Category Archives: Casual Restaurant Critic

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

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 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.

The Casual Restaurant Critic: Brekkie at La Libertad

Venturing ever-further out with the pandemic still ongoing, Better Half and the Critic recently visited the relatively new breakfast spot La Libertad, located in Temozon Norte, a suburb of Merida outside the periférico and just beyond La Isla shopping mega-complex.

Not quite open, the restaurant sets up chairs outside for people to wait in a safe and socially distanced way. Once inside and the obligatory gel squirts and temperature pistol to the head protocols complied with, the Critic and BH were seated. Breakfast items were varied and plentiful, from an açai bowl to chilaquiles to real sourdough bread sandwiches.

What makes the place more special is that there are trees everywhere, even in the parking lot outside; there is a distinct Tulum-ish vibe going on which you will feel when you go.

The food was delicious and the service charming and friendly. Definitely, a return is in the cards, as there is much to try and the ambience is very appealing. Terrace and inside dining available.

You can see more about La Libertad on their Facebook page and even make reservations directly.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Izamal – A Club Sibarita Event

Plenty of Sunday activity in Izamal

Just this past Sunday, Merida’s Club Sibarita organized another outing to a town nearby (the previous one was Espita, which the Critic was unable to attend); in this case the Yellow City of Izamal. Also known as Yzamal if you carefully read those engraved stone reminders embedded in the walls of the monastery and other buildings. The Spanish were notoriously relaxed in their spelling.

Back to the trip.

First stop was the market, where, it being the first Sunday of the Easter holidays, it seemed like the crowd that had banned from the malecon in Progreso had decided to converge on Izamal. Extremely congested with minimal social distancing possible, the Critic and his Better Half wolfed down a cochinita pibil and dzic de venado taco or two and fled as quickly as possible to enjoy a coconut ice cream outside, in the fresh air, far away from the hordes.

Nothing like a greasy cochinita taco or torta in the morning! Sublime!
Dzic de Venado on a fat corn tortilla. Yum.

After that, a visit to the Kinich Kakmo pyramid, a short tutorial on the how to make a recado rojo – with achiote (annatto seed) and a visit to the very top of the Izamal convent!

Then the main event: a delectable multi-course gourmet local-ingredients Yucatan meal featuring the best of the Critics favorite Yucatecan restaurant of all time – Kinich – accompanied by a selection of white, rosé and red wines, and cervezas from the newest local brewery, Mastache, all the way from the nearby suburb of Caucel.

The photos (below) speak for themselves. If you love Yucatecan food, you must visit Kinich and if you want to join in these kinds of fun activities, contact Club Sibarita and become a member. Or follow them on social media – many events are open to the general public as well.

Buen provecho!

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Kuro Uma Sushi

Yes, more sushi.

The Critic (and the always-lovely Better Half) first tried Kuro Uma sushi at an in-home catered event, given that the restaurants were not yet allowed to open at the time and this was a special birthday celebration indeed.

Impressed by the food, the service as well as the presentation, and attention to detail, both Critic and BH could not wait to visit the restaurant, a happy event that occurred just this past week. Merida restaurants are now allowed to open with a limited number of patrons and so, Kuro Uma was the Critic’s first official restaurant outing in at least six months.

A reservation was made in person, with trepidation and specifically requesting terrace seating (being in a small, enclosed environment makes the Critic somewhat hesitant) This did not happen as that day, the folks running the commercial center decided that they would undertake repairs on some water damage and the one terrace that was inoperable (all the other restaurant patios and terraces were open) was the Kuro Uma patio. So, the decision was made and the Critic and Better Half took their places at the counter/bar and proceeded to order. Too much food, as usual.

Food took it’s time coming out but the level of detail in the presentation and cutting of the fish which you can observe firsthand from your seat at the bar, was exquisite. Fish was fresh and very tasty. Recommended is the omakaze sashimi plate (5 types of raw fish) which on this occasion was mostly tuna. The 7 piece omakaze sushi was also excellent. But the dish that still makes the Critic salivate as he writes his casual review, is the pork belly, recommended by the folks also sitting at the bar who shall be called the Xcanatun Couple for the purpose of showing them the appreciation for recommending the dish. Marinated for god knows how many hours, the pork belly literally melts in your mouth and the flavor touches on all the taste points, guaranteeing your blissful satisfaction. The term “mouthgasm” comes to mind.

Accompanied by an icy Sapporo and some sake, this was a luxe lunch that the Critic hopes to repeat very soon! Enjoy the photos.

Pork belly
Not your average Rice Krispies squares
Sake

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Carnes Concepción – Temozón

“In the town of Temozón
you will find Carnes Concepción…”

This was going to be a rhyme as those two words seemed to make sense in that context, but the Critic will continue as normal since poetic inspiration is at a virus-infused low point at the moment.

A search on this blog revealed that the Critic has never written about Carnes Concepción, one of several smoked meat options on the highway to Ek Balam or Rio Lagartos when coming from Valladolid.

A must-stop for lunch, the smoked meat (pretty well all pork) and longaniza is justifiably famous and mouth-wateringly delicious. If only the Critic wasn’t socially distancing himself at the moment he might take advantage of this lull in his regular activities to drive over and eat something.

Why Carnes Concepción in particular? On one occasion the Critic forgot his phone there and did not realize it until he was in Valladolid. When he raced back to the restaurant, the kind ladies had found and kept the phone for him. This has earned them the Critic’s undying loyalty and anytime he is in the area with guests, a stop at Carnes Concepcion for lunch is a must.

On the occasion that these photos were taken – a Monday – there was frijol con puerco (pork and beans) to be savored. When you go, order the mixed platter which has everything on it and take whatever you can’t eat home. Smoked pork or longaniza is great chopped into your scrambled breakfast huevos the next day!

Some serious smoking going on back here

Smoked pork close-up

The garnishes/complements for the Frijol con Puerco

That’s smoked pork in there.

Longaniza – the smoked sausage Temozon is famous for

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What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

Arte Helado! Lemon Pie ice cream. Yum.

Here’s the Casual Restaurant Critic’s – their Pay de Limon is most amazing!

Arte Helado Campestre

The Casual Restaurant Critic visits Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, the latest entry into the expensive and hipster steak restaurant category has the distinctive pedigree of being owned by the same folks that own and presumably operate 130 degrees, where the Critic once had the most expensive meal ever in Merida, is now open in what used to be the Tony Roma’s restaurant spot, near the periférico and across the road from City Center (Walmart). Whether or not this opening caused the demise of the Gloria Cantinera directly in front remains – at the time of this writing and to the author of said writing – a mystery.

Cienfuegos (literal translation; a hundred fires) is a beautiful restaurant. Potentially award-winning interior design and details abound that make the space very photogenic indeed. If you pick up on some similarities between the newest Miyabi restaurants and this place, it is probably because the same architectural firm designed and executed this. CHECK THIS

Besides the great room, you want to hear a bit about the staff. The hostess was on her cellular when the twenty-something MiniCritic arrived, ignoring her at the door for some time as she finished up with her phone call. The Critic, being a 50-plus male, had no waiting at the door.

The Mini Critic and Better Half had arrived before the Critic and so when the Critic sat down, brought in by the hostess, he expected a waiter to pop by to see if he wanted a drink but alas, this was not to be. The Critic flagged down what turned out to be the waiter and asked if a drink order was possible. The waiter seemed a little upset and perfunctorily answered the questions without much in the way of friendliness. Throughout the lunch, the service was lacking and every time something was needed, Critic and Co had to flag someone down. At one point the Critic stepped outside for a phone call and when the waiter also stepped outside, there was not a flicker of recognition on the waiter’s face as they crossed paths.

Now it may seem petty and trivial to narrow in on these details but when you see how much money they have invested in the decoration and architecture, this lack of training by management is unforgivable in the Critics never humble opinion.

The food, including some XXX and a rather massive cowboy steak (it was the Critics birthday) was excellent and cooked to order as asked. There was a lost sales opportunity in that the waiter did not mention the sides that were available. These were on the menu, but the wait staff should – again in the Critics never humble opinion – reinforce these options and make the effort to get the sale.

The Moscow Mule was great and did pack a kick, as it should, but here, no one came around to ask if another drink was desired. Another missed sales opportunity.

In the appetizer department, the bone marrow topped with escamole or ant eggs (popular in Oaxaca) won the Most Exotic prize, while the pear carpaccio with goat cheese and other curious ingredients, took the award for most surprisingly delicious appetizer. The dry noodles were tasty but eat too much of this and you will not have room for your main course.

All in all, the restaurant is a beautiful place and is new, which means it is full of the young rich hipster and NiNi crown who have more money than you probably do and can afford such luxuries without having the neurotic demands that someone like the Critic manifests in his picky observations. The food is good, albeit expensive. The service, like so very many restaurants in the formerly white city, is not at all commensurate with the quality of the food and beverages and the decor. It seems that Merida restaurant owners are not too concerned with providing a quality experience in every aspect and frankly, the clientele apparently attaches precious little to the concept of being served decently.

Tal para cual.

Tuna, crusted with pistachio

Ceviche with fried calamar

Here you can see a little of what they have done with the ceiling. This is wood.

Another shot of the pistachio-crusted tuna

The cowboy steak, a bone-in rib eye cooked to perfection, no sides and no distractions

Cowboy meat and fat close-up.

Bone chunks (marrow inside) topped with escamole ie ant eggs. Really. Quite Decadent. (appetizer)

Fideo Seco, or Dry Noodles (appetizer)

Pear carpaccio (appetizer)