Archive for June, 2011

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7 Places to Dine Like a Poblano in Puebla

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

This huge entree at Fonda La Mexicana includes chalupas and mole poblano enchiladas.You haven’t really experienced Puebla until you’ve eaten the food here — and lots of it. From quick bites prepared curbside to slow-cooked meals elaborated in formal kitchens, the region’s gastronomy is an integral part of state and national culture. One dish, mole poblano, is so important to Puebla’s identity that restaurateurs recently began lobbying to have its ingredients and production regulated and, like tequila, given protected status.

The ideal place to try the local cuisine is in somebody’s home, because family recipes lovingly passed down for generations are likely to trump the restaurant experience every time. If you ask the average Poblano where you can find the best mole, his reply is likely to be “En mi casa,” which means “At my house.” Visitors who aren’t fortunate enough to have relatives in the area can instead buy meals at one of the dozens of restaurants in the capital city that specialize in comida poblana.

There are so many inviting places to chow down around town that we have yet to try them all — but we’re working on it! The list below features our top seven picks of late, in no particular order. We chose each restaurant for its varied menu, overall quality and consistency, and generally pleasing customer service over the course of our visits.

La Casita Poblana

16 de Septiembre #3912, Col. Huexotitla, (222) 243-2210
It’s hard to resist ordering everything on the menu at La Casita Poblana. The house mole poblano, which won an award as “tastiest fast feast in Latin America” in 2014, does the dish proud, striking the perfect balance between spicy and sweet. When available in the spring, the huauzontles en caldillo de jitomate are a must-try: The broccoli-esque wild greens are served relleno-style in an onion-infused tomato broth. Adventurous eaters should also try the sopa de médula (spinal cord soup), tostadas de pata (pickled beef cartilage on a fried corn tortilla), and escamoles (ant eggs) and gusanos de maguey (fried caterpillars) in tacos.
Open daily, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Fonda La Mexicana

3 Poniente #316, Col. Centro, (222) 242-2837
Stick-to-your-ribs home-style cooking served in a casual, family-style atmosphere makes Fonda La Mexicana stand out. The extensive menu includes all the typical must-try farechalupas, mole poblano, and pipián verde — plus a few more exotic and seasonal dishes, such as cecina (dried beef), mixiotes de carnero (lamb in parchment), and chiles en nogada (pork and fruit stuffed peppers in walnut sauce). Entrees typically cost 70 to 160 pesos; expect huge portions, like those a Mexican mom might heap on your plate whenever you start looking a little too thin. If 3 Poniente is packed, head for the restaurant’s other location nearby at 16 de Septiembre #706-A, which opens at 10 a.m.
Open daily 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Los Manteles

Calzada Zavaleta #3913, Col. Zavaleta (222) 130-9899
It’s hard to find a tastier, less expensive full breakfast in town than Los Manteles. For 40 to 55 pesos, you can order plates of, say, huevos a la Mexicana (eggs scrambled with pico de gallo), huevos enmolados (eggs over easy in mole poblano), or a three-entree combo accompanied by café de la olla (coffee with cinnamon), freshly baked bread, and orange juice or a fruit plate. After 1 p.m., Los Manteles serves a menu of the day that usually includes three soup or pasta choices (11 to 18 pesos) and five traditional main dishes (33 to 52 pesos), from arrachera (flank steak) to pipián verde (chicken in pumpkin seed mole).
Open daily. Breakfast, 8 a.m- 1 p.m.; lunch, 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Cash only.

Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía

Callejón de los Sapos, Calle 6 Sur #304, Col. Centro (222) 232 4513
Nestled inside a Colonial-style boutique hotel, Mesón Sacristía takes diners back in time. Its indoor patio and intimate dining rooms are appointed with traditional pottery and antique books, statues, and furniture. The moderately priced menu features everything from popular street foods, such as chanclas (a small sandwich smothered in a sausage-tinged salsa) and zucchini-flower quesadillas, to formal fare, such as mancha manteles (pork in a spicy, fruity, tablecloth-staining sauce) and milanesa de res (chicken-fried steak). Save room for dessert: Mesón Sacristía offers a mouth-watering selection of sweets, including cremitas estilo La California, a tribute to a legendary local establishment’s pudding-like indulgences.
Open Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Mi Ciudad

Avenida Juárez #2507, Col. La Paz (222) 231-0277
Although this mid-range chain operates in several locations, we prefer the Avenida Juárez restaurant, which features a colorful mosaic of local cathedral domes and does the best job of separating smoking from nonsmoking diners. You’ll find all of the poblano entrees you’d expect on the menu, as well as a wonderful selection of fish and seafood dishes. When in season, the whole huachinango al mojo de ajo (red snapper in garlic and spices) is fabulous and worth every peso. The shrimp molcajete (served in a hot stone vessel) is tasty, too. Like almost everywhere in Puebla, the service here can be a little slow, so order another tamarind margarita and chill out.
Open Mon.-Thu., 1 p.m.-12:30 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 1 p.m.-1:30 a.m.; and Sun., 1-7 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

El Mural de los Poblanos

16 de Septiembre #506, Col. Centro, (222) 242-0503
El Mural de los Poblanos initially lured us in with its wide selection of Mexican wine, tequila, and mezcal. The upscale restaurant keeps us coming back with its excellent cuisine and customer service, such as accommodating vegetarians. Whether preparing escamoles (ant eggs fried in butter), huasmole de caderas (goat stew) or enchiladas de tres moles (cheese or chicken, with three different sauces), the kitchen takes tremendous pride in its original recipes, artisanal cooking techniques, and use of regional ingredients. The cozy dining room, which occasionally hosts live music, is typically a tranquil space, with a working fountain on one wall and a giant mural of local historical figures on another.
Open Mon.-Sat., 1-10 p.m.; Sun., 1-6 p.m. Credit cards accepted.

Nevados Don Hermilo

Andador Pasaje del H. Ayuntamiento #1, Col. Centro, (222) 211-0624
For nearly century, this family-run operation has drawn locals to the city’s historic center with tasty regional fare. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its namesake adult beverages, or nevados, which come in more than a dozen flavors. (Our favorite is the Iztaccíhuatl, which combines tequila, pomegranate, and hibiscus liqueurs with a tiny scoop of lime sorbet.) Don Hermilo’s wide selection of tortas (sandwiches) and platters of decoratively cut cheeses and cold cuts are also wildly popular.
Open daily. Credit cards accepted.

A couple of dining-out tips: The wait staff is unlikely to bring you the bill until you ask for it (say “La cuenta, por favor”), and a gratuity of 10 to 15 percent is appreciated. If you’re pressed for time, we suggest heading for the Mercado de Sabores Poblanos, where you can sample the handiwork of myriad cooks in one convenient location. What this food court-esque site lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in authentic, affordable good eats. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Puebla? Please tell us where you go for mole and more in the comments section below!

Post updated May 3, 2014

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Posted in Eat, Featured, Restaurants | 17 Comments »

Murals and Pyramids in Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Mural de la BatallaWhether you recognize Cacaxtla-Xochitécatl as one of the more significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, or your interest is simply piqued by the sight of the hilltop ruins as you cruise by Huejotzingo on the Mexico-Puebla highway, these sister sites merit a closer look. Here’s why: Cacaxtla houses some of the best-preserved pre-Columbian murals in Mesoamerica, and Xochitecatl rewards anyone who climbs its pyramids with a panoramic views of the Puebla-Tlaxcala valley and neighboring volcanoes.

Cacaxtla: A Confluence of Cultures

Located in the town of San Miguel del Milagro, the Cacaxtla site was initially surveyed by Spanish archaeologist Pedro Armillas in the 1940s. But its excavation didn’t begin until the 1970s, after looters dug a tunnel into its main building and found an elaborate painting of a “birdman.” They reported their discovery to local priest, who subsequently alerted Mexican authorities at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Official digging thereafter unearthed a grand platform, or gran basamento, which was built in various stages, the first as early as 300 BC. The structure appears to have been used by civic leaders for myriad activities, with distinct spaces dedicated to living, worship, and conducting business.

Gran basamento, CacaxtlaExperts at the INAH say that very little is known about Cacaxtla’s inhabitants, except that they were meticulous builders and warriors who organized their society into different social strata. The city was primarily home to the Olmeca-Xicalanca people, who prospered between 650 and 900 AD, thanks in part to their strategic location on regional trade and transit routes. It’s believed that their forebears migrated to the area from the Gulf Coast, where anthropologists suspect they came in contact with Mayans. This is due to the artistic style of, and Mayan imagery in, the Cacaxtla murals. However, writing and artifacts found at the site suggest other influences, including Mixtec, Zapotec, and Teotihuacan.

A view of Xochitecatl from CacaxtlaVisitors to Cacaxtla today can view its remarkable murals and construction first-hand by walking an interconnected series of wooden planks and stairs across the gran basamento. Eleven paintings have been found to date. The site’s focal point — and its most famous artwork — is the Mural de la batalla, or “battle mural,” which spans more than 72 feet along the base of a temple platform. The mural covers nearly 270 square feet of surface area, making it the largest ever recovered in Mexico. The painting depicts well-armed jaguar warriors defeating defenseless bird warriors, some of whom are naked and dismembered.

All of Cacaxtla’s paintings (and visitors) are shielded from the sun and rain by a 118,500-square-foot suspended metal roof, which the INAH claims is the second largest of its kind, right after the one protecting the Terracotta Warriors in China. In May 2007, a fierce hailstorm prompted the south end of the roof to collapse, forcing the INAH to close the site for nearly a year; fortunately, the ruins suffered minimal damage and the roof received steel reinforcements. During the repairs, the INAH discovered that the gran basamento — which is 656 feet long, 361 feet wide, and 82 feet high — was built, layer upon layer, in more stages (five) than they’d originally thought (three).

Restaurante CacaxtlaThe site also maintains a modest museum of artifacts and scale models, as well as a gift shop, restrooms, and a mom-and-pop restaurant. Restaurante Cacaxtla serves delightful sangria and chilaquiles and affords patrons a wonderful view. The proprietor even lent our party of four several pairs of binoculars, so we could examine the volcanoes and valley floor from our table.

Xochitécatl: Pyramids With a View

A short drive — or a long precarious walk, which is discouraged — from Cacaxtla lies the even more prominent Xochitécatl. Built around 700 BC atop an extinct volcano, Xochitécatl predates Cacaxtla by at least four centuries, if not a millenium. The site appears to have been a purely ceremonial center for the surrounding area and, for us, has several interesting characteristics, namely loads of female idols and two exceptional pyramids.

Dozens of feminine figures were discovered at the Pyramid of Flowers.With its long pathways of lava rock and sweeping valley views, Xochitécatl is a little reminiscent of Cantona, albeit far more compact and less remote. Its one-room museum contains a fine selection of the dozens of clay figurines that archaeologists recovered on the steps of the site’s main structure, the Pyramid of Flowers. (This is the pyramid you can see from the highway.) The figures represent women of all ages, many dressed in elaborate costumes, and some with babies in the womb, suggesting tributes to Xóchitl, a goddess of flowers and fertility. In addition, about a dozen stone statues representing humans and animals are on exhibit outside.

Spiral BuildingJust past the museum and to the left is the Spiral Building, a circular stepped pyramid (rare in Mexico) made up almost entirely of volcanic ash inside. A modern staircase enables visitors to go to the top without following the spiral in laps around the outside, the ancient way. According to the INAH, the building was probably a temple to a wind god named Ehécatl. In 1632, a Christian cross was erected on top; many sources say that the stone symbol has stood there for centuries, but during our visit it was notably absent. Apparently, the cross is removed for celebrations in the town of San Rafael Tenanyecac below. Marco A. Mena, the secretary of tourism in Tlaxcala, explains that this year the cross was taken down in April for a May 3 church celebration and returned to its perch on June 12.

The view of La Maliche volcano from the Pyramid of Flowers.Directly across the open plaza from the Spiral Building sits the larger, more traditional-looking Pyramid of Flowers. Built from rounded boulders, the pyramid is believed to have served as a place of ritualistic sacrifices; the bodies of nearly 30 children were found here. Perhaps the most memorable part of our visit to Xochitécatl was standing on this pyramid’s summit, from which we could enjoyed unobstructed view of the Puebla-Tlaxcala valley and its Popocatépetl, Iztaccíhuatl, and La Maliche. We suspect that, on a extremely clear days, Pico de Orizaba is visible in the distance, too.

Cacaxtla and Xochitécatl are located about 21 miles northwest of the Puebla capital, off the federal highway to Mexico City. (See map.) Both sites are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. General admission is 49 pesos per person Monday through Saturday and free on Sundays; if you buy a ticket to one site, you may visit the other on the same day for no additional charge. Parking in the lot outside Cacaxtla’s entrance costs 30 pesos; at Xochitécatl, it’s free. Bring water and wear sunscreen.

Post updated June 16, 2011.

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