Advice goes out of date quickly in Mérida

8726050774_e845220125_cAt the end of a Frommer’s piece on Mérida, there is this disclaimer: Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice.

And how!

Our first trip to Mérida, in 2010, we let the guide books scare us to death. “Don’t drink the water!” is a common refrain from friends who may have visited Mexico and suffered “Montezua’s Revenge.” Our first lunch, it was the waitress who got grilled. At a perfectly respectable restaurant on Calle 55, the waitress assured two nervous gringos that the lettuce was washed and the ice cubes weren’t from the tap. Same at a cocina economica off 68 or 70, where the proprietor actually pulled out a bag of commercially supplied ice from the freezer. No one seemed astonished 0r insulted; they must have been accustomed to this line of questioning.

We each carried a roll of toilet paper around in our backpacks. I don’t remember where we got that advice. Maybe it was relevant in the 1990s, when paper was still rationed by attendants, but we personally never had any reason to go into our teepee “reserves.” Actual, real toilets and paper were everywhere, except for one coffee shop on 62, which has since been renovated and sells German bratwurst. I checked and the water closet is fine. Maybe we’re just not adventurous enough to tread where toilets haven’t yet arrived.

Another piece advice men would get is to blend in with the crowd by avoiding short pants, no matter how hot it is. Meridanos wear long bluejeans on even the hottest afternoons, and you’ll look like a tourist if you don’t sweat it out in your big-boy pants. Lately, however, I’m seeing visitors ignore that advice, tacitly allowing others to follow suit. I’m seeing local men wear short pants, too. They go below the knee, but they’re not much more than that. I still don’t think you can visit the Cathedral without covering your calves, but you can walk around the streets with impunity in your knee-length cargo pants or plaid short pants. One fair-skinned blond-haired tourist was seen strutting down 64 in nothing but cutoff shorts and sneakers. At the Jersey Shore, that wouldn’t have been worth noting, but it seemed scandalous in the Centro.

Restaurants you’d have put at the top of your list just a year ago are maybe somewhere in the middle of most lists today. We haven’t been in Merida for three months and even in that short span, there is evidence of progress. Take restaurants. Pez Gordo came and went on Santa Lucia’s park and was replaced by Apoala, which is getting raves for its Oaxacan cuisine. Then, Casa Lecanda, the boutique hotel on 47, has a small Italian restaurant down the street. Oliva Kitchen + Bar was all over Facebook the day it opened and its own page had a closeup of a Carbonara de la Casa, evidence that early praise was merited. Even Casa Lecanda wasn’t around when we first started snooping around the Centro just three years ago. Now, it’s already ranked No. 4 on TripAdvisor. Among restaurants, Rescoldos used to be something of an oasis in the Centro; now they have real competition. The photo at the top of this post: This photo would have been inconceivable in 2010 Santa Lucia, which has had nice places to visit, but never this trendy. I took the photo this year in the new La Tratto, part of a restaurant group that for years has been betting on the city’s hunger for ambiance to match the food.

New, more luxurious guesthouses and boutique hotels have entered the arena too. Rental houses are more designer-y. Standards are being quickly changed and what used to be impressive is now middle-of-the-road. Shabby quarters and service is going to be less and less accepted as something “authentic.” We first entered Merida three Novembers ago, so that’s our natural frame of reference. Swanky Rosas y Xocolate had just opened, setting the Centro ablaze, and nearby, Hennessy’s Irish Pub rapidly nearing completion, shifting the center of the Gringo Gulch a few blocks to the east. Then, this year, Alberto’s Continental closed down and its artwork was sold off, the curtain being lowered on a previous point in time. Even though the food was uneven, it was a place so memorable and charming that I would have recommended the restaurant in a heartbeat.

What other pieces of advice have gone out of date since 2010? And is this all for the good?

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  1. BTW, we had a great lunch yesterday at La Cultura – a leek quiche, lasagna, 2 limonadas, 2 fabulous desserts with excellent expresso- 280.00 MXN including generous tip. And the chef-waiter-owner is very nice!

    I also will miss Alberto’s – more Alberto than the food. I will also defend Rescoldo’s- our very own neighborhood restaurant that, hopefully, will be here forever. I cannot live without their Greek salad and red pepper hummus.

    • Is that Bistro Cultural? I love quiche with leeks! I’m going to be enjoying lots of French food on our next trip! And I agree with you about Alberto and Alberto’s, although our last dinner there in their waning days was actually very good!

  2. Let’s not forget that in even the swankiest of eateries, a careless kitchen worker can pass along a bug that rivals any tap water bacteria. It’s interesting that after eating an enjoyable meal at one of the restaurants you mention above, less than 48 hours later, I had the worst case of MR I’ve ever had, accompanied by fever and nausea. The doctor assured me it was the water, but I usually have agua mineral in restaurants and drink reverse osmosis filtered water at home. I’ve never been ill in Merida before this, and if you can eat panuchos with the heat and flies at Santa Ana, you would think that all is ok. You never know…

    • If I said that we’ve been lucky so far, would that jinx us? I’m knocking wood as I type this. Paul often corrects me when he catches me rubbing my eyes or resting my face in my hand, two bad habits after turning door knobs or handling currency. I’m glad you’re better now.

  3. katina joa says:

    My VERY first encounter with a restaurant in Mexico was Alberto’s, in 1976……a romantic dinner with my then boyfriend, a Lebanese. We arrived from Montreal, spent a few days in Merida on the way to Isla Mujeres He was outraged at the primitive bus taking us Puerto Juarez, and the small boat taking us to Isla, and insisted on flying back to Merida.

  4. I have to say that a lot of the advice about going to Mexico seems to be somewhat out of date. I’ve stopped asking about ice cubes and water since I realize that no Mexican would drink tap water or use ice cubes made from tap water either. Ditto for salads and vegetables in general. If they’re on a restaurant plate, they’re probably clean enough to eat. Asking isn’t going to change anything, and if they owner is nefarious, you probably won’t get the truth anyway. Toilet paper can be in somewhat short supply, particularly if you have drunk some tap water or other thing that leads to the famous “revenge.” I still bristle at being handed an allotment of TP at the entry to bathrooms, regardless if I don’t need it at all or need more.

    I’ve also flagged down many a taxi in DF, with nothing more scary happening than a manic driver careening through the streets. I’ve never had any problem with cops, though I have to say I worry about my upcoming road trip in that regard.

    Restaurants come and go everywhere. What’s fabulous today might well be serving warmed over leftovers tomorrow, and that’s as true in the States as in Mexico. I’ve come to rely more and more on TripAdvisor to find the good places, and that method works fabulously.

    But overall, it’s far more easy and comfortable to travel around Mexico than rumor would have it. I’m looking forward to my next trip.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where a friend wants us to accompany her to DF in a couple of weeks. We’ll see.

    • So you HAVE found places that still ration the teepee? Ugh. Not cool.

      I’ve got to get to Mexico City before long! I was just paging through my Departures Magazine and it opened right up to a spread about Chapultepec Castle, which just blew me away. So when you say a “friend wants us to accompany her,” I’ll be joining in vicariously through your blog, I hope. BTW, did you ever conclude that story about the waiter who gave you a tour? I don’t recall reading how that all worked out…

      Where I’m never too busy to obsess over toilet paper or pry into others’ lives

      • Yes, unfortunately there are still places that ration TP, mostly bus stations, but most other places that have an attendant at the door and charge you to enter also ration it.

        As for the story about the waiter, yes, I need to write more. There’s a lot more to be told about that story, but I just need to sit down, get it all in order, and then write. There are also more stories about Mexican lives that are very different than what you’d find here in the USA. Lots of unexpected twists and turns, just like Joanna’s novel.

  5. I miss Albertos… it was where Jorge and I went on our first “date” and we still loved going there to toss back the delicious margaritas and devour the eggplant dip with pita bread. Yes, we remember the B.S. (bathroom situation) as it used to be and thank God that has improved everywhere. Upscale eateries are more common but not all of them are innovative, so I don’t jump to try them all. Even if there is no AC, I love going to Rescoldos with my best friend, and Jorge and I go to Luigis in Itzimna for the same reasons we used to go to Albertos. For us, eating out is as much about ambiance as it is about food

    • Some people say you can’t eat the ambiance, but I say you can still drink it in! Yes, it’s important to me, too. Now if more restaurants would turn off the television at dinner time!