pick the chiles and ingredients and they hand-grind them for you in a metate and the service has only gotten better with time. Everyone is friendly and people stop by the table check to see that everything is good.

Highly recommended for a filling breakfast or some real Yucatecan food at lunch. Valet parking too, if you are in a hurry.

Chilaquiles w mole and dos huevos

Salsa de tomate made to order with the chiles of your preference

Huevos with longaniza sausage. There’s enough huevos to feed a small village here

crabster photo, napkin

Almadia which quickly turned into Crabster

Late Seafood Lunch /Early Dinner in Progreso Part I

Better Half and the Critic were in the mood for fish and since a new restaurant had been announced, it was decided that they should go and try it out.

Almadia is a beautiful beach-front restaurant that looks like something from an architectural magazine, a stunning new addition to the restaurant scene at least in looks. For one thing, it sits diagonally on the malecon, just a few houses from the famous Casa del Pastel, and not aligned with the street out front, which sets it apart immediately from all its competitors, as do its modern columns and glass.

Almadia is a stunning addition to the Progreso waterfront

If only they had spent the tiniest fraction of what that architect charged on training staff! BH and CC went in, met no one at the door, had several wait staff pass right in front without so much as an hola and finally a hostess appeared in 4-inch heels and showed the Critic to a table. There, the Critic and Better Half sat and sat for the longest time, waiting for someone – anyone – to return to the table to offer a drink, at least. The hostess returned to her duties of doing Something Important on a clipboard with one or more of the staff members in another part of the restaurant.

Still hungry and bemoaning the tremendous waste it was to spend this much money and effort in creating a new restaurant and then not have anyone trained to run it, the Critic decided that enough is enough, and got up, took Better Half by the arm and left. There was no effort made by anyone to stop the Critic from leaving or even to say hasta luego.

Still, knowing the owners, there will be another attempt at this beautiful restaurant!

Late Seafood Lunch /Early Dinner in Progreso Part II

Crabster is, even when busy and everyone is running around like headless chickens, pretty much a guaranteed thing and after the disappointing experience down the street, the hustle and bustle of Christan Bravo’s seafront restaurant was a welcome sight.

Here, Better Half and the Critic enjoyed what they came for. A view of the beach, the smell of salt air and some good seafood washed down with some frosty micheladas. The awful street entertainment out front and the garbage trucks picking up trash from bins was a distraction, but not anything that Crabster could do something about.

Fresh guacamole, a deep fried grouper, some shrimp. Delicious. Gracias Christian!

Crabster in Progreso was reviewed previously in February of 2017 here.

Michelada!

Guacamole

Shrimp

Pescado frito – deep-fried grouper

 

Eureka Revisited

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better Half, does not partake in the usual summer vacation activities known as la temporada. Instead, they stay home in Merida and on this quiet Sunday afternoon, visited their favorite Italian restaurant, Eureka.

Fabrizio was in fine form and before too long, the entire place was packed with families looking for some delicious home-cooked food.

Service, as usual, was sparkling and the specials of the day were sublime. Better Half exclaimed that this was the best dish she had ever had at Eureka, and she has been there quite a few times with the Casual Restaurant Critic, since this is probably his favorite restaurant in the city. This is one of only two Merida restaurants where the Critic will leave the dish preparation entirely in the hands of the chef (when possible) and be deliciously rewarded for the vote of confidence with a mouth-watering creation.

Salmon carpaccio

Salmon carpaccio

Special of the day – homemade focaccia w bresaola, pear and a gorgonzola cream dressing

Special of the day – homemade focaccia w bresaola, pear and a gorgonzola cream dressing

Special of the day – a most amazing ravioli dish with pistachio/salvia sauce, the pasta pillows are stuffed with homemade sausage and cheese

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Santiago Market – Itzalana

The Critic knows for a fact that many of the 19 readers of his ramblings have been – probably repeatedly – to eat at the market in Santiago, so he will just post a few photos of the delicious breakfast enjoyed recently in the company of the always charming Better Half and a group of amigos.

Salbut and panucho ‘especial’ which means a ton of turkey meat

Salbutes de asado

Torta Cubana, the only one with no eggs. The Critic is not a fan of things eggy

Torta cubana with agua de watermelon and chaya in the background

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Miyabi Plaza Arbol

The Casual Restaurant Critic recently had the opportunity to have dinner at the new Miyabi location on Prolongacion Montejo at 17 street, in the Colonia Mexico section of northern Merida. It is in a little shopping plaza called Plaza Arbolm named after the arbol (tree) that was incorporated in spectacular fashion into the design of the new Miyabi restaurant.

The sushi is as good as usual, nothing new to report there, and they are working out some kinks with the service due to the fact that waiters that want to work in a very busy environment are hard to come by, according to one of the owners.

The Critics only quibble would be the 3 point font used on the menu, which is impossible for most anyone to read, especially in the subdued lighting.

Kudos to the architectural firms who design the place (there were two) who decided to go against the time-honored local tradition of cutting down the tree that was obviously in the way. Maybe some other architects can learn from this, especially those charged with designing new residential developments.

The Critic recommends going if just to experience the amazing surroundings. And a little sashimi, why not.

 

Pueblo Pibil on a Monday – Frijol con Puerco!

Traditionally, in the Yucatan you eat frijol con puerco (pork and beans in English speaking countries and feijoada en Brasil) on Mondays and if you are in the town of Tixcocob, a half hour from Merida, you can enjoy this classic dish prepared in the pib, or underground pit oven.

Pueblo Pibil is a beautiful restaurant, with attentive and courteous service and the food is really outstanding.

Highly recommended!

Start with an appetizer of chicharrones while waiting for your pork 🙂

Also, more pork in the form of this achiote-soaked grilled rib appetizer

The happy moment the lata (tin) comes out of the pit or pib

Close up of the bubbling deliciousness or frijol con puerco

Garnishes for your frijol con puerco

Handmade corn tortillas

The puerco

The frijol

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Partners and Brothers Burgerlab

Once upon a time, on a Merida intersection, there was a great property to build a city park. Unfortunately, this being Merida, it became yet another shopping mall, complete with a hotel, a Best Buy, another Walmart (Merida needed another Walmart) a movie theater and the obligatory Telcel store, along with VIP’s, Fridays and some other lesser-known restaurants. Today the Critic will discuss one of these, the interestingly-named Partners and Brothers Burgerlab. Or Burguerlab.

Accompanied by the MiniCritic, the CRC went for a late lunch, around 4 PM which is neither here nor there in terms of dinner or lunch, to try out this burger option in the formerly white city.

Why is it called Partners and Brothers? I had a look at the website to find out more, and found the typical message of FUN! and FRESH! and COOL! with lots of really great English words sprinkled throughout (at the top of the website: HOME / SOMOS / FOOD / DRINKS / CONTACTO – why?) to make it all so much more international. Burger is spelled Burguer and then it isn’t, which shows an impressive eye for detail considering it is in their name. The annoying video on the home page says that at this restaurant, which seems like a clone of the Fridays or Bostons concept, at one point says: enjoy…  partners, with your brothers. Um, OK. I don’t understand, but maybe it’s in English so that’s cool in itself, regardless of any possible meaning. By the way, the video and its ear-worm jingle will continue playing as long as you are on the website, ad nauseum.

The experience was a mix. The food is perfectly acceptable: the MiniCritic had a half kilo of BBQ ribs, which were tasty enough and the Critic had the Louisiana Burger, a monstrously high collection of many ingredients stacked on home-made bread. The bread kind of fell apart quickly, with the juices of the meat and the caramelized onions, but the flavor overall was very good. Home-made chips (as in potato chips) are an option and while they were fine, they seemed to have been sprinkled with either lemon or vinegar and the sour taste was not to the Critics liking. A dessert of apple tart, described in flowery terms as soaked in Jack Daniels blah blah blah, was frankly, inedible. The coffee is of the Nespresso machine variety.

Quibbles?

Service, as is so often the case in Merida, was spotty. The waiter was friendly enough, when he was around. To get the drink order, one must get up to get a waiters attention. Many staff members are lounging about, absorbed in their smartphones and whatever exciting stuff is going on in there.

Considering the place had been open for three hours, you would think that things would be ready for the evening rush. However, sauces in glass bottles on the table were not full and had that look like they had been there since last month, with crusty bits inside and a generally unappealing look to them.

A visit to the bathroom revealed that there was no paper towel in the dispenser to dry ones hands after washing, that in spite of the obligatory cleaning schedule on the door which obviously no one was paying any attention to.

Dirty dishes on the table containing rib bones and burger/burguer carcasses had to be looked at for the longest time until the Critic, on his way to the bathroom, interrupted the waiter who was smartphoning with his compañeros, and mentioned that he might want to clear away the dishes.

That caesar salad! A caesar salad is a caesar salad. If you leave out the dressing with the anchovies, throw in a tomato and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds you no longer have the right to call this a caesar salad. Call it a bloody pumpkin seed salad, or a Mayan salad, or make up another name. It’s NOT a caesar salad for crying out loud.

So overall, this restaurant does not impress. The Critic suspects that it is popular with the drinking crowd in the evenings, especially on the terrace where there is a nice breeze and it is quite pleasant, in spite of the horrific view of traffic and concrete that makes up the area around Altabrisa. Then again, with drinks on the expensive side, including a bottle of scotch you can enjoy with your brothers (or partners) for a paltry $13,000 pesos, the target market might be a bit fuzzy.

Verdict? Don’t bother. Friday’s is directly across the hall from them, on the second floor of the mall, and they have their act together and will provide you with a more predictable American-style food experience. Partners and Brothers is a poor imitation.

 

That habanero sauce really does look disgusting

The room. There are over 30 TV screens all around

Amstel Ultra chelada

The Caesar salad that isn’t

The burger/burguer. You can squish it down so it fits in your mouth. Best part of the experience (the burger, not the squishing part)

Burger accompanied by chips

BBQ ribs, corn on the cob and in the little bowl, mashed potatoes that the MiniCritic said were tasty

This apple tart, in spite of its flowery description on the menu, was pretty much inedible

 

 

 

 

Highlights from the Club Sibarita Festival Gastronomico 2019

The Critic and his Better Half bought tickets for several culinary events for this year’s version of Club Sibarita’s Festival Gastronomico 2019, the third such festival in Merida and now recognized nationally as an event worth attending. Chefs from all over Mexico (including Merida of course) and places further afield are in attendance, showcasing their talents with exquisite creations for attendees to swoon over.

Events at Pueblo Pibil in Tixcocob, Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca in Merida and the Hacienda Xcanatun were packed and the food was truly amazing. It made for some very late nights, and often the Critic and BH were home around 1 in the morning, full of great food and excellent wine courtesy of Casa Madero.

Enjoy some photos of the highlights of the events! First up: Pueblo Pibil, in Tixcocob for a leisurely and delectable lunch. Click on the photos to make them grow magically.

Next stop: Hacienda Xcanatun for the Fine Dining signature Sibarito event.

Lastly, Taste the Best at Altozano:

El Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca

The Critic and BH along with MiniCritic, enjoyed a solid, good, Yucatecan lunch on Sunday at the new-ish and already very popular Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca. (Note and hola to Jan Morgan: the information on where it is etc. is in the link which is the name)

First of all, this is a gigantic restaurant especially compared with the cramped quarters of the also popular Chaya Maya or others, probably because it is an old colonial-era home of one of the henequen barons from back in the day. So you have a huge interior open-air patio surrounded by terraces and rooms which make up the area for tables. Each of the rooms features a henequen (sisal) based theme that is still being completed and will be finished very soon.

In the back, there is a re-creation of a small Mayan “village” complete with the requisite kitchen structure where two or three mestiza women make hand-made tortillas. Other chozas feature information and displays on ingredients used in Yucatecan cooking. Explanations are in Spanish and English, and the Critic is happy to report that the translations are pretty good. Also in the back yard is the pib area, or cooking pit(s) where the food is cooked, in the traditional way of the Yucatecan pueblos. On this visit, the Critic arrived in time to see, along with a dozen or so other interested diners, the moment when the ‘relleno negro’ was pulled out of the pib, and samples were given out – delicious!

In addition to all this, there is a gift shop and a small museum-like display of artifacts and ingredients typically used in the preparation of Yucatecan food and it is evident that someone took their time to arrange and present all this in an attractive and professional manner.

The food was excellent. Well prepared and tasted as it should. BH enjoyed one of her favorite dishes, a Sunday Merida classic called puchero de tres carnes, MC and the Critic both had queso relleno, which is the standard (for the Critic) by which all Yucatecan restaurants are measured. This queso relleno, complete with capers, raisins and almonds is the real deal and is up there with the best of them. Brazo de reina and a small mucbilpollo or tamal were had as appetizers. The first was good, while the tamal was just OK and lacked the crispiness of the fresh-baked version.

Keep in mind that this is heavy food; very filling and you will need a siesta afterward. Don’t feel the need to try everything the first time you visit. You can come back. And don’t eat this at night, for crying out loud: Yucatecan food is a mid-day thing.

What really blew the Critics mind, however, especially after recent forays into various “fancy” restaurants and their indifferent or just plain inadequate service, was the service at the Museo. Santos arrived at the table to introduce himself and when offering drinks made a smooth, professional, sales pitch that convinced all three members of the Critics lunch group to try the house cocktail. Throughout the meal, Santos was not more than a hand-wave away, in spite of having several tables under his charge. There was no intrusiveness, no slinking up to the table, no mumbling and no arriving with the dishes and not knowing to whom they belonged. So, a big shout-out to Santos – keep it up!

The location will make this place very successful and if they keep up the quality of the food and service, this place should be around for a while. Enjoy the photos!

The least photogenic of any appetizer in the world, these are black beans (l) and sikil pak (r) along with tostadas. The sikil pak is excellent.

Shot of the museum part of the restaurant

Gift shop

Museum from the other side

A little pueblo in the back yard – your clue that you’re not somewhere else is the building poking out between the trees

One of the chozas and the display

Inside the choza: here we have an explanation of recado verde

There’s cooking going on right now, under there.

Pueblo in the foreground with a giant hotel in the background for context

A fizzy but not too sweet opener

Brazo de Reina I

Tamalito known as mucbilpolloI

Mucbilpollo II

Brazo de Reina II

Preparing to uncover the pib

The chef explains what is happening here

After carefully removing the earth, the laminated tin sheet is taken off the pit

With the tin sheet removed, this is what you see. Jabin leaves and branches aromatize the food

A treasure chest, waiting to be opened

Forget gold coins and trinkets. This treasure chest contains something much more memorable

Preparing a sample for those watching

Aguas frescas de chaya y ramon. Yes, ramon.

Puchero!

Queso Relleno!

The Casual Restaurant Critic – A Sake Experience at Irori

 

Irori at night

Thanks to the beloved Better Half and her connections, the Critic was able to join BH at the inauguration of the new Roberto Solis project Irori, a sushi bar to rival what Merida already has in that very popular segment.

 

This was not a restaurant visit in the normal sense of the word; there were lots of samples generously served by the restaurant along with sake and sake-based drinks, all of which was not only delicious but much appreciated. The restaurant has been open for a few months now, but this was the ‘official’ opening.

The restaurant is beautiful and is an offshoot of the original and highly successful Irori in Cancun. The sushi bar, in particular, is inviting – ie. you are not staring at the back of a refrigerated countertop fish container – and a real option for those who enjoy sitting there and talking to the chefs as opposed to a table. Chef Solis commented that he will be presenting omakase tasting menus in the near future which the Critic will happy to experience.

Good music, good food, a beautiful room and plenty of beautiful people made this a stand-out event.

Below is a selection of photos featuring some of the people attending, the food served and of course the restaurant itself.

The sushi bar

Rolling up some sushi

A few words

Ribbon cutting I

Ribbon cutting II