Tag Archives: restaurants

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

 

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 Revisits La Pigua and Kraken

While La Pigua is the more famous of the two, Kraken is probably a little more elaborate in its recipes and presentations. Both restaurants, of course, are all about seafood and favorites of the Critic since the Pleistocene era.

In other words, for a while now.

La Pigua has the traditional coastal seafood you would expect; from seafood cocktails and salads to fried whole fish, all done with flair and accompanied by excellent and professional service. The Pigua was reviewed here (with photos) in 2012 – http://www.lawsonsyucatan.com/2012/01/08/la-pigua/

Kraken is the more recently opened restaurant, and Isla Arena (Campeche) native Eduardo Estrella is really an estrella when it comes to combining fresh fish and seafood with local and not so local ingredients and presenting the result in true top chef fashion. Service is still a little below the level of the food, but perfectly adequate.

Enjoy the photos (all from Kraken) and visit one of these classic Merida seafood dining options, both highly recommended by the cantankerous Critic.

Pulpo (octopus) Kraken

Camarones (shrimp)

Tiradito de Atun (tuna) This was the Critic’s dish and on top of the raw tuna was a mango sauce with serrano chile and sesame and a sauce on the plate featuring among other things, dijon mustard which was unexpected and delicious

Ceviche de camarones (shrimp)

Shrimp taco

Breaded shrimp taco

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Eureka

It’s not a screaming headline that the Critic loves Eureka. It is, in fact, the only restaurant in town where he will let the chef cook up whatever and it will be fabulous, menu be damned.

On this occasion, and in celebration of the arrival of 2019, the Critic, MiniCritic and omnipresent Better Half enjoyed a delicious New Years lunch at what is arguably one of Merida’s best restaurants.

Casual Restaurant Critic at Las Meras

Las Meras (pescadillas) is a place the Critic “discovered” (kind of like those white Europeans “discovering” the American continent)  since it already existed. Anyway, the Critic walked into this place ‘green’ which is kind of like making a cold call in sales, when you don’t really know what you are getting into.

For starters, it is fishy, and those pescadillas are quesadillas or empanadas filled with – wait for it – fish. There are also camaroncillas, which are stuffed with shrimp. You get the drift. Someone thought it would be clever, one supposes. The music is Juan Luis Guerra and the chairs and tables are real wood with a Corona stamp on them. The Critic considers this a good sign as he hates the more ubiquitous white plastic or its’ trashy Coca Cola red counterpart.

As the only person in the place, the Critic receives a menu and decides to stay. Asking about the seafood broth, the wait person promptly offers to bring out a little to try. And it is good; more tomato-y than the broth yesterday at Micaela but very satisfying.

The pesca and camaron thingadillas are fine, but fresh out of the deep frier, they are so damn hot that the Critic burns his lower lip as the steaming contents burst out and spill onto chin and plate. This hasn’t happened since the Critic was 7, so it’s a really memorable event for sure.

There is an array of home-made sauces to squirt on your tacos and such, in those nasty plastic squirty bottles that invariably are sticky and have bits of residue on the tips. Note to restaurant owners: get rid of these damn things already. You don’t know where that stickiness comes from and the dried bits at the tops of the bottles are just gross. The Critic abstained from adding any of these probably delicious sauces to his piping hot pescadilla.

The food is not expensive and it is tasty, if you are in the area or waiting on your car being washed at the VW dealership car wash. Location is on their Facebook page (link on their name at the top of the article)

Interior of the restaurant

Complimentary ceviche to start

You see the problem with these sauces

One is stuffed with fish, the other with shrimp. Hot as hell, these little mofos.

Marisco soup. This is a great hangover cure.

 

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Zu, a Club Sibarita Event

The recently opened Zu, located in the Victory Platz (yes, that’s German) along Merida’s busiest commercial street (the one that leads from the pocito roundabout to the City Center mall at the periferico) was the scene for another successful and delicious Club Sibarita event. Excellent food by the Zu chef and a guest chef from Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres along with wines from the oldest winery in the Americas; Mexican winery Casa Madero. The results were spectacular and the Critic (accompanied as usual by the ever-present and multi-talented Better Half) was glad to have had the opportunity to experience this event.

If you haven’t been to a Club Sibarita event, you really should consider getting on their mailing list. There is no membership fee and there are events throughout the year that highlight amazing food, drinks, and the good life.  You attend only those events you find appealing or interesting.

All contact and additional info in the links throughout.

On to the photos!

Menu

table setting

The restaurant

the bar

full menu

artistic shot of our illustrious leaders, the founders of Club Sibarita and Dolce magazine

happy diner

an amazing salad to start

Casa Madero was the official wine provider for the event, matching great Mexican wines with each exquisite dish

Playa del Carmen for Tourists

The strange roof top pool at the weird but comfortable Reina Roja hotel in Playa del Carmen

Having just come back from a little overnight in Playa del Carmen after dropping off the kids at their hotel in Tulum, I thought I would share a few impressions from Playa – as folks around here call it because it’s too hard and time-consuming to actually say Playa del Carmen – from a visitors/slash neurotic foreigners (the original viewpoint of this blog when it started 20 years ago) point of view.

Playa is heavily policed

In the touristy part around the 5th avenue area, the police presence is massive. There are armed policemen at every intersection and at one spot that I saw, a tank-like armored vehicle that probably came from the US Army’s surplus after the Iraq invasion was successfully completed.

Since you hear a lot about the gangs, the narcos and the violence that has plagued the area, this dark undertone to all the happy people selling stuff on the street and the trendy restaurants and shops, should be reassuring and not threatening. How you will react is entirely up to you. And in spite of their rather intimidating aspecto, what with their bullet-proof vests, machine guns, and all-black uniforms, they seem friendly enough though and don’t mess with anyone.

The touts

Touts is one of those weird words that I have trouble writing, just because it sounds so 18th century. But apparently, that is the official word for those guys in the street, that are trying to get you to come into their (or a friends or employers) store along the Quinta Avenida.

Predominantly men, they pester each and every passerby, inviting them to come and see their cigars, their hats or their tours. If they are waving a plastic covered menu, it’s a restaurant they want you to try. And listen to their banter, which is incredibly original – “hey, I remember you” and funny (sarcasm). If any females walk by, you can be sure that they will have a #metoo moment and be ogled and commented on by the touts, who usually hang around in small groups. As a tourist you can ignore them completely and if you don’t understand Spanish, the better it is for you since you won’t know what crap it is they are spouting.

Discounts galore

Beyond the verbal sales pitches of “good price” “cheapest price” and “best price” there are signs everywhere advertising discounts of up to 50% (on selected items). These are crappy things that never sold as well as they were expected to and so, are things you don’t want anyway unless you can’t pass up a good bargain on some plastic Made in China glass holder that says Playa del Carmen or the purple top with fringes from last year.

Pharmacies

Mexico is famous for its lax pharma laws and cheap drug prices and that, combined with the ridiculously high prices for prescription medicines in the US, means you will see pharmacy counters in the gift shops advertising everything from anti-depressants to anti-biotics to erectile dysfunction drugs with dubious labels. There are legit pharmacies a few blocks away where you can buy real drugs and medicines at local prices and so, you really don’t need to shop here unless you are afraid to venture into the “real” Playa del Carmen, a fear which is unfounded (read the part about the police, above)

The rich and the poor

You can see the disparity between the rich and the poor on the touristy streets of Playa. The wealthy tourists from abroad and from within Mexico stroll past high-end shops especially around the luxury shopping mall complete with Starbucks and all manner of luxury brand stores, while the miniature young women from Chiapas with their wares displayed Mayan market style on the very same streets right outside. Note that these women usually have small children in tow, who are entertaining themselves on cell phones, and who add a sympathetic look to the scene, invoking a sense of guilt to passers-by and thereby perhaps making it more probable to get that sale.

At one point, a shiny black Mercedes Benz coupe drove past a police checkpoint which was interesting since a) it was a black Mercedes that costs probably about a million and a half pesos and was driven by a twenty-something-year-old and his female cohort which might raise an eyebrow or two; b) they had a child on the lap of the female in the front seat, a clear violation of transit law and c) the car had no plates, another violation and normally a reason for the police to pull the car over.

Weekend getaway

In any case, Playa del Carmen is a great destination for a weekend escape from your routine if you enjoy a little beach time and some great restaurants. Other than that, I wouldn’t come back for more than a day or two as the whole ambiance seems just a little too much for my laid back Yucatecan self.

 

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Numen

While the Casual Restaurant Critic is a meat lover (and dairy and fish and and and) some members of the Critical Family are vegan, and so, with a resigned sigh and little hope of a decent lunch, the Critic and the Family had lunch at the well-known vegan restaurant Numen, in northern Merida. The result was a mixed bag. Some good food, some OK food and some food that was quite forgettable.

The best option was the tacos al pastor, which is a local favorite and Numen has created a vegan option of this classic. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the Critic’s motto when it comes to what is actually in the vegan version, but it was tasty and satisfying. If he came back, the Critic would definitely have those again.

Most forgettable dish? The pozole. Pozole is a rich broth with all kinds of meaty juices and in this case, it was sliced mushrooms and hominy floating in a barely salted broth that was really quite watery. Not satisfying at all, ITCO. In between was the Critic’s dish, a pasta with tomato sauce, which he could have made at home but was tasty enough and the Critic devoured it down to the last spiral of fusilli.

Some photos will illustrate that the dishes are beautifully presented. The service was average, not horrible, but not particularly gracious or charming either.

Pozole

Pozole

Tacos al Pastor, vegan style

Torta de Empanizado, which was sort of a bean paste, and not great at all

Pasta w Tomato Sauce and vegan “cheese”

Avocado tacos

The accompanying fries were the best part of this empanizado torta

 

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.