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The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Chilakillers

Chilakillers. Chilaquiles. Get it? Clever name.

The Casual Restaurant Critic, accompanied by his darling Mini-Critic, visited this restaurant this past week thanks to several recommendations that said it was a great place for, well, chilaquiles. Mini-Critic loves her some chilaquiles.

The place is really pretty, amazingly so, on a non-descript stretch of 57 between 56 and 58 in the heart of Merida’s downtown, or as some of the expats call it – Centro. As in “I live in Centro, and you?”

You can see in the photos (below) that they have taken some time to create an original and attractive room, from furniture to ceiling and wall treatments. Treatments. This is beginning to sound like a pretentious architectural piece.

The service was of the shy, slither to your table variety, with one waiter and one what appeared to be an encargado at the cash register who did nothing to acknowledge the presence of the Critics and at one point, when the waiter was needed, who was taking dishes to the back, this person waited for the waiter to reappear and wave his hand in the Critics direction indicating that he was needed there. Perhaps he had a mobility issue and couldn’t leave the comfort of his cashier area. Who knows.

The food was good, but with one table and one order, they managed to screw it up – it is unclear if it was the waiter or the kitchen, but both orders of chilaquiles with castacan and chicken both arrived without the castacan or the chicken. After some digging to see if perhaps the meats had been hidden at the bottom of the bowls, the waiter was notified and he remedied the problem, taking the dishes back to the kitchen to have the order fixed.

The plates are deceptively small-ish, but the Critic suspects you might find it difficult to finish your order, as it seems to be an endless bowl situation. No matter how many spoonfuls you take out, it never gets smaller. At the end, there are soggy corn tortilla bits and while some like those, the Critic is not a huge fan. There could have been more cheese, more onions on them too.

Prices are very reasonable, the room is pretty and the drinks were good. Try the Limpiador smoothie. That’s smoothie, not smothie.

Service is really (WHAT IS IT WITH MERIDA??) the fatal blow to this otherwise interesting option for breakfast or lunch downtown. Again, as in so many Merida restaurants, the owners have spent good money on their location, their menu, their graphics and their concept and then leaving the most important part out – good, professional customer service.

Will the Critic go back? Probably not. But you go have some chilaquiles and make up your own mind.

 

Brown People

There is and always has been a palpable racist element in this country and you will see, in the hundreds of interactions the well-to-do Mexican upper classes have with their supposed inferiors, a total disregard for these browner versions of themselves.

Look around. You will see it everywhere.

Privileged kids at private school
dropping wrappers and plastic bottles
Brown People

Dirty dishes in the sink
greasy pots and pans
Brown People

Enemas and bandages
bedpans and injections
Brown People

The Lincoln on Montejo
garbage out the window
Brown People

The traffic accident
blue lights flashing
Brown People

The Barbie Mom
coffee after the gym
Brown People

Babies in strollers
families at the mall
Brown People

The busy executive
car at the valet
Brown People

Gym workout
towels, wrappers, water everywhere
Brown People

The children’s party
the piñata bursts open
Brown People

The drug war rages
who to fight the cartels
Brown People

Fortunes made
henequen industry families
Brown People

A stray shopping cart
supermarket parking lot
Brown People

Political unrest
thugs beating up citizens
Brown People

Morning TV show
the silver-toothed buffoon
Brown People

Hacienda Cacao – A Little Slice of History

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On my forays into the Yucatan as part of the work I do with my touring company Lawson’s Original Yucatan Excursions, I try to poke my head into whatever mysterious or interesting site I can find, including the many haciendas both restored and abandoned that are so liberally sprinkled across the peninsula. This is a little bit of history of one of those haciendas.

On the way to San Antonio Mulix, home to several cenotes including ones used in scenes for the famous Mexican telenovela Abismo de Pasión, one must necessarily drive through another village, a former hacienda simply called Cacao.

Cacao is a strange name for a Yucatecan hacienda, since cacao was not really a product produced in any significant commercial form on the haciendas, which originally started as farms for livestock and some grew cotton, sugar cane and other products, before all turning to henequen (sisal) production in the early, mid and late 1800’s in an effort to cash in on the boom that made the Yucatan home to more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the world at that time.

On one such drive-by, with the enthusiastic approval of similarly curious guests, I stopped to explore the chapel, which is still intact (as opposed to the rest of the hacienda which is completely and utterly in ruins) to admire and photograph the original stain glass windows and high ceilings. The chapel is still used by the catholics in the village to this day, with a visiting priest performing the corresponding duties. On the floor, I photographed the plaques commemorating the people from the hacienda that had died over the years.

As I was reviewing the photos, I noticed that one of the plaques indicated that the deceased person had been ‘assassinated at the hacienda Cacao’ in August of 1924 (see photo below)

Assassinated! Really...

Assassinated! Really…

Now this is highly unusual. Normally, these plaques give us a name and date of death and not much else and so I immediately wanted to learn more.

It turns out that this hacienda, was the property of the Ponce de Leon family, the surname I associate with Florida, having seen it in Miami many times. This branch, here in the Yucatan, at one point dropped the ‘de Leon’ suffix and became simply the Ponce family, whose members to this day are movers and shakers in the Yucatan economy. The owner of the hacienda, one Jose Luis Ponce Solis, was part of the ruling elite in the 1920’s and in addition to the usual henequen production common to all haciendas at the time, was the founder of  Yucatan’s first brewery, Cerveceria Yucateca, for which he brought a German beer expert over from Deutschland to get it right. He also founded a chocolate factory and another company dedicated to the manufacture of ice.

A little more digging and I found the information I was looking for. In 1924, when tensions were running high between Felipe Carrillo’s socialists and liberal conservatives, a group of outlaws under the command of famous ‘bandit’ and personal friend of then-governor Iturralde Traconis, Braulio Euán, entered the hacienda and killed the caretaker, his wife and 20 workers as well. I suspect that the Francisco Yam on the plaque was either the caretaker or one of those 20 people killed on that fateful day in August, 1924.

We often find ourselves driving through half-forgotten villages, past crumbling buildings or under giant trees; unaware that these are all silent witnesses to a slowly disappearing history that is, as so often is the case in human history, tragic.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Crabster in Progreso

Crabster is the newest addition to the food scene in Progreso, which until now, has been made up entirely of plastic Coca Cola chairs, familial service (cousins and siblings doing the serving with no training whatsoever) and the same tired menus at each and every restaurant. Thankfully, they have taken the bar and raised it substantially, which means you can now have a great meal right on the malecon in Progreso!

A recent visit impressed the Critic – the menu is vast, the actual restaurant is beautiful and the service is professional. The food? Fantastic. Highly recommended when you want to take someone to a civilized lunch or dinner overlooking the waterfront and not be kicking dogs or cats under your table or getting your food as it comes out of the kitchen meaning everyone in your party eats at a different time.

Enjoy the photos and plan a trip to Progreso’s Crabster soon!

 

The Casual Restaurant Critics Re-Visits Merci

It seems amazing that THREE YEARS have gone by since the Critic first tried breakfast at Merci! It has, in the interim, become a definite go-to place not only for the delicious breakfasts but also the very good lunch offerings.

Merci

You can read the previous mentions of Merci here. And for some more photos of the menu items off the breakfast menu, here.

This mini-review is just to keep the Critics’ faithful seven readers up to date and in the loop, in case you are not, on the latest and greatest at Merci.

Owner Regina has been busy making changes both to the menu and to her operation, and has expanded the locale to make it a bit larger, thanks to demand from her loyal following. The changes are palpable, as the service has become more professional, the ambience is more relaxed and seems less stressed (due to her amazing success) and the menu features new and tasty options.

It remains a top choice for breakfast and lunch and is an excellent spot to have a meal if you are in the northern part of the city, doing your non-colonial Merida errands. 🙂

Enjoy the photos, from a recent lunch visit with the always charming Better Half!

Interior shot

Seared tuna tostadas

Fish of the day – spectacular!

Salad

That’s pork belly. Can’t beat pork belly

Pear crumble could have been better with a more tart fruit to offset the sweet

Casual Restaurant Critic Re-Visits Hermana Republica

Imagine if you will, a tiny infant coral snake curled up in the recess of a limestone rock, barely visible to the untrained eye and for all intents and purposes, invisible. This is what the bacon looked like on the hamburger the Casual Restaurant Critic ordered at the Hermana Republica two days ago.

Hungry and in the mood for a burger, the bacon and cheese hamburger sounded like a winner to the Critic. Unfortunately, the anticipation of strips of crispy, thick bacon stacked under dripping, melted cheese was not to be and there was only a sad hint of a bacon strip tucked into the top of the bun along with some sparse white cheese, all covering a rather undersized patty of what was admittedly tasty beef.

The fries were excellent again (see the previous review here)  and the Belgian ale outstanding.

The Critic was rather disappointed with this poor excuse for a hamburger and would not in all good faith recommend you try it.

You will be disappointed. Except for the fries, of course.

If you are in the mood for a burger, for that burger that you can’t get your mouth around, where the bacon is abundant and the melted cheese oceanic, you will be far better served at the Angry Angus location in Las Americas, across the highway. You can read the Critics review of that great burger place here.

The End of the ‘Temporada’ in Yucatan

If you have lived in the Yucatan for any length of time, you know that every good Yucatecan looks forward to the summer vacations at the beach, known simply as “la temporada”. While the term “temporada” literally means ‘season’ a word that is of special significance to hunters when combined with the word rabbit, duck, deer or moose; or that special time of the year when those of us past a certain age used to play marbles. In the Yucatan, the word has a special meaning and that is: summer vacations. Plans for what one is going to do during the upcoming ‘temporada’ can be started as early as January, when looking at the upcoming year on the calendar; it is a big deal here.

And, at the end of August, when Sams Club and Costco in Merida have already set up displays with plastic made-in-China Santa Clauses and inflatable snowmen, the temporada comes to an end and the locals pack everything up and head back to the city.

No more afternoon sunset-watching, cool drink in hand, while the kids walk the beach for kilometers on end. No more afternoons of entertaining visitors from Merida or beyond with fresh fried fish from the local fishermen and junk food galore to snack on. No more morning jogs on the beach, lazy afternoons with the kids on a boat or pre-dawn wake up calls to go fishing. The beginning of another school year means that Moms – and the occasional enlightened Dad – will be lining up at Merida papelerias like Burrel to buy their school supplies and books if they haven’t already done so for their children and you can’t do those things if you are still at the beach.

For the well-off, who have vacationed in Chicxulub, Uaymitun, Telchac and points further out, jet-skis and motorized beach vehicles are hosed off (by the help of course) and stowed on trailers, to be towed back to Merida behind luxury pickup trucks and minivans where they will be stored in the garage until the next beach break, usually Easter in April the following year. Boats of all sizes are taken to marinas to be taken care of by someone else. Leftover food, alcohol, hammocks and clothing will be loaded into the aforementioned minivans by sullen muchachas to be unloaded by same once they arrive back in the city.

Here’s a socio-cultural aside: most muchachas hate the temporada as it means much more work than usual what with all the sand being tracked in on an hourly basis and the constant arrival and departure of relatives and friends. Plus they can’t get back to their pueblos as easily from the beach on their (few) days off and don’t enjoy any of the beach activities as these are completely foreign to them, never having learned to swim or to appreciate a good ceviche or pescado frito.

For the less economically blessed, plastic chairs, remaining food items and TV’s will be crammed into and onto smaller, less-luxurious vehicles and will, with their owners holding onto rooftop items with their fingertips, also be transported back to Merida.

Both socio-economic groups use the same garbage disposal system, which involves throwing supermarket bags of accumulated trash on to roadside temporary “dumps” which make for a delightful visual treat for many weeks to come.

At the beach, restaurants and businesses that had moved their operations to the coast for the duration will shutter doors, unplug refrigerators and return everything movable back to Merida. The futbolitos, those popular tables with little plastic soccer players that every Yucatecan teen and pre-teen spends an inordinate amount of time at during the evenings to flirt with the opposite sex will be packed up and moved to an upcoming fair or put in storage. Local businesses, the ones that are on the beach year-round, will reduce their staff and count the pesos they made during the temporada, which will probably be just enough (but not quite, they will assure you) to tide them over until the next group of vacationers – the notoriously frugal snowbirds from Canada and the northeastern states – arrive in the fall to spend their winters in warmer climes and spread around what little money they bring with them. Beach houses themselves are closed up in preparation for long term emptiness, unless they are on the rental market for the afore-mentioned snowbirds, in which case they are only partially stripped as a caretaker will probably remain on site to keep things up and running.

All that packing, storing, towing and hauling activity comes democratically together in a sea of vehicles on the Progreso-Merida highway, thankfully now 4 lanes wide most of the way.  Traffic to Merida, in the last daylight hours of the last Sunday of the last weekend of the temporada, is usually a nightmare, especially on the stretches from Uaymitun to Progreso and Chelem to the Progreso-Merida highway as there are only two lanes and one lane, respectively, as the upper class and the middle and lower classes converge. 23 years ago, when there was one lane out to Progreso and one lane back to Merida, this last day’s traffic was literally bumper to bumper for the entire 20 kilometer drive with exasperated drivers looking for free asphalt on shoulders and passing dangerously at every opportunity.

Upon arriving in Merida, temporadistas are welcomed by the flashing blue and red lights of many police patrol vehicles and face the final hurdle of getting into the city and home, where washing machines and empty refrigerators stand ready to process sand-encrusted towels and receive plastic containers of leftovers.

A sense of relief mixed with nostalgia washes over many. But, the temporada has officially ended and it’s time to get back to the regular routine of life in Merida.

Casual Restaurant Critic at the new Miyabi

As of this writing, Miyabi has moved its operation from the commercially doomed plaza on Prolongacion Montejo that features DHL, Carls Jr. (or Burger King – can’t remember which) and Walk To Wok, to a sparkly new location in the new shopping center where Merci is located, somewhere between the San Angelo condominiums and City Center.

The space is gorgeous, and the first thing you will notice when walking in is that the staff has cuadrupled. There are servers and busboys and who knows what else almost outnumbering the potential clients.

On the occasion of this visit, the Casual Restaurant Critic and better half went for a few pieces of nigiri and the always superb ramen soup. Not much to say on that end except that both were excellent.

Service was better than usual but still lacks a real friendly touch.  Many of the waiters are still as sullen as they were at the previous location and the new faces look like they are trying but the Critic suspects they will soon be contaminated with whatever grumpy virus the name carries with it.

Another thing that seemed odd and definitely detracted from the feel of the place is that all the lights were off. This was not a CFE thing as the kitchen was lit as were the little bonsai feng shui garden elements. The dining room was dark and it made for a rather cold feel.

If you are in the mood for ramen, definitely go here. It’s only 95 pesos and is a meal in itself. Sushi is fine, but you will get far more interested service at Hamachi.

Lights out!

Lights out!

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Pilgreen

Pilgreen Menu

A hungry Better Half suggested this oddly-named place for lunch and the Critic found a pleasant locale, friendly service and tasty, fresh and healthy food.

This visit occurred some time ago and so the actual names of the dishes ordered are lost to time (ha ha) but rest assured that if the place is still there, and you are in the neighborhood, it is a stop worthy of your pesos, caloric intake and time.

More info can be found on their Facebook page, here.

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The hamburger was fresh, generously served and the chips were crunchy. Not much else to say except that it was a satisfying burger.

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Fresh fruit drinks of the day include pitahaya, center

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A salad chock full of goodness. Cold and refreshing and filling too.