Tag Archives: queso relleno

The Casual Restaurant Critic Hitting and Missing at the Gran Plaza Mall

Every once in a while, the Casual Restaurant Critic finds himself in the mall – the Gran Plaza mall to be exact – to do some banking, pay the CFE or TelCel or whatever, and the timing works out in such a way as to necessitate a bite to eat.  The question is always: where will it be this time? Such a situation occured twice in the past week, resulting in one hit, and one awful miss.

Besides the one or two restaurants in the mall, there is the hilariously-named Food and Food food court. Choices abound! Will it be the MSG-laden offerings of Win Fa’s Chinese food, with the promise of ever-lasting thirst for hours; or the line-up infused hamburgers of Burger King? Or perhaps deal with the indifferent doñas at Doña Gorda, who make deep-fried and oily gorditas that will inspire a rush on the local omeprazol supply? The salad place is sadly dead and gone with its healthy options and so other choices might be Alabama Mama with “southern food” or some fairly decent Trompos tacos (try their heart-valve-bursting nachos especiales if you really want to gorge yourself with calories.

The Critic, however, found two new additions to the Food and Food food court, one was a definite and resounding miss, while the other promises to be a hit.

The Miss

The Critic has a soft spot for entrepreneurs who make the effort to provide something new and in this case, it was a Yucatecan food outlet that calls itself Pibilxito (which in Mayan means absolutely nothing), among all those tacos and hamburgers and cheap pasta. It is exceedingly hard to please Yucatecans with Yucatecan food since everyone has an aunt or a mom or a grandma or a suegra who makes their favorite dish just so. It’s an impossible situation, the Critic believes, and this place will go the way of another attempt at Yucatecan fare that met its demise in this very same Food and Food food court years ago.

Some of the most famous Yucatecan items are on the menu like cochinita pibil, relleno negro and the Critics favorite, queso relleno, which he proceeded to order from the rather bored and uninspired young man alternately playing with his smart phone and looking up blankly at the zero clientele stopping there. The Critic paid his 70 pesos for an order, a full 10 pesos more than the other orders, a price point explained to him by the hapless employee with the help of a prop: an actual Queso de Bola marca Gallo kept under the counter to prove the worthiness of that 4 dollar expenditure.

The food, ordered to go and unpacked from its mismatched plastic and styro containers at home, was pretty well inedible. The Critic’s cat did, however, get into it and managed to down a few swallows of the unappealing white ground meat that had not a hint of a raisin, a caper or an almond, let alone an olive, accompanied by the afore-mentioned Gallo brand cheese, all served in the traditional corn flour kol. The tortillas that came with the order were of the store-bought variety, rounding out the exceptionally gnarly experience.

Highly not recommended. Avoid at all costs.

The Hit

Having just opened, the new Thai Bistro Express, an offshoot/expansion of the popular place by the same name in Chuburna (beach, not colonia) promises to be the real deal. The super-friendly, engaged and energetic owners are right there and are happy to see you, happy to explain their food offerings to you and happy to cook it for you too. What a difference a smile makes!

The Critic had the Pad Thai, with pork. It could have a little more punch to it but was very good in any case. The iced coffee is absolutely delicious and a treat in the land (Food and Food food court land) of Coca-Cola and other gaseous beverages. What the Critic liked best was the fact that the owner asked how it was and seemed genuinely interested in some constructive criticism, offered with the sincere interest in making their place a well-deserved success. Price of the meal? $120 pesos for Pad Thai and Iced Coffee.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Pueblo Pibil

It’s new! At barely three months old, this latest and impressive entry into the offerings of real home-cooked Yucatecan food in the nearby town of Tixcocob, is already causing a stir among foodie Instagram users (hashtag: foodporn) as well as all lovers of great food who are not afraid to hit the highway to discover these out-of-the-city gems.

Chef Silvio has run a food counter in the Tixcocob market for years, and now he has, in conjunction with several partners, opened this elegant alternative for those seeking his deservedly famous ‘sazon‘ in a more formal setting.

The restaurant is beautiful, the air conditioning more than adequate on a hot pre-April firestorm temperatures kind of day and the service is gracious, if a little uneven in some spots. A friendly hostess opens the door and welcomes you into a calm, cool room from the overheated effervescence outside. An outside terrace is available for those who enjoy sweating while eating, or for those who want to have a quick smoke before or after lunch. There, you can also see the pits that give the restaurant its name: Pibil. Almost all the food is cooked in the traditional underground pit oven (the pib) and the results are impressive.

The Critic, accompanied by the Better Half, Mini Critic and almost a dozen others, visited for lunch and sampled many of the dishes available on the small but varied menu and everyone was most impressed with the quality and flavor of each beautifully presented dish.

The Critic had, as usual, the Queso Relleno, which was very satisfying and cooked to perfection. This was immediately after a starter of Sopa de Antaño (soup from yesterday, as in yesterday from grandma’s time, not actually yesterday), consisting of a black frijol broth with short pasta noodles and spiced up with a condimented tomato sauce.

Also on the table were an order of smoky crisp longaniza, generously stuffed papadzules, a relleno negro to die for, brazo de india (reina) and a spicy mondongo soup. The tortillas were thick, handmade and piping hot each time another batch arrived at the table.

At about 2000 pesos for a group of eleven, this was not at all a luxury lunch but it felt like it, given the quality of the room, service and of course, the food.

The photos will speak volumes and give you an idea of what you are in for if you head to Tixcocob for lunch tomorrow. NOTE: If you go on a Monday, you will be able to sample Chef Silvio’s frijol con puerco, which was not available on this Sunday outing and will surely be motivating this Critic and his Better Half to return, ¡pero ya!

The room is beautiful, the flowers are real and the hostess is smiling

The bar

Brazo de India

Longaniza

 

Papadzules

Relleno Negro

Mondongo

Queso Relleno

 

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Las Yuyas

Every once in a while, my work, such as it is, requires me to visit restaurants that could be potentially incorporated into a tour offering. Such was the case today, with Las Yuyas, located in the Merida’s Jesus Carranza colonia.

Open since March of this year, they are cooking up traditional Yucatecan food with some original twists and presenting it in an attractive manner. My dear readers will agree that one of the most delicious and absolutely worst Yucatecan platillos to photograph is sikil pak, but the way chef Edwin prepares it here is a work of art. Very tasty too! Look:

Sikil Pak at Las Yuyas

All the dishes tried were excellent, from the queso relleno (my go-to dish when comparing Yucatecan restaurants) to lomitos de Valladolid to pipian de puerco. Also sampled were chayitas, taco de cochinita, relleno negro and escabeche, along with crema de brocoli and sopa de lima. Each was very well presented and perfectly seasoned. Tortillas were handmade and hot, and the tostadas for the sikil pak were fried just before being brought out to the table which made them extra hot and crispy. Nice touch.

Dessert was caballeros pobres, better than the usual goop served at so many restaurants, and papadzul ice cream. This is made by a local ice cream artist and this restaurant is the only place in town where you can have this flavor. Reason enough to come and sample the wares.

The room is comfortable, chairs are a bit on the hard side, walls are all glass and the A/C is cold. Service was very friendly with a bit of a delay on the removal of dirty dishes but overall very attentive. Owner Mario stopped by for a chat and explained a little about what he is trying to do.

Recommended; a restaurant that deserves a visit. Enjoy the (iPhone) photos!

Little masa ball appetizers

Crema de brocoli

Sopa de lima

Nido de Yuyas – a large sampler plate of several items

Pipian

Lomitos de Valladolid

Queso relleno

Caballero pobre (dessert)

Caballero pobre II

Papadzul ice cream. Yes, papadzul – amazing!

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 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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Traveling to Chetumal? The Restaurant Critic Recommends…

There’s not a whole lot to motivate you to want to go to Chetumal, the capital city of the neighboring state of Quintana Roo unless you have business with the state government there or are enroute to points further south via Belize. As a city, it has a somewhat provincial feel completely unbecoming a state capital. Everything there revolves around government jobs, real and imagined and the economy is based on the circulation of  government money. Also, as part of the now historic so-called zona libre, exempt from taxes levied against consumers back in the day, Chetumal became synonymous with cheap imported stuff that folks from Merida would drive hours for to buy and smuggle back into the Yucatan. Smuggle, because there was an actual border checkpoint on the Chetumal and Cancun highways where these entered the state of Yucatan. Cheeses from Holland, candies from all over, cookies from Denmark and butter in blue cans from New Zealand all became staples in the Yucatecan diet in the 60’s and 70’s, long before Costco, Sams and Walmart. Or Pacsadeli.

Enough with the history already!

Nowadays Chetumal will remind those who have lived here for some time, of a late 70’s, early 80’s Merida. There is nothing historical to look at really, except for the occasional wooden house, a tradition that made the place charming but wiped out by a hurricane in the 1950’s and never rebuilt. Everything is modern, square, unimaginative concrete with garish paint and horrific signage everywhere. There seems to be a problem with providing folks with garbage containers and so garbage can be seen most everywhere, including among the mangroves at waters edge. Chetumal is a popular place for folks from Merida to go when they head over the border into Belize to buy inexpensive Chinese junk and for Beliceños who want to step up and out from their border area to see something more modern. Granted, the state of Quintana Roo is one of the newest states in the United Mexican States (official name of Mexico did you know) but still, and for the same reason, you would think a somewhat more dignified city would carry the label of state capital.

On that 70’s-80’s theme, the fancy restaurant described a continuacion, is very much like what the Critic recalls from fancy restaurant experiences in Merida 30 years ago. The formal service, the elegant table-side dessert and salad preparation, the hygiene-challenged, poorly lit and charmless bathrooms completely at odds with what is happening out front, is a throwback to an earlier, less sophisticated time at least in terms of restaurants.

El Faro

El Faro, which means The Lighthouse, is undoubtedly one of Chetumals’ better restaurants. Ask a local which place is the best and the name will come up. Featuring formal service, lots of glassware and cutlery, real tablecloths and the stuffy feel of a tropical restaurant gone formal, the food is presented in a way suggesting that the chef or whoever is in charge of the kitchen has seen a few magazines and websites. It is good without being great and combined with the attentive yet cool service, the experience is decent enough.

Bucaneros

Bucaneros surprised the Critic because not only was the food great, but also the service was the friendliest experienced at any commercial establishment in Chetumal. Highly recommended for fun ambience and tasty, generously-portioned seafood creations including seafood-stuffed queso relleno!

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.

 

Los Almendros – Ticul, Yucatan (it ain’t pretty)

Yesterday the Casual Restaurant Critic, along with the always lovely Better Half and two other guests of Yucatecan extraction were in sunny Ticul, the clay pot and shoe capital of the area. Ticul is also home to Los Almendros, the Yucatecan restaurant to go to back in the day.

No longer.

The Critic was aghast at the decline of this once-great culinary destination. The restaurant itself looks pretty much the same, with plenty of religious paintings hanging on the walls, above aesthetically-challenged lamps with energy saving bulbs protruding from their petal-like openings and non-functioning mini-split air conditioner units. One must assume that the air conditioning is for a) really hot weather (hard to imagine it getting any hotter than April) or b) for when the restaurant is full, which might be never.

The courtyard in the back has been converted to a hotel and the lobby entrance is at one side of the restaurant. Evidence that the breakfast for the hotel is served here includes the buffet table, still strewn with coffee machines, cups, a few boxes of Zucaritas mini cereal boxes and some thermoses; this is at 4 in the afternoon. The Critic suspects this makes setting up the next mornings breakfast service so much easier; a quick rearranging of these items will greet guests when they wake up for their all-inclusive 60 peso breakfast.

Orange juice was refreshing and tasted fresh, the pitchers are filled from bags of orange juice stored in the fridge behind the bar. Guacamole, ordered by the afore-mentioned Yucatecans, was fresh enough and came with crunchy tostadas. Everyone ordered Poc Chuc and the pork was tasty, tender and there was lots of it on the plate. The big dissappointment was the Critics favorite, Queso Relleno which was nothing like a queso relleno eaten – and enjoyed – elsewhere. A bit of cheese covered meat, which looked like a pate, swimming in a large bowl-like plate filled with corn-starch kol which was strewn with bits of cheese, tomato sauce and turkey. What the hell the turkey was doing in there baffled the Critic who was unable to finish the unappealing dish as it just seemed like the kitchen had combined a bit of Queso Relleno with some Pavo en Relleno Blanco that was lying around.

Tortillas were fresh and decent enough and of the hand-made variety, although they weren’t nearly of the consistency, flavor or freshness of those served at the Principe Tutul Xiu in Mani. Usually Poc Chuc is served with a small bowl of Frijol Colado, which is cooked black beans, strained (not ground up in a blender) served like a soup on the side. The beans only came along after being asked for and to the Critic, tasted a little off, but everyone else seemed to think they were beyond excellent, so the Critic must have been negatively influenced by the horrendous queso relleno, which surely clouded his judgement.

Service was poor to average at best, what with the television blaring over the cash register area and providing entertainment for the staff from which it was necessary to tear them away to get any kind of service. Dirty dishes remained on the table for ever, and don’t even get the Critic started on the coffee.

The coffee! This was very possibly the worst “coffee” ever encountered by the Critic or his guests, anywhere in the Yucatan, ever. With a bouquet that was distinctly reminiscent of burnt tortillas, the hot, dark water in the cup tasted like the proverbial agua de calcetin (dirty sock water) and was literally undrinkable.

Lunch as described, for 4 persons with two pitchers of orange juice came to about 500 pesos and really, they should be paying the guests to eat here, not the other way around.

What a shame that this once-proud and fine Yucatecan bastion of good eating has degenerated to such absolute misery.

Avoid, avoid, avoid.

La Tradicion Yucatecan restaurant

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his Better Half once again enjoyed a fantastic Yucatecan lunch at La Tradicion on Merida’s calle 60.

The restaurant has finally been enlarged, almost doubling it’s original capacity, and this new space was also full with visitors.

Great food, good service as usual.

And don’t be alarmed if you see machine guns and armed police; it’s to protect the US consulate nearby.