Saturday, February 22, 2014

Delicious Guadalajara

Santa Coyote, one of our favourite restaurants, especially for breakfast!

Food in Mexico is great, I've said and written it many times before. Even in little stalls and little towns, the food is amazing. Why we have to put up with fat junk food is beyond me. Mexicans prove every day that food can be good, they also prove that it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to get it. In Jalisco's Guadalajara our food experience went to a whole new level. I can honestly say that I've never been to a city with so many restaurants that present the most amazing foods. From the small simple Taco stand to 5 star restaurants… or make that 6 stars! Knowing where to go, helps a lot of course and we were very lucky to have been invited by Karina to show, feel and taste Guadalajara!
Qué Pachó
The culinary experience started straight away at our arrival in Guadalajara with a late lunch / early dinner at Qué Pachó. They have various menu options but we tried a traditional dish called Carne en su jugo with classic side plates such as Guacamole, Quesadillas and of course Frijoles (beans). Carne en su jugo looks like a kind of soup with meat in it's own juice, very good. Qué Pachó has a reputation for serving at lightning speed, a reputation they upheld! We could park the bikes next to the delivery boys, so that we could keep an eye on them too!

We're not going to make a page full of dishes and rate them to Michelin stars or something. It would after all be our personal preference and also be based on the day. What I can say is that over the last 10 days we've had many meals, both breakfast, lunch and dinner, at lots of restaurants. The service at each and everyone of them was better than perfect. Western restaurants can learn a thing or two from Mexico when it comes to hospitality and friendliness. As a rule we looked for Mexican dishes where possible. There is a lot of non-Mexican food available too, like Chinese, Italian and American (if American can be described as food is open to debate…) to name but a few. We decided that 'when in Rome do as the Romans do' and thus eat Mexican when in Mexico. All the food we tried tasted good, really good. If you think that Mexican food tastes like Taco Bell then you'll better get yourself to Mexico and be prepared to be amazed.

Menudo, the only dish we Gringo's didn't
have the stomach for...
Like I said, we liked all the food we tried… all but one! Menudo. A speciality which both Mike and myself could not eat. Menudo is a soup made with beef stomach in broth with red peppers, lime, onions, cilantro and oregano. It is very popular in Mexico, so popular that cow stomachs are actually imported to supply the demand for Menudo. Karina was really surprised we didn't like it, but honestly that is the only thing we didn't like. The rest has been nothing short of amazing! It wasn't a huge problem anyway, plenty of choice and thus we asked for Huevos Rancheros. Huevos Racheros is a traditional Mexican breakfast of fried eggs with fried corn tortillas and a tomato and chill sauce. Huevos Rancheros comes in various variations, just try them all as they are all good!

In Mexico you can eat for any budget. From simple Tortilla places where you can eat great food for a few pesos to places with great atmosphere, life music and waiters seeing to every need. What surprised me is that even the really fancy restaurants with amazing decorations, atmosphere and top quality food and service still won't cost you an arm and a leg. The highest bill we've had for 5 people including 2 drinks each and tip was US$ 180,- which works out at just US$ 36,- per person and that was at a top quality restaurant. Plus, don't forget this is Mexico… they don't do French cuisine with pitiful amounts of food here, the meals here are huge! We also had many meals for around US$ 95,- for 5 people, or less than US$ 20,- per person. Simpler places, which still offer good service and food are around US$ 50,- for 5 people. The good Taco stands are even cheaper than that! Below we have made a short list of the places we really liked.

Yes, I know you can't eat it but the first thing you will have to do before you can enter a restaurant is park your car. Parking is a problem in any city and Guadalajara (pronounced as Wuadalagara) is no exception. It's an old city, 16th century, which was never designed for the volume of cars they have today. Mexicans are a resourceful lot and therefore you will find Valet parking in front of virtually every restaurant. I know there are more places in the world with valet parking, but here it's almost everywhere and costs virtually nothing. Some restaurants offer it as a free service, with others it's a separate business. They will charge you 20-30 pesos for parking. That is about US$ 1.50 to 2.40 for parking as long as you like. What they would do if you turn up with motorcycles I have no idea, but I'm pretty sure they would allow you to park right in front of the restaurant while they keep an eye on them. So, parking is sorted. You drive right up to the entry of the restaurant, give them the keys, they give you a ticket and park it in a safe spot with security for you. No hassles to park the car, no long distances to walk to and from a parking garage. All you have to do is walk into the restaurant and when you are finished they drive the car right up to the entrance again. How good is that? 

Mr Pampas
Mr Pampas, Tijuana
Like I said, we tried to eat as much Mexican meals as we could, with two exceptions. The first one is Mr Pampas. Mr Pampas is strictly speaking not Mexican but Brazilian. However, the food is so good that Mr. Pampas is well known Mexico wide. The formula is simple: a big buffet where you can choose what you like and as much as you want. There are more restaurants world wide with the same formula but… the food in Mr Pampas buffet is very good, the choice enormous and the atmosphere in the restaurant is great. The buffet is self service, but the meat isn't. There are waiters continuously going around the restaurant with 28 different kinds of beef, pork, shrimp, lamb and turkey on a Brazilian sword, that will slice the meat at your table. Some waiters even have roasted pineapple (do not miss that one!) The meat is very good. I had to get used to the idea of waiters walking around the restaurant with machete sized knifes and cutting the meat with them right in front of you, but once used to it I saw the beauty of it. Meat in buffets tends to be over-cooked and dry as it has to be kept warm. Mr Pampas' meat is fresh from the grill and tastes great! We would have loved to shown more photographs, but unfortunately Mr Pampas' manager didn't allow us to take any photographs… Of all the restaurants we visited, Mr Pampas was the only one that refused us to take photos, even after we explained what they were going to be used for… what a good way to promote ones' business! The photo shown of the Brazilian sword with meat is therefore from the Mr Pampas Restaurant in Tijuana, I hope they don't mind. The pricing is good but also a little bit weird, they have a flat rate but it's higher for men than women… do men eat more than women?

Café Barra 
Great place for breakfast or a coffee break. They even home deliver. Great hot chocolate in huge cups… more a bowl with a handle on it! A relaxed atmosphere and for what is basically a coffee shop, they have quite an extensive menu. They have their own bakery. The enchiladas, waffles, toast and fruit were all delicious.

La Mitotera
This is the second non-Mexican restaurant, which we want to publish in this list as both the food and atmosphere are amazingly good. When I say non-Mexican I mean that La Mitotera has Italian food, but luckily not just copies of what's available in Italy. La Mitotera mixes Mexican flavours with Italian food, to give it a unique taste. 
We had Lasagna Bolognese and Pizza. The Lasagna tasted indeed different, Mexican influences after all :-), which is good as we feel that each country should cherish it's own taste. We liked it very much and had a good evening. La Mitotera is a combination of art and food, a combination of foreign and Mexican. Just the art and decorations alone make you want to eat there, but don't worry the decorations are not there to mask the food quality. They are on Facebook at LaMitoteraRestauranteCultural

Santo Coyote 

A one of a kind, amazing place. The decorations are unlike anything I have ever seen before, the atmosphere is beautiful. Lots of beautifully done Indian style decorations. The most expensive restaurant we have tried but like I wrote above still under US$ 36,- per person (and we had full meals with the works!) Santo Coyote has great breakfasts too.

An enormous buffet plus custom made cooked foods on the spot. In the evening the already good atmosphere changes dramatically to an even higher level. There are dancers, live music and, if you want, a good Mariachi band. 
The food is quite possibly the best you can eat anywhere in Mexico, although Mr Pampas comes very close if not equal in my book. I don't quite know how to described the experience or for that matter the place. It has Adobe influences, a waterfall, several different styles of dining areas and in the middle of the restaurant is a beautiful garden which has four wooden statues of Indian gods. The garden has a traditional touch too as in the middle of the 4 statues is a table with foods and drink, an offering to the gods.

Apart from the buffet breakfast we tried Flores de Calabaza in the evening, which is fresh pumpkin flower petals breaded and stuffed with shrimps and mozzarella cheese. We also tried their Chipotle and Pasilla pepper sauce and Pollo Pijama, a bacon wrapped chicken breast coated with tangerine sauce. We went back again at Valentines day, which was even more spectacular. The Salsa was custom made at our table and the menu is extensive. For a good night out, Santo Coyote is perfect. We ate there several times as it is so good! 

Street Food
Let's not forget the many little places where you can eat for next to nothing on the street. Extremely simple cooking, very clean and great food. Do go easy on some of the sauces though as some are more than just a little bit 'pikante'… I mistook a sauce for another one I had tried before and took a spoonful… this stuff was so hot that it burns your face off! Two Coca Cola's, salt and a whole cucumber later I was still on fire! Touching it with my fingers made them burn too... and I had eaten a spoonful of it… Apart from the Tacos, the Chicharros de queso con chorizo are worth a try too, thin cheese baked briefly on a hotplate and then rolled up and filled with chorizo. Mmmm. 

Refugio Del Fraile

A beautiful restaurant in Monk theme with a beautiful garden on the side of it. Quite a bit of artwork like the metal Mariachi's above. The inside of the restaurant gives a monastery feel and is done so tastefully that I wondered if it had actually been a converted monastery. We had Crepas Dulces and Chilaquiles. Good atmosphere, nice place to eat, good service and again very good food.

Taqueiros present themselves as a Pre-Hispanic style restaurant. The ambiance is distinctly different and beautifully done, almost medieval.  Taqueiros pride themselves on tradition and charcoal grilled Angus beef. . Jeanette had a tasty kind of Chilindrina while Mike and me had the beautiful Molcajete de pollo. A Molcajete is the bowl in which the food is presented, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times and is carved out of a block of basalt. They are heated to keep the food warm.

La Paloma

A nice café restaurant with mainly open dining areas, life music and very good service. Jeanette liked their special version of Tortilla soup while Mike liked the Fettucini Pasta. I tried a more traditional Mexican dish Carne Con Chile which was very good too! The service and food are great and the open dining areas give a great atmosphere.

Hacienda Canelo
Another beautifully decorated place. Perhaps more a family orientated restaurant with a playground, no less than 3 Mariachi bands performing a Mexican happy birthday song, which is an event on it's own! They have a small waterfall in the restaurant and plenty of room. We had a large plate of different types of meat, pork and chicken, fresh tortillas and frijoles refritos. Coconut ice-cream served in a coconut!

La Casa de los Pancakes
A family restaurant with a playground. Simple concept, almost like an extension of your home. Maybe not traditional Mexican, pancakes and waffles, but a great place for breakfast. They serve waffles with apple, chocolate and cream for instance, but also do traditional Mexican breakfasts like Molletes con Chilaquila which tasted great.

Karne Garibaldi
If you like fast food then this is the place to go. They have made the Guinness Book of Records  for the fastest service in the world. Serving a complete meal took them just 13.5 seconds! I'm not sure if ours was served that quick as I didn't time it but it was seriously quick. We were recently told that a restaurant that serves you your food before you finish your first drink, is quick. These guys, together with Qué Pachó (see above), serve the food before the drinks even touch the table! Amazing. McDonalds is seriously slow compared to these two places. Both have another thing over McDonalds; they serve good quality food!

Santa Coyote
These are as far as we know the best restaurants in Guadalajara. We haven't tried them all, that would take years to do! How did we find these places? Simple. In Mexico friends will tell you where to go and Karina is our friend! Another thing I would like to mention is the good service displayed at each and everyone of the places we ate. It's so much more informal, so friendly and if you need something or want something different then just ask. The Mexican people we have met over the last 3 months have been nothing but helpful and friendly, even the police, who have the reputation for being so bad and corrupt, have been very friendly and helpful to us. What we 'gringos' (I hate that word!) have to learn is that in Mexico all you have to do is ask. Just come to Mexico, you'll be amazed of the friendliness, the culture and even if you don't speak Spanish, the Mexicans will still try their best to help you.

Santa Coyote, good food and amazing artwork