Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: While we spent a year home cooking, chefs did not lose their touch

Above: Tartar de atun en chile viejo at Mestizo

Memories of a great classic margarita and appetizers from the sea drew us back to one of our standbys in Guanajuato – Mestizo. The presentation of tender tuna tartare, crowned by an ancho chile overflowing with more, is stunning. Octopus carpaccio arrives in a bath of the fruit of the nopal and dried chiles, and tostadas topped with shredded duck salpicon were satisfying. Both salmon and bass are cooked to perfection, and even pedestrian-sounding soups provided surprisingly savory, less filling, options.

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Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Wishing these dining spots were not 600 miles away

Have tried to whittle this down to three recommendations for eating out in Guanajuato but failed to do so. These four were our favorites during our month-long stay, and, hopefully, the photos will convince you to roam a few blocks off the main squares to find them.

A bowl of warm vegetables with salsa to smear atop fresh bread is an unusual amuse bouche that gets meals off on the right foot at Mestizo. The seafood ceviche there is the best we have tasted anywhere, and we had difficulties weaning ourselves away from it to try other starters. Just before we left Guanajuato we broke rank and ordered the tuna carpaccio, and it was equally as good. The Mister grew particularly attached to the chicken in achiote oil, while I enjoyed the shrimp pasta as much as any pasta we had in Bologna. The Mister’s found his filete de res served as rare as ordered and extremely tender. Fish, chicken and meat entrees are offered on a bed of small roasted potatoes or perfectly prepared vegetables. Free from dictatorial reach of the Chiles en Nogada Council of Puebla, the chef shunned the batter. Sorry, Puebla, but this fresh-tasting and not-over-sauced chile rises above its heavy fried cousins to the southeast.

Even if you try nothing else, the corn and jalapeno fritters with queso fresco at Los Campos Cantina y Restaurante are a must-have. If you are not sharing them with anyone else, they make a meal unto themselves. Two kinds of guacamole tempt you as starters as well, one topped with roasted tomatoes and splashed with mezcal and the other featuring roasted corn and chapulines (read more about grasshoppers in dishes here). An unusual dish to fall in love with – a huge bowl of lentils. This was so good I tried to somewhat duplicate at home this week. Studded with bits of serrano ham, the lentils were flavored with smoky paprika and topped with a poached egg, saffrony roasted tomatoes add fried onions. Quesadillas were made with homemade corn tortillas rosily colored from beets in the masa, and the serving of burritos was so ample some had to be taken home in a doggie bag. Roasted pork was served room temperature over cauliflower puree with a morita chile salsa. And the black bean burger provided for a nice break one day.

A deep bowl of rich bouillabaisse an order repeated at El Midi Bistro. The goat cheese en croute is a wonderful starter in this touch of France in Guanajuato. The layers of roasted eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in the vegetable tian make a great dish to share. Both the smoked salmon tagliatelle and pasta marinara are flavorful, and a salad topped with shrimp definitely can serve a full meal. Although we failed to try any of the breakfast pastries for which the French bistro is known, the apple tart certainly serves as an enticing advertisement for them.

A Mediterranean restaurant, A Punto, is spread out on the first floor of the same building housing El Midi. For a luscious start, treat yourself to roasted figs stuffed with blue cheese and topped with glazed serrano ham all nestled in preserves. The roasted eggplant “salad” arrives layered with sliced tomatoes and generous amounts of goat cheese. Avocado soup is refreshing without reliance on the heavy-handed use of cream. Both the riso marinara and the shrimp pasta with a pistachio pesto please, and the chicken is well paired with a port wine sauce and wild mushrooms. A white chocolate mousse is among the artfully presented desserts.

If any of these dishes appear extravagant, they are not. The Mister noted upon returning to el norte that the most expensive meal of the trip was consumed in the Houston airport. Sadly, it consisted of two not-very-good chicken sandwiches, one glass of house red and one PBR. Welcome home.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: An unlikely trio of favorite restaurants

When you stay a month somewhere, you have time to assemble a list of your favorite food spots. This trio of restaurants has virtually nothing in common with one another, aside from the fact that we liked them, repeatedly in two of the cases.

Although we arrived rain-soaked, the craft cocktails at Pinche & Chef helped us recover quickly. The thinly-sliced roasted beet salad is layered with mandarin oranges, fresh lemon balm and Boursin IPODERAC cheese, created from goat’s milk by a Swiss-born cheesemaker who relocated to Atlixco, Mexico, more than two decades ago. A perfect avocado was filled with shrimp cocktail for a refreshing appetizer.

The queso Bourdin made a return visit accompanying salmon with a light chile poblano salsa. The Mexican take on risotto is a rich and creamy combination of chile poblano, corn, huitlachoche, mushrooms and an artisanal cheese from yet another Mexico-based cheesemaker. We finished the meal with a wonderful house-made blackberry gelato.

The only reason we did not make a return trip to Pinche & Chef was that we prefer to walk places, and it is located in a strip center out beyond the centro historico of Puebla. Once inside, the strip center location is well-disguised. The interior is casually elegant, and the chef-driven cuisine is fresh, contemporary and well-worth the inexpensive cabfare. Go for it.

Moyuelo, on the other hand, was only about three blocks from our apartment. Cocktails are crafted slowly, so sit back and order them prior to food. The kitchen always supplies you with a tasty, amuse-bouche, but absolutely do not fail to order the chalupas de camaron confitado. This combination of plump shrimp, gremolata and a salsa that leaves no tastebud in your mouth unstimulated served atop blue corn tortillas on a slate plate currently is my absolutely favorite dish anywhere. The aguachile preparation of dried shrimp and guacamole is a great starter as well.

During the season in August and September, Moyuelo turns out a perfectly executed version of chiles en nogada. The restaurant’s walnut-sauced chiles studded with pomegranate seeds were among the most handsome we saw, but the recipe is so highly regulated by Puebla’s chiles en nogada council that restaurants dare not deviate from the classic preparation of the city’s hallmark dish.

Soups at Moyuelo are far from ordinary. The mushroom soup is poured ceremoniously into a bowl dusted with dried mushrooms and epazote at the table. The cream of chile poblano, squash and corn soup is nestled in a bowl carved out of a sesame-topped fresh cemita roll.

Moyuelo has elevated the famous cemita sandwiches found everywhere on the streets of Puebla to lofty new heights. The Mister was hooked on the traditional milanesa, tender pork loin coated in a garlic and cheese crust and crowned with pesto, artisanal cheese and avocado. Sure you can consume a milanesa cemita standing on a street corner, but why would you when the chefs of Moyuelo are turning out a far superior one for less than $5? And the addictive accompanying little chile-spiked roasted potatoes should be available in larger quantities as a side order.

And then there is Lola. Located close to the Main Plaza on a shady pedestrian street, laid-back and friendly Restaurante Lola was our major hangout for lunch in Puebla. Lola offers one cocktail, a freshly-muddled mojito. We customized ours by requesting mezcal instead of rum. Order it before your main courses, or they overlap and you won’t be have time to progress to a glass of the inexpensive house red.

Everything at Lola is a bargain, but that is not what kept us coming back. Guacamole is made-upon-ordering and arrives with crisp totopos. The salads are always fresh and equal to those served in high-end establishments. The bright red tomatoes layered with an ample supply of fresh mozzarella made the caprese one of our go-to dishes. Sandwiches are made on artisanal bread, and the grilled vegetable one is outstanding.

Comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans, Lola is the perfect place for enjoying lighter fare and people-watching in downtown Puebla. And we did on numerous occasions.