Above, Mural by Jacobo Roa at El Catrin 47
Sopa de limon loaded with a mountain of shredded chicken; slow-cooked suckling pig flavored with sour orange, chiles and achiote – cochinita pibil; and panuchos, fried tortillas filled with black beans and topped with shredded turkey, are among the well-known traditional dishes commonly found throughout Merida. Most places offer multiple salsas. Even if you are from Texas, you need to respect them before ladling them onto your food. They range from mild to fiery habanero hot.
The stands at the markets and the stalls that pop up on the Plaza Grande on Sundays definitely are the bargain propositions for sampling these. Delivery is fast and efficient, and the food is made the way natives like it. Chefs always rave about the authenticity at the family-run El Manjar Blanco, particularly the cochinita pibil, which we found flavorful.
But…we failed to want return visits to either. Merida tends to be rather toasty, and we wanted to be entertained during those late afternoon lunches for long enough for the heat to ease up just a little before walking back to the apartment. As refreshingly good as the popular smoothie made with chaya, a Mayan tree spinach, and pineapple is, we wanted to linger over cocktails, a bottle of wine or at least a beer or two. When did the markets go dry in Merida? I could have sworn you could have a beer with your meal at Mercado de Santiago on our prior visit. I don’t think I’m that much more decadent than I used to be.
At first I rejected the always bustling La Chaya Maya. The decor and servers’ costumes reminded me of Mexican restaurants in San Antonio, Texas, so I assumed it was designed strictly to appeal to tourists. I was wrong. Yes, it is large, but the clientele includes hordes of locals. Long tables accommodate the extended families dining together, and the patio is pleasant. This is the place I would recommend for exploring regional specialties.
But our favorite Mexican restaurant to hang out in ended up being a relative newcomer to town – El Catrin 47, which bills itself as a cocina cantina. The tacos gobernador were the best shrimp tacos I have picked up; the aguachile vegetables were spicy and refreshing; the tuna tostadas perfect; and the regional xcatic chiles filled with seafood arrived conveniently positioned atop tortillas. Walls filled with the colorful artwork of Jacobo Roa add to the cheery spirit of the place. It’s no wonder El Catrin chooses to haunt it.