Spent almost 2 weeks all over the Yucatan, with the following highlights and lowlights:
- Mercado Santa Ana for breakfast (go early – they open around 6am) – excellent jugos (try one with chaya), papdzules, etc.
- La Reyna Itzalana (yellow stall on the corner) in Santiago neighborhood, across from the Santiago church – combine with a visit a block away to Casa Catherwood - http://www.casa-catherwood.com/cather... - by far our best meal in Merida
- Alberto’s Continental – a MASSIVE disappointment
- Casa de Frida – good, but I wasn’t totally blown away. A good mid-range option though.
- Main Mercado – for salbutes
Uxmal – The Pickled Onion, halfway between SacBe Bungalows and the Flycatcher Inn, in Santa Elena. Amazingly good, especially considering the far flung location.
Izamal – EL Toro is a decent option. Good salbutes and pavo al escabeche.
Posada Margherita – good, fresh pasta Italian. Supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Tulum and it was good, but I wasn’t bowled over.
El Tabano – The absolute highlight of the trip. We ate 4 meals here. They have only been open for 3 months and are really doing something else altogether at this place. Truly caring cooking done by the sweet and beautiful Laura, a Spanish ex-pat who previously was a middle school mathematics teacher at a Redwood City, CA bilingual school. Everything we ordered there without exception was head and shoulders above anything else in the area. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and their most expensive entrees (e.g., a Catalan version of bouillabaisse, roasted fish, pork chops, chile rellenos) topped out at 120 pesos. Incredible salads, soups, desserts – really cannot say enough. Located directly across the street from Hemingway Bungalows in the Zona Hotelera, right near Maya Tulum.
El Tabano has popped up at least twice now on the Mexico board, so they must be doing something right. I am planning to go to Tulum on my Great Yucatan Adventure (TM) in two weeks and it's definitely on the short list. Another question that I have for the all-knowing board is what type of traditional Yucatan food should I be expecting? I've seen mentions of pibil (which I love) and conch, but what else should I be on the outlook for?
Tulum has been a quiet fishing village for centuries, with many shallow reefs and crags easily accessible by free divers and the ponga boats you will see tethered in the afternoons. My favorite local fish is boquinette, a pan-sized vegetarian reef- cleaning hogfish that is speared. It is usually prepared whole and fried. I get a side dish of Veracruz sauce, never with an extra charge.
Huachinango (red snapper) is likewise a pan-sized delicacy, usually filleted and smothered with Veracruz sauce. It is becoming less available; I don't know why.
Be cautious about mero (grouper) - much that is represented as grouper is not. The large Nassau grouper in the area have been overfished, and the big ones can be tough and tasteless. A fresh red (or strawberry) grouper is smaller and wonderful eating.
For any of the above, I ask to see the raw fish that I am about to order. Any reputable restaurant will proudly show off the freshness of the day's catch. The request is in no way insulting.
Very few of the local fishermen have boats capable of fishing the deeper waters for wahoo and redfish. I am sometimes on the lookout for tourist charter boats returning in the afternoon with a decent catch and not a clue what to do with it. I have been given great stuff for free!
Spiny lobsters are quite plentiful in all the crags, but are a bit pricey in the restaurants. I have a friend who lives there, and for her bithday party of 6, her maid's husband caught about 50 lobsters for us.
Other than fish, if you notice a morning crowd around a roadside vendor carving up a lechon (suckling pig) be sure to get a torta or a couple tacos, with chicharron and a little habanero sauce.
E, If you get up to Playa del Carmen, the best chances for finding lechon are:
!) 30 ave & 30 st, SW corner, on the vacant lot there. If the blue tarp is up, piggie tortas are for sale, with a bit of crispy chicharron. Generally Thurs. through Sun. mornings. Some days he can't get a pig, but he averages 75%.
2) The intersection of 307 and Constituyentes is a major one, the Covi liquor store is on the SW corner. One block south from Covi, along 307 then the first right (west) there is often a street vendor with lechon, again morning only.
3) Near Akumal on the west side of 307, where there is currently road construction, there is a permanent tho' a bit threadbare roadside restaurant with incredible tacos for 10 pesos each. I had one chicken mole, one pulled pork, one battered cheese-filled jalapeno with black bean sauce. I got them to go, but 20km down the road on my way to Coba, I wished I had more.
There may be a similar source in Tulum I am not aware of, but these three give you a near-guarantee for pigging out!