Puerto Vallarta

Just when I thought I was finished traveling to Mexico ever again, one of my best friends wanted to have her bachelorette party in Puerto Vallarta. I’ve never been to PVR so I was excited to check out a different part of Mexico. Previous to this trip, I’ve only been to Rosarito, Monterrey and Mexico City. I’d have to say Puerto Vallarta was on one my least favorite places to visit…and I think I’ve visited a number of cities all over the world! Why? Tourist trap. I hate hate hate tourist traps. Have you been to Orlando? It’s like that. Everything feels like it was intentionally created for the tourist in mind. Tour agencies and resorts everywhere. Typical Mexican food was non-existent.

I don’t like going on tours either. I actually hate them with a passion. I feel like the best way to see what an ugly American is like is to be on a tour, in a tourist trap city.

I think places like PVR makes other awesome places like Mexico City look so bad. I have absolutely no desire to go to Cancun or Cabo. As a matter of fact, someone told me that Puerto Rico is like PVR, except with more English speakers. I know that PR is US territory which probably explains this, but I don’t have any desire to go to Puerto Rico now either! I also don’t want to go to the Caribbean. If I ever do go to the Caribbean, it’s probably because I’m old or someone else made the decision to go there. I even told <3, I do NOT want to go anywhere that’s remotely touristy for our honeymoon. I just don’t want to be around the ugly American!

I’ll give PVR some credit. My friend and I shared a garlic grilled fish that was pretty awesome. I think that was the best meal of the trip. Granted the tours served us things like bbq ribs and paella, so it’s not like I had many great options! BTW, how is paella Mexican food? Oh, get this, you hear foreigners pronouncing paella as “pie-ee-ya” instead of “pie-a-ya.” geez…

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved Hawaii. I could go back to Hawaii many times. I don’t know, Hawaii just has such charm…

Since 2009, I have now been to Mexico for 13 weeks. Do you know any non-Mexicans that have gone to Mexico that often? Next year my other best friend’s boyfriend invited us to go to Baja with them. I’m actually looking forward to that trip. I would love to have local Baja food!

Local spots in Mexico City

Besides proper sit down restaurants, we did eat at taco stands and bars.

I think my favorite experience was going to Coyoacan, another neighborhood in Mexico City. As one person in the office said, it’s very old and feels like you stepped back into time. I think that’s the best way to describe this area as you see older buildings but it’s not to say it’s ugly at all. It’s a nice change of pace from how busy the rest of the city feels. Thanks to the turibus (which is a super convenient way to see most of the city), we were able to stop by for a few hours. According to lonely planet, one of the places to eat at was Tostadas Coyoacan. Based on lonely planet, I really had no idea what to expect. We walked into the Mercado, which is in a large building that holds numerous vendors. We walked towards the back of the building and all you could see were stalls that had large tray fulls of what looked like different types of ceviche. You could see that the “line chefs” were yelling at the servers and vice versa, if you didn’t understand Spanish then it looked a little bit like madness. The servers warmly greeted us, inviting us to sit on one of their booths to eat tostadas. but wait, we wanted to go to the “Tostadas Coyoacan” one! We walked through this row and towards the end we found it. Tostadas Coyoacan actually consisted of 4 stalls! When I told them we were a party of two, the server pointed me towards the back of the stalls where  there was a line of people waiting to be seated. Ohh this must be the place to be then! Since we were just a party of two and service is really fast (you’re just eating tostadas!), they seated us in a few minutes.

We luckily got to sit where the action was! Basically we were sitting at the stall that had the trays of seafood, which means we saw the line chefs take all of the orders and quickly pile each tostada with whatever toppings were being barked at them. It was really cool to see how quickly they moved! I was a little intimidated to order because we didn’t know what to get, there were so many to choose from! We ended up getting octopus and shrimp. They were so tasty!

What made this food adventure so memorable was how FRIENDLY everyone was. I even took my SLR out to take a photo of all of the food. The cool part was that the patrons sitting next to me even moved out of the way for me to take photos! How sweet is that? That’s never happened to me in the US where people kindly allow me to take a photo (I feel like in the US people would sarcastically sigh out loud to show how annoyed they are). The girl sitting next to ❤ even told me I should take the photo from her angle! The line cooks even smiled in the photos. Man, I wish people in the US were this friendly about letting me take photos in a restaurant!!!

Another place that we ate at was Tacos Chupacabre which is also located in Coyoacan, but away from the historical area. This was located next to a mall (also next to a Turibus stop). Rick Bayless recommended this taco stand. Here the cook greeted us by saying “konichiwa!” 🙂 The patrons were telling us that the tacos here are really good. I don’t have any photos of the tacos but yes, they are tasty! I loved how even here the patrons were cool with me taking photos of stand. Even the cooks let me take a photo of them (eventhough I didn’t time it well :().

Again, I love the hospitality that Mexico City has been for me on my many trips to Mexico City. I must warn you, if you do visit Mexico City it really does help to know some Spanish. I can’t say enough positive things about the hospitality and the amazing food! People in the US have this pre-conceived notion of what Mexico is like because of their experiences in TJ/Rosarito/Cancun/Puerto Vallarta and the drug wars that we see on the news. Mexico City has a totally different feel and moves to a metropolitan beat. Mexico City definitely changed my perspective of Mexico and I hope people get to see this for themselves.

Dulce Patria – Mexico City

Another place that comes up among the must go restaurants in Mexico City is Dulce Patria, a fairly new restaurant that opened in the Polanco area of the city. Apparently everyone knows this chef, Martha Ortiz, and they were eagerly anticipating the opening of her new restaurant for awhile. Like Izote, Dulce Patria serves Mexican food with a modern twist to it. Unlike Izote, when you walk into Dulce Patria it feels romantic. It has a red/white decor to it with red lighting. The dark/red lighting gave it a more romantic feel. It’s amazing how lighting can totally change the ambience of a place, right? Like Izote, it’s a small restaurant but they can easily accomodate a large party, IF you reserve in advance.

We started with the Vampire Cebiche. I remember it having mangos in it. It was pretty tasty! The name makes it sound like it’ll be spicy but it was actually a sweet tasting ceviche.

We then had the tuna tostadas (I don’t remember the actual name of the appetizer). To be honest I remember it was good, but nothing else. The Vampire was memorable because of it tasted sweet, not sour like most ceviches (due to the limon).

For my cocktail, I had a drink that had mezcal, ice and mangos blended together. The drink was actually a little bit larger than a shot glass. If you haven’t had mezcal, it has a distinct smoky flavor to it. The smokiness goes well with citrus, so you generally have mezcal with slices of orange. In this case, the mangos were a nice compliment to the mezcal’s bold flavor. At first I was thinking why is my glass so small and then you realize, oh…mezcal is kind of strong. 🙂 We actually wanted to see the wines but the waiter only brought us the cocktail menu, so I’m not sure if they have a wine list.

One of the cool things that the restaurant served was the bread. They had rose, cheese, bean and sweet flavored bread. We tried all of them! I don’t have a photo of the rose flavored bread but I didn’t like it at all. It’s shaped like a brioche but when you bite into it, you see the pink colored dough. You know how the rose soap from L’occitane smells? Imagine eating that. It was just a big blast of rose! I couldn’t take more than one bite of it. My favorite was the bean filled bread (on the right) and the sweet bread (on the left). The bean filled bread tasted like black beans and the sweet bread tasted like King’s Hawaiian’s bread!

I had the filete de huachinango a la marimba veracruzana con arroz verde. Huachinango is red snapper, at most seafood restaurants in Mexico City you’ll find red snapper! Because my dad is an avid fisher, I know for a fact that red snapper can be caught in the Gulf of Mexico, hence you’ll find red snapper readily available in Mexico! As far as I know, when you fish for red snapper, you have to go deep into the gulf, you have to put your line almost to the bottom of the gulf and that’s where these guys will be swimming (please correct me if I’m wrong, as I haven’t done the actual fishing myself). Anyway, the red snapper was prepared Veracruz style. Since I’m not too familiar on what makes a dish Veracruz-like, what I know from MY dish was that it had green peppers, red peppers, onions, and other vegetables that I can’t remember that tasted like they were slow cooked with the red snapper, most likely in the oven? But the distinct flavors it had were green and red peppers. It was a great red snapper dish. But I personally do not like green and red peppers slowly cooked (I like them to still have crunch and freshness to it). Sorry the photo is so dark, I’m telling you, it was pretty dark in this restaurant!

Overall? We really liked the food. If you had the same food in the US, you’d pay 2x more for the same quality of food and drink. I definitely liked the ambience of Dulce Patria more than Izote. I would recommend Dulce Patria as a restaurant where you want to get dressed up and have a romantic meal. The restaurant is located in the Los Alcobas hotel in Polanco, just south of the main street Masaryk. Since this restaurant is fairly new, plan ahead and make reservations!

Dulce Patria
Anatole France 100
Col. Polanco, Mexico City, Mexico

Izote – Mexico City

I learned about Izote through Chowhound recommendations. The hotel concierge also had great things to say about the restaurant. The restaurant is located in Polanco, one of the wealthiest areas of Mexico City on the main boulevards, Masaryk. The restaurant serves Mexican food with a modern flair.

The impression everyone gave me about this restaurant was that it had a trendy/casual atmosphere, which was what we were looking for. When I first walked into the restaurant, all I could think was whoa, this place is…well lit. It seemed a little awkward for dinner and gave the restaurant a more sterile feel.

The first thing we ordered were drinks. I hadn’t had a margarita during my entire time in Mexico City and decided to have a different type of tequila. I really don’t know anything about tequila except that the locals tell me Patron sucks and Don Julio is good. Keeping that in mind, I decided to go for the tequila that was equally priced as Don Julio, Herradura, reposado style. My colleague had Don Julio blanco. We both agreed my Herradura tasted much smoother than the Don Julio, blanco style. Well, turns out that reposado means “rested” and will usually taste much smoother than blanco!

We shared an appetizer of seared bay scallops on top of chopped avocado. This was so good! The scallops and avocado just melted in your mouth. Eating it with the blue corn tortilla chip gave it the perfect amount of crunch/texture.

I had the seared beef tips with a side of black beans. They were perfectly cooked, nice and moist. I liked the black beans because they had a sweet taste to it, kinda like banana flavored and it didn’t have any water. I’m not really a fan of watered down beans (like when you eat feijoada).

My colleague had mole negra with duck. I had a bite of her dish and really liked it! The mole didn’t taste like the mole at Azul y Oro because it had a touch of five spice, which gave it a more Asian taste than Mexican. I think five spice and wild bird always tastes well together (like duck or quail). I was pretty impressed by her dish.

Overall Izote had really good food, though we didn’t see any locals eating in the restaurant (you can tell by all of the English conversations being had). Which makes me think, is this a restaurant that the concierge/locals recommend because it’s tourist-friendly? D’oh, I hate when I get suckered into a tourist friendly restaurant! I did a litle bit of research after the fact and learned that the chef is pretty famous in Mexico City, Patricia Quintana. The food did taste great so I would recommend Izote to anyone visiting the DF!

Izote
Av. Presidente Masaryk 513
Mexico City

Azul y Oro – for the love of food

When you research places to eat in Mexico City, hands down the restaurant Azul y Oro is bound to come up. Ricardo Munoz is the chef behind Azul y Oro, a restaurant that serves reasonably priced, typical Mexican cuisine. This was my fourth trip to Mexico City and I just HAD to try this place. When ❤ decided to visit me over the weekend, I kindly asked ❤ if he was OK making a trek to this restaurant (this is why we’re getting married, the things we’ll do for good food!!).

The restaurant is located in an interesting spot, at the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) a public university located in the southern part of Mexico City. If you’ve been to UCLA, imagine a serviced restaurant inside of Ackerman Union.

Just be forewarned that if you are staying in any of the touristy neighborhoods (i.e., Polanco, La Condesa, Zona Rosa, San Angel, Coyoacan), then do not pursue this place by foot, unless you’re OK with taking a bus or subway, then walking 5-6 miles to get to a restaurant! First off, UNAM is a HUGE campus that even has a reserve in the middle of its campus. How big is it? It has TEN shuttles that take you around the campus!! The easiest way to get to this restaurant is by car. Or, take a hotel/radio taxi and ask the driver to take you to UNAM, estacionamente 3 (parking lot #3) and that is the closest parking lot to Azul y Oro (from Polanco, the drive time will take about 30 minutes, depending on traffic. They will take you south on Insurgentes, then you will turn east onto the street where the main UNAM entrance is, and then towards the Cultural Center towards parking lot #3).

If you don’t feel like taking the easy route and have an hour to kill (which will also allow you to see most of Mexico City), here is my recommended touristy route. Note this is best taken by folks that are not familiar with Mexico City and don’t have a local available to help them out!
Use the turibus. If you are using the turibus “Chapultepec Centro Historico” route, you have to exit and transfer to the other turibus “Circuito Sur” which takes you to the southern part of the city. On this turibus, exit stop #11 “Rectoria UNAM.” From here you will see that you are now on the UNAM campus and you should be in front of a Pumabus bus station. The Puma Bus is the UNAM’s shuttle service that takes you around the campus for free. Look at the Puma Bus station map to see which bus will take you to the MUAC, the Contemporary Arts Museum. When you see the MUAC, go towards the entrance of the museum but go towards your right down the stairs. You will see two buildings on your right. The restaurant is located in the building that has the bookstore. The restaurant has two areas to eat in, al fresco and upstairs. The photo above is the upstairs section. The al fresco seating area usually has a wait time. Both serve the same food.

Ok, now onto the food! To start we had the cilantro soup and the vegetable tamal:

The soup and tamal was nice and light. A great way to start our meal.

Just so you know, there is a entirely separate menu for their moles, one of their popular dishes. You can get different types of mole, green, red, black, etc. In addition, you pick your protein, vegetables, chicken, steak, pork, or fish. He had the mole negra with beef. He requested the beef to be cooked medium. It was perfectly cooked. Mole negra tastes very rich, if that’s your preference.

I had the cochinita pibil. Really I didn’t know what I was ordering except that the waiter said it’s a very traditional dish and popular amoung Mexicans (in his own words). So, it was pork slowly cooked with a tomato base that came in a banana leaf. It was really flavorful and super moist. It also came with freshly made tortillas. Quite tasty!

We were so full from our meals that we shared the sorbet of coconut, mango and raspberries. I particularly liked the mango.

Overall impression? It really is good Mexican food at a reasonable price. Though the effort that went into finding this place was a bit excessive. As an FYI, Ricardo Munoz recently opened Azul Condesa in Condesa. I had a chance to review the menu through my hotel concierge and they serve the same food as they do in Azul y Oro. So, if you feel like having some legit Mexican food without paying a pretty penny (err peso?) like you would at Izote or Dulce Patria, I definitely recommend you check out Azul Condesa. Or if you have access to a car, take a drive on one of the DF’s main boulevards, Insurgentes, down to Azul y Oro.

Buen provecho!

Observations of Chilango culture

It’s been over a week since I returned. I was in Mexico City for three weeks, the longest biz trip I’ve had overseas. I wanted to share some of my observations.

My Spanish comprehension skills have significantly improved. I can pick up what others are saying at about 70% accuracy.  I am comfortable trying to speak Spanish with the locals bc I know what words to say to assist them to assist me. The great thing about Latin American culture is that they are so patient! I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of Americans speak to non English speakers in a condescending tone (I’ve witnessed this at plenty of Starbucks in LA). It saddens me with how impatient Americans can be when foreigners are so excited to visit here and be greeted with such animosity.

I’m impressed by how many people in Mexico City speak English.  Well, keep in mind that I worked in a very office oriented area and I was in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city! I feel like in the US people take for granted how difficult it is to learn a second language and they should be fortunate that English is used worldwide.  Imagine having been born somewhere where English is not the main language and you want to travel! The fact that people from places where English is not the primary language and these people make a concerted effort to learn already makes them seem to care more than an average American. I was even shocked when some people even knew the lingo that people in the states would use. I.e. “Would you like to have a seat or are you cool with standing?”

So another thing I notice is the passion. For instance, everyday I am in the office and say hi to someone, I must greet them with a kiss on the cheek.  This is normal! Imagine doing this with your coworkers everyday! In the US this would almost feel like harassment! The great thing about this is that it forces you to interact in a more intimate way.  Because you do this everyday, isn’t it hard to suddenly hate someone if you have to touch them? This also translates into the personal relationship dynamics. I see how much love people are OK with openly expressing in public. People in Mexico are definitely not uptight!

One more thing. Chilangos are so trendy. I know I’m in a pretty upscale part of the DF (Polanco) but the office (located in the south area of the city) is full of such fashion conscious people! I LOVE when guys take care to put a bit of thought into their wardrobe (not more than a girl though bc that’s disturbing) . I feel like if I actually lived here I could possibly become trendier!

As much as I enjoyed my time in Mexico City, I am glad to be back in the US!

Pujol – Mexico City

Pujol is a restaurant by chef Enrique Olvera. My first time was in 2009 and I really enjoyed it. Pujol is also rated as one of the top 100 best restaurants in the world. This time I’m in the DF with another colleague who wanted to try it. We tried Biko last time, which ranked higher than Pujol on the list. Based on those two experiences, I enjoyed Pujol a lot more mainly because the service at Pujol was much better. During that time, I couldn’t take photos in Pujol with my Canon SD400, it was just too dark! Don’t worry though, I took photos with my phone because we happened to be sitting in the most optimal spot of the restaurant!

During this visit, Pujol had three types of menus. Two tasting menus and an a la carte menu. You have the option to do a five course or an eight course tasting menu. Since it was lunch, we opted for the five course. NOTE: They do not have English menus. Heck if you are doing the tasting menu, you’re essentially leaving it up to the chef to tell you what’s good, right?

We started with a HUGE amuse bouche. Sorry this photo is blurry:

A stuffed zucchini blossom, soup and corn. The zucchini blossom had a black bean/taro like filling (we couldn’t understand what the waiter was telling us was inside it!) but I much prefer the Vietnamese style, where there is ground shrimp stuffed inside the zucchini and then quickly fried! I can’t remember what the name of the soup was, but it was very tart, like lime rind tart and it was well balanced with the sprouts they included in it.

So the corn arrived in that large smoking container! When you open the lid, all of the smoke exited and then there were two sticks of corn inside. At first I was thinking hmmm are these going to taste like canned corn? But actually it doesn’t, it tastes exactly like corn you would grill on your own (like at a bonfire) but perfectly cooked little kernels. It tasted like the sweetest part of the corn. Like!

My drink arrived and it was sangria for 4 bucks! I love how you can see how much wine they used. It was a great addition to our sunny lunch outing!

So onto our first course:
Looks pretty right? I was excited because I really like zucchini flowers. What you see are tomatoes, queso fresco, zucchini flowers, zucchini over black beans. Let’s see, I’m forgetting something:

Oh! Jumiles. What the heck! We both looked at each other, not realizing that we’d be having bugs. It was pretty funny. When we asked the waiter, he explained to us that these bugs are very rich in flavor. At least that’s all I can gather. Hey it can’t be that bad if the chef is serving it to us. And I wonder to myself, did Pujol serve insects when I ate here in 2009? I wouldn’t have known because it was too dark to tell, haha. In the end the bugs weren’t that bad. As my colleague said, “they’re like a replacement for croutons.” It definitely gave the dish more texture!

Our next course was a ball of cheese with a tomato based broth. This one was not bad, imagine a super light version of tomato soup with goat cheese. If you’re not a fan of goat cheese then this would not be for you.

For the next dish, the waiter comes out with a plate that is covered in white sauce. In his hand is a tiny burlap bag. He explains to us (in Spanish) the dish that is being presented. Suddenly, he takes the burlap bag, places it over our dish, gives the bag a quick shake and out comes black dust! This black dust is like truffles in Mexico, it’s a type of fungus that grows on corn. Under the cream sauce was a tamale filled with green tomatoes. This was my personal favorite because it was a very light tasting tamale. As for the black dust, I can’t say I tasted too much of it to differentiate that from the white foam.

Our fourth dish was “Barbacoa de cordero lechal” aka bbq lamb. Doesn’t it sound much better to say it in Spanish versus in English? ha! I liked this dish because the meat was really tender. They served this with some freshly hand made tortillas. If I wasn’t so full from the other dishes I would’ve eaten all of this!

Our last dish was dessert!
A berry sorbet swimming in Mezcal. The waiter lit a match and let the flame touch the mezcal. I don’t know if you can see it (the blue halo around the sorbet?) but the flame was burning for quite awhile! We thought it immediately died when the waiter left but you really have to blow it out in order to eat it! Mezcal goes really well with dessert because it has a sweeter taste but you can still taste the alcohol. Kind of like a white tequila.

Overall I enjoyed my food. Though, I wasn’t expecting there to be such a huge Mexican inspiration in the dishes. When I came in 2009, it didn’t have such a strong Mexican flair to it, i.e. with the second visit, I had tamale, tortillas, and black beans/queso fresco. Was it strange to eat bugs? Not really, this is my third time intentionally eating an insect that was served to me. My first time was in China eating deep fried wasp larvae which tasted like tempura style shrimp. My second time was eating escamole, ant larvae eggs, which tasted like corn. So, I think I got over the hurdle of eating insects. Though the idea of eating spiders such as tarantulas is still too much for me!

I still really like Pujol and would definitely recommend Pujol to anyone who is planning to visit Mexico City. Pujol is located in Polanco off of one of the main streets, Horacio.

Pujol
Petrarca 254, Polanco
11570 Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico

Mexico water

I’m taking on another challenge. I’m going to brush my teeth with the local tap water! I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting. When I was in China and lived in Dongguan, I never even considered brushing my teeth with bottled water. When I tell people where I was they look at me in shock that I brushed my teeth with the tap water. Oops? I didn’t dare brush my teeth with the tap water in India, that’s for sure!

Anyway, maybe it’s the people I travel to Mexico with that have gotten me paranoid. I noticed a lot of the folks in the office brush their teeth during lunch AND they’re not using a water bottle. So I tell them what other people have told me, don’t drink the tap water! They said yes, do not drink the water, but it’s ok to brush your teeth! Yes, I understand the locals are probably accustomed to the beings that grow in their water so it essentially is OK for them to use it. But come on, I’ve eaten at plenty of stomach ache stands, without getting a stomach ache! Bring it!

So, I started to do that last night. If I get any type of sickness, this blog will have evidence of what happened!

On a side note, I’m starting to think Latin Americans  have better dental hygiene than the folks from the US? Do you see your colleagues brushing and flossing after lunch? I certainly do not see it as much as I do here!

Heading to the DF

Mexico City, I’ll be there for two weeks! This will be my fourth trip to Mexico City since August 2009. I really do like Mexico City, the food is amazing. Though, you can’t really eat any salads there. This time we’ll be staying in Polanco. Polanco is like the Beverly Hills of Mexico City. It’s really nice and trendy. I also like the areas of Condessa and Zona Rosa. Condessa I would clasify more like a West Hollywood.  It’s kind of like when you drive on Sunset Blvd and you pass through the area between Doheny and La Cienega.  Zona Rosa is also like West Hollywood to me…the part where Robertson/Santa Monica Blvd intersect. Zona Rosa basically means the pink zone, isn’t that cute? So, it’s quite similar to West Hollywood. Though, I think in Latin America they are more open to profess their love in public than in the U.S, it just so happens there’s a higher # of people per square meter professing their love in Zona Rosa.

Anyway, I mention that I really like the food in the DF (Distrito Federal). There were a few notable restaurants from my last few visits:
Pujol (listed as top 100 best restaurants in the world)
Biko (listed as the top 50 best restaurants in the world)
Contramar
El Califa

I liked Pujol the best. Mostly because the service was the best. Biko would have beat Pujol had they explained what we were eating from the tasting menu (It could be that they didn’t have an English speaker at the time?)

Based on my research so far, I’d like to try:
Jaso in Polanco
Azul in Condessa
Dulce Patria Polanco

I don’t really feel like eating tacos. As much as I love tacos, I still can’t stand the sight of them. I think I’m taco’d out!!!