Eatinerary for Yucatan and Quintana Roo, Mexico (Merida, Valladolid, Chichen Itza, Motul + Tulum)
* This posting is an addition to DeBrazza’s solid posting on the Yucatan written last month. We unfortunately didn’t get to eat much of what was recommended because either we didn't have time or they were closed. But we were inspired to add on to the eatinerary and give back to the Chowhound community. Thanks again to DeBrazza.
Original posting: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/970069
** As tourists, My wife and I typically eat this way while traveling. During the day, we try and go where locals go and try the common specialties. Most of the best food in Mexico (in our opinion) is found in morning markets, food courts and places where workers go. At night, we’ll hit up food stalls or we’ll check out some of the finer dining or chef-driven places. We figure most locals will spend their dinners with their families at home. And this way we get a nice taste of what a city/country has to offer from low-end to high-end. This is what we did for the following places in Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
We sadly weren’t able to find DeBrazza’s highly-praised El Gallo on 41/46 but instead found Taqueria Monchi nearby. We immediately pulled over because this puesto (stand) had a good number of locals gathered around it. They had both cochinita pibil and lechon al horno (oven-roasted pork) to offer and we tried two of each. Most of the locals deemed them good enough to carry their juicy prizes in plastic bags for later consumption. Both were our first tastes of cochinita pibil/lechon al horno from the Yucatan region and we couldn’t complain about its juiciness. Before that we only had experiences at Flor de Yucatan and Chichen Itza in Los Angeles. But as we would find out later, there would be even more flavorful and tender cochinita pibil to eat. Also nearby is a stand called Tacos Jarocho, I want to say 39 between 44/46 that serves puerco asado tacos, which are basically griddled tacos in the same fashion as carne asada de res. The large mound of griddled pork seemed plain and simple at first, but the umami was there and salsas solid. We were drawn here by the 15-20 locals waiting for their share.
On Calle 32 is El Mercado Municipal which is small and mainly offers meats and veggies. Inside you’ve got your typical panucho/salbutes vendors but we didn’t end up trying anything as they seem to close up shop around 1 pm. Around the market, there are a few small families offering pollo al carbon for cheap – grilling right outside in front. Look for smoke signals.
In addition to huevos rancheros and chilaquiles, my favorite Mexican breakfast is huevos motuleños – eggs in the style of Motul. Basically, two crispy tortillas are basted inside with black beans, topped with 2 fried eggs cooked the way you like and topped with salsa. I’m sure you can find a good version of huevos motuleños in Merida too but there’s something fun about heading to the origin of a dish. We asked a local back in Merida where to go and she directed us to the town of Motul, about 35 minutes east (44 km) of Merida on the 178 highway. At the tiny El Mercado de Noviembre 20, right in the center of town, we headed upstairs to Cafeteria Soberanis Arce Doña Evelia. There are 3-4 other vendors serving comida económica in the market, but head to Doña Evelia upstairs. You can’t miss the locals getting their fix there as Doña Evelia only offers one thing: huevos motuleños. Her version is completely different than what we’ve had in the past and we really enjoyed this. Her salsa is made by slow-cooking tomatoes (possibly canned), onions, tiny bits of ham or luncheon mat and a sprinkling of peas. A hit of the salsa picante and you’re good to go. The locals seemed more into a scrambled egg version of huevos motuleños which kind of looks like machaca eggs, but I’m a big sunny-side up guy and love oozy yolk over my food. Be prepared for a sales push on home-made sombrero hats from their neighboring family store. Will warn you that the drive on the small-road back down to the main 180 highway towards Merida/Valladolid/Cancun is super crappy and bumpy 30-45 minute ride. So consider if it’s worth the time/trouble.
If you’re driving to Chichen Itza from Cancun, you will go through some charming, small towns (pueblitos). A lot of the people are offering grilled chicken (pollo al carbon). There are also vendors selling traditional smoked meats (carnes ahumadas) such as longaniza. We loved driving through the pueblitos.
We stayed up on 68 between 47/49, north of the downtown area but there was plenty of good stuff nearby.
Mercado de Santa Ana is a food court consisting of 12-14 puestos that serve comida economica and other Yucatecan classics to the locals. No people dressed in Mayan costumes selling souvenirs here – it’s all about the food. Avoid the heckling waiters and do an inspection first – see what locals are eating, and what waiters are sending out. We recommend fresh juices from the stand all the way to the left – beet juice and parsley/cactus green juice are good drinks to counter the rich or fatty food you’re about to eat. The puesto called “Mary” or “Mari” has good tamales colados, caldo de pavo (turkey soup), codzitos and papadzules. The stand just to the left of “Mary” is run by the juice people and also enjoyed their turkey salbutes and turkey relleno negro taco (black turkey stew with sliced hardboiled eggs). Towards the center and right of the food court is a mini UFC match for the cochinita pibil crown and it’s hard to tell who is good unless you’re asking diners directly. I believe we gave in to the cochinita pibil and lechon al horno guy about 4 stores from the very right. He was the only one offering lechon al horno with a piece of chicharron from the pig itself (pig cracklin’) and it added great texture and flavor. The cochinita pibil and lechon al horno were both very juicy and for us, it was our favorite of the trip. Note, we tried it on a Sunday during the day before 1 pm, but on weekdays, he is only open after 3 or 6 pm until selling out. Most of the stalls seem to be closed after 3 pm, but we drove by at night and saw about 4-5 stalls still open around 8 pm.
Mercado Municipal is on Calle 57 between 70/72. It has around 15-20 places selling comida economica/comida tipica and is packed with locals especially during breakfast time, like Mercado de Santa Ana. A good majority of the stalls were selling the menudo-like soup called mondongo with beef tripe (panza) and tendon and served with bread for sopping up the soup. There are two versions: mondongo kabic which is all beef parts and there’s mondongo andaluz which refers to the Andalusia region of Spain, aka Muslim Spain. Mondongo andaluz contains less beef parts and has potatoes, sliced ham, longaniza sausage and garbanzo beans. I went for the latter and enjoyed it but it can be salty. There’s also a few stalls serving tasty tamales colados made with chicken, which I love. But I was a bit bummed out when I saw the cook tossing the tamale into the microwave.
Apoala is a finer dining Oaxacan restaurant run by a female chef. We decided to switch over to Oaxacan because we had hit our Yucatecan quota since going through Valladolid. I’m with DeBrazza on this, their salads are done well and super fresh. We enjoyed their chilaquiles with seared tuna and their tlayuda with chorizo and arrachera steak was some of the best we’ve eaten outside of Oaxaca. Place is definitely on the pricier side but it’s good to see what Merida has to offer in that category.
Pollo al Carbon. Mexican-style grilled chicken is one of my favorite things to eat! We tried to check out DeBrazza’s recommendation for “Los Platos Rotos” on Calle 72 and 33D but it was closed. But we ended up finding three grilled chicken joints right on Calle 72.
Pollo Brujo. Calle 72 between 33B and Avenida Colon. A Sinaloan-style chicken chain with restaurants also in Guatemala. There are tons of locals grilling chicken but decided on this because it was close – we really enjoyed it. Whole chicken with tortillas and salsa for 120 pesos.
Chicken Itza. No that’s not a typo, that business name was inevitable! Orange building on Calle 72 between 33B and 35 on the east side. We stopped here when we saw the 15-20 locals waiting. The second we got out of the car, we were hit with that beautiful smell of sazonador seasoning and probably Maggi sauce. It was around 12:30 pm and the restaurant turned us and some locals away as they had just sold-out. The pollo al carbon was tinted orange and looked promising.
El Pollo Pardo. After a 2nd failed attempt at eating at Chicken Izta, we stopped by this Sinaloan-style grilled chicken place on Calle 72 and Calle 33C (I think). For 70 pesos, we got a whole chicken, rice, tortillas and salsa. It wasn’t bad at all but Pollo Brujo tasted better.
La Negrita Cantina. A good neighborhood bar on Calle 62 and 49. Good chance to try some artisanal craft beers from Merida and also some smaller batch mezcals. Order a drink and receive some free antojitos like black beans & chips, codzitos and fried masa “doughnuts” with red salsa. Great vibe here.
Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon Paseo de Montejo and Calle 39 in the Colon neighborhood of Merida is an ice cream shop and bakery that has been around since 1907. And with good reason. Their coconut, peach and mango ice creams are excellent. We ended up eating here before dinner and after dinner. For the baked goods, there’s a Mexican-like mille feuille that looks solid. We tried the cookie sandwiched with cream. Great for local-watching as families, taxi drivers and young couples congregate here.
A lot has changed with this place since we were here in 2007. We were poor cup-o-noodle backpackers then but this time, we were able to eat both low end and “high end”. Not surprisingly, this place has become even more popular with tourists and the number of restaurants probably tripled or more. So have the prices. With that in mind, we made it a point to ask locals or find cheap eats on our own. It’s assumed that destination beach towns like Cancun or Playa del Carmen will have crappy local food but you have to figure the locals aren’t eating tofu salad or dry chicken wraps right? They’ve got their go-to spots for sure. Just don’t compare them to solid places you’ll find in Guadalajara, D.F. and Ensenada/TJ.
All the “high-end” spots are located on Coba Highway 109, where all the resorts are but we’ll leave that up to you. It’s a gamble. They’re all expensive and accept cash only. Look up Hartwood, El Tábano, Gitano, Posada Marguerita, La Onda and Casa Banana.
LOW-END & LOCAL. All in Tulum Centro.
Tacos Honorio. Avenida Satelite, 1 block south of Avenida Tulum (Highway 307) in Tulum Centro. Their specialties are cochinita pibil, lechon al horno and relleno negro de pavo. After coming from Merida, we thought how good could these be? Pretty good actually. The lechon al horno, they also top with chicharrones, although not actual crisped up skin from the pig. Their cochinita pibil, juicy and good spices. But my favorite was their relleno negro which had a nice Thanksgiving gravy umami flavor to it. Compared to versions of relleno negro I’ve seen with black gravy poured over dry turkey shreds, this was actually baked in the black gravy, as it should be. 6 am – 1 pm, or until soldout. Relleno negro is the first to go, so get there early.
Taqueria El Perico. Avenida Tulum, about 1 or 2 blocks west of Avenida Satelite, orange tent. This family offers stewed and sautéed taco fillings. They had chaya with scrambled eggs, nopales with scrambled eggs, carne cubana (griddled beef, pork and hot dog cubes) and awesome salsas, including one that tasted like it was made with slow roasted onions. Enjoyed the nopales egg tacos the most.
Urge Taquito (Oohr-hey). Avenida Tulum, about 1 or 2 blocks east of Coba Highway (109). This family offers fish/shrimp tacos and ceviches. But the specialty seems to be this thing called a “torito”. A Xcatic chile is stuffed with your choice of fish/shrimp and cheese, deep fried and served over two tortillas. A lot of fun to eat. Their salsa bar has over 10 types of sauce you can choose from including peanut salsa, tamarind salsa and mango salsa. No crema used here surprisingly. Ensenada’s fish tacos still reign. Open everyday from 11 am – 6 pm.
Tacos on Sol Street y Alfa Sur Street. Behind the HSBC Bank on Avenida Tulum, that’s the local hangout. Municipal center, basketball courts, small park. It’s lined with 6-8 food vendors at night and looks promising.
Antojitos La Chiapaneca. Avenida Tulum and Jupiter Norte. Definitely the hot spot for al pastor con piña tacos. You’ll know you’re at the right spot when you see all the locals and tourists gathered around what appears to be a massive tornado of pork on the spit, with a juicy yellow crown. The taquero slices the meat properly, catches it with the tortilla like a mitten and does the finale flick of the wrist of the pineapple onto the taco. The only thing is I found them to be super salty. The gringas al pastor are also popular, in which they melt some Oaxacan cheese. Across the street, there’s another al pastor vendor so maybe someone can do a comparison.
El Camello Jr. Avenida Tulum and Calle Coba.
Locals and tourists love this place for the hefty portions of ceviche. The mixto ceviche was decent. The seafood soup wasn’t bad at all either. Fish tacos we had were grilled but I’d go back to Urge Taquito.
Great photo, and looks like an awesome trip! Nice that you made Motul for motuleños and the Tulum torito joint sounds really intriguing, esp w/ all the salsa.
I'm curious about the Yucatecan restaurants you've hit in LA--my brother lives in LA, and I'd thought about looking around for some good Yucatecan food for future adventures. Are the spots you mention worth a visit?
Hey DeBrazza, I loved the huevos motuleños. So different than what I've eaten in the past. In Los Angeles, I've only been to Flor de Yucatan (south of Downtown LA) and Chichen Itza (near USC at the Mercado La Paloma). http://www.mercadolapaloma.com/restau... I'm sure there are plenty more that I'm unaware of. Hope your brother reports back!