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May 10, 2007 04:37 PM

Best town for excellent chow and superb language immersion?

I'm looking to spend 3 weeks or so in one place in Mexico to obtain a working knowledge of Spanish from a professional school, and of course I need to be in a town that has fantastic chow! Anyone have any suggestions?

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  1. What a great question! I'd love to get some leads, too.

    Perhaps you could turn this question around by asking "What's the best food town in Mexico?" Chances are that the town would have a language school or two - although perhaps not on par with the best schools in Mexico City. But it's all a matter of priorities...

    By the by, Food & Wine magazine reported that Rick Bayless thinks the best food is in Oaxaca.


    {Edited to add} P.S. Three weeks isn't very long for language immersion, in my experience. (When I studied in France, my brain froze up - even though I'd spent four intense years studying French in night school - and it took well over three weeks for it to unfreeze.) I'd maximize the "or so" part of "three weeks or so", if possible. And it'll give you more time to eat!

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. I like Mistongo's, I like Primero Piso, I am not so enamored of ChaChaCha. The last time I ate there both service and the food were seriously lacking. I've eaten at the restaurant in Mansion de los Suenos; it's very upscale and very good but lacks some character because, economically, it's out of reach of most locals. I've eaten at Dona Paca in the Itrube and I'd say it was good but not great, also wasn't very busy. I've eaten at several of the restaurants under the portales around the Plaza Grande and once again they're good but not great to the point I don't remember the names of the rests. They're a better place for beer and people watching. I've eaten at the upscale resto that is under the portales opposite the nieve venders on the Grand Plaza. My meal was actually very good, others in my party were not so lucky. It was inconsistent but showed flashes of promise. I've eaten at Don Rafa's, liked the sopa Tarasca the rest was basically just okay. Breakfast at the Gran Hotel is very good and they make a surprisingly good chicken tostada.

          But you live there, I am sure you've eaten at almost all of these places, none of them should be a surprise to you. Patzcuaro is one town where I think the street food is superior to what is served in the local restaruants. And, knock wood, I've yet to get sick from eating anything off a street cart or out of the market. I am sure there are other options if you get further away from the Plazas Chica and Grande, the Basilica and market, but tourist don't usually go there and I go to Patzcuaro as a tourist and to purchase folk art. The food is the secondary reason.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            "I've eaten at several of the restaurants under the portales around the Plaza Grande and once again they're good but not great to the point I don't remember the names of the rests."
            Los Escudos, La Surtidora??

            "I've eaten at the upscale resto that is under the portales opposite the nieve venders on the Grand Plaza. My meal was actually very good, others in my party were not so lucky. It was inconsistent but showed flashes of promise."
            La Compañía"? I haven't eaten there yet.

            1. re: Anonimo

              La Compañia

              But you hijacked this thread, let's let it get back to where to go for good eats and language immersion.

              1. re: DiningDiva

                Tengo la culpa.
                Ok, I still maintain that Oaxaca has an interesting, distinctive cuisine and, from what I've read, at least a couple of good language schools. There are always the wonderful fondas of the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. (If I have that date right.)

                Back to Morelia: yes, the Instituto Baden-Powell gets pretty high marks for teaching Spanish. It's quite centrally located, and there are a lot of restaurants and cheap food places around. But, Morelia is not, IMO, as interesting nor as distinctive a foodie destination as Oaxaca.

                In terms of effective learning experiences, OP, you are better off at a school in a city where there are fewer Anglophones, and that is NOT Cuernavaca. I did spend two weeks at the Fénix Language Institute in Cuerna, back in 92, and it was a very good experience. It was the home stay with a Mexican family that was the icing on the cake. I learned as much from them as I did in class. However, the food at the host home was bland and uninteresting at first, due to the timid tastes of two paisanas of mine staying there. But when I convinced our host Mamá that I was up for some culinary adventure, she obliged by making a Cochinita Pibil, with all the trimmings. It took 3 days, but it was worth it. That was probably the culinary highlight of my two weeks in Cuerna.

                1. re: Anonimo

                  I know your diversion wasn't intentional, or at least I don't think it was.

                  The food in Oaxaca definitely exceeds that in Morelia. However, I think the real issue is what are the priorities of the OP, food or the language. If it's the language, then she'll need to find the best school for that. She may have to pay attention to the quality of the program(s) offered and quality and skill level of the instructors, more than the quality of the food. If the primary focus is food, then she needs to find the school that can best support that interest and perhaps not be as concerned about the quality and skill level of the instructors and/or program.All Spanish immersion school instructors are not created equal, unforutnately

                  As you point out, the homestay is a critical piece of the experience. If the choice is to concentrate on language skills, then it is important to specify that you'd like to stay with a family that is into food and cooking. Most of the language schools are eager to accommodate student requests as well as they can. Many school offer extra-curricular activities after school and those sometimes include cooking classes or a trip to the local mercado.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Thank you! I think I can narrow it down to Morelia and Cuernavaca, unless anyone else has thoughts on Puebla or Guanajuato, or other places?

                    1. re: Maya

                      Puebla is a top notch culinary and language school destination... I know someone that was there last year for 3 months and fell in love with it.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        I highly recommend Morelia or Puebla..I could live in either place. The entire state of Michoacan has so much to offer..great day trips to explore some amazing foods and traditions.

                      2. re: Maya

                        Maya, I'm far from home at the moment, but I'd like to put in a vote for my city, Guadalajara. There is at least one excellent language school (IMAC) and a LOT of really fine food, if you know where to look. I'd be happy to give you pointers and/or show you around a bit, should Guadalajara be your choice.


                        1. re: Maya

                          I prefer SMA, Guanajuato to Guanajuato city. I went to art school in Guanajuato many years ago and have travelled recently a few time to both all the places you mentioned. Morelia is close to some many great areas and Puebla is a special place. San Miguel Allende is a great place to learn a language and great food in town and surrounding areas.

                          Just remember first class buses are so easy to take and explore surrounding areas from whichever place you choose.

                          Here is a fabulous community board for Morelia and surrounding towns..very nice people. You can sign up easly if you want to post a question, lot's of good info-

                    2. re: DiningDiva

                      huh? Animo's original post was a simple, one word reply to the question asked by OP.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. Hmm... what towns do you like for beauty, accessibility from the U.S., and chow?

                  1. re: Cinnamon

                    I'm going to throw my vote in for the great state of Michoacan. The drive from Guadalajara to Partzcuaro on the free road is beautiful...pine trees, green meadows, lush foliage, tree orchids are the right time of year, soaring and majestic peaks... it's one giant stress-relief remedy. Patzcuaro is charming, and Morelia is sophisticated and charming. And then, of course, coastal Michoacan is home to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. Morelia is accessible non-stop from the U.S. from Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, and non-stop from Tijuana for under $100. There are numerous non-stop flights to Ixtapa/Zihua from LAX and SFO as well as numerous 1-stop flights.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      Hey DD... just one thing... Ixtapa/Zihua is in Guerrero state. With that said, Michoacan does have some nice, untapped beaches north of Lazaro Cardenas... and is on the Mexican Riviera highway system connecting Ixtapa Zihua with "northern" beachtowns like Mazatlan.

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Brain freeze, or maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part.

                2. Another idea - what about Merida? I keep hearing about how wonderful and relatively off the radar it is, and those Rick Bayless episodes show some very tempting mercado food...

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Maya

                    Merida is great, close to the beaches too. However keep in mind it is a huge transit point for many turistas. How about the 16th century village of Valle de Bravo? It's close to DF so you can get around to other towns very easily.

                    1. re: Pablo

                      Does the transit point issue make Merida unpleasant or decrease the general quality of the chow?

                      1. re: Maya

                        Chow is great, just a lot of tourists coming from Chichen or Cancun or going the other way to Veracruz or DF. It's a busy little place!

                        1. re: Maya

                          Merida like the rest of the Mayab is an easy place to get stuck with some mediocre grub, because certain restaurants get a good billing from the tourist industry so the hype eventually coaxes you there. But there is very good food it just takes a little more work to find depending on the neighborhood you are in.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            I like Merida more the architecture and art not as much on the food. It is bloody hot in the summer months!!!!!