All posts by WilliamLawson

About WilliamLawson

Canadian Ex-Pat who has lived in the Yucatan for 20-plus years now. Occasionally neurotic, observant and trying to document everything I see.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Fronto – Diez Diez Collection Hotel

Fronto is the restaurant in the Diez Diez Collection boutique hotel

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his amazing Better Half recently had the pleasure of an overnight at the Diez Diez Collection boutique hotel, located on Calle 56 at 37, just off the Paseo de Montejo in what could still be considered the historic part of Merida. Pleasure because it really was a most pleasurable experience from the reception to the checkout, rooftop bar, restaurant, bicycle availability for a Sunday ride on the closed-off Paseo… everything was really well done. The one caveat to keep in mind is that the ultra-hip loungey music is pumped out of speakers all over the property and one very potent sub-woofer which booms low bass throughout and that reaches all the rooms, until it is turned off.

This review is about the restaurant, Fronto, which BH and the cantankerous Critic found delightful. Under the active managing supervision of Irwing who is decidedly not standing around checking his IG fee but is actually on the floor doing the work, the ambience is welcoming, friendly and even fun. Every employee seems to be genuinely enjoying their work.

The room is tiny, about 4 tables at most and there is a terrace out front for al fresco – or al calor – dining. For those guests, like the Critic, who have reached a certain age and have trouble with moody low lighting and tiny printed menu fonts, it will be a true revelation to note that upon opening one’s menu, the entire inside pages light up spectacularly and one can read what is there with no difficulty whatsoever. Fantastic! The Critic has not seen this anywhere else. The bar makes up half of the space where the tables are and so there is always something to see if conversation wanes.

After a drink, the Critic and Better Half samples several dishes and all were amazingly good. Again, the service is very possibly among the best ever had in Merida, which is very welcome in this town, which shines when it comes to singularly sloppy servers.

The fries are some of the most delicious the Critic has tried, but everyone has their favorite fried potatoes so I won’t say they’re the “best”. But these are the best the Critic has tried lately, anywhere. The burger is a monster, both in the amount of beef (800 grams of ultra-tender meat) and also for the price, at $1000 pesos. Definitely worth the splurge and share it if you must. The other items are lost to memory but were all delicious.

The Casual Restaurant Critic Finds his Favorite Horchata Ever. Pico. De Gallo.

horchata on ice
The Best Horchata. Hands Down.

The Casual Restaurant Critic is not always snarky and occasionally has good things to say about a place. One recent restaurant visit elicited such a response. The place? Pico de Gallo, at the San Angelo condo complex, where you can also find the oh-so-serious Kuro Uma as well as that pizza place that has the best reviews online. Not the best, but really entertaining to read.

This restaurant is just a few tables big inside and outside, with a really friendly hostess/manager/server who is from CDMX and knows how to serve a table. Some of the tables are quite long, so community dining can be enjoyed if you like talking to others while devouring your taco and sucking back that heavenly horchata.

The reason the Critic ended up here was thanks to the always lovely Better Half, who suggested the place when the Critic had a hankering for a good pozole during the recent Mexican independence celebrations.

A really good pozole is hard to find and Pico makes one that is absolutely amazing. Highly recommended and substantial with a broth that kicks butt, the pozole is loaded with chunks of pork and chickpeas. The soup is so chunky that the Critic asked for an extra helping of broth, which is delectable entirely by itself. What really blew the Critic away, was taking sips of the most delicious horchata to dampen the spice of the pozole. But, don’t get your hopes up. It is the Critic’s understanding that this feast in a bowl is only available during the fiestas patrias.

Horchata (ore-CHAH-tah) is the rice drink with a cinnamon twist that practically everyone who has ever been to a Mexican restaurant anywhere in the world, is familiar with. Served alongside its red cousin Jamaica (hah-MY-cah) it is a staple drink and ubiquitous to a fault. Both drinks are often made from a commercial concentrate and Merida’s horchatas are usually of that variety but the Pico version is so thick and sweet and intense, that it must be savored to be believed.

If you are in the San Angelo area or perhaps City Center visiting La Europea to stock up on decent mezcal and wine, drop by and have a taco (they are delicious) and drink some of this very recommendable horchata.

Tacos al Pastor, CDMX style

Pico de Gallos is up in the northern part of the city. They have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PicoDeGalloMex

Habibi – Casual Restaurant Critic Review

It’s been a while and the Critic offers a most sincere apology for the lapse in communicating restaurant reviews for those 17 readers hungry for information on what’s happening from a Casual Restaurant Critic standpoint.

Reviews of course rely on actually visiting and eating at the establishments to be mentioned and this requires funding, time, and motivation. All three have been sorely lacking of late.

On to Habibi. The Critic and his lovely Better Half visited this Lebanese food restaurant, located in the new City 32 complex, across from City Center, adding new fuel to an already traffic-congested brushfire; this roundabout is to be avoided at all costs most hours of the day. Once you are off the street, however, you will find a tranquil parking lot under the City 32 mirror-glass building.

Up the escalator one level to the lobby of the building and you will be treated to what is probably the most impressive interior design of any office or shopping complex in Merida.

Another escalator ride takes you to the food court level and hotel (Camino Real) entrance. The food court is gorgeous, modeled after the food court of The Plaza hotel in New York. It is remarkably similar and has some interesting food options including Kukis by Maru for all your cookie and carrot cake needs, and a branch of the previously reviewed Pueblo Pibil featuring delectable selections from their authentic Yucatecan menu.

As this he types this, the Critic realizes that he has not mentioned the subject of this article yet: Habibi.

At the lobby level, you will see the new Bachour bakery outlet (cafeteria/restaurant coming soon) and the gold-infused Habibi. Upon entering, one is immediately struck by the opulence of the design and ambiance. It feels very luxurious. It was felt that the greeting at the entrance could be improved beyond the rather non-descript “How can I help you?” offered by one of several mask-wearing hostesses.

The menu seems small and what was ordered were mostly appetizers and starters, from hummus to khachapuri, and it was quickly realized that all this was far too much bread. The hummus awarma was interesting, with a meat option and soft-boiled egg on top which is mashed into the hummus with a fork. Also ordered was a manoushe with shrimp, another bready pizze-like option which was tasty but not over-the top mouthgasms.

For dessert, a dish called knaffeh that features melted cheese, grated bread (yes, more bread) topped with labneh ice cream. A little too rich but perfect with a strong Turkish coffee to finish.

While the food tasted good, there was nothing that blew anyone away. Eric the server was excellent. The wine pour (a Lebanese house wine) seems very much on the tiny size, a swallow or two and your wine is gone.

The images all have that gold-ish tinge to them. Apologies, they are not the best iPhone photos.

Kibbeh or kibi – grilled, not fried
Hummus w meat and a soft boiled egg on top

So, in a nutshell, great room, good service, average food. The Better Half and Critic will be back for the dinner menu to order some additional (non-bread) items to get a better idea of what the chef (Bachour) is all about in the kitchen.

For better photos, a complete menu and reservation possibilities, click on the opentable link:

https://www.opentable.com/r/habibi-merida#menu

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Scappata in Progreso

Progreso has a new restaurant, open for about a month as of this writing, owned by the fine folks that run Almadia, Parrilla, and La Recova among others and this one features comida italiana.

Casa di Mare

The menu features plenty of seafood-based specialties along with wood-fired oven-baked pizzas, pastas and steaks. The space feels well put together (no Coca Cola plastic chairs wooo) with a lot of over-the-top design features like the giant lamps and the view of the beach right out front is stunning. It is open, so the breeze that usually swings around in the early afternoon keeps things cool.

On this occasion, the Critic was joined by los dos amigos, and that was a good opportunity to sample a few menu items, all of which were tasty. The meal started with drinks and a bread basket with bread that was warm, dense and somewhat chewy. It is not the kind of bread that you will devour but it does come with its own prepared butter and there are breadsticks as well, all baked in-house apparently.

Among the items sampled were the mussels – fantastic in a tomato-based sauce – and some fried seafood crunchies consisting of calamari, scallops and shrimp with what the Critic would call a zesty dipping sauce.

For main courses, one of the amigos is on the Lion Diet and had himself a massive chunk of Porterhouse steak cooked to order and perfect that came with ignored grilled veggies. The Critic had himself a carbonara pasta which while good and of generous proportions, will not present an immediate challenge to Fabrizio over at perennial favorite Eureka. Our intrepid host amigo had the black ravioli stuffed with lobster which definitely looked delicious but before the Critic could stick his fork in that plate, the raviolis were all gone. Next time.

No desserts were had, but there is something chocolatey, a tiramisu of course and a few others. The bill? Not sure, as this was picked up by the host amigo on this occasion but judging from the menu, the prices are in line with what is being charged these days in this kind of setting.

Starting with zero clients when the Critic arrived at 1 PM, the place was packed by 3 PM and the best part is that there is a parking lot, owned by the restaurant, right next door and right on the beach. Easy!

Casual Restaurant Critic at Du Blé

Cup of Latté in a take away paper cup
Latté to go

In a hurry, the Casual Restaurant Critic stopped at the newly opened (a week at the most) Du Blé, in Plaza Fontana where Mi Viejo Molino used to be. Owner Lorena has revamped the location and made it smaller, cozier and very attractive. It’s perfect (with an outdoor area) for a light snack, sandwich, coffee or juice or, in the evenings, a few glasses of wine with pasta or a sandwich.

Well, it turned out that there was some time available and the coffee-to-go idea became a have-lunch-now idea.

The Casual Critic ordered a quiche, four cheese and bacon, which was not really the traditional quiche as you might know it, but a pastry with the filling of a quiche inside. It could benefit from a little more cheese and bacon, but it tasted good and was perfect accompanied by a delicate salad with a vinagrette house dressing.

Du Blé

A second visit with the charming influencer known as Better Half gave the Critic the chance to try two sandwiches: the Du Blé house sandwich which looks almost Cuban in its thickness and absolutely crammed with ham and cheese; and the Pork Belly sandwich, which might have been more of a roast pork sandwich. Both were excellent and again featured the salad that was tried on the previous visit.

Du Blé is an excellent option if you are say, at Altabrisa VW buying a German automobile, or perhaps at the AB mall and there is nothing there that tickles your fancy, or maybe you are just finished dealing with a sick relative at the Star Medica hospital.

Location and more information on their Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/dublecasualkitchen

Lagos – Taberna Griega

Olive oil

At last – good Greek food in Merida!

In the north of the city, in the mall known as Harbor, where the new Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores is located (passport office) and the mall with very possibly the worst parking lot in the history of shopping centers, is the new Lagos – Taberna Griega.

Swizzle (left) and Clericot (right)

Opened this past June 10th, this new gourmet Greek food option is under the watchful eye of local restaurateur Carol Kolozs (Rosas & Xocolate, Maya de Asia) who never does anything small. “Go big or go home” seems to be his motto and this new endeavor is no exception.

The room is spectacular, with murals, colors and furniture that evoke a real Greek taberna. The service is friendly and quick, and they will soon get more experience under their belts. The food? It is glorious.

Better Half and this Critic started on the appetizers and didn’t get much further than that. The table quickly filled up with Greek salad, sagani, tzatziki, lamb souvlaki and a seafood frito mixto. The portions are massive and it was hard work to empty these plates but the flavors are so very delicious that one simply can not stop.

A second visit is already planned to continue the appetizer exploration and/or start sampling the main courses. The bakery, which is visible behind glass from the dining area, looks promising and also warrants a third visit. There is a strong rumor that there will be breakfasts coming soon to Lagos so this will present another opportunity to work through the menu and enjoy a moment.

Afterwards, with absolutely no room for a dessert, Critic and Better Half finished with a shot of Ouzo and left.

This dinner for two, with a pair of excellent cocktails to start and mineral waters throughout, came to $2500 pesos with a tip. It’s not La Susana prices, but then this is the real deal if you are looking for Greek flavors.

In the Harbour, Sinking

Porfirios

The Casual Restaurant had a hankering for some meat in a place not too far from home and so gathered up the exceedingly understanding Better Half and headed for Merida’s favorite underwater parking destination: The Harbour.

In the Harbour, the Critic contracted valet parking at Porfirio’s and the hungry party of two was greeted by an attractive yet somewhat detached hostess who went through all the entrance protocols from gel and temperature to asking about food allergies and a few other things that have now escaped the Critic’s ancient addled brain.

The table designated for the two was facing a large, multi-inch flat-screen monitor showing music videos. Conversation was difficult as J-Lo, Britney, etc. accompanied the Critic and Better Half as they navigated the QR code menu on their smartphones. The music thumped as a server eventually popped by to ask if any libations were desired. The Critic asked for a whisky, a Makers Mark with some ice, but was informed by the somewhat uninterested server that this product did not exist among the impressive selection of bottles on display behind the massive bar.

Entonces qué whisky tienen?” asked the Critic, using the singular so as not to complicate things but the server responded dryly with a very short list that could have been found at an OXXO. Buchanan’s and so on. So, to keep things simple, the Critic skipped the whisky and ordered cerveza.

Better Half ordered up some esquites, the corn in a cup so popular on street corners, topped with fresh cheese, lime, and lord knows what else, to which the waiter replied that this was not much food ie. “Is that all you’re ordering?” Better Half kept her composure and insisted that this was quite enough along with a melted cheese (queso fundido) and caramelized onion appetizer. There was also the guacamole studded with rib eye chunks ordered for the centro. The waiter impassively noted everything on his little note pad. Or was it an iPad?

The Critic, meanwhile, ordered up a rib eye. The waiter asked how it should be cooked and away he went.

By this time, the Critic was convinced that this was probably the least motivated waiter in Porfirio’s. One assumes that both the server and the restaurant would be interested in increasing the amount sold per table so the whisky vs cerveza was in detriment to the overall bill. Then, there was no offering of additional items to accompany the steak which is something that happens in all steakhouses from Pappa’s in Houston to Sonora Grill or 130 Grados in Merida. In general, the service was lackadaisical and indifferent on this occasion.

The meat was good, not exceptional. About a fifth of it was that hard gristle fat that one can but probably should not eat, and of course, when the steak arrived, our server asked the Critic to cut the steak – in the middle por favor – to ensure that the meat had been cooked correctly. Now this always pisses the Critic off, as it’s like the restaurant, the waiter, the chef or whoever wants to cover their ass in case there is a complaint from the diner about the meat. I understand that enough diners do complain and that warrants this policy but still, it feels very kindergarten.

In the service department, the Critic must add that several times during the evening an obviously trained individual that looked like a supervisor stopped by to make sure that everything was OK.

No desserts were had and the bill, for the afore-mentioned food and a 10 percent tip which was the bare minimum for the bare minimum service received, came to just under $1500 pesos.

Speaking of dessert, and since it’s the Harbour, the excellent coffee and gelato shop Amorino is just around the corner!

Amorino

With a hankering for something sweet and thoughts of chocolate and hazelnut gelato swirling in the Critics brain, he decided that this was a good dessert option. One doesn’t visit The Harbour every day, and less so when it rains, so one must take advantage.

Lo and behold the bored individuals informed the Critic that there were only 4-5 flavors available, all of them fruit sherbets ie the ones that probably don’t sell as much.

One might assume that this is a supply-chain issue or that Amorino is closing? Who knows, no one could say. A grand disappointment.

Overall, this Harbour experience was less than stellar and in the Critic’s opinion, Porfirio’s and Amorino can be struck from any list of places one must visit when in Merida.

Ramiro Cocina

The Casual Restaurant and his lovely Better Half had the pleasure of sampling these tacos, recommended by someone who we shall call Andrea of Yucatan Today (because that’s her name).

A tiny hole-in-the-wall taco place, with a drive-in parking situation – as in the car drives practically into the restaurant which is cool and also helpful as there is precious little street parking – and a definite hipster vibe.

The truly outstanding food, presented as beautiful small plates and a ton of imagination and variety, is poem-worthy. Kudos to the chef! The service was also extremely patient and friendly as this was the Critic’s first visit (but not the last). Critic’s favorite plate? The two moles! The presentation was very Amazon, as in the meeting of the rivers Solimoes and Negro just off Manaus, Brasil; two colors sitting side by side. Delicious too.

If you like the idea of a great, innovative taco in a patio setting – great for pandemic dining – this place is for you. If you have the occasion to be there when a small group of hipsters from up north invade the next table, be patient and enjoy their animated, loud, oh-my-god!! conversations about landing that next Amazon contract or getting a writing gig on a Netflix show and planning their next Uber outing to a cenote or Uxmal. Delightful!

For their Instagram and more information along with beautiful food pics from their menu, click here!

Wah Bao – Casual Restaurant Critic Visits The Home of the Korean Bun

The Critic has had the Wah Bao restaurant and its chef Roberto Ricalde on the to-eat-at list since hearing about the deliciousness delicacy now available in Merida and also because, well, Roberto is just a really nice guy. Now employed at the Palace Resorts and Massimo Bottura’s Reffetorio downtown, where he creates culinary miracles for Merida’s less fortunate, he dislikes not being busy and so also runs his pet project Wah Bao in northern Merida.

Arriving at 6-ish, the Critic found the place pleasantly free of crowds with just a couple of tables occupied by happy eaters and folks waiting for to-go orders. The tables are all outside making it ideal for dinner during an airborne virus-driven pandemic.

After receiving a complimentary frozen “amuse-bouche” or palate cleanser of a citrusy variety, food was ordered, for one. Too much food it turned out as portions are generous. The Peking duck bao was amazing, with delicious duck and strips of something caramelized. This was followed by a very large bowl of Shoyu ramen featuring everyone’s favorite cardiac arrest go-to: pork belly. The broth was the most intense and amazingly satisfying part of this experience for the Critic who is a fan of all things caldo. Do sip and slurp until you finish, skipping some of the other ingredients if absolutely necessary. But you will want to make sure to get ALL of the broth.

Finally, the most delectable dessert bao, fried with sugar on top (can’t go wrong there) stuffed with cinnamon and tender apple (getting even more irresistible) and finished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream over some dulce de leche. Unbelievable. The presentation is exquisite.

The Critic’s bill came to $350 approx. with a glass of homemade jamaica to wash it all down. Worth coming back for? Absolutely! Supremely enjoyable and fresh, new, inventive and different.

Look them up on Facebook for hours and days of operation. Menu below.

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Happy 2022 – The Casual Restaurant Critic Mini-Reviews

The Critic has been getting out and about, eating here and there but not finding the inspiration or time to write about it. Please add your comments and finger-wagging at the bottom of this post, he would love to hear from you.

As a reward for your feedback, here are a few little takes on some recent culinary outings, complete with a photo or two.

Kinich – Izamal

Always amazing and one of the Critic’s favorites for Yucatecan food. A sure-fire go-to (so many hyphenated words) when you have company from out of town. Great people, great food, and kudos to owner Miriam for hiring mostly female serving staff – a refreshing change in a traditionally male-dominated industry. A solid operation overall.

Habaneros

This unassuming restaurant near the convention center Siglo XXI is extremely popular with locals and visitors who come for the excellent breakfasts that are full of flavor and reasonably priced. They have the added attraction of hand-made tortillas and salsas made to order just for you.

Hennesseys

The Critic hadn’t been here in a while and so was delighted to enjoy a superb curry and guests enjoyed a steak. Service was friendly, Sean was gracious and the beer was excellent.

Zinc

After attending the restaurant’s inauguration, the Critic hadn’t been back to Zinc either and having visitors over Christmas opened up all kinds of not so regular restaurant outings. The food here is much better than you would expect and the service courteous and prompt. The location across from the Museo de Antropologia or Casa Canton or whatever it is this month, is fabulous as you can sit outside and not worry about stray omicron droplets.

Pueblo Pibil

Another favorite and among the top two for Yucatecan cuisine in and around Merida. If you go, go around 1 PM when the food comes out of the pib in back. Their house cocktails are showy and delicious. Try the Xibalba, a study in black. And do say hi to chef Silvio or his daughter chef Silvia.

Ramiro Cocina

This is the latest restaurant visited by the Critic, based on a recommendation from the fine folks at Yucatan Today. It’s so good, it deserves its own review, coming later.

La Libertad

Breakfast in two locations in the city – check their Facebook for locations and times and such. Great decor and feel to this place, if their service can occasionally be a little disjointed. They are busy, so they have an excuse but also they have been open for a while now and have two locations so some of these issues should be superados by now.

Flamante Burger

The Critic had heard about this place and it wasn’t until just very recently that he had a chance to try the burgers they are known for. Fabulous flavor, great presentation and some delicious camote fries/chips as well. Thanks to Romina for great service and definitely another visit or seven is forthcoming to try all the burgers on the menu.

La Quinta de Elena Roldán

This place, just opened and had to be checked out. When the Critic asked what the menu was he was told:

“Son mariscos”

“Ok, ¿cómo los preparan? Tipo Yucatan o Pacifico?”

“Tipo Holbox”

The Critic went with the always gracious and lovely Better Half. The best part of the experience was the live music which was a conjunto of cubanos playing Cuban music in an unamplified setting. So refreshing and they were very good. The food was OK at best -they’re famous for their pizzas apparently – and the best part of the meal was the complimentary shrimp broth (hot) that was served. Service on this occasion was slow, however they were extremely busy (over the Christmas holidays) with extra-large groups seated at tables for up to 16-18 people at a time. Looking around, the people all seemed to be NOT from the Yucatan. A different-looking crowd. Maybe they all came over from Holbox. Who knows.

Another attempt will be made to further check out their menu.