There's a lot of food in Merida and as with any place some of it is good and some of it, well, it's best just to avoid. Overall we had great eating experiences while in Merida, though I would have liked a few more street food options. I was definitely missing the tamale ladies of Oaxaca.
I know people say pictures are worth a thousand words, but here, words are going to have to be worth a thousand words. I seem to have a serious mental block when it comes to photgraphing food and restaurants, but I still want to talk about them. So words will have to do I'm afraid.
1. El Marlin Azul - Ceviche. I'm not sure I need to say more than that, but I will. The space itself isn't going to win any design awards but the food is what you are here for. The ceviche is tender and flavorful and the grilled fish was cooked to perfection. The prices are super reasonable for what you get as well. One note, as with most ceviches, there are tons of onions. So if you are sensitive to them, you may need to pick around a bit.
2. La Casa de Frida - This was our first meal out in Merida. The restaurant is decorated in a Frida Kahlo motif which sort of put me off, but whatever, we were hungry and this seemed like a good option. Honestly, we both enjoyed our dinners though I heard a lot of beeping of the microwave sounds coming from the kitchen area. That concerned me a bit, but oh well, my chicken mole was quite lovely.
3. Hermana Republica Centro - This is a more modern restaurant in Merida and didn't offer the standard offerings of the area. There's a great outdoor sitting area where you can enjoy the cool night air. The food was delicious and our dinner mates seemed to also enjoy their drinks. I had the seared tuna with cauliflower puree which was fantastic and light. Zac enjoyed some pork tacos and said they were super tasty. We liked the vibe of this place a lot and would return.
4. La Cubanita - We were so hungry when we arrived at La Cubanita, that I somewhat think that even if the place was awful, we would have stayed. But awful it is not. We loved La Cubanita the instant we stepped inside. It's a charming little space that opens onto a small little garden area in the back. We ate inside along the long wall and thoroughly enjoyed the environment and our meal. I had the vegetarian plate white was a bunch of really tasty spiralized veg with rice and beans on the side and Zac had the Cubano sandwich. While he really enjoyed the sandwich, he said that would be the last one of those for a while.
5. M60 - Someone in our group called this "Modern International Food Stalls". I think that aptly describes what you have at M60. They took the idea of market food stalls, spiffied them up and voila! sort of a hipster hangout. There are quite a few options for places to eat - from pizza to wok to sushi to oaxacan to yucatan fare - but on our visit a lot of these places didn't have many of the items on their menus. I'm not entirely sure why that was the case but there you go. Overall, we enjoyed our visit though found we were sort of uninspired by the food options. I would say come here if you are with a large group of people (as we were) and if you are maybe feeling tired of Yucatan and Mexican food.
6. La Negrita Cantina - We absolutely loved this place and came here several times over the course of the week our friends were in town. I can't say much for their food except the popcorn is tasty when eaten right away and the chips and guac were good as well. What we really loved was the atmosphere and the drinks. They do great things with Mezcal and seem to have frequent live music performances. Locals and tourists alike flock to this place and it was super busy each time we were here. An absolute must if you are in Merida.
7. Malahat - Malahat is a tiny little speak-easy located in the parking lot behind Apoala in the Santa Lucia park. It's kind of hard to find but if you ask at Apoala they will be able to tell you how to get there since it is a part of their restaurant. The drinks here were fantastic and offered some interesting and inventive takes using mezcal. Zac had a corpse reviver that came with a smoking sprig of rosemary. I had a mezcal sour that was a bit sweet for me, but the smoky mezcal provided a great foil for the sweetness. You should definitely visit if you like cocktails in an intimate environment.
8. Wayan'e - We went to the location nearest Centro and found we were the only customers in the whole darn place. I think we were after the rush as they were out of quite a few items on the menu. We each had three tacos and they all were absolutely delicious. The prices are super affordable and we would definitely return. I hope they have more of the items on their menu next time because they sounded really good.
9. Merida en Domingo (Sunday Market) at the main square - The Sunday market at the main square (Merida en Domingo) is an incredibly fun experience all on its own. Add to that the many many restaurants that pop up around the square and you have a recipe for happiness. I was obsessed with finding a tamale and so we wandered into a restaurant that was offering tamales, tacos and so much more. The man who greeted us was super nice and recommended a tamale like item that ended up being incredible despite its scant chicken filling. The masa that surrounded the chicken was light and smooth and just sort of melted in the mouth. It didn't feel heavy as tamales have a propensity for doing. We liked that so well that we each decided to order a sope which also did not disappoint. All of this for such little money and everyone who worked there was super nice. We will definitely be back.
10. Amaro - This was probably the most touristy restaurant we went to. In fact, there was a huge group of French tourists that filled the restaurant on the night we ate here. The vibe of the restaurant was like what you would find in a hotel lobby or something. We weren't loving it or the prices but decided to stay because we were so hungry. I ordered chicken in a pepper cream sauce and it was super delicious. The chicken was perfectly cooked and the pepper sauce had just the right amount of heat and depth to it. Zac had a pork dish that he said was good, though when pressed later he said it was just ok.
11. Xi Xocolatl - We started a love affair with Mexican chocolate while in Oaxaca and we wanted to see if that could continue here in the Yucatan. The answer is maybe. We loved the dark chocolate they have available at this shop but did not like the hot chocolate. We prefer a thick dark drinking chocolate like you would find in Spain and Oaxaca. The Yucatan version is served with lots of water and was definitely not for us.
12. LoQueHay Cafe - The setup of this restaurant felt a little bit weird as it is just in the courtyard of one of the many hotels in Merida. You need to ring to enter the building and are directed to the back courtyard where the pool and cafe are located. The menu at this vegetarian restaurant changes weekly so it's best to check their Facebook page to see what's on offer. I had taken a look at the menu early in the week and had seen they were offering Asian night and made a plan to visit. You can either order a la carte or order as a set menu. We both ordered the set menu and really enjoyed each dish. The food was delicious and such a good value. We would definitely come back.
13. La Reina at the Santiago Park - We were on our way somewhere else for dinner when we decided to have a look around the corner to see what was going on. We're so glad we did! We were started to get super hungry at this point and came across a market full of food stands. Most were closed, but La Reina was open and had several people sitting outside. We had our first Sopa de Lima and some sopes. The food was totally delicious and super inexpensive. We love spotting small, family run places like this. Absolute perfection.
14. Pola Gelato Shop - To be honest, I had high hopes for this gelato shop. The flavor combinations seemed really interesting, the shop itself is cute, and it's on one of the best streets in Merida. However, this wasn't true gelato. It was more the texture of American ice cream, and an icy one at that. I did enjoy the flavor I had but I just wasn't in to the texture. It's definitely worth a try, but once I found paletas I never came back to Pola.
15. Avocado - It was so nice to have a vegetarian option in Merida. We stopped in for lunch one sweltering day near the end of our stay. They have a great shaded courtyard in the back that just beckons when it's so hot. Zac and I shared the taco plate. What's the taco plate you ask? Well, it's a selection of 9 tacos (3 types of 3 tacos to choose from) served with avocado cream, salsa, onions and cilantro on the side. All flavors we had were fabulous though the tofu asada and eggplant berbecoa were standouts. The prices were incredibly reasonable and we left feeling well sated.
16. Paletas - It doesn't really matter where you get these gorgeous little popsicle treats from, just be sure you do. There are so many varieties from fruit and spice to cream and fruit or cookies. Indulge. Often. You're worth it.