We arrived to Merida a little before sunset. I couldn’t believe it; I was finally in the south of Mexico! After years of being fascinated by the unique cuisine of the motherland’s south I was finally going to get to eat it. Until now, my knowledge of the cuisine was strictly limited to L.A’s “Chichen-Itza” restaurant.
Keeping it strictly adventurous, we didn’t reserve any hotel so that was first on the list. We settled for “La Residencial” eight blocks away from the central zocalo. We walked and walked around the town, I couldn’t believe the chirping clamor of the tropical birds were not coming out of a speaker or something.
After buying our fair share of trinkets, it was time to eat. I asked around and was led to “Chaya”, one of the cities more popular restaurants apparently. I was a little turned off at the half-hour wait and strictly-tourist customers, but whatever, my dad was getting cranky.
It looked a little gimmicky with the handmade tortillas being assigned to two stations inside the restaurants but the chips and salsa proved to be an interesting surprise. Just like every other Yucatan food that has a cool-ass name, the chips are called “Totopos” here. They were served with a toasty, green-pepita paste, a black bean puree, a thin salsa and a habanero relish. Not a bad start.
Agua de Chaya at La Chaya
When in Yucatan, drink Agua de Chaya! especially if you are eating at a restaurant that is called after it. The spinach-y green doesn’t really taste like anything different from any other meaty green, especially when combined with lots of lime and sugar but its good and its “green”, so its cool.
I kinda wanted to order everything on the menu, everything sounded so cool! We started off with an order of “Vaporcitos”. Which I quickly found out were really just banana-leaf wrapped tamales with a stuffing of turkey. They weren’t the softest or most flavorful but the fried tomato salsa smothering made up for it.
I ended up ordering for my dad and little sister since they didn’t really know what the hell any of the food was.
I recommended the Tixin-Xic to my dad.
This dish is a common Yucatan dish, an Achiote-marinated fish baked in banana leaf. Here, it was a mish-mash of a bunch of different seafood and was served “sizzling” style. It wasn’t bad.
And for my sister? Los Tres Mosqueteros Yucatecos
Los Tres Mosqueteros Yucatecos at La Chaya
Without a doubt, this was the winning dish of the evening. It consisted of three thin, yellow corn crepes enveloping braised turkey meat, each one showered with a different Yucatan sauce, then glued together with this sweet plantain mash. The most interesting was probably the Relleno Negro sauce, Yucatan’s emulsified, thinned-down, ink-like answer to a black Mole. The second one was their Pipian, the usually-thick pumpkin seed sauce got the velvety treatment as well. Last was the Papadzule sauce, another pumpkin seed centered sauce but more toasty. T’was bomb indeed.
The first dish that drew me to L.A’s Chichen Itza restaurant was Pan de Cazon so I decided to try it straight from the source here.
Pan de Cazon at La Chaya
It was just as I expected, a hell of a lot better! The dish consists of lightly-fried stacked tortillas layered with black beans and seasoned Thresher Shark meat, then of course, showered with more of that signature Yucatecano, marinara-like red salsa. In other words, they are what enchiladas would look like if a contemporary architect had his way with them, an enchilada skycraper if you will. Note to self, lightly fried handmade tortillas is way better than spaghetti to sop up tomato sauce with.
The meal came out to about 350 pesos, aka “tourist prices” in the words of my cranky papa. Sure, I could had probably eaten the better versions of the same dishes we got for 1/3 the price at the local mercado but at least one splurge was imminent for me in Merida.
Now, it was time to make up for it and find some tasty street food dessert outside…
La Chaya Restaurante
Calle 62 X 57 local 2 |