Eating like a local:-Exploring Mexico's 2nd largest city
Regional food specialties
Regional food specialties
It's not often I make return visits to country's that I've visited. That's bc I have so many places I want to see. It's hard choosing to return somewhere I've been when there's so many spots I have yet to explore. Mexico is one of the few exceptions to this rule. Since I've started this journey I've been there a handful of times but rarely to the same place twice. Much like it's neighbor to the North there's quite a few cities and regions in Mexico worth exploring. You can get the best of everything when you visit Mexico. From beautiful beaches to fantastic food there isn't enough time in life to explore everything this amazing country has to offer. From an American tourist standpoint most of visit Mexico to relax in resorts and sit on the beach while sipping a cerveza. But as a new generation of travelers becomes independent and dare I say in touch with reality the big cities have become popular. They're safe.
Sights from Guadalajara
It might not be quite at the level of Mexico City and bc it isnt across the border from Southern California it's not as easily accessible but Guadalajara is getting more and more popular. Partly bc of the fact there's plenty of people like me that go to Mexico City and then want to go somewhere else. Also bc it's basically made a 180 over the last 25 years or so going from low key city with lots of churches and thus lots of religious influence to a city that's now more influenced by arts and culture.
Sights from Guadalajara
With it's easy access of direct flights from Chicago we had wanted to visit GDL for a couple years and finally made the plans to do this past February. While it is the second most populated city in Mexico it's nowhere near as large as DF. With just over 1.5 million people Guadalajara is a big city but nowhere near as busy as Mexico City home to some 10 million. It's the capitol of Jalisco and bc of that they're also known for good tequila and also being the birthplace of mariachi. It's small enough to where three days is good but big enough to where you could explore so much more if you lived there. Speaking of which there's a large American population that lives here. I never once felt unsafe.
Sights from Guadalajara
There's some good daytrips you can take. One of which is a trip to the town of Tequila - home of tequila. We did this early one day and had our hotel hire us their driver. It wasn't all that much to get escorted about an hour out of the city into the area where most of Mexico's tequila is harvested. There's countless spots where they harvest and bottle tequila and many of them do tours in both Spanish and English. We didn't plan all that much except for getting into town early enough to where it wasn't packed with people. I guess lots of folks from GDL and elsewhere will come out here to eat and drink and just enjoy the weekend. We ended up doing a tour of the Casa Herradura compound and it was really interesting seeing how they produce one of Mexico's best exports. Highly rec'd.
Pics from Tequila
The other daytrip that's a little closer and thus easier to make is a visit to the town of Tlaquepaque. You can get here taking a 15 minute uber ride from the middle of Guadalajara. The town is basically a suburb of the city. For those that like art and crafts as well as walks through cute little towns this is a great place to spend a few hours. They have all sorts of shops where people specialize in stuff like glassware and paintings. All of it handmade. There's a local market and plenty of places to eat. Unfortunately the popular umbrella display was gone when we visited but I was still glad we went.
Sights from Tlaquepaque
Foodwise Jalisco is known for quite a few regional dishes. I made an effort to try as many as I could. Bc of the close connections between Jalisco and Chicago you can find many of these dishes here. Some however remain elusive. I'll never eat bad in Mexico as I love the food and put it at the very top of my favorites so of course I ate well in Guadalajara. Having already visited Mexico City and Tijuana I was intrigued to see how it compared. Of course I ate plenty of tacos to see how those compared as well. It's hard picking favorites but lets just say you'll eat great pretty much wherever you are in Mexico as long as you seek out the local spots. This doesn't even mean you should only eat the street food just do a bit of research and don't be afraid to venture away from the hotels and into the neighborhoods. One of the reasons I love Mexico so much is there's always something delicious nearby. So with all that said I highly rec you take a long weekend in Guadalajara sometime soon.
We took an overnight flight and arrived early. Lucky for us the hotel we were staying at had our room ready. We freshened up and decided it would be good to go get breakfast. Not far from the hotel was this cute little locally owned spot located on a mostly residential street. There's not a ton of online info but what is out there are mostly positive mentions of breakfast. My wife loves chilaquiles so she got a plate of those with red sauce while I went with a specialty dish from the Yucatan - huevos motuleños. She really enjoyed her chilaquiles and the same can be said for me and my colorful plate of huevos motuleños. My regional breakfast dish traditionally consists of fried eggs on crisp tortillas with black beans and cheese as well as options such as ham, peas, plantains, and spicy salsa. This was a pretty classic example except they used refried beans which were full of flavor from all the lard.
Breakfast at Ganerika
Tortas Ahogadas Don Beto
My next order of business was going to be a couple tastings of the locally loved sandwich. The Torta Ahogada is to Guadalajara in the same way the Italian Beef is to Chicago. The only difference being it's hard to go a couple blocks in Guadalajara and not come across a spot selling tortas ahogadas. They're everywhere. Ahogada means drowned which is what this pork sandwich is. Chunks of fried pork go into a sturdy bread that then gets covered in a sauce made primarily from chile de arbol. I forget the exact story but the bread found in Guadalajara is much better than what you'll get around the rest of Mexico. So they take sandwiches very seriously. Despite the fact they aren't served with an egg the Torta Ahogada is a breakfast favorite for locals. Usually on the weekends after a long night with tequila. Tortas Ahogadas Don Beto is a locals favorite I found through an online Vice article. So I read most spots just pour the tomato-chile sauce over the torta, but at Betos they dip the sandwich in the house consommé made from pork jus and seasoned with spices. This was a delicious snack.
Torta Ahogada at Tortas Ahogadas Don Beto
Tortas El Profe Jimenez
Aside from the fact the sandwich is drowned another thing that stands about the torta ahogada is the fact it's usually served room temp. In some cases the red tomato sauce is even served cold like a gazpacho sauce. Just a short walk from Betos is this Torta Ahogada stand that sits on a corner of a very local neighborhood. The folks that own El Profe Jimenez seemed to live in the house that the torta stand sits in front of. That's where the drinks are at too. Start with a super refreshing strawberry horchata and be sure to get a couple of the tacos destruidos (shattered tacos dorados) on the side. The latter of which is a fried taco with potato filling that's been smashed and covered in the same tomato chile sauce used to drown the carnitas filled torta. El Profe Jimenez is one of those spots where the sauce is room temp. I didn't like this as much as the first bc that sandwich is served hot.
Torta Ahogada at El Profe Jimenez
Sandwiches aren't the only thing hungover Guadalajaran's like to consume. Of course they like to eat tacos too. Hidalgo gets the mentions when barbacoa in Mexico is discussed but don’t sleep on Guadalajara’s own version. Beef is slow braised in a tomato and chile dominated liquid until fall apart tender. This meat is then used to make GDL’s signature taco which is the taco dorado con barbacoa. The beef and it’s juices go into a folded corn tortilla that gets placed on a hot flattop to crisp to a golden hue. Tacos Charlie offers the chance to eat theirs bathed in the cooking liquid which is unique in that all the other spots serve them with the consommé on the side. This style is typically eaten for breakfast making them some of the best breakfast tacos money can buy. Take note Texas.
Tacos Dorados Bañados at Tacos Charlie
Being in Guadalajara meant I'd have a chance to cross one off my dining bucketlist. The dish that made me fall in love with regional Mexican cooking. Carne en su Jugo. The Jaliscan dish translates to steak in its own juice and while I’ve tried it in Aguascalientes I had to make sure I had some while here in Guadalajara where there’s a neighborhood with about four or five spots specializing in it. Karne Garibaldi has been at it since 1970 and they own the Guinness title of fastest restaurant service in the world. Your soup will be out within 15 seconds after your order is placed. Steak, bacon, beans, and broth make up for most of it with a few trays of condiments coming on the side for you to spice it up to your liking. Of particular note are the refried beans which are semi smashed and damn good. Though I will say the carne en su jugo has been better at spots in Chicago where they seemed to be using a higher quality cut of steak. But props to KG for providing a consistent product all these years.
Carne en su Jugo at Karne Garibaldi
Another soup that locals love to slurp on is Pozole Blanco. Both green and red are the common options one has when a restaurant serves pozole but in Guadalajara they also offer it blanco aka white. A very local spot called La Chata specializes in this dish. They have a few locations scattered around the city including this one up by the busy Zona Centro area. La Chata is a classic Mexican old school diner style restaurant. It's menu long with home cooked options from the open air kitchen up front. They have a few specialties including this hot bowl of white pozole. To my best knowledge white pozole is just pozole without the ingredients used to make it wither red or green. I chose the small bowl with the pierna (pork shoulder) and inhaled the whole thing in like 10 minutes. So good.
Pozole Blanco at La Chata
Birrieria El Chololo
After an early afternoon walk through the cute little town of Tlaquepaque I made my way over here. I remember reading a story on The Godfather of Birriería in Jalisco and making a mental note in case I was ever in GDL. Well here I was at Birriería Chololo. Named after the founders nickname it’s considered by some to be the best Birriería in the state. El Chololo founded his restaurant in the early 80’s after saving up enough selling roasted goat on the streets of Tlaquepaque. Over time he and his Birriería became famous across the state. The walls are lined with pics of celebs and politicians who stopped by over the years. Well he passed away a few years ago but his legacy lives on at this spot.
a peek inside (RIP)
El Chololo's nephew took over when his uncle passed away. These day's people come from all over Mexico for some flipping delicious roast goat. This dish being without a doubt the signature eat of Jalisco. This was so good I started eating before I remembered halfway in to snap a pic. The bone-in rib meat I was given was just money. Dip it into the Consommé (or pour the liquid over the goat), throw it into a housemade tortilla and top it with some memorable Molcajete salsa (served warm). This is the recipe for one of Mexico's greatest regional tacos. The taco de birrieria. If you plan on doing a day in Tlaquepaque I suggest making your way over here at some point for lunch. That said the ride down is worth it for the goat alone. Although my uber driver had mentioned something about the area being less desirable you need not worry. It's frequented by tourists and politicians regularly.
Roasted Goat at Birrieria El Chololo
Hot Dogs El Zurdo Vera
Hot Dogs may not be exclusively popular in Guadalajara but like it's sister city Chicago they are a bigger deal here than elsewhere. I read of a few nighttime stands that were sure to have crowds huddled around them. One of them was Hot Dogs El Zurdo Vera which is located right off the Minerva Square. In the States we call these bacon wrapped hot dogs "Danger Dogs" due to the health hazards they present. None of which has to do with food poisoning so you need not worry about that. But bc these hot dogs are wrapped in bacon and then cooked in the bacon's fat and then topped with an arsenal of toppings they cant be good for your heart. That's why they're usually a late night snack. When I stopped here around Midnight it was packed with families, mariachi members, policia, and locals who had obviously had a few brewskis before their hot dog. I have no shame in enjoying these.
Mexican Hot Dog at Hot Dogs El Zurdo Vera
Café P'al Real
Guadalajara has some great cafes. They attract the younger local crowds with their relaxing atmosphere and high quality food and drink. Café P'al Real is a beautiful example of such. You'll find people in the restaurant industry relaxing here and meeting friends on their offdays as well as local hipsters looking to sip some joe and enjoy a pastry. They have a nice selection of fresh breakfast options including a wonderful bowl of chilaquiles rojo. Served with some crisped up carnitas and a perfectly made farm fresh egg. They also offer a selection of locally brewed beers as well as cocktails and such. Combined with the bright high ceiling space the only fallback might be you have to wait.
Chilaquiles at Café P'al Real
While browsing google maps I came upon a spot for Hidalgo style pastes. The small town outside of Mexico City has a rich mining history and paste are what happens when Cornish miners come to Mexicos and brings their Pasty's with them. The pasty (or pastie) being the preferred lunch of Cornish miners while on shift in the mines. These are basically empanada like snacks that would stay warm and are easily consumable while on the move. Well eventually the locals of Hidalgo started making their own Pasty's or Pastes as they're called in Mexico. This style comes with popular Mexican ingredients such as the chicken mole that I tried pictured below. There's a spot in Chicago that makes these so I've always felt like they're one of Mexico's most underrated regional eats.
Chicken Mole Paste at Pastes Minería
El Farallon De Tepic
Speaking of regional Mexican food here's a spot featuring one of my all time favorite dishes. After a tour of tequila in Tequila I had our driver drop us off here on the way back into the city. Through a little online research I learned there’s a branch of a famous Nayarit seafood restaurant in Guadalajara. This meant I would have a chance to eat one of my favorite preps of fish out there. Pescado Zarandeado is a 500+ year old method for grilling fish in the Mexican state of Nayarit. The fish is split in half from head to tail and rubbed with a chile dominated rub as well as soy sauce and or Maggi before it’s grilled over hot coals. El Farallon De Tepic is a great place to go try this fantastic regional dish.
I forget how long the original has been open but this second location in Guadalajara is the only other one. Even our driver knew what was up. He mentioned that he loves this spot. It had the beachy feel of a mariscos bar somewhere near the water with it's large open air dining room. Tons of families were in for lunch so the grill was smoking. We tried both the fish and shrimp and it was insanely delicious. Particularly with the kiss of smoke the fire provided. This will be the meal that gets me to Nayarit. I could eat this stuff daily. For those wondering about the soy sauce there are a few states in Mexico where Asians immigrated too and Nayarit is one of them thus there's influence in the food.
Pescado (and shrimp) Zarandeado at El Farallon De Tepic
Just like DF does, Guadalajara has lots of hip and trendy dining options. Pachuco was one I found while browsing. The theme at many of these hipper spots in Mexico is usally a big open air space with lots of plants and maybe some local art. They feel very new. I'm not sure the menu at Pachuco is dedicated to any specific region however. It had options popular in places like Baja and Oaxaca. All of them pretty modern sounding. We settled in with some local mezcal and tequilas before moving over to food. Our waitress was wonderful with the sipping recs while I knew what I wanted to try as far as food. We got a couple shrimp tacos and an order of the mole enchiladas. The taco was as delicious as it was pretty while the mole had those deep almost mysterious flavors that are common in a well made mole sauce. Pachuco is a great spot to stop and eat and as soon as the clock hits 5p.
Eat / Drink at Pachuco
Xokol Tortilleria y Antojeria
Here's another hip and happening spot that caught my eye. Xokol Tortilleria y Antojeria is making it their mission to preserve Mexican ingredients no longer being used in GDL kitchens. They take a specific interest in corn which is the most important ingredient in Mexico's foodways. The varieties of corn available just 100 years ago were abundant compared to today where most places only use a couple kinds. Xokol is found on a rather residential street with just a few other businesses nearby. Inside there's about 6 or 7 long picnic like tables with the open air kitchen taking up the rest of the space. I'd read that the chef from here comes from a Mazahua community in Mexico State that is famous for their corn farming. The mural seen up above is an homage to the chefs 80 year old grandmother who still actively participates in the farming of corn back home. For starters we tried a few heirloom tortillas that were rolled out using a centuries old technique. They were some of the best tortillas I've ever tried. A Huitlacoche taco came served on a half blue, half yellow heirloom corn tortilla. It was insanely delicious and full of deep corn flavor. A plate of grilled octopus also rocked.
Food at Xokol Tortilleria
After our trip to Mexico City a couple years ago I was ready to write off the fine dining in Mexico. It wasn't for me. There were some letdowns from the Eater / Worlds Best type hyped places. But my wife likes to get at least a couple reservations when we're traveling so that we're not stuck if all the spots we want to try our booked. According to the aforementioned folks at 'Worlds Best' Alcalde is one of Latin Amercia's best restaurants. Helmed by Chef Francisco 'Paco' Ruano Alcalde is elevated Mexican food at it's finest. Chef Ruano likes to recreate the flavors of his youth and boy was that ever so evident in a dish called "pork and beans" - Succulent pork jowl was served in a bean broth reduction with chicharron and chorizo powders. Served with some cute little made in house corn tortillas to be made into tacos. My pic doesn’t do this dish justice but it was one of the best recreated plates of food I've ever ate. We also tried a dish with crispy grilled octopus with rice, avocado, green tomato and kale. Again this was a perfectly executed plate of food. I wish we could've tried more but another round of pork and beans was a must. I would 100% recommend Alcalde for a dinner, or two.
Dinner at Alcalde
As seen in the beginning of this post the popular tacos dorados can be found all over. Usually in the morning as this is a breakfast and lunch type snack. Tacos Juan is one of the city's well known vendors of this style. They have a few locations scattered throughout town and if you see one of their blue awnings there probably isnt a crowd of hungry locals far off. You can choose to stand over the action and eat on the countertop or sit down inside and eat your tacos at a table. The only thing you really need to decide is how many tacos you want. Just make sure to ask for a side of consomme for you to deep your delicious beef barbacoa tacos into. On a hungry day I could eat six of these.
Tacos Dorados at Tacos Juan
Puerco Espada is another of these casual trendy spots. Their specialty is seafood tacos dorados. The pictures on Google caught my eye and it was short walk from our hotel so went over one day after sitting at the pool. The menu lets you build your own seafood tacos. Pick what you want your taco dorado filled with (potato, chicharron prensado etc) and then which type of ceviche you want it topped with. There's quite a few different combinations one could come up with and I enjoyed both concoctions I created. I'e had better seafood in Mexico but I really liked this concept. It was popular.
Mariscos Tacos Dorados at Puerco Espada
Tacos Don Jose
When I read about this taco stand known for putting Panela cheese on their tacos I made a mental not to check it out. Tacos Don Jose offers two tacos. They have the Guadalajara style beef barbacoa cooked in a red chile-tomato sauce as well as charcoal grilled steak. I think Jose himself was on the grill while an older lady took orders while grinding out fresh corn tortillas through a machine. I tried one of each and ordered them "con todo" which means everything including chunks from a big brick of Panela cheese sitting out in front. I loved the creamy Panela cheese and will try this myself soon.
Tacos con Panela at Tacos Don Jose
Tacos La Choza
Another spot I read about that wasn't fa at all from my hotel. So I went here before heading to the airport on our last day. Tacos La Choza sounded alot like if Hot Doug's opened a street taco stand. This streetside stand is offering unique fillings including lesser used cuts of beef, duck, rabbit, Argentinian chorizo and more. All served on big ass toasted tortillas. I got the taco de pichana as well as the taco de pato (duck). Loved the steak. Pichana is so good. The duck was crisped like carnitas.
Tacos at La Choza
Tripitas Don Ramon
Ever since I had my first tripas taco in the plaza of Aguascalientes I've been hooked. So I made sure to seek some out in Guadalajara. I found this spot that was nowhere near our hotel or any of the neighborhoods most tourists make it too. But with uber rides being so cheap I decided to head over for an early snack before dinner one night. I arrived to a nice crowd of families enjoying dinner. I sat next to a couple with two young boys both of whom were enjoying bowls of crispy fried tripe in a tomato chile sauce. So no excuses for adults not to eat these intestine tacos. Not when they taste like bacon. I'm not sure if it's a GDL thing but I was asked if I wanted my tacos sauced which meant a ladle of chile-tomato went over the crispy tripe. I ate four of these and contemplated having more.
Tacos de Tripa at Tripitas Don Ramon
La Tomate Taqueria
One thing I’ll always do on trips is talk to industry folk about the food in the city I’m visiting. All the bartenders and hotel staff I asked mentioned this spot when I inquired about their favorite taqueria in GDL. I admit I was hesitant bc I figured they were picking a place they thought a gringo like myself might approve of. Well I was wrong and they were right. With it's location right on Chapultepec street the place was always packed with large groups of locals. The line outside was at least 20 deep when we went one night towards the end. You can tell it was later in the eve by the trompo of meat in the picture up above. During the early night that thing was about three times larger. In case you couldn't tell from the trompo of spinning pork in the picture this place is famous for tacos al pastor. I went a little overboard with my ordering. One Taco al Pastor. One Volcan al Pastor. One Quesataco al Pastor. The taco being obvious for what it is while the Volcan is about a 1/2 lb of meat piled onto a crispy fried tostada and topped with a ton of melted cheese. The Quesataco is a layer of cheese that's grilled until crispy and then wrapped around a bunch of al pastor. A great spot to end the night.
Al Pastor galore at Tomate Taqueria
There's not a ton of into out there about food and or tacos in Guadalajara. I did find the site of an expat who surfs in a town a few hours away and thus makes it into GDL often. He ranked his favorite taco stands and this corner spot came out on top. As the name suggests Asadas Dany does carne asada tacos. These are popular in Northern Mexico where locals in cowboy boots like to chow down on fire roasted steak in handmade tortillas. Folks from Northern Mexico who now live in Guadalajara have a good option for a taste of home in Asadas Dany. Make sure to ask for the beans on your taco.
Tacos de Carne Asada at Asadas Dany
Pictured below is the beloved bone marrow taco from Taco Mando. A permanent stand housed in old military like truck in a very residential part of town. I put this taco near the top of my list bc I love when places offer unique items such as this. Meats are grilled over lump coal right there on the truck. The thick tortillas are also made on the truck, and the salsa bar goes at least eight choices deep. So it was easy to understand why this is the favorite taco spot of a few locals that I talked to. Delicious.
Bone Marrow Taco at Taco Mando
Tacos El Pirata
After some drinks one night I decided to walk home while my wife caught an uber. The reason for me choosing to walk was this popular late night taco stand was near. Pictured below are the Tacos de Ilusión from Tacos El Pirata. This nighttime stand is run by a bad ass female taquero and was circled with locals. Yes flautas are tacos too. Theirs are fried all night and then topped with crema / chorizo.
Tacos de Ilusión at Tacos El Pirata
Tacos Santo Goyote
On the flight back to Chicago I was daydreaming of tacos as soon as we took off. Much of my imagination was focused in on this trio of steamed cow parts from a super local nighttime spot called Santo Goyote. Lengua (tongue), Labio (lip), Cachete (cheek) were each better than the previous one ate. I ended up going through nine of them (three each) when all said and done and paid like $8 w/ tip. A locals favorite since 1984 and for very good reason. Amazingly rich meat. Spicy salsa. Super friendly service. Seek them out one night when in Guadalajara. That's it for this trip. See ya next time.
Steamed Tacos at Tacos Santo Goyote