Tag Archives: comida yucateca

The Casual Restaurant Critic is buying new pants – Hermana Republica reviewed!

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Hola!

Just when you thought it was safe to visit a restaurant without some idiot snapping photos of every single dish, the Critic strikes again, camera in hand, to review the Hermana Republica on the Merida-Progreso highway.

If you haven’t seen it, you have been spending far too much time in El Centro de Merida, where admittedly the offerings have been improving and where the Critic does not often venture, what with the dearth of parking and the enormous amount of time it takes to get there from his casa.

The Hermana República (sister republic) is an affectionate term for the Yucatan, employed by long-time fans of an independent Yucatan and the occasional jokester who understands that the Yucatan is a different place from the rest of the República Mexicana.  The restaurant that bears this name is located just after the Xcanatun exit on the afore-mentioned highway and features a very large, very in-your-face Yucatecan flag flapping proudly. This flag was the actual flag used when the Yucatan was an independent state back in the day, separate from the hated waches and other foreign meddlers (except for International Harvester – that was alright)

But, and in the keeping of this long-standing blog, the Critic digresses once again.

You want to hear about the restaurant and the Critic can tell you without hesitation that the food is great! While Better Half had pork cooked with mushrooms and a delicious gravy that warranted ordering the excellent (really – excellent!) french fries to soak up the juice, the Critic ordered the pork ribs cooked in smoky adobe. To the side of the ribs was sour and crunchy esquite corn, sans cream thank god. Both dishes were fantastic. Five stars on the food. Again, just to be clear, the french fries are disturbingly delicious – the Critic had to have them removed from the table in order not to devour the entire generous helping.

Appetizers included the guacamole with chicharron and sikil-pak, which is a must for any restaurant flying the Yucatan flag so proudly. That was really the only ‘typical’ dish on the menu. No queso relleno, no poc chuc, no relleno negro. The truth is, no hacen falta. No need to duplicate what others are already doing, in some cases well.

There was also a trio of very fresh salsas: tomate verde, chiltomate and habanero. It’s been a while since the Critic had such fresh salsas; they literally dance on your tongue and don’t just lie there like a tomato-flavored piece of sock as is so often the sad case in many Merida restaurants. The tostadas too, deserve special mention. They are baked apparently, thick and smoky tasting, like in some pueblo – and anyone who appreciates such subtleties can not stop eating them.

Service is adequate and friendly with the usual quiet/shy/unsure component shining through ; the room is essentially a box but a tastefully decorated and well air-conditioned one so it feels cozy. The furniture is real, no plastic.

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Skip dessert; the apple pie with vanilla ice cream was the choice but the pastry is too dough-y, which is overbearing and those poor apple chunks (and there aren’t that many of them) get lost in their heavy casing. It is warm though and potentially could be good with the ice cream on the side. Perhaps switch to a crumble? No photo because by the time the Critic remembered, the poor tart had already been jackhammered to death.

It should be noted that this is (out back) the actual brewery where Patito beer is made. You have heard of Patito beer? It along with Maneek and Ceiba are the microbreweries that are putting Yucatan beer making back on the map where it should be. So of course beer is highlighted on the menu also and one can order 2 samplers with four beers each (5 ounce glasses – you can do this) to try all eight varieties of local, microbrewed cerveza.  From stout and porter to Weizenbier, there is surely a cerveza for you here. Critic’s choice? Vanilla Porter and Belgian Blonde. Take a chew of a tostada between each beer to cleanse the palate.

Outside, there is a courtyard with wooden picnic tables and a row of food trucks that start up in the evenings, creating a biergarten atmosphere, hidden just a few meters from the busy highway. No retenes either out this way!

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El Casual Restaurant Critic visita Ahumadero

Sign

Ahumadero

Ahumadero means ‘smoker’ in English and that is the premise of this taco place, located at the glorieta in Francisco de Montejo where the ‘mestiza’ statue is.

Parking is a challenge, but if you drive around the block where the OXXO is, you will find plenty of street parking.

The menu is simple, a few cuts of pork, served in tacos or in tortas, and all smoked. The BBQ sauce is delicious and everything is home-made. There are regular and blue corn tortillas that accompany the melted cheese aka queso fundido, which is made with a tangy cheese and not the bland tasteless glop that so often passes for queso these days at other taco places. The frijoles appie is also delicious, hearty and on the sweet side like you would find at a BBQ kind of place.

In keeping with the September, mes de la patria theme, there will be pozole, also featuring smoked ingredients, available from today on and possibly to the end of the month if the demand is there. The Critic got to sample this pozole and it is fantastic, thick with chunks of meat and hominy corn and a tasty, satisfying broth.

No alcohol, just homemade regular and in-season fruit horchatas, jamaicas and the usual assortment of refrescos embotellados.

Prices are very reasonable and a filling meal can be had for a couple hundred pesos, for two to four people, depending on your appetite.

Queso fundido

Queso fundido

Regular and blue corn tortillas

Regular and blue corn tortillas

Smoked pozole

Smoked pozole

The crew

The crew

Working the plancha

Working the plancha

Casual Restaurant Critic at Zamna, in Izamal

The Casual Restaurant Critic had the opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon near Izamal and so it was only logical that lunch should be had there. Instead of the usual and 99% excellent Kinich it was decided, with the Better Half’s acquiescence, that the newer Zamná, which has somehow appropriated the entire serving staff originally working at Kinich (how did THAT happen?) should be given a chance.

Located just near the edge of town, where the ‘paint your place yellow’ memorandum somehow failed to arrive, the Zamná restaurant is an attempt to recreate the same atmosphere as Kinich, with mixed results. There are artesanias for sale, there is a giant palapa roof, there is an hipil-clad Mayan lady making tortillas in a separate hut along with a young man grilling the poc chuc and the servers are all women, able to maneuver giant trays of food and drink to their guests.

But somehow, the atmosphere is lacking. There is something missing here and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is – maybe a lack of interaction with the friendly-enough staff, who are mostly efficient, but not particularly charming. The actual space is a long an unremarkable rectangle and the music is all trio but the overall feel is… meh. If you are going to copy or emulate the already very successful brand that is Kinich, you are going to have to try to make it better, not just the same or almost the same.

The food you ask?

The food is fine. Better Half had the pipian de conejo, served only on Sundays which was quite good and the Critic had the queso relleno, which his go-to dish to evaluate Yucatecan restaurants, due to its complexity and the facility with which one can get it wrong (like at the over-rated Hacienda Ochil, where the dish is quick to arrive at your table and has seemingly been microwaved) and here, the platillo tipico was very good, but not better than, Kinich. Or Teya, where it is excellent.

Sikil pak dip was excellent, as were the empanadas, crunchy on the outside and melty cheesy inside.

Here are some photos of the food and restaurant and in the Critic’s opinion, visitors to Izamal are well-served by sticking to Kinich.

The restaurant Zamna

The restaurant Zamna

Hammocks make up part of  the decoration

Hammocks make up part of the decoration

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Empanadas w chaya corn stuffed w edam cheese

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Sikil pak and chaya limonada

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Pipian de conejo (rabbit) only on Sundays

Critic's choice - queso relleno

Critic’s choice – queso relleno

Casual Restaurant Critic at Los Frailes, Comida Yucateca en Conkal

Outside terrace

Many people have recommended the Critic visit Los Frailes, a pretty Yucatecan restaurant located in the village of Conkal, somewhat off the highway between Merida and Progreso.

With the always charming Better Half and on this occasion accompanied by members of the Vergara family (Sofia’s long lost Atlanta relatives) the Critic sampled the cuisine in the name of research and for the benefit of his 21 readers.

Upon arriving, an unsmiling, perhaps apprehensive, person of the male persuasion awaited to welcome the group with the question “Have you been here before?” said not as a welcoming comment but rather as a prelude to the next sentence which was “it’s that we don’t accept credit cards”.

OK, good to know and nice to see you as well.

The restaurant has an outdoor terrace and a small-ish interior which features air conditioned and enough hard surfaces to ensure a high level of noise which is always unpleasant and as the weather was conducive to outdoor dining, a table on the terrace was chosen.

Service was adequate and the ambiance pleasant. The food, which is traditional Yucatecan cuisine, is varied and offers all manner of classics as well as some the Critic hadn’t heard of before like the niños envueltos which are stuffed cabbage rolls that one can suppose look like children wrapped in green blankets, if those children were then covered with some sort of sauce.

The photos will show that each of the food items is very attractively and artfully presented but in the Critic’s never humble opinion the taste of these pretty morsels was somewhat lacking. Better-tasting Yucatecan food has been enjoyed at the Principe Tutul Xiu in Mani or Kinich in Izamal. Even the uneven Chaya Maya in downtown Merida has better-tasting food. Not to say it was awful – it wasn’t. It just wasn’t great.

Sikil Pak was a little on the sour side, and runnier than the Critic would like.

Sikil Pak was a little on the sour side, and runnier than the Critic would like.

Brazo de Reina, artfully presented.

Brazo de Reina, artfully presented.

Empanadas

Empanadas

Tortitas: fried corn masa and chaya bits

Tortitas: fried corn masa and chaya bits

Holoches. More fried masa covered in beans.

Holoches. More fried masa covered in beans.

Hmm.

Hmm.

Niños envueltos aka cabbage rolls.

Niños envueltos aka cabbage rolls.

Queso napolitano or flan for dessert.

Queso napolitano or flan for dessert.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic revisits SOMA, now in Merida. Multiple mouthgasms result.

If you didn’t read the previous great reviews on SOMA you can have a look at them here and here.

SOMA, run by the talented Alberto and dulce Linde, is a restaurant that really stands out from Merida’s other restaurant offerings not just because of the food, which is truly extraordinary, but also the warm and fuzzy (and authentic) attention you get from the owners and staff alike.

The Critic won’t get into an entire review again, because it is just as good as ever and the new Merida location is a blessing to those who live in the formerly white city and are too lazy to trek out to Chelem (that location is closed by the way – sorry beach people).

On this occasion, Better Half and the Critic made it simple. Looking at the appetizers, it was decided to just order one of each. Six in total and each one better than the last. The grits with Spanish chorizo and sauteed shrimp were outstanding and Better Half raved about the calabaza soup, a creamy concoction bursting with squash flavor. The salad with real oysters and Spanish chorizo, the warm bread and butter, the ginger peach tea – everything was absolutely scrumptious.

This restaurant is heads and shoulders above what some of the more ‘famous’ restaurants in Merida are offering, no offense.

Directions to this restaurant (in a car) are below the photos. Note that there will be a Christmas Eve day serving as well as New Years Day brunch. What a perfect way to start 2015, ¿no creen?

Hush puppies!

Hush puppies!

Mac and cheese (and bacon, yum)

Mac and cheese (and bacon, yum)

Crispy oysters on a salad

Crispy oysters on a salad

Squash soup!

Squash soup!

Close-up of the salad

Close-up of the salad

Grits, SOMA style

Grits, SOMA style

The famous cookie w ice cream dessert

The famous cookie w ice cream dessert

Coming north from el centro along Montejo, turn left at the Burger King fountain and the silly underpass. Note: you need to get in your right lane to do the roundabout and make that left. Proceed to Calle 60, where you will turn right. At the calle 21 lights (car wash on your right), make a left, cross the train tracks and calle 60 and straight ahead on calle 21 for a block to where the trees are. SOMA is on your right.

Coming south on Montejo from the beaches, turn right on calle 21 (burnt out Parisina textile store and Waldo’s on your right) and proceed to the lights at calle 60. Go straight over the train tracks and 60 and then about a block down, where the trees are, is where SOMA is, on your right.

 

 

Casual Restaurant Critic at El Manjar Blanco

After a while, you tend to get a little tired of the same old same old when visiting Yucatecan food restaurants, so it came as a nice to surprise to find yet another Merida restaurant offering all the same recipes, but with a twist: a novel and appealing form of presentation!

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El Manjar Blanco is owned and run by some nice people loosely related to a local legend in the newspaper business: Antonio Peraza aka Tony, whose smart, funny and biting social commentary in the form of political cartoons are featured in the Diario de Yucatan newspaper. No politician or businessman, no matter how prominent, self important or powerful, is immune to the barbs and jabs that come out of Tony’s talented inkwell. The Critic only mentions this because when you enter the restaurant, you will notice a lot of familiar (if you peruse the local newpapers at all) art on the walls.

Once you order the food, you will see what the Critic is talking about in terms of the presentation of each platillo, Yucatecan cuisine classics all, from luscious papadzules and crunchy smoked longaniza appetizers to cochinita, queso relleno (the Critics personal favorite) and lomitos de Valladolid. They are all there, and they are all not only pretty to look at and photograph, but also taste as good as they should.

Service is very friendly and adequately professional and the prices are well within the bounds of reason for what you are getting.

For dessert, order some corn ice cream and an order of caballeros pobres and you will leave stuffed, satisfied and ready for a nap!IMG_0102 IMG_0100

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The Casual Restaurant Critic at Hacienda Xcanatun

OK, it’s been a while. In fact, the Critic hasn’t written a review of Xcanatun since way back in 2008 when the food was delicious but the service was not up to the standards of the kitchen.

Things have changed. For the better.

Fresh Menu

The Better Half and the Critic had lunch at Xcanatun a few weeks ago and oh boy was it good.  A new chef in the kitchen; a talented young woman who came by later to say hello, has created some remarkable new menu items that will delight your tastebuds and leave you wanting to try them all.

As appetizers, the Critic and Better Half over-ordered once again and had a splendid selection of oysters, half Rockefeller and half Mayan. The Critic preferred the fresh, raw and zesty Mayan oysters over the semi raw Rockefeller version but both were great. Also, steamed mussels in a savory broth – the kind you have to sop up with toasty fresh bread. Waiter, get your hands off that bowl, we’re not quite done with it. The Better Half, a fan of all things raw, ordered Steak Tartare which is definitely not on the Critics bucket list but what the heck, he tried it and liked it. A lot. Ate half the plate in fact.

Mussels

 

Oysters Rockefeller

 

Steak Tartare Presentation

Steak Tartare Texture

With three appetizers down the main courses arrived. A pork barbeque dish for Better Half which she loved, proclaiming it “perfect” (the Critic loves more sauce on his ribs) while the Critic had the steak stuffed with cochinita pibil and smothered in cochinita pibil gravy. Yes, it sounds decadent and thoroughly artery-clogging, and it may have been, but it was also perfectly cooked and outrageously delicious.Finally, the Critic can never resist a lemon or lime pie, and Xcanatun did not disappoint. Fresh, tangy, light and a perfect end to a perfect meal.

Pork BBQ Ribs

Steak with Cochinita Pibil

Pay de Limon

By this time, dear reader, you are probably saying “yes, Mr. Critic, but what about that service you so bitterly complained about last time?” Well the Critic is happy to report that you will feel like you are experiencing a production that has been polished and polished again until each edge is absolutely smooth. From the moment the parking lot attendant opens your car door with a flourish and a smile to the welcome you receive from the security man in front of the restaurant to the open door and welcome  you get once at the restaurant, you will experience the comforting feeling that you are in good hands and can relax and enjoy a truly superb dining experience.

Highly recommended and one of Merida’s – if not the – best.

Ode to the Torta de Lechón

Today I had what may have been the best torta de lechón I can recall ever having in Merida. Maybe it was because I was hungry, although I suspect not as I don’t remember having that ravenous feeling in the pit of stomach that would make even the most sawdust-flavored of sandwiches taste good.

The torta, presented to me in the usual way – on a faded red plastic non-disposable plate -at the Chuburná public market at 10 AM on a Saturday morning showed no signs of being better or worse than any I have eaten elsewhere. The roast pork filled the bread nicely and a strip of crunchy pork skin peeked out at me.

The first bite, however, was the beginning of a bliss-filled, three minute mouthgasm that transcended belief and defies description although I will make an effort.

The bread, was soft and warm; it’s outermost layer slightly crispy so that there was a soft but noticeable “crunch” as my teeth bit into it. The meat inside was moist, extremely flavorful and upon tasting it, my eyes rolled back in my head. The next bite included a bit of the crunchy roasted pork skin alluded to earlier and the citrical (yes I made that up) tang of the onion. Unbelievable. I finished the glorious torta without noticing who or what was around me or where I was. Total oblivion.

Highly recommended.

Chuburná market, Saturday AM.

New Restaurant Ku’uk Muscles in on the High End of Merida’s Restaurant Scene

Picture this: A cool, subdued and yet warmly lit environment, sparsely furnished and discretely lit. Innovative, creative, strikingly beautiful dishes presented before you in a dazzling succession of colors and flavors (and sensory experiences) that amaze, tantalize and delight your senses. Three and a half hours of celebrating food, glorious food, in ways you could not have imagined, enjoying a chef’s menu where each magical creation leaves you gasping and wondering “what can possibly be next?” or “how did they do that!”

A newcomer to the Merida restaurant scene, definitely at the higher end of the spectrum and not for the quantity-conscious (the “es mucho, so it must be good” crowd) has arrived in the form of Ku’uk and this may just be a valid a reason to come to Merida as the city’s colonial mansions and Mayan relics.

Ku’uk is not an abomination of the English ‘cook’ but rather the Mayan term for sprouts or shoots, as in all things organic that start with a sprout from a seed, and the concept is all molecular gastronomy featuring local ingredients presented to you in ways your abuela never dreamed of (more on molecular gastronomy here). In addition to the restaurant itself, Ku’uk will feature a market where one can purchase delicacies and also a culinary workshop featuring classes for food aficionados. There is an herb garden out back and the entire place is visitable, so do make sure you get the full tour. The kitchen is equipped with the usual grills, ovens and mixers, but also with equipment straight out of a mad scientists laboratory, from nitrogen-based fast-freezing to humidity extractors that remove all water from foods leaving only intensely flavored concentrated flakes to other strange (and most definitely expensive) pieces of equipment that help chef Mario Espinosa and his team perform their magic. The wine “cellar” is a spectacular room that can be reserved for a special dinner and must be seen to be appreciated.

The Critic won’t go into the hows, whys, or pros and cons of molecular cooking and will instead stick to a short review of the experience:

Breathtakingly sublime.

There, that was it.

Better Half and the Critic enjoyed 3 and a half hours of culinary bliss, enjoying the chef’s menu which featured a total of 14 dishes, each more spectacular than its predecessor. The idea was to go through the different dishes but the Critic thinks you will be better served trying them yourself and coming to your own conclusions. Besides the full tasting menu, there is a shorter menu of about 7-8 dishes and there are also some items available a la carte. The photos (below) will speak for themselves.

Service is formal, a little stiff and there is some confidence lacking when presenting dishes but if you are as enthusiastic about the food as Better Half and the Critic were, they warm right up and the experience from the service perspective becomes more fluid and relaxed and one can even elicit a smile from some of the servers, who are mostly young foodie students.

The restaurant is currently in “soft opening” mode, so you can go, and avoid any semblance of a crowd and help them get on their feet before the official presentation to society at the end of the month.

Definitely put Ku’uk on your restaurant “to-die-and-go-to-foodie-heaven-at” list!

The Ku’uk website is here for more info on reservations and location. Or call  999-315-5825

Enjoy the photos!

The Casual Restaurant Critic reviews Habaneros Yucatecan Restaurant

It has been a while since the Critic has reviewed anything and for that he expresses his most heartburn felt apologies.

If you are tired of the Chaya Maya and La Tradicion, both great options for Yucatecan food and yet, you want something new every once in a while, you might try the relatively off-the-beaten track Habaneros, located next to Puerta de Campeche behind the Siglo XXI Convention Center and the ex Carrefour Chedraui supermarket.

The restaurant is small, the tables and chairs are real ie not plastic donated by a beer company and the service is friendly. There is a complete menu featuring Yucatecan food on one side and Mexican dishes on the other.

The Critic and his Better Half found the food tasty and took some photos to illustrate the care taken in the presentation; the plates look quite pretty when they appear before you.