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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“Ok, ¿cómo los preparan? Tipo Yucatan o Pacifico?”
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.
An innocuous Sunday outing for breakfast and an encounter with the chica in the red Mini Cooper had my neurotically creative juices flowing. And while my dear wife laughed at my snarky commentary, I reminded her that this is what I do; observe the human condition.
We pull into the Tulum/Holbox-inspired breakfast restaurant in Temozon Norte named “freedom” in Spanish and are impressed and supremely surprised that there are no bleary-eyed people sitting in the little plastic detention-style chairs by the road, waiting to be summoned inside for their huevos and waffles. Usually, there is a wait of at least 30 minutes. Our progress through the parking lot is halted by a young whitexican (thanks Alex) of the female sort maneuvering a shiny red Mini Cooper, with not much success, into the space right by the front door, because evidently walking will require far too much effort. There are plenty of spaces under the trees a scant 25 meters away, but no, she has to put on a demonstration of her driving skills in front of us and the entire restaurant. After several attempts including the tires jumping over a raised sidewalk, she manages to back the shiny thing into where she wants it to minimize those exhausting steps from car to restaurant front door.
This becomes even more ironic when she steps out and we can appreciate her purple spandex gym outfit painted over her lithe form. Obviously she has just come from a gym or some sort of exercise event and is so drained that now she just does not have the energy to negotiate those extra steps to breakfast.
Once we are seated and enjoying a great cup of strong coffee I observe at the next table a young couple with a small child in a high chair. The child is glued to a cartoon on the iPad while the parents enjoy their breakfast. Every once in a while, the child’s eyes never leaving the screen, it opens its mouth – robot-like – and mom shovels something into it. I begin to wonder, like the old person I am, what the hell is wrong with people today that they are raising little video-addicted automatons who will have no clue about how to behave in a restaurant when they grow older.
After watching the couple that arrived after us get their breakfast, my food finally arrives but my dear wife’s doesn’t. I stare at my “chilaquiles gourmet”, thinking about the totopos getting soggy for a while, then get up to ask the guy who appears to be the manager about the other breakfast as I, well, don’t want to eat alone. He apologizes and indicates that it is coming, and soon enough my dear wife has her huevosbenedictinos and we happily eat. The food is very good and the portions are huge.
The young couple at the next table finishes and gets up, wishing us “buen provecho” and their act of civil courtesy makes me regret having judged their parenting skills and also realize that I have officially become the grumpy old man. Oh well.
Yakuza in this case, is not the Japanese mafia, but the tiny, new sushi restaurant tucked into a small space in the interestingly-named Victory Platz (can we please just name things in Spanish for crying out loud) in northern Merida, on the avenue that runs from the pocito roundabout to the Walmart at City Center (again with the non-Spanish vernacular) at the periférico.
It is very small, with a bar for 8-10 people, about 3-4 tables and a blossoming cherry tree in the middle of an almost all-black decor. One can safely assume that this tree is not real. The staff, and there are many of them, more than customers even, are all in black and the black COVID mask looks like it was designed for this restaurant. There is a slightly smoky haze in the air which makes you wonder if the place is on fire or has a fireplace somewhere but no, it is some sort of room ambientizer (invented word) that injects fragrance and some sort of steam/smoke into the air.
Service was friendly and professional; a smiling hostess shows you to your table, approximately 4 steps from the door, but still a nice gesture, and then male wait staff appear to take orders, offer drinks and such. The Casual Restaurant Critic ordered a Sapporo beer to follow a Topo Chico mineral water but that never arrived; perhaps a little more attention in this area would make for a higher check and income. Interesting was both the name taking for an undisclosed purpose and the fact that everyone working there was communicating via earpieces and microphones. Perhaps this is to convey the feeling that they are all real Yakuza gangster bodyguards? Not sure. If you dear reader, find out, do add this information in the comments section below.
The menu has some of the tiniest printing ever seen in a restaurant by the Critic and his ever-present and always-amazing Better Half. The Critic is convinced that to fit the entire menu – which is vast and varied with hot and cold dishes – onto two pages it was necessary to reduce the font size to 3-4 points. It is REALLY tiny. Bring a magnifying glass. Or, better yet, go with the pandemic QR scanning option and read it on your device. By the way, dynamite as in dynamite roll is spelled incorrectly.
Some rolls were ordered, as well as ramen soup with pork belly, which was fine. Particularly good was the roll with smoked eel and foie gras. One of the servers brought these out and proceeded to give them a shot of fire with a handheld torch, which, in the darkened room, was dramatic and the taste of slightly heated smoked unagi is sublime. The food was satisfyingly good and together with a couple of mineral waters, the bill came to 1400 pesos before tip. It is not cheap. It is not over-the-top spectacular either. Would the Critic return? Probably, if he was in the area and felt like sushi. But if he was planning a nite out at a sushi restaurant, Kuro Uma or Miyabi (Montejo-árbol) would be first on the list.
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!
A deep dive – plug your nose – into the bowels of Mexican slang.
Pedo, in Mexico, is not a pedophile. Hopefully your search engine and those algorithms at Google et al won’t punish you for reading this. Did you turn off your cookies?
A pedo is a fart, but the word is so much more versatile than just describing the (hopefully) occasional escaping of noxious fumes from one’s behind. It is a most amazing and useful term that can be applied in all manner of situations from when one is pleasantly inebriated to those that could be defined as unmistakably problematic.
¿Que pedo? is a greeting, which could be friendly and also threatening depending on the tone and body language employed when emitting the statement. Literally “what fart?” it’s meaning can range from the friendly “what’s happening” to the aggressive “what are you looking at” common at bars in the sketchier neighborhoods of northern Mexican cities.
Tengo un pedo is the lament of someone who has a problem and is coming to you for help or comfort.
No hay pedo means there is no problem at all, really. You asked someone to help you with a ride to the mall or home from the bar and you thank them and this is an acceptable reply.
Speaking of bars and such, you might be drinking a lot and become pedo. You see it also means “drunk” and can even be turned into a descriptor for the entire process of getting to be pedo in the first place. An extended bout of alcohol consumption resulting in unconsciousness or comas is called a peda.
From pedo come derivations and permutations. Un pedorro is what you call someone who is a braggart, who is constantly on about how great he is, how shiny his car is, how he is rolling in money and so on. He is a great farter.
Note that the use of pedo in everyday conversation should be limited to people with whom one is comfortably familiar. This is not something that should come up in a chat with your bank teller, your doctor or the lady that comes to clean your house on Thursdays.
The lady that comes on Tuesday? It’s fine. No hay pedo.
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!
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.
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.
I’m in line at my local Scotiabank, waiting and watching. At the cashier, a gringo is telling the cashier – in English – that there had been a mistake when he paid his fees for his wife’s residency permit (immigration) and that he needed to correct the name on the receipt as it didn’t match the name on the passport and therefore, the folks at immigration did not allow it .
The cashier listens patiently and informs the gringo in broken English that she would call a manager. The manager comes and explains – in English – that they are unable to change the receipt information,
The gringo nods.
“No es problema” he manages to say, and with a garbled “solo es dinero” and “es my fault, miproblema, ok ok ” reaches into his pocket to fork over another wad of bills to pay the immigration fee a second time, in order to get the receipt with his wife’s name spelled correctly and complete.
This exchange got me thinking about how a Mexican who shows up at a bank in the US or Canada would be received under similar circumstances, speaking no English, only Spanish.
I’m not talking about dealing with a latino bank employee – of which there are many in Texas and Florida – although those can often be the biggest assholes. No, I have in mind the sense of entitlement that enables one to walk into a bank in a foreign country and without speaking the language, simply expect people to help you or speak in your language to help you. Would a Mexican even attempt this? I doubt it. Never in a thousand years would the executive from Las Lomas de Chapultepec or the bracero from Oxcutzcab even consider just throwing out the Spanish and expect to be understood, let alone be served. Even the most entitled, rich and aloof white Mexican would speak English.
Español? The cashiers would just stare at him like he is completamenteloco.
“I’m sorry sir we don’t speak Spanish” they would say to the Mexican, the ones with Ramirez or Rodriguez on their name tag adding a barely perceptible smirk to the statement.
Why doesn’t the cashier here say “Perdón señor, no hablamos inglés” to the gringo?
Is it the desire to serve? Are Mexicans so much more service-oriented than gringos? Is it an inherent (and erroneous) understanding of the gringos assumed superior social position?
Whatever the reason; if this intrigues you like it did me today and you’re a gringo or gringa, take a moment to observe your privilege and fully appreciate the friendly reception Mexicans provide for recently arrived norteamericanos as compared to the reception the mexicanos get up north.