Postcard from Merida, Mexico: A trio of restaurants for dining well

Above: Micaela Mar y Lena crudo de atun

Grilled seafood is the specialty at Cocina de Mar y Lena, a contemporary restaurant that seems a magnet for an upscale crowd of fashionable Mexicans arriving by the Uber-full, at least they were pre-COVID. The grilled shrimp and octopus were wonderful, and the refreshing raw tuna (above) just melted in your mouth.

Chef Sara Maria Arnaud Gomez combines the flavors of Oaxaca with those of the Yucatan at Apoala on the prime people-watching park of Santa Lucia. From ceviche and fried zucchini blossoms to dessert, everything was beautifully plated. Loved their mezcal mule cocktails with a smoky charred chunk of caramelized honeycomb riding atop the rim.

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Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Flavors to rouse the dead

Levanta muertos (awaken the dead). The spicy hot seafood soup at Cabuche hooked the Mister simply with its name, and it lived up to it. Two years ago it seemed as though Cabuche was a cloned offspring of La Biznaga, but now the restaurant has asserted its own distinctive character. Cabuche’s offerings are more diverse than its menu might indicate at first glance because of the ability to customize tacos, tostadas and tlayudas with selections from a long list of house guisados. Oh, almost forgot to mention: great margaritas and generous pours of wine are offered in the small cozy interior or patio.

We know the photo of El Olivo Gastrobar‘s arroz negro is unappealing, but look closely. Cloaked in the inky black sauce is a rich array of seafood. Wearing black definitely is recommended for consumers of this dish. Lazier than the Mister, I much prefer the plump, pre-peeled shrimp topped with jamon in a flavorful Pernod bath. These dishes are ample enough for sharing and pairing with a shared salad or tapas.

An unusual amuse bouche of what they call “fish meal” gets dropping into Zandunga Sabor Istmeno off to a good start, particularly if accompanied by a hibiscus mezcal cocktail called La Llorona. Watercress and roasted peanuts add interesting textural dimensions to Zandunga’s guacamole. The ceviche is fresh, and the pork falling-off-the-bone tender. The vegetable-starved can find a mountainous platter of simply prepared vegetables on the menu.

We had resisted the call of a French-style bakery, Boulenc, in prior years but now find ourselves huge fans. We first stopped by for loaves of incredibly good breads, and I was particularly pleased to find “chunky” peanut butter for my apples at breakfast – particularly as the ingredient list for the peanut butter reads simply “peanuts.” The pizza oven beckoned us next, but the spinach focaccia and vegetable bahn mi are among the best sandwiches anywhere. Never walk out of Boulenc without treating yourself to an affogato made with espresso poured over savory rosemary gelato.

We had trouble locating the new home of El Morocco but were rewarded with the same wonderful caramelized onions topping the couscous. The stacked eggplant, roasted sweet potato and herbed goat cheese that arrived under the title of moussaka was unexpected, but a lighter innovative approach.

The main reason to visit Mezquite is the pleasant rooftop patio. The food presentation is attractive, and I wonder if anyone has ever been able to consume the entire enormous tlayuda with cecina unassisted. Staff seemed to struggle with the logistics of the two-floor set-up, and delivering a spoonful of salsa at a time to a table of Texans meant a multitude of extra trips.

The patio is beautiful and service old-school-formal perfect at Las Quince Letras. The Mister loved his meat platter there and would gladly have returned. The pescado en papelote (foil?) left me disappointed though. Maybe next trip we will return, and I will switch my order to their famed chile en nogada.

Other featured photos are from Casa Taviche and La Popular.

Oh, and the surprise bonus on the trip: a bowl full of unexpectedly good plump shrimp with garlic and chiles snagged at the airport restaurant just prior to our always-too-soon departure from Oaxaca.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Reunion with La Biznaga and Los Danzantes

Have blogged numerous times over the past few years about Biznaga. Still has what we regard as the best margaritas we have ever been served, whether made with tequila or mezcal. Despite the Mister’s online reading comparing pulque to the flavor and consistency of wallpaper paste, we even found the milky white house pulque (pictured above) a refreshing starter.

La Biznaga is always our first stop and final meal in Oaxaca. The menu is so varied, it suits any mood – soup, salads, full blow-out meal.

The plump shrimp perched atop rice and mole and the tuna with asparagus kept us returning as well. First time trying the jamon focaccia with great fresh chips and the flavorful memelas de chamorro. Only managed to make it once all the way through to the luscious coconut flan.

The patio of Los Danzantes is so beautiful; the presentations always are spot-on; and the experience is always relaxing. However, Danzantes upped the prices of cocktails substantially mid-visit, which made it not quite as welcoming. Yet the hierbabuena mezcal cocktail is an amazingly good drink. And Danzantes’ unusual pink peppercorn ice cream now ranks among my all-time favorite flavors.

The frequency of our patronage was hampered by the Danzantes’ increased popularity; lunch-time reservations definitely are recommended.