Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato: some culinary high-lights
One of the unending adventures of eating in Mexico is wandering through an unknown town and stumbling across somewhere unexpected to eat in the street. The food is generally fresh, cooked on the spot, and often wonderfully tasty. Coincidentally, as Nick Gilman has just comented in his blog on Good Food in Mexico City: “From Bayless to Bourdain to Bittman, the word is out: Mexican Street Food is in!”
Although one has to be careful about hygiene and street food, a good rule of thumb is that if the place is popular it is likely to be clean. And I’m not sure there is a clear connection between price and hygiene. The time in my life I was most sick through food poisoning was in a luxury hotel in Malaysia.
Anyway, after spending the night en route to Zacatecas in Teocaltiche – an attractive small town in Los Altos de Jalisco recommended to me by two Mexican friends – my son and I were walking through the streets looking for breakfast. In a small plaza by the side of a church we came across a shop selling fruit where the owner was also preparing juices. Opposite there was a roadside stall cooking gorditas – thick tortillas slit in half and filled with a variety of fillings. We bought our juices – mine a mixture of orange, carrot and beetroot- and sat down for the perfect breakfast of gorditas filled with rajas (spicy peppers) and bistek con chile.
Teocaltiche was the first overnight stop on a Xmas tour to some of the old colonial cities of the center of Mexico. The original plan had also included a visit to Real De Catorce, a small mining town some 300 kms north-east of Zacatecas but it was so cold in Zacatecas, (bitter enough to remind me of Xmas in England), and I was suffering from a chest infection, that it seemed wiser to head eastwards to the warmer temperatures of San Luis Potosí.
All three of the ex-colonial cities we visited – Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, and Guanajuato – are interesting and each is very particular in its own right. I find it impossible to say which is my favourite, although my son has a clear preference for Guanajuato. This was my visit visit to San Luis Potosí and, apart from the warmth, I enjoyed very much walking around the semi-pedestrianised compact historic center and looking at the old colonial architecture and the different museums.
I don’t think I have ever seen so many police as in San Luis Potosí. They are everywhere – on foot, riding around shotgun style in pick-up trucks as Mexican cops seem to love to do, and even on those rather surreal two-wheeled platforms that I have only ever seen before in European airports. Perhaps because it was Xmas, or for the presence of the police, but there was a very relaxed atmosphere in San Luis Potosí.
Overall, in the trip, perhaps the best restaurant meal we had was in Zacatecas in ‘Los Dorados de Villa’ (see photo at the beginning of post). This is an atmospheric, romantic, beautifully and quirkily decorated restaurant on the north of the city center, which serves excellent regional food. It is the ‘Authors Choice’ of restaurant in the Lonely Planet, which is not always a good sign, but this place really deserves the recommendation.
Also whilst in Zacatecas, it is well worth visiting the Museo Rafael Coronel, which is housed in the ruins of a beautiful 16th-century ex-Franciscan convent. The museum has a fantastic collection of masks. In fact, the collection here was so good that I did not visit the mask museum in San Luis Potosí, which I was told by a good friend to visit.
We happened to be in Zacatecas on Xmas day morning. As everywhere else was shut, we went to eat breakfast at Sanborns. Being prejudiced against chains, I would normally never visit Sanborns but the breakfast buffet was great. Lovely old colonial building, friendly staff in traditional Sanborns uniform plus santa hats, reasonable decaffeinated coffee, good fresh orange juice, wide selection of fresh fruit and cereals, great choice of traditional breakfast items like chilaquiles, fresh pastries, wireless internet and all for 95 pesos (about 7 USD).
The best place we found to eat in San Luis Potosí was ‘Fonda Orizitlán’, bordering the Jardín Colón on the south side of the city center. This is a traditional Huesteca restaurant. Once again we had the breakfast buffet which is a great option for people, especially like my son, who like to eat a lot. The place is interestingly decorated with photos of the Huesteca region of the state of San Luis Potosí and lots of agricultural implements hanging on the walls. But do visit soon, as the owners have the place up for sale. After 17 years, they want to move back to their home town in the Huasteca.
We also ate at the Cafe Tokio in the center of San Luis Potosí. My son had the set lunch which was decidedly mediocre and I had a torta which was OK. So don’t go here for the food but the decor is something else to behold as is the gentleman belting out songs from the balcony above.
Another gastronomic high point in San Luis Potosí was wondering through the center between the Plaza de Armas and Plaza de Carmen after the projection of a light show onto three of the principal buildings in the city center and coming across a woman selling molletes from a huge basket in the street. These are fresh half rolls, with frijoles and cheese, and a spicy salsa which you scooped onto the molletes from a large red plastic bucket. They were delicious.
Unfortunately, we were in Guanajuato on Sunday evening and all of Monday which meant that the restaurant Las Mercedes – which I gave a rave review to in the past – was closed. Fortunately I had the chance to speak to Rachel Laudan, who writes an excellent blog about food and she recommended me two good places in the center of Guanajuato. For a full list of her Guanajuato restaurant reviews, definitely worth reading if you are thinking of visiting, click here.
One of the places is a tiny Japanese restaurant called Delica Mitsui just off the north western corner of the Plazuela San Francisco. It is run by a young Japanese couple, the food is authentic, and their young Japanese son speaking perfect Spanish delights all the visitors.
The other of Rachel’s recommendations was a new Italian restaurant called Corcho de Baco (Bacchus’ cork) on Calle Campeñero in the south-eastern part of the city center. This place serves good pizza, the pasta looked good too, and the wines are more than OK and reasonably priced, which is a definite plus for a Mexican restaurant.
I also took the opportunity to re-visit Cafe Tal, also in the south eastern part of the city. Not only is the coffee here wonderful – as you can see from the photo above, the place roasts its own beans – but the chocolate is exquisite too.
One final recommendation for Guanajuato. Just up the Calle Cantarranas from the Hostal del Casa del Tío where we were staying (good, basic, cheap accommodation) is a lovely tiny plaza. On the far corner of this is a very local restaurant offering traditional Mexican food for breakfast and lunch. It is really good home cooking. This is the kind of place, simple, friendly, and with surreal touches that make eating out in Mexico so rewarding (and often cheap!)