Day Five in Mexico: Tlaquepaque

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On my last day in the Guadalajara area, I took a bus to Tlaquepaque, opting first for a quick stop in Tonala. What a mistake that turned out to be. I lost track of how many times I got on and off the bus thinking that I had reached the city center. When I finally did, I was so disappointed that I turned around and got right back on another bus after a short walk around the area. I suspect I never really found downtown Tonala, but after another hour’s wait, the bus dropped me off a short walk from downtown Tlaquepaque.

Tlaquepaque is a suburb of Guadalajara and is famous for its pottery and blown glass handicrafts. The first thing you see when you arrive in the center is San Pedro Apostol Cathedral:

San Pedro Apostol Cathedral

I walked a bit further and peeked in the local produce and artisan market, but after all the getting lost and bus changing, I was parched. Luckily for me, there were coconut vendors in El Jardin, the city’s main square. I bought one and quickly drank up the juice inside. I took the coconut back to the vendor and he chopped up the coconut meat for and sprinkled it with chiles and lime for to snack on. Feeling rejuvenated, I started walking down El Parian, Tlaquepaque’s main plaza, which meets Independencia, a street flanked by boutiques and artisans.

Calle Independencia

Calle Independencia

The Regional Ceramics Museum is also on this street, and was a nice, air-conditioned break from the hot sun outside. Several intertwining rooms display generations of traditional pottery from Jalisco here.

Regional Ceramics Museum

Tlaquepaque was exhausting, not because it was difficult to navigate, but because I was completely dehydrated. The temperature must have jumped twenty degrees in one day, so by the time I was back in Guadalajara, I went straight to dinner at La Gorda.

Dinner at La Gorda

I had sopes, enchiladas and tacos, and the most refreshing glass of horchata ever.

I headed back early to the hotel to pack, as I had to be up early the next morning for the second half my trip: the Jalisco coast.

Day Four in Mexico: Tequila

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I’m not exactly a fan of tequila, but Jalisco state is home to the city and municipality of Tequila. It is too gorgeous to miss, whether or not you drink its namesake spirit. I’m also not too keen on tours, as they can sound rehearsed and I always wonder if I could have explored more without a guide.

With that in mind, I booked a day trip to Tequila with Panoramex and was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. Our guide, Jesus, was amiable and kept everyone engaged, all the while conducting the tour bilingually for the gringos and Spanish-speaking travelers alike.

Our bus was to pick us up at Parque San Francisco, but we got there early so we walked around the neighborhood for about an hour while we waited for it to arrive. More churches, fountains, and statues, and I can’t complain. Tapatios actually make use of their parks and plazas, and they’re so inviting and bustling that an hour goes by fast.

Parque San Francisco

It took us a good forty-five minutes before we left the city limits after we boarded the bus, and Jesus told us that our first stop would be Tres Mujeres, a boutique distillery that offered samples of tequila joven and anejo. Both were smooth enough to sip, and I bought a bottle of the anejo.

Tres Mujeres tequila distillery

Once everyone was aboard the bus again, we drove further away from the city and towards the agave fields of Jose Cuervo distillery. At the fields, Jesus described how agave is grown and harvested for fermentation. With a machete and a blade-like metal disc, Mario, a rancher at Cuervo, demonstrated the steps to attaining an agave “pineapple,” which is essentially the heart of the plant:

The agave fields of Jose Cuervo distillery

The agave fields of Jose Cuervo distillery

An agave "pineapple"

I tried a piece of the freshly-cut agave. It tasted kind of like jicama, only sweeter and grainier.

Mundo Cuervo was only a short ride away, and struck me as a family-friendly tequila museum meets theme park sort of place, except prettier. Upon entrance, we were welcomed by a giant metal raven statue:

Mundo Cuervo

The staff at Mundo Cuervo had us watch a short movie about Cuervo’s history and production that reminded me of the film that’s shown at the Korbel Winery tour in Sonoma County. The tour picked up from there, and we learned about their production method and walked through their facilities, sampling tequilas at various stages of distillation.

Mundo Cuervo

We ended the tour with a margarita and boarded the bus to head towards El Mar II, where we had lunch. I ordered the shrimp fajita and yet again got a plate of overcooked shrimp with bacon bits and a side of mushy, unpleasantly sweet rice.

Lunch at El Mar II

At least their salsas were good. And the view from the restaurant was amazing.

Back in Guadalajara, I spent the evening strolling around Plaza Guadalajara and peeking in the Catedral Metropolitana, which was absolutely impressive from both the inside and outside. After dinner and a short search for Mexican candy, I called it a night.

Catedral Metropolitana

Plaza Guadalajara

Plaza Guadalajara

Day Three in Mexico: Plaza de la Liberacion and Mercado Corona

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During the planning stages of this trip, I’d made sure to keep my third day open so I could take the bus to Chapala for the charreada, the Mexican rodeo. No one in Guadalajara could confirm that the event was actually happening though, and given all the changes in the local events schedule due to the mariachi festival, I decided to play it safe and spend the day in the city instead.

I had a leisurely breakfast at El Globo, a coffee shop near our hotel where instead of choosing from a menu, you take a tray and pick what sweets you please and get charged based on the items on your tray. My coffee didn’t come with fresh cream (only powdered!)and the frosting on my doughnut was sickly sweet:

Breakfast at El Globo

Afterwards, I walked around Plaza de la Liberacion, people watching and taking snapshots. Like all the other plazas in the neighborhood, this one had no shortage of impressive statues and fountains either:

Plaza de la Liberacion

Teatro Degollado faces the plaza, which is where I was supposed to have watched a folkloric dance performance that morning, except that it had been canceled due to the ongoing festival:

Teatro Degollado

I admired the view from outside instead, and began exploring outwards past the historical district until we came across a new market.

Mercado Corona may not be as big as Mercado Libertad, but it makes up for it with the best taco stand ever. I followed the golden rule of going where the line is, and twenty minutes later had four of the best (and tiniest) steak, potato, and bean tacos I’d ever tasted. My only regret is that I didn’t order more!

Hello, we are the tastiest tacos in the world

Encouraged by finding Tacos Don Jose, I looped around to Plaza Tapatia in search of more good street food. About an hour later, I hit gold again with a tamarind paleta:

Tamarind paleta

I spent the rest of the day taking it easy, but all that searching for good food makes one hungry, so I headed over to La Chata for an early dinner. I’d seen long lines in front of the restaurant the day before, so I figured it’d be a safe bet.

The tortillas at La Chata come with a trio of fresh salsas: avocado, tomato-onion-cilantro, and a mystery one that had strong tamarind and chili overtones.

Salsas at La Chata

I started with the queso fundido, which was mediocre and too heavy.

Queso fundido at La Chata

My main course, the Platillo Jalisciense, made up for it. It came with pan-fried chicken leg and thigh, pan-fried potatoes, an enchilada, flauta, and a sope. The sope was easily the standout:

Platillo Jalisciense at La Chata

It takes a few days to get situated in a new city and find where the good eats are, but it was worth the wait.

Day Two in Mexico: Mercado Libertad, Palacio del Gobierno and Chivas

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One of the main reasons I we chose to travel to Guadalajara instead of say, Mexico City, is because Guadalajara is home to the Chivas soccer club. It just so happened that they’d be playing during our stay, but more on that later. When I found out that the city is also home to Latin America’s largest indoor market, I was hooked.

Mercado Libertad, or Mercado San Juan de Dios as it is locally called, houses over one thousand vendors, and it is easy to get lost among the three intertwining levels. Each level has a different theme, with the top level selling mostly clothing and electronics. The middle level has traditional clothing, leather goods, hardware, and endless eateries offering mostly local fare, like birria and tortas ahogadas. The ground level was my favorite, as it houses the butchers, and produce, spice and sweets vendors.

Mercado Libertad

Mercado Libertad

I stopped for a quick bite at Mariscos Brisa on the second level and had a shrimp cocktail and fish taco. I wasn’t crazy about the cocktail, and forgot to take a photo of the taco, which was delicious.

Lunch at Mariscos Brisa

After buying some sugared tamarinds, I spent another couple of hours wandering around the market before heading over to Palacio del Gobierno, or the Government Palace. There are four huge plazas in the historical district, and by Plaza de Armas, the most impressive of the four, stands the palace. Inside, an imposing staircase and council chamber displays murals depicting Padre Miguel Hidalgo in the War of Independence. Like the murals at the Cabanas Cultural Institute, these were also painted by Jose Clemente Orozco:

Palacio de Gobierno

Staircase at the Palacio de Gobierno

Former Congress Hall in the Palacio de Gobierno

Back outside, it had started raining lightly, so I hurried to catch the bus to Estadio Jalisco in time for the Chivas versus Tigres game. By halftime, it was pouring rain and the players struggled to run in the slick mud and grass. The fans made it even more exciting – they kept up the cheering, chanting and drumming throughout the whole game, despite the downpour:

Chivas fans

Chivas won and I took a very wet bus ride back to my district. By the time I arrived near our hotel, all the restaurants had closed so we settled for a late-night hot dog and nachos from the 7-11 down the block.
It may have not been adventurous eating, but at least I put lime with ketchup on my hotdog. I try!

Day One in Mexico: Hospicio Cabanas

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If it seems like I’ve abandoned my blog, I haven’t. The past few weeks have been incredibly hectic, with a trip to the state of Jalisco, Mexico sandwiched right in between. I had been planning for a few months, and though my passport renewal hadn’t yet arrived (thank God for the temporary lift on passport requirements to the region), I took a red-eye flight to Guadalajara anticipating nine jam-packed days of musueums, distilleries, mercados, futbol, and the ocassional adventure or two. I’ll be documenting the trip here, so the cooking entries will be postponed for a bit. But don’t despair – I took plenty of food photos in Mexico!

I was starving after the flight, long line through customs, and cab ride to the hotel, but my first meal was pretty disappointing. Exhausted and groggy, I stumbled a few doors down my hotel to Restaurant Bar Familiar, a dimly-lit space with more liquor options on its menu than food. Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign, as my camarones al mojo de ajo was more like a plate of overcooked shrimp with bacon bits and mushy, unpleasantly sweet rice on the side:

Resturant Bar Familiar

After lunch I walked back to where I was staying, Hotel Frances. Built in 1610, it is Guadajalara’s oldest hotel and a national monument. Despite the noise from the street and the late-night mariachi music from the downstairs bar, its charm was worth the stay:

Hotel Frances

And the views weren’t bad either. Directly across the street from the balcony was the Palacio del Gobierno (Government Palace), hence the police cars parked outside every day:

View from our window

After a short nap, I started exploring the city, starting with a walk through Plaza Tapatia. The plaza, like so many others throughout the Centro Historico, boasts a number of beautiful fountains, not to mention lots of mariachi, since I happened to be in town for the annual International Mariachi Festival.

Plaza Tapatia

Plaza Tapatia

I ended up at Hospicio Cabanas, or Cabanas Cultural Institute, one of the oldest and largest hospital complexes in Latin America, founded in 1791. Today, it houses a wealth of art, including Jose Clemente Orozco’s allegory of The Man on Fire, a series of huge frescoes created during 1936-39. Painted following the Mexican Revolution, Orozco’s socially-charged murals are all over Guadalajara’s public places.

Hospicio Cabanas

Hospicio Cabanas

Hospicio Cabanas

Hospicio Cabanas

I was hungry after all that exploring, so I stopped for dinner at El Mexicano Restaurant Bar. It looked promising, I swear. I was dreaming of grilled beef, burned ever so slightly at the tips for that perfect charred flavor. Instead I got a sorry, withered plate of what looked like steak:

El Mexicano Resturant Bar

I may have had some trouble finding good eats on our first day in Guadalajara, but our search eventually unearthed some gems. It turned out to be a pretty delicious trip after all.