Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Mexico >
Mar 8, 2009 06:55 AM

Meals in Chapala?


I am traveling to Chapala next Saturday for a week respite from the Cleveland cold! This is my first trip to Mexico (not counting Tijuana when I lived in San Diego). I have booked what appears to be a nice apartment a block off the town square. My week will be spent on foot, just relaxing and checking the place out.

I am on a fairly restricted diet of 1800 calories per day. I avoid red meat, saturated fats, carbs and go for the protein most meals. Also, I don't drink carbonated beverages. Despite these limitations, I love the taste of well-prepared foods, and I am adventurous.

Can experienced Chowhounds recommend some places to eat and dishes to try? What about safe non-carbonated beverages?

Thanks so much for your time and input!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I lived in Ajijic, at Lake Chapala, for six years and although I currently live in Morelia, I visit friends there several times a year.

    You'll love the warmth at Lake Chapala this time of year. The afternoon high temperature has been hovering between 80° and 90°F, with late-night lows around 60. Skies are clear, air is breezy. The hills and fields are dry and brown right now because it is the middle of the dry season, so unfortunately you won't get see the lush greenery of the rainy season, which starts in late May.

    Most of the best places to eat (and most of the local action) are in Ajijic, not in Chapala. It's 10 kilometers from the town of Chapala to the town of Ajijic. Bus transportation is easy and cheap (although the buses don't run at night) and taxis are very inexpensive (although they too stop running at about 8.30PM). Several small towns are between Chapala and Ajijic, particularly Riberas del Pilar and San Antonio Tlayacapan. A couple of free English-language monthly papers will tell you what's going on around the area; pick up copies of The Lake Chapala Review and El Ojo del Lago as soon as you arrive. Ask your landlord to pick up a copy of The Guadalajara Reporter for you before you get there and leave it for you in the apartment; that paper is published weekly, on Friday, and you'll want to have the one that comes out next week.

    You'll want to know that in Mexico, the main meal of the day is normally eaten between 2 and 5PM. If you plan your day's meals accordingly, you'll be really happy and will have good access to transportation between the towns. If you do decide to eat a big meal at night in Ajijic, take a cab from Chapala and ask the taxi driver to come back to pick you up at the hour you want. He'll be glad to do it.

    You say you don't eat red meat. Pork, totally lean and excellent in Mexico, is a great alternative. Goat is another great choice. Chicken in Mexico is out of this world, and seafood--wow! So--some choices:

    Ajijic restaurant:
    --José's Illusion. Greek, and wonderful. On the Chapala/Ajijic highway just west of Ajijic.

    San Antonio Tlayacapan:
    --Restaurante Mario, just off the town square. Everything is typically Mexican and very, very good. Be sure to try their agua fresca--they're the best in the area. If they have guava strawberry, or mango, you will think you're in heaven. Tell the waiter (Jaime) that Cristina from Morelia sends her best! Breakfast and lunchtime only.
    --Tony's. On the highway, the bus will let you off at SuperLake Market. Tony's barbecued ribs are legendary and his hamburguesa de pollo (chicken hamburger) is wonderful. After you eat, go take a look at SuperLake. The prices will make your eyes pop--and not in a good way!

    Chapala restaurant:
    --Cozumel. Have the whole red snapper (huachinango dorado) or the cheese-filled, bacon-wrapped shrimp. Another day, have a shrimp cocktail. Mexican style, there's nothing like it back home!
    --El Árbol de Café (The Coffee Tree). Foreigners really like this place for breakfast.

    Kilometer 20, Chapala/Guadalajara highway:
    --Birriería Chololo. Goat birria, absolutely fabulous and the only thing they serve. Take a cab on a Sunday afternoon for food you can't get at home plus mariachis.

    As for what to drink other than carbonated beverages, try the aguas frescas at any restaurant. Most common are jamaica (made from dried hibiscus flowers), horchata (made from rice and cinnamon), and tamarindo (made from tamarind fruit). Ask your waiter for a naranjada (orangeade) or limonada (lemonade) made with agua natural. Any of those drinks and their ice will be made with purified water. Bottled water is available at any corner grocery store and at all restaurants.

    For way more information than you need, take a look at the web boards at There's a board called La Cocina--the kitchen. Ignore the nasty inter-poster remarks and you'll get a feel for what restaurants and cuisines are available in the area.

    Then go to for more insights!

    2 Replies
    1. re: cristina


      I left you a long response the day you posted your amazingly thorough and helpful response to my request. I'll be damned if I know what happened to it!

      I printed out all the info and have it in my travel folder along with the copy of "The Insiders Guide." And I already sent an email to the landlord asking for a copy of Friday's Guadalajara Reporter.

      Thank you so very, very much for taking the time to give me all this great info. I am quite excited about the trip, despite all the DOS warnings. I think I'll leave my badge and ID home, though, keep a low profile, and stay very alert.

      Thanks again, Cristina!


      1. re: cristina

        Agree 100% with your recommendation of Cozumel. Excellent large perfectly cooked shrimp as well.

        Sorry to say that Jose's Illusion will close at the end of november 2009. The landlord increased the rent and he decided to to continue. Jose's brother is doing very well with his well regarded, though very casual, Mike's sushi and Thai in Ajijic. I did not get a chance to eat there during our recent trip.


      2. The Secret Garden in Ajijic would probably meet most of your dietary needs. I'm not sure if they serve meat or not, however. Here's a picture of the meal I ate there last summer.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Jetgirly


          Looks scrumptious! Thank you.


          1. re: aaliberty

            Aaliberty, did you read the long post I left, with all the recommendations for the Chapala area PLUS the offer of personalized help? It's right above jetgirly's post.

            Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Grrrr...


              1. re: cristina


                I did, indeed. See reply, above, and thank you again!


            1. re: Jetgirly

              Just an update on The Secret Garden. We don't have any of the dietary restrictions that the OP has and couldn't care less if something is organic. Regardless, we found the food at The Secret Garden to be flavorless and plain. However, the Mango Margarita and the scenery were lovely. In fact, I blogged about that Mango Margarita here:


              We are going back to Ajijic in a few weeks. Can't wait.

              1. re: Jetgirly

                We were underwhelmed with the food at The Secret Garden, again. Probably the least interesting and most overpriced restaurant in the Chapala area, based on our two visits (2008 & 2009). BUT it is primarily vegetarian, which we are not, so that may have some effect on our opinions. They also have Indian Dinners on Saturday which we did not try.

                But those mango margarita's are still absolutely wonderful! Photo and details here: