The Apoala Oaxacan fusion restaurant in Santa Lucia’s newly revamped square has only been around for about 2-3 months but the Casual Restaurant Critic has heard the name come up again and again and so yesterday, after a meeting downtown, decided to check it out. Better Half being away, this was a lunch for one but you, dear reader, can be sure that the Critic will be back with Better Half sooner rather than later, as this restaurant is true gem.
As mentioned, the Santa Lucia plaza has been spruced up and the most obvious addition there as it is most visible from calle 60 as you drive by, is the Tratto restaurant, run by the Trotter family who are very good at what they do here in Merida and offer some great upscale dining options that have raised the bar for restaurants in the formerly white city. But once again, the Critic digresses. You can park behind the Santa Lucia square, turning left off 60 into a modern and very pretty parking lot. Yes, you just saw “pretty” and “parking lot” in the same sentence; go check it out, you’ll see what the Critic means.
Approaching the restaurant, located under the arches next to the Ki Xocolatl store and chocolateria, the Critic was greeted not by an indifferent and bored individual but a smiling young man who offered a greeting and seated the Critic inside. There are tables outside but on this occasion the Critic wanted to both see the interior and check out the air conditioning.
So far, so good. A very pleasant waiter then approached the table and asked if the Critic would like a cocktail or beverage. “What do you recommend?” asked the Critic. Now normally this question is answered either with a question or a blanket “everything is great” statement that is both not true and just plain lazy. No, this waiter responded immediately and said that the house speciality was the Mayahuel cocktail. “Fine,” the Critic responded “I’ll have one of those”.
In a few moments, the drink, which features mezcal, sour orange juice and agave syrup among other exotic things was brought to the table and the Critic suddenly smelled something burning and quickly checked his pockets to see if he had put a still-lit cigarette butt away. But no, it was the drink! A small twig of what looked like fir from a Christmas tree was the garnish and it smoked aromatically as the drink was placed on the table.
OK, now the Critic is impressed.
The menu is a mixture of traditional Oaxacan food and modern preparations and ingredients with a nod to the Yucatan in passing as well, as exemplified by the cochinita on the menu which, the waiter claims, is organic.
When you order, you are presented with a tray of Oaxacan tostadas (hot) and two salsas, mildy spicy and home made. Deliciosas.
The Critic decided on the arracheras which sounded very interesting what with the ajillo chiles and Oaxacan cheese au gratin and a salad of arugula. It was not disappointing in the least. The salad was perfect and the meat exquisite, cooked to perfection and tender without achieving that horrible hammy, dissolve in your mouth texture that some local restaurants have the nerve to call arrachera steak and that would be better suited for a meal at a mental institution for toothless lunatics.
Afterwards, dessert was offered and the Critic, completely intrigued by now and with an urge to try as much as is possible for one person to try, ordered the mostachon which is a cake with pecans, features a banana cream frosting as well as raspberries, strawberries and nestled beside the cake, a dollop of homemade nieve de canela ie cinnamon sherbet.
The cake seemed a little on the hard side but the sherbet was delectable.
After asking for the bill, the Critic wandered around a little in the restaurant, exploring the fabulous bathroom (you MUST go wash your hands here!!) and at the bar, looking at the bottles and beautiful backdrop made of antique doors, a manager offered the Critic a sample of mezcal, cortesia de la casa.
Someone will undoubtedly ask about the price so it is the Critic’s obligation to let you know that Apoala is not the cheapest place to have lunch in the world. The lunch as described was $400 pesos, mas o menos, with tip. And while you can certainly fill up elsewhere for 40 pesos and enjoy a unique, “charming” location while lounging in plastic red Coca Cola chairs, what this restaurant offers is of a quality that is truly world-class.
All in all the amazing and beautifully presented food, the sublime decor, and most importantly the impeccable and gracious SERVICE, makes Apoala a serious contender for the top restaurant in Merida spot, in the Critic’s never humble opinion.
20 thoughts on “The Casual Restaurant Critic at Apoala”
Husband and I lunched there about a month ago and we left with big satisfied smiles. I had the arrachera and I think he had an incredibly tender filet. We also had an appetizer, no dessert though. I believe some excellent wine was consumed too.
We definitely plan on going back, the service was outstanding.
Can’t wait to take BetterHalf! Thanks for reading!!
I am intrigued!
I was interested in reading your critique of this restaurant William as I heard so much about it I also went to try it out.
It was early evening when I arrived and I literally stood in front of the waiter with that look of ” I would like a seat please” and he glanced at me but took more than 5 mins to seat me…. By the way there was no other person there.
It seemed as if they had a couple of new wait staff and were more interested in showing them the ropes… So with your information sounds like they have gotten experience since I was there ( only 3 weeks ago)
I ordered Arranchera medium…. the presentation was good and the salad fresh…. the meat came with blood dripping… Good thing I dont mind eating rare meat… I did point it out to the waiter to which he offered to take it back to the kitchen… but I just said no, please it is O K for me but maybe not for others….. just so that you know.
The ambiance sitting outside watching the world go by is great , but so are a lot more restaurants in Merida.Yes its pricey! Would I go back? Not in a hurry!
So thats my view…. others may have a different one and that,s O K too!
Thanks Critic, It takes an act of the gods to get me to drive into centro. But you have stoked my ganas for great food and cool restaurants.
I believe the gods have spoken!
So sorry your experience was SO different than mine, Valerie!!
Take along a designated driver and enjoy their delicious cocktails with mezcal!
WOT? Dinning without me? Better hurry and go home before this become a trend…
Six times I have eaten here in the past month…it’s my absolute go to restaurant when there are guests in town to entertain. My fifth dinner was a disaster in which I learned that it’s best to stick to the left side of the menu where the starters are. They are all really ingenious and the right shock of spice and flavour you hope for. The fifth night we dined there the ribeye was served unthawed, my catch of the day tasted like it had been frozen thawed cooked frozen and served and the pasta (no reason in the universe to order pasta here) was bland and unappealing for recipe to plate. The menu is going to change soon so there is hope for the entrees but I’d really advise you to have a couple of starters and it’s most fun when there or 5 or 6 at the table and you can order them all…easier on the pocket too. The service is uneven but again if you are there with a group and you are sharing it doesn’t really matter what order things come out in. I think it’s the best place in town at the moment and for sure the best place in centro for dinner. & to Mitch I would say you really should spend more time in centro since you are singlehandedly responsible for trapping several thousand of us in same. I’ve noticed over the past month that most of the diners are locals who most definitely do not live in centro which is nice to see..Fridays and Saturdays do seem to attract a younger glitzier crowd of over scented young men and their ladies dressed like ladies were never dressed before. Santa Lucia on the weekends does seem to have become a practice piste for walking in ridiculously high heels…a spectator sport you can enjoy over mescal cocktails at Apoala.
A hilariously informative comment, John thank you!
Not to worry BetterHalf; it is definitely not a trend!
You made my week in Merida perfect. I read your review and, after walking miles and miles, stumbled into Apoala, blisters and all, ordered the Mayahual Coctele, then the espinaca y mango ensalada and a very nice glass of pinot noir and enjoyed every bite and every minute I was there. Just amazing. I’m from New Mexico and know chile and the salsas were outstanding. Plan to go back tomorrow.
My third trip to Merida recently and I’m thinking I have to spend the winters here from now on. Muchisimas gracias!
So glad to hear that the review helped! It is a wonderful place for a meal and the drinks are great! Even the service is top notch, very unusual for Merida, I’m afraid and a welcome addition to the restaurant scene, especially in the downtown area.
Your writing is fabulous. Am inhaling every word. Thank you!
Stumbled on another wonderful restaurant here the other day: Oliva. Have you tried it? Ensalada Caprese to die for, good wines, bread, pastas, desserts. My friend, a foodie from San Francisco, said it’s as good as anything in her town. Perfect service, young chef, great experience in tiny place.
Thank you so much Nan!
Where is Oliva? I keep trying to find it but can’t. 56 or something. Help?
I think it’s 49 and 56. Chef Stefano and wife Melissa put on a class act.
Found it! Review coming soon!
I’m so glad you love this place as much as I do 🙂
Now No. 2 on TripAdvisor Merida restaurants.
still a great place in 2015!