Mexican

Taqueria Playa Tropical

I’ve got to admit it. I’m slightly ashamed. Over the past twenty-five years I’ve trekked across a good chunk of Mexico attempting to discover it’s wide and varied cuisine. In all that time I’d barely cracked the surface. Back home, it turns out, there’s a spot just three blocks down the road that I’ve been sorely neglecting.

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Taqueria Playa Tropical has been putting up Mexican fare in uptown New Westminster since 2011. Since their inception, they took over the space next door and doubled their size. When I heard they expanded, I knew full well that good eats were afoot. I dragged Uncle Ben from Chowtimes away from a busy day to join me in a mini-Mexican feast.

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Right off the bat you’re served complimentary tortilla chips and squeezable salsa. There’s not too many restos that will toss you free anything.

Most would prefer salsa fresca or salsa crudo, but these ones hit the spot. The Salsa Roja con Chipotle has a mild, smoky punch. Really good. But the Salsa Verde beats it hands down. It starts off sweet and garlicky then the slow burn works itself in. Very, very addictive stuff.

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Having had Ceviche on only a few occasions, I’ve not a lot to go on. This version is quite solid. Very fresh. The whitefish is firm. Avocado, cut fresh. A good whack of cilantro and it’s quite tangy from a load of lime. Nicely done.

Taqueria Playa Tropical puts up some mean tacos. Today’s highlight, really.

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La Parranda in Mérida, Yucatán

During last year’s trip to Mérida, we stumbled across La Parranda, a funky restaurant/bar in the downtown area. With a few great meals and memories under our belts, we came back this year to gather a few more.

Literally translated, La Parranda means ”The Binge”. We did the name proud.

While roaming around the city, we had wandered past it many times. It seemed like your average, touristy kind of place…nothing to write home about. In the evening, however, it gave off a totally different vibe.

In Mérida, on the weekends at dusk, they close off many streets around the central square allowing the restaurants to spill out onto the sidewalks and beyond. It makes for a whole lot more ambiance.

The place has a load of kitsch about it…typical Mexicana abounds. The enormous sombreros are brought out with mock rifles so the customers can pose for cheesy photo-ops. After a few tequilas and Margaritas, it’s hard to resist.

The well-stocked bar that was responsible for this bout of silliness….

A nicely varied menu…some touristy favorites, but quite a few regional specialties. No idea why we didn’t grab some of the ”Mayan’s Cuisine”. Great reason to hurry on back!!

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Los Mestizos in Izamal, Yucatán

If you’re ever trekking around the Yucatán, Izamal is a cool little place to visit. It’s a short, half-hour ride, eastward
from Merida. Izamal is Mexico’s “Cuidad Amarillo” as most of the buildings are painted in vibrant shades of yellow.

After a couple of hours touring the sites, our guide directed us to one of his “favourite” lunch spots. His suggestion seemed a bit lacking, menu-wise, so we wandered up the road in search of some authenticity. We came across Los Mestizos, a small family-run establishment. Seeing “Comida Regional” quickened my pace considerably. Before I knew it, I was enjoying one sensational dish.

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Snackin’ in the Yucatán

Mexico is a snacking wonderland. From the ubiquitous taco stand to a wide variety of regional treats, antojitos can be found virtually everywhere. Wikipedia sums up antojitos perfectly: “a Mexican street snack designed to satisfy a craving“.

Granted, our first stop isn’t “exactly” street food, but comes damn close.

As we were wandering the streets of Piste, near Chichen Itza, I had an intense craving for Pollo Carbon (Grilled Chicken). We passed by a few empty spots with some dodgy looking poultry on half-warm grills. After nearly giving up, we spotted smoke billowing from a thatched hut a block away. At the very front of the small restaurant an older lady was tending the grill. Three or four whole, butterflied birds were slowly being cooked to perfection over smouldering charcoal. Heaven.

Sometimes the best places don’t even require a name.

As we approached, salivary glands went into overdrive. I was literally drooling. I just stood there enveloped in the mouthwatering, smoky aroma. Looking around the few occupied tables, I noticed everyone was digging into a shared platter. As there was no menu and no signage whatsoever, we ordered a whole chicken.

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Taberna De Los Frailes in Valladolid, Yucatán

The Yucatán region of Mexico is absolutely stuffed with a ton of amazing places to visit. Being constrained to one week, you have to narrow your list of sites down considerably. A must see is the colonial city of Valladolid.

Valladolid is a small city, about 50,000 inhabitants. If you’re into places that ooze history, this is for you. A stunning cathedral alongside a city square that could pass for a small forest. Young and elderly alike congregate on shady park benches munching on treats from a myriad of street vendors. We bypassed the vendors and wandered up a scenic, cobble-stoned avenue in search of Taberna de los Frailes.

This is an exceptionally beautiful town. At dusk, even more so. Two-hundred year old buildings newly painted in pastels make for a stunning streetscape.

After a half-hour saunter, we arrived at our destination.

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La Luna Seaside Grill in Isla Mujeres

In preparation for our upcoming trip to the Yucatan, never having been to Isla Mujeres, I figured I’d check out the lay of the land on Google’s Street View. What an amazing tool. After toodling around awhile, I came across this unique and intriguing façade. At first I thought it was somebody’s really cool beach house.

After arriving in Isla, I met up with my friends and we went on a walkabout seeking some dinner. Within five or so minutes we hit an intersection. I looked off to my right and there it was.

Turns out that unique building is La Luna Seaside Grill. It’s run by a couple of restaurateurs from Hamilton, Ontario.

Aside from it being an absolutely visually stunning room, it is, obviously, Canadian-run. That means any big hockey game is on in their bar.

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La Plaza Restaurant

The Quinta Real in Zacatecas, Mexico is a stunning piece of architecture and one of the most unique hotels in the world. It is situated around a 19th-century bullfighting ring. After the final corrida in 1975, the bullring was restored and the hotel was built into its surrounding grandstand.

Zacatecas is the colonial jewel of Mexico. Its winding streets, narrow callejones and amazing architecture are a photographer’s dream (click here for a slideshow). The Quinta Real captures the essence of the city perfectly.

The plan was, after several hours of museums and sight-seeing, to grab a beer and chill a bit. Upon entering the hotel and seeing the location of its restaurant, it became obvious that a couple of hours were necessary to soak it all in.

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