La Palapa (Calle Nueva #8, next to Espino’s, $)
A handful or so outdoor tables shaded beneath a large beer tent. Super casual - stop in for cheap grilled tacos – fish, shrimp, beef or chicken, burgers too. Nothing fancy but good flavor and they hit the spot. Nice variety of condiments, tasty salsa. Cold soft drinks and beer, no coffee. Homemade carrot cake wraps up the menu.
Natura (formerly Bee Natural, Calle Nueva #7, across from La Palapa, 154-8629)
Organic store offering a multitude of fabulous items – a veritable mini Whole Foods stocked inside one tiny room. Get excited. If organic, delicious, healthy foods get your motor running, zoom-zoom. Owner Jorge Catalán, one of three owners, has done marvels in finding some of the best locally grown organic produce and meats, and a mouth dribbling selection of scrumptious prepared foods from local chefs and companies; A la Carte, el Capricho and Comida d’Alicia.
Foods to go include wonderful soups such as white beet, tangy carrot, and chicken broth. Marinated salads of beans and lentils, Asian noodles, potato salad, cheesecake that is more savory than sweet and garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary that gently infuses without being overbearing, slices of rich chocolate torte, brownies that dreams are made of, yogurts, garlic/herb goat cheeses, large round knots of Oaxacan cheese, luscious mangoes and papayas, tofu, crunchy flax seed cookies and nut bars, whole organic chickens, turkey cutlets, frozen grain breads and dense, decadent loaves of cocoa bread, pastas, pre-washed, disinfected and bagged mixed greens from mesclun to arugula to baby spinach.
Small assortment of natural skin and bath products from soaps to moisturizers to shampoo. Organic dog food, soy milk, herb teas, mosquito repellant, honey suckers, crackers, eggs ~ more fun than a barrel of monkeys. If the above gets you half as excited as it does me, you’ll need a cold shower. Jorge is personable, outgoing with an ever-ready smile, whereas alter ego, his full-time employee with his quiet, brooding, smoky-eyed reserve and soft spoken demeanor is rather disarming. Hands down, my favorite store and though not particularly cheap, for superior quality and taste, they are worth every peso. You’ll walk away feeling so unnaturally healthy, you’ll need to stop for ice cream or warm, sugar dusted churros. Conversely, if you bought the cheesecake and briefly inhaled the smoky eyes, you might need to relax with a good cigarette.
Hecho en México (Ancha San Antonio #8, near the Instituto, 154-6383, <$$)
Friendly service, extensive menu, consistently good food, large portions, separate bar area. You can do it any way you like here – super cheap or lay it on. Their starters, soups and salads are delicious and hearty; the chicken vegetable soup is like mom’s homemade and for about 4.50, eats like a meal. The fish is quite good, always fresh, the salmon dinner particularly flavorful. The side dishes are memorable; the steamed veggies are perfectly done, the jicama and coleslaw salads are crunchy, refreshing, and wholesome. Good enchiladas, fajitas, and steaks.
But so much for the yada, yada, yada. Did I mention the brownie? If your mother ever told you never to eat anything larger than your head, ignore her. Besides, did she mean as an infant or an adult? This brownie covers a plate like a room-size area rug. It is so rich, so dense, so sinfully drizzled in warm caramel and topped with a melting pool of vanilla ice cream, you might find yourself blushing. Most reasonable diners will order one brownie, extra forks and share. However, I say, be unreasonable, if not selfish. You can walk it off in two days time as it will take a full 48 to digest. If you’ve watched National Geographic and often wondered what it would feel like to be a large African snake that has just swallowed whole a baby warthog, now is your chance.
Bariloche (no address but worth the hunt, Ancha San Antonio, across from Hecho’s, $$))
This little jewel is a real find. I stumbled in quite by accident and became a repeat customer. I’m not even sure if there’s a sign but near their door is a sign for a yoga studio, so keep a look out. Beautiful Colonial courtyard dining, intimate, reasonably priced, lovely menu selection, to die for beef from Argentina.
Steaks are grilled in front of you, perfectly tender and juicy, served with a bowl of chimichurri sauce that you’ll want to spoon across your steak, dip your rolls into, and drizzle on your salad or rice or potato. This Argentinian herb condiment usually served with steak is pure tango for the tongue, bursting at the seams with flavor - a mix of parsley and/or cilantro, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, herbs and spices. For tongues that prefer waltz to tango, go for the chicken and stuffed zucchini blossom entrée, moist, subtle flavors that soothe the buds rather than excite. The owners are friendly and the service, attentive. On our first visit, one of the owners insisted we have a second glass of wine – on the house. Subsequent visits were capped with “treats” of espresso. No guarantee you’ll get a freebie, but for fantastic service, food, atmosphere and most of all, the steak and chimichurri sauce, hunt this place down. Just don’t slip into the yoga studio and order up a T-bone.
Rica Comida (Salida de Celaya #34, Ancha San Antonio turns into Salida, $)
As teeny holes-in-the wall go, this is the holiest. This pint-sized lunch café has a handful of tables and a counter – the open kitchen is behind the counter. Walk up and order your comida from the lunch menu sprawled on the wall board. Rickety chairs, plastic table cloths, don’t dress for the occasion. This is real homestyle Mexican fare and some of the best in town. For about 3 bucks, you’ll get a platter of food that might be the only meal you need all day. Their enchiladas, rice and beans are as good as it gets. No bells, no whistles, just a wallop of taste. Excellent salsas. Aqua frescas, sodas.