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Restaurant notes – the Yucatan peninsula and Chiapas

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With the helpful advice of fellow Fodorites, I enjoyed a thoroughly wonderful trip to the Yucatan peninsula and Chiapas in April. (Thanks so much!) I offer these belated notes in the hope that they will prove useful to future travelers. Let me know if you have any questions!

Puerto Morelos – Los Pelicanos: Fine for what it is

A large restaurant with broad, open-air terraces under a high palapa roof, Los Pelicanos offers pleasant views of the beach and sea and (depending on your seat), Puerto Morelos’s lighthouses and harbor. I stopped at Los Pelicanos for a sunset-hour appetizer, and I enjoyed the cooling breezes as the light changed. I ordered a mixed ceviche, which was a tasty and very generous combination of small shrimp, bits of tiny octopus, and fish. It was served with respectable tortillas and salsa, and I also had an acceptable glass of white wine. The young serving staff seemed eager to please. Note that Los Pelicanos is not an upscale restaurant. I’m not complaining – as I said, I enjoyed my hour there. Los Pelicanos is fine for what it is – a pleasant, tourist-oriented sea-side palapa restaurant.

Puerto Morelos – John Gray’s Kitchen: Memorable food and service and striking décor

My dinner at John Gray’s Kitchen included only an entrée, but it was wonderful! I ordered one of the house specialties – duck breast in a honey, chipotle, and tequila sauce – and found it absolutely delicious. And I was very pleased with the red wine recommended by my server. (The appetizer and dessert courses looked wonderful, but I had eaten an appetizer elsewhere and was too full to even consider dessert.) I also liked the setting: The rather small dining room had high ceilings, light walls, and dark table linens; discrete and somewhat unusual lighting illuminated a few striking wall decorations. Combined with quiet and tastefully selected music, the overall ambience was both comfortable and elegant. Service was professional, cordial, and unobtrusively attentive. If you are interested, do consider reserving ahead: Even on a Monday evening, I saw several people turned away.

Tulum – Hechizo: Simply outstanding!

My “foodie’s choice” restaurant for this trip was Hechizo, and it was simply outstanding! It had it all: food, wine, setting, and service! Approaching the restaurant along the exterior walkway (with its curving lantern-lit walk and koi pond) through the simple entry hall (with its large wall aquarium) and into the spacious, high-ceilinged dining room, every step seemed to contribute to a sense of calm and relaxation. The few tables are widely spaced in a semi-circular dining room, lined on the inner side with windows and glass doors that let in the sound of the sea and on the outer side with high white walls, the aforementioned aquarium, and a window into the kitchen where you can watch Stefan and his staff at work. As other reviews of this gem of a restaurant note, there is no written menu: Instead, Stefan personally describes the options and patiently answers any questions. And be forewarned: There might not be many options, but every one sounded delicious! Each of my dishes (which included a tuna entrée that I believe is one of Stefan’s specialties) was made of absolutely fresh ingredients selected to balance and complement each other in taste and texture, and each was beautifully presented. Even the bread and butter were a cut above normal. My mouth truly waters every time I even think of this restaurant! And I believe that Hechizo has a better selection of wines than many restaurants in the Yucatan; certainly, the bottle of white wine that I had was better than anything else I tasted during my trip. Last, but not least, the serving staff were discreet, professional, personable, and attentive. My experience at Hechizo was simply outstanding on all fronts. As others have noted, Hechizo accepts only cash and is quite some distance from the nearest ATM, so do come prepared! And definitely reserve ahead.

Valladolid – El Meson del Marques: A charming setting for local cuisine

Complete with a burbling fountain and potted palms, the courtyard restaurant at El Meson del Marques evokes the charm and elegance of the colonial days to which the establishment dates. The serving staff also contributed to the ambience through their professionally cordial and attentive approach. I felt transported to a time of luxurious leisure! My reaction to the food was a bit more mixed: The sopa de lima was outstanding, but the longaniza had been over-grilled on one side. I didn’t say anything, so I don’t know how they would have responded had I sent it back. Thankfully, the meal was sufficient for my needs and I did enjoy it. I also appreciated the white wine recommended by my server and, after dinner, the smoothest and best balanced glass of xtabentun I tasted while in the Yucatan. Despite the problem with the longaniza, I was glad that I chose to dine here and would do so again.

Merida – La Casa de Frida: Delicious Yucatan cuisine in a memorable setting

I chose to dine at La Casa de Frida specifically because I had read a review that praised its chiles en nogada, a dish that I wanted to taste, and I found it praiseworthy indeed! I began with an appetizer of crepes with cuitlachoche that was so delicious that I couldn’t bring myself to stop eating even when I realized that I might become too full if I continued. And unfortunately, I was too full to do proper justice to the chiles en nogada. Even so, just thinking of that evening brings back memories of that entrée and its intensely flavorful and rich walnut sauce – wow! My server always seemed to appear out of nowhere at exactly the right time and made me feel very welcome even as closing time approached. I also loved the setting of this restaurant: Vibrant colors, interesting artwork, thriving plants, and creative lighting all made for a setting that I found pleasing and comfortable - and intriguing because these elements could so easily have instead created jarring contrasts. Instead, it was pleasantly and distinctly memorable.

Merida – La Bella Epoca: Some wonderful aspects

I ate a Sunday evening dinner on at one of La Bella Epoca’s 2nd floor balcony tables. The setting was perfect, overlooking an entertaining outdoor band and a crowd of people who were dancing with obvious enjoyment, and also affording pleasing views of the Iglesia de Jesus and Parque de la Madre. My meal included a cheese and chaya appetizer that was delicious and an entrée of “Mayan shrimp” that was very good, but not outstanding. The white wine recommended by my server provided a suitable, if (in my opinion) overpriced, complement to the meal. My server was amiable and professional. I definitely enjoyed my evening at La Bella Epoca, although I suspect I would have been somewhat less satisfied if I hadn’t had such a wonderful table. If you want one of those balcony tables, reserve ahead and ask for one – there are only a few and they are understandably popular!

Uxmal – Villas Arqueologicas Uxmal: Nice setting, mediocre food, terrible service

I ate dinner at the Villas Arqueologicas Uxmal one night after attending the sound and light show at Uxmal. The setting was quite pleasant: Tables edge a courtyard with a pool and lush vegetation, and the walls surrounding the courtyard are nicely decorated with reproductions of Mayan artifacts. I started with sopa de lima, which was okay. For my main course, I had poc chuc; the seasonings were tasty, but the meat was tough. Unfortunately, the service I received was truly terrible. As just one example, it took three separate requests over a period of more than 20 minutes just to get water. The only other table that was seated while I was there seemed to get more timely service, so maybe the problems I experienced reflected the staffs’ reaction to a single female patron. If you are looking for a place to eat after the Uxmal sound and light show, the Villas Arqueologicas Uxmal is definitely convenient – and as I understand it, there aren’t many restaurant options in that area that are open at that time of the evening. At least the setting was pleasant.

Celestun – El Lobo: Surprisingly good pizza!

If you are seeking haute cuisine or freshly prepared local fish, I wouldn’t urge you go to El Lobo: It is a very small and casual local eatery with a limited menu (and no fish). But if you want to eat after about 7 p.m., El Lobo may be your only choice in Celestun – and you could do much worse! The young man who served me was amiable and quietly efficient. I ordered a (thin crust) pizza with ham and pineapple, and it was surprisingly good: The crust had been perfectly cooked, and the toppings were flavorful and well balanced. After leaving, I saw what appeared to be a roof-top terrace; I don’t know if food is served there as well, so you might want to check if you are in the area.

Campeche – La Pigua: Excellent!

La Pigua’s exterior hides an elegant, modern dining room that seems designed to provide a calm, quiet, and welcoming respite from the day’s demands. And if the setting doesn’t take your mind off things, the food should: Wow! I started with a selection of cheeses, and was very pleased with the complementary tastes and textures. And the servings were quite generous. For my entrée, I had coconut shrimp, and I simply cannot praise it enough: It was beautifully presented and perfectly prepared, with exactly the right degree of crispiness to the coconut and absolutely succulent shrimp – truly outstanding! And I was also pleased with the white wine recommended by my server, who was attentive and friendly. For food, setting, and service, La Pigua earned my wholehearted recommendation.

Campeche – Marganzo: Cheery, but disappointing food

I appreciated Marganzo’s cheery, bright interior décor and helpful, costumed serving staff. I also appreciated Marganzo’s effort to enhance their customers’ experience by hiring trios of musicians for entertainment. If the trio lacked inspiration the night I was there, they at least had a reasonable level of technical competence. Unfortunately, my meal was truly disappointing: I started with an appetizer of poblano pepper stuffed with shark meat. The shark and pepper were firm enough to be tasted (yes, I mean “tasted”, not “tasty”), despite being nearly drowned in a soupy sauce that lacked freshness. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of my entrée: The pompano – a specialty of the house – was rendered inedible by the sauces in which it had been submerged. I will grant that the dish was pretty, with swirls of green and red sauces, but that’s the best I can say about it.

Near Calakmul – Rio Bec Dreams: A wonderful option in an out-of-the-way location

I ate two dinners at Rio Bec Dreams and I enjoyed with both. For each dinner, I started with a salad; my entrees – tilapia and chicken Dijon, respectively (both delicious!) – were accompanied by tasty side dishes; decent white wines completed and complemented each meal. The service and setting (candlelit tables on a wooden terrace surrounded by young trees) were also enjoyable. If you are in this out-of-the-way area – and it is worth seeing the remarkable Mayan ruins of this region! – Rio Bec Dreams provides a very good option. If I understand correctly, you should be prepared to pay cash.

Palenque – Restaurant Maya: Worth considering for local cuisine

Beside Palenque’s main square, Restaurant Maya is brightly colored and cheery and the staff are helpful and pleasant. I started with a chipilin tamale, which was tasty but definitely hearty. For my entrée, I tried the chicken mole. The moles I have had before have been too sweet and heavy for my tastes; I had read that Chiapanecan moles are less sweet, so I gave it a try, and I was pleased with it. The chicken was moist, and the mole – served on the side – was, indeed, flavorful without being too sweet and rich and complex without being too heavy. If you’re looking for haute cuisine, Restaurant Maya is not likely to satisfy; if you want to try well-prepared local cuisine, it is well worth considering.

Palenque – Don Mucho: The food was OK; the fire dancers were very entertaining

In the El Panchan section of Palenque, Don Mucho is a popular establishment with live entertainment nightly (I think) and a menu of simple, rather inexpensive dishes. I sat in a leafy, open-air terrace, where I ate a pasta dish with ham that was acceptable – no more, no less. It came with a very small salad and a single slice of garlic-buttered white bread, which were both served after the pasta; I’d like to believe they would have been served even if I hadn’t mentioned them when my waiter asked if I wanted anything else. The servers were generally efficient, but the restaurant was busy enough to preclude particularly responsive attention. I went to Don Mucho in large part because I wanted to see fire dancing. Unfortunately, it did not occur the night that I ate there, so I returned after dinner the following night, and was glad I did – the fire dancers were very entertaining. If you are staying in Palenque, note that the staff at Don Mucho would not call a taxi for the return ride until given a 50 peso deposit (the full fare for the trip); to their credit, they did take care to match people to their taxis.

Palenque – Hotel Xibalba: Delicious!

My meal at the Hotel Xibalba’s restaurant was delicious! I started with a very flavorful onion soup. My entrée was a filet of fish baked in foil with vegetables and yerba, and it was truly delicious: fresh, perfectly cooked, and wonderfully seasoned. The white wine recommended by my server complemented the fish nicely. In addition, the setting (indoor, but open to the evening air) was pleasant and the service was attentive and helpful.

San Cristobal de las Casas – Emiliano’s Moustache: Not as good as I’d expected

My prior research led me to believe that Emiliano’s Moustache was a lively restaurant with great tacos; that is not what I experienced. I found a large, casual establishment with few customers. A patient waitress helped me understand how to order (the menu offers various amounts of meat intended to fill differing numbers of tacos). The tortillas were fresh and the salsa was decent enough, but the meat was extremely tough, with several pieces being essentially inedible. I can imagine that Emiliano’s Moustache might be a fun place for a group to go for conversation over a bite to eat; it is not a place to which I would return for dinner.

San Cristobal de las Casas – La Paloma: Worth making a reservation!

My meal at La Paloma was delicious! I began with flor de calabaza soup; for my entrée, I had salmon seasoned with epazote (among other things). Both were wonderful, and they were also beautifully presented by professional, pleasant, and helpful staff. The white wine that my waiter recommended accompanied the meal nicely. I was a bit less enthusiastic about my table: The restaurant has at least two distinct seating areas; when I arrived, without reservation, no tables were available in the most pleasant area by a garden. My table was nice enough – it was in a bright, high-ceilinged room – but it was also near a glass wall that divided the restaurant from a store, and through much of the time I was in the restaurant, a store employee cleaned her side of the glass wall. I found that understandable, but distracting, and I felt a bit like I was in a fishbowl. Shortly after I arrived, all tables filled and people were turned away, so do reserve in advance!

Tuxtla Gutierrez – Las Pichanchas: Tasty food and lively entertainment

Las Pichanchas features local cuisine, live marimba, and live (and lively!) performances of traditional dance. You might consider going if you want some tasty food, lively entertainment, and service from staff who are accustomed to interacting with tourists. I had soup and tamales; neither was outstanding, but both were acceptable and I enjoyed the time I spent there.

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