Category Archives: Casual Restaurant Critic

The Casual Restaurant Critic is where you can read all about restaurants both in Merida, the Yucatan and beyond.

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.

Teya Viva – Hacienda Teya in Merida

glass with water, on a table, blurry colorful background

The Casual Restaurant Critic and his always lovely Better Half on this occasion, now that dining in restaurants is again possible, decided on having a Sunday lunch at Teya Viva in the sparkling Paseo 60 complex that features an ADO bus terminal, an Armando Manzanero museum and a snappy business hotel along with a slew of restaurants, most of them repeats or branches of other locations.

One of these is Teya Viva, the city cousin to the popular Hacienda Teya just outside Merida on the Cancun highway, where Queen Sofia of Spain once visited the Cárdenas (hacienda owners) family on a visit to the Yucatan. Another fun fact: the Hacienda Teya was the first hacienda to be restored for use as a restaurant and social events venue, by a visionary Yucateco, Jorge Cárdenas Gutiérrez.

Run by Jorge’s grandson, and featuring a menu full of Yucatecan classics and a gourmet special sheet designed by local chef Roberto Solis (he of Nectar fame), this very fancy restaurant is an excellent choice for when you want an upscale location with great local food. The Critic much enjoys the drive out, but all things considered, the city version is a different enough experience that it doesn’t feel like betrayal.

On this occasion, two Yucatecan classics. First up, the Pan de Cazón, which was very filling and excellent. Halfway through, the Critic asked for an extra helping of the flavorful tomato sauce which was the perfect complement to the bean-y tortilla and fish as it got a little dry at that point. The Better Half ordered up what the Critic had had the day before at the always remarkable Kinich in Izamal: Queso Relleno, also very good. Preceded by a fairly decent Sikil Pak dip the meal was accompanied by cerveza and Topo Chico mineral water.

Enjoy the photos that will hopefully make you hungry and want some good Yucatecan food soon!

The never-photogenic Sikil Pak pepita/tomato/cilantro dip, here presented in an unsettling style akin to cat food, was just average. In the background, a refreshing Chaya Limonada.

Queso Relleno – the Critic likes the olives cooked in with the meat, not merely sprinkled on top, but the flavor of this dish was very good. And the presentation – although as unphotogenic as the Sikil Pak above – is similar to that in the original Hacienda Teya, on the Merida-Cancun highway and worth a visit.
The Pan de Cazon, with its multiple layers of corn tortilla, beans and shark. Topped with the ubiquitous fire-roasted chile habanero and garnished with some Haas avocado.

Casual Restaurant Critic at Sabor a Mango

A good location and a good sign – even if it is blocked by that large SUV with CDMX plates parked on the corner where the yellow curb means no parking, but some folks are special

In the nearby town and soon-to-be suburb of Merida of Cholul, there is some new investment happening. Along with the fancy new shopping area on the corner of the square, there are some new eateries as well. Today the Better Half and the Critic had breakfast at Sabor a Mango, one of these new restaurants with a huge outdoor garden area and an interesting and delicious-looking menu.

Perhaps it was because it was Sunday and because the place was packed, that exactly four servers ran directly in front of the Critic and his Better Half with not even a glance let alone a greeting. They were extremely focused on the paper in their hands or their destination as they hurried by. It took a moment for someone from way back in the restaurant to notice and send a staff member to say hello, perform pandemic protocols and assign a table.

Sabor a Mango has the perfect pandemic environment, under large shady trees and with plenty of fresh air, inviting one to remove one’s mask without nary a thought of a stray Covidian droplet making its way up one’s nose. Speaking of masks, just about all of the staff was fully and properly masked with one (extranjera, obviously) exception holding out to sport the ever-popular under-the-nose method which has proven so effective in deterring absolutely nothing.

Once the order was in, the food did not take as long as expected to arrive at the table and when it did, it proved worth the short wait. The cheddar cheese with bacon grilled brioche sandwich was amazing, as were the fries. Crispy and thin, they are the kind of fries you can eat for hours and never get tired of. Their take on guacamole is delightful; a perfect combination of creamy avocado, chewy and crunchy pork with the surprising pop of sweet, yellow kernels of corn. Better Half’s eggy enchilada was reportedly scrumptious.

In general, there might have been a little less salt than the Critic normally enjoys but that is a personal preference and at the end of the day, it is much healthier to include less salt in one’s diet. So thank you Sabor a Mango for that!

For drinks, a rather sour and chunky jugo verde and Better Half’s tea could have benefitted from more heat.

Would the Critic consider going back? Definitely. There is a lot more on that menu that beckons for another visit!

The amazing guacamole, with all the goodies
Those addictive fries and there is chorizo and bacon peeping out from between the brioche grilled cheese sandwich

The Casual Restaurant Critic at CienFuegos

Another upscale steak-focused restaurant opened a short while ago at the busy intersection of periférico and the City Center shopping center, where traffic is hideous during busy moments and horrendous at all other times. The restaurant is Cien Fuegos and it takes over the space once occupied by the doomed Tony Roma’s franchise.

Speaking of traffic, there will soon be yet another massive building opening there complete with a Camino Real hotel, so it will be interesting to see how Merida’s overly qualified traffic wizards will manage the results of a total lack of urban planning. The only plan seems to be “make it as much like Mexico City as possible” as if that were something even remotely desirable. But the continent was conquered with the help of colored beads and glass, and that legacy persists to this day.

Alas, once again the Critic digresses.

Having visited Cien Fuegos just recently during the pandemic and its limitations on how many people can be in a restaurant the Critic and his generous Better Half enjoyed a meaty meal in a very upscale setting. Service was attentive and all protocols were implemented. The Critic and BH were happy to be able to remove masks as the virus evidently respects humans when they are eating.

A hostess meets and greets, squirts gel and takes your temperature with the plastic pistol everyone has become accustomed to. Once seated, hunger overcame the Critic and BH and guacamole was ordered and devoured, followed by massive rib eye to be shared, served on a hot plate and sliced to allow serving oneself. The guacamole is interesting. The onions are grilled and it features ants. Yes. Other accompaniments were mushrooms and a grilled veggie platter. Thankfully no carbs were ordered as the food was too much to finish properly, and no room for desserts either.

This restaurant would be a good place for a group (six people or less per table at present) or anyone in a celebratory mood. The music is a little loud for whispering sweet nothings in one another’s ears and even regular conversation but the latter is probably because the Critic is old and decrepit and that’s what oldsters do, complain about the noise. Anyone remember the Grinch? That was one of his least favorite aspects of the Who’s celebrating Christmas.

Cien Fuegos has valet parking or you DIY under the building where there is a smallish underground lot.

The guacamole has ants in it. Yep.
Grilled vegetables including beets (foreground)
Mushrooms & peppers
The rib eye

Casual Restaurant Critic visits Humo, Progreso

It’s the weekend, there’s a rainstorm on the horizon and the sky is a roiling black and gray menace.

“Hey, let’s have lunch in Progreso!” exclaims the Casual Restaurant Critic in a jolly mood to his ever-lovely Better Half and after making a reservation on Humo Bistro’s Facebook page, the two are in the car, off to the beach.

About 10 minutes into the drive the car enters the blackness of Mordor and the from the heavens vast quantities of water pour forth in what seems to be a Great Flood of yes, biblical proportions.

“I bet Noah would enjoy this” thinks the Critic.

Visibility is reduced to a few feet in front of the vehicle and yet, the Critic and his Better Half are determined. Lunch will be had! In Progreso! Gripping the steering wheel tight and flicking the wipers to top speed, the trusty Suzuki battles onwards.

Fortunately, the space directly in front of the door to Humo Bistro was wide open and only a few drops made it down the Critic’s back as ran quickly inside. The charming young lady who was to be the wait staff popped open an umbrella and escorted Better Half inside, took the respective body temps and squirted sanitizer onto expectant hands.

Once seated, both CRC and BH ordered the onion soup, an appropriate dish given the gray wetness outside reminiscent of a disgusting yet typical Vancouver afternoon. It was quite good. The cheese might not have been Gruyere but nevertheless was melty and gooey and hit the right notes.

Then, the Critic ordered pasta, which he quickly changed to a burger and as per Gila’s recommendation, this burger became the Bistro Burger. This burger was outstanding with cheese, onions and a thick slab of beef. Better Half ordered capered (alcaparrado) fish filet which came with veggies but no rice, perfect for the meal plan she is currently experimenting with. In between the soups and the main courses, a Caesar salad was also ordered, again quite good.

For dessert, the apple crumble (which had caught the Critic’s eye from the first glance at the menu) and the key lime pie, another favorite. Both were excellent, with the crumble coming out on top in the Critic’s never humble and quite subjective opinion.

Service was charming throughout. Owner Gila and her chef hubby came over to say hello. The room decor is attractive and one feels not in Progreso, which can be a good thing when you want to switch things up a little and enjoy a nice meal in a place with a little more sophistication than the plastic beer company chair and reggaeton environment available elsewhere.

With a couple or three glasses of Merlot and all that food, the bill came to about 1200 pesos. Not cheap, but not Chablé level either.