If you have lived in Merida for any length of time and have had the misfortune to have to listen to a local radio station, you may have heard the ads for this restaurant, which have not changed in the last 5 or more years, where two males with fake northern Mexico accents make the smooth transition from talking about how difficult life is to deciding to go to the Tio Ricardo restaurant, “un rincon de Monterrey en Merida”
Yesterday the Critic and a supplier of shirts who we shall call Mr. Shirt went for lunch at this restaurant, located at the corner of 8 and 23 streets in Itzimná in the formerly white city. Not because life is particularly difficult but because Mr. Shirt thought that it would be a good place for lunch and that the guacamole there was the best in town.
The Critic hadn’t been at Tio Ricardo for at least 20 years and was surprised to hear it was still around. It was, although how they manage that is a mystery.
The tables and chairs are real (not plastic) which is always a plus in the Critics book, and the walls feature a lot of wood paneling and photographs in black and white of things from northern Mexico. The waiter who the Critic saw upon entering the place with Mr. Shirt was busily stuffing something into his mouth, half hidden behind a wall. The place is essentially a house, with the different rooms turned into dark, woody caves that would be ideal if you were planning on a secret meetup with someone and needed discretion, perhaps.
When the waiter – and here the term is used loosely to describe an individual who has the task of taking food orders and bringing them to clients tables – came and asked what would be the order. Mr. Shirt began by asking about a “package” for two people that had an assortment of meats and so on.
“We don’t do packages” was the curt reply from the unsmiling, unwelcoming and evidently uninterested individual brandishing his little notepad and pen.
Mr. Shirt, unfazed, continued “but I am pretty sure there was a parrillada (grilled platter) or something for two, no?”
Curt was equally unfazed. “No, we don’t have that” No mention of anything that might please his client or a suggestion perhaps. No additional information came out of his unsmiling mouth as he impatiently waited, pen poised at the ready over his notebook.
Finally, a pair of steaks were ordered, along with the entradas, apparently a “package” but for one person at a time. “What appetizers do you want to repeat?” asked Curt, since each steak plate came with two appetizers and there were only three on the menu – melted/baked cheese, guacamole, and grilled sausages. Since Mr. Shirt had mentioned the great guacamole, the Critic said “bring us two guacamoles” and Curt left without further comment.
Curt returned with the drinks and eventually the appetizers. The guacamole was good, served in the form of a block on a side plate like it had been prepared in a tub, refrigerated and then sliced off like a huge swath of green banana bread. The chips were crunchy and they have the giant flour tostadas that one could find in Monterrey restaurants. Tortillas too. The sausage was, in the Critics opinion, the cheap fatty kind and not great, while the melted/baked cheese was pretty tasty.
The steaks finally arrived, while Mr. Shirt and the Critic were treated to an episode of SmokeJumpers with Spanish dialogue on the large flat screen TV on the wall, being watched by another table and two waiters who occasionally glanced down at their cell phones to update their Facebook accounts or whatever they were doing. The steaks, one rib eye and one New York, can be ordered medium rare or medium, blue rare or tres cuartos but however you decide you want your meat done, it matters not and the steaks will be (and were) well done. OK. The Critic was not going to fight with Curt on this occasion, and especially not since Mr. Shirt had picked the restaurant. But, really?
Other things the Critic noticed included the fact that there were other waiters in the restaurant, none of whom seemed particularly pleased to be there and perhaps were only filling in time on a prison work release program. The men’s bathroom, thoughtfully and overwhelmingly perfumed with Pinol floor cleaner has no door, and there is no evident ventilation system so if you do have to eat here, I would suggest a table as far away from the mens’ room as possible, as the possibility of bathroom smell interfering with the enjoyment of your well done steak might be less than pleasant.
The Critic always enjoys a lousy restaurant and this one is not worth the time or the calories or the money – not much, the bill came to $250 pesos per person with a 10% tip and no alcohol – and there are SO many new and infinitely better options in Merida now. While the food is not horrible, the “service” certainly matches that description perfectly. How this place survives is one of those mysteries that Gordon Ramsey might enjoy.
You have been warned.