Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring Mexico's City of Angels
Mexico ended up being the last place outside of the country that I traveled to pre-pandemic and also the first place I left the U.S for post-pandemic. The latter of which just happened as recently as the beginning of April. My aunt and uncle (both big fans of the site) had reached out about visiting Mexico City as it was something we discussed during the pandemic. We aren't ones
to turn down travel so we jumped on the chance which is something it
seemed everyone else was doing as I saw check-ins from the big city all
winter and spring. This would end up being our second trip to CDMX but
our first in more than five years. More on that in a future post bc I
also made sure to get a new spot checked off as far as places I want to
visit and that was the magical town of Puebla. Which is actually
Mexico's fourth largest city with a population of over three million.
It's a popular daytrip from Mexico City (two hours) but it's also worth a
trip all it's own if not as a couple nights tagged onto CDMX.
Pics of Puebla (click to enhance)
There's lots of reasons to visit Puebla and if I'm visiting an obvious one is the food. It's one of Mexico's gastronomic capitals and the birthplace of the much beloved Mole Poblano among many other regional dishes we will explore in this post. But outside of the food there's a ton of other stuff to see and do. The city itself is one of the most European feeling in all of North America with all sorts of old buildings plus churches and also the famous Talavera art. Puebla was the most prominent of the Mexican centers of pottery production to employ the technique of tin-enameled earthenware, known in Europe as maiolica. Much like Portugal many of the buildings are covered in tiles. Puebla's Zocalo (main square) is considered one of if not the best in Mexico. It's a pretty city to walk but Ubers are also cheap (TIP WELL). Before brands like Corona turned Cinco de Mayo into a faux holiday it was a real one in Puebla where every May 5th they commemorate the anniversary of Mexico's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. If you enjoy Mexico you'll enjoy a trip to Puebla.
Pics from Puebla
First order of business upon our arrival in Puebla was checking into the hotel. After that it would be to go eat a cemita. The Cemita sandwich is just one of a handful of dishes you could call "the official dish of Puebla" and it was probably the one I was most looking forward to try though the next stop was also high on my list. Cemitas are a regional type of torta named after the bread that they're served on. It's an egg-less variety baked with sesame seeds on top. A cemita can be pretty much anything that uses a cemita roll but the most popular way to eat them is typically with strips of milanessa (breaded beef or chicken) dressed with mounds of Oaxacan string cheese, sliced avocado, onion, and papalo which is an herb that was popular in Mexico before the arrival of cilantro. It's stuck around in Puebla. The inside of the top or bottom bun is typically rubbed with a chipotle adobo for those that like it smoky and spicy. The cemitas served in this style are usually huge and can feed two but nobody here splits them. These are meant to be a meal in of themselves. I chose to walk to Cemitas Lupita which is based in a market with other cemita specialists. This was as good as I thought it would be and then some. There's lots of worthy regional sandwiches in Mexico but cemitas may take the crown. Unfortunately this was the only fully loaded one I was able to try. Desde 1984.
Cemita Milanesa de Res at Cemitas Lupita_______________________________________________
Next up was another bucketlist dish in the form of Tacos Arabes here in the city where they come from. It’s said that this style pre-dates al pastor going back to the 1930’s when immigrants with a middle eastern background moved to Mexico. It’s not exactly known where those immigrants who introduced these came from but most people say Lebanon while some say Iraq. What we do know is they were at first made with lamb similar to shawarma but at the time lamb was costly and locals preferred pork so they eventually morphed into what we now know as Tacos Arabes or Arab tacos.
Tacos Arabes at Tacos Beyrut
I had a few Tacos Arabes spots on my hit list but first up was Tacos Beyrut which is often mentioned when the best tacos in town are discussed. The menu here is tiny with just tacos and falafel on offer. The spit is layered in perfect unison and if I’m not mistaken there’s a few layers of beef in between all of the pork. It’s carved daily into a cubic trompo and cooked the old fashioned way with charcoal. Aside from spit roasted pork, Tacos Arabes are also defined by their tortillas which are a hybrid style similar to a pita. They’re nice and thick and can hold lots of shaved meat mixed with salsa and jocoque the latter of which is a Lebanese yogurt type product that's popular in these parts. Then there’s the falafel which is paired with beets and stuffed into the same tortillas as the Tacos Arabes. I adore spots like this and Mexico is home to many so I truly cherish this magical place.
With Puebla being such a gastronomic powerhouse you can find all sorts of dining options. For those looking for a night out type vibe I highly recommend Moyuelo which first started out making upscale cemitas back in 2014 but they've since gone to a more well rounded menu featuring the same locally procured ingredients they used for their sandwiches. An amuse bouche of kimchi on toast was a pleasant unexpected surprise while the shrimp tostadas we chose to start with were fantastic. Moving on an order of tempura huauzontles was just awesome. The Huauzontle is an edible plant native to Mexico. I'm not sure I'd ever had it before this but it had a similar taste profile to a McDonald's hash brown of all things. I do eat those once in awhile which is typically when I'm at the airport and thus traveling so they're associated with good times. Our fish entrée had a wonderful sauce but I forget exactly what it was, all the restaurants use QR codes for menus these days (understandable) so I didn't get to take a quick pic of the menu like I usually do. The fish itself was a bit undercooked.
In many cases around town you'll find some of the city's best restaurants to be located in hotels. That's the case with Augurio which is a common result when searching around online for the best restaurants in Puebla. While snooping around I found a gastronomical organization that names Mexico's 250 best restaurants on what I believe is a yearly basis. Well Augurio is on the 2022 listing and according to what I read the chef here worked at Michelin starred spots in both Barcelona and Paris. The menu is very much Mexican and it all looks and sounds pretty good. We wanted to come for dinner one night but ended up there for brunch (and cocktails) which was a really great way to start the day. The chilaquiles and tlacoyos were both excellent elevated examples of the classics.
Tlacoyos at Augurio
Taqueria La Delicia
I made sure to pay a visit to as many classic Puebla taquerias as I could. But admittedly some of the sitdown meals slowed me down. Not a problem bc those were also really good. But still it was the old school taquerias I was looking forward to visiting as much as anything. Places like Taqueria La Delicia which does one thing, cecina, served just two ways, cemita or taco. Research seemed to point to Puebla having it's own style of cecina tacos as there were a couple other spots similar to La Delicia. The cecina here is diced up which is much different than I'm used to seeing back in Chicago where thin slices of cured beef are typically what you get when you order a cecina taco. Here the beef was much more tender and way more flavorful than home. It comes served with an amazingly smoky red salsa that really brings it all together, even the tortillas are toasted up perfectly. Desde 1960.
Tacos de Cecina at La Delicia
Here's another taco spot that caught my eye. For those wondering what am I looking for when I research taco spots in a place like Puebla it's a couple things. The first is obviously the regional specialties that the area is known for, this goes for all forms of food and travel and not just tacos. In the case of Puebla one of those specialties is the previously seen tacos arabes and those from Tacos Cambry seemed like they were worth trying. Lots of the online reviews (mostly in Spanish) mention a red sauce that these come served with upon request, it's warm but served like salsa over the meat. The reviews are mostly positive but you can tell they serve a slightly polarizing product. The spit of meat is red which is typically not the case with tacos arabes but the tortillas are very pita like and the overall product was pretty damn delicious. None of the tacos arabes we tried were bad but these were perhaps the most unique bc of both that sauce and the red trompo which it's possible is just al pastor. But it's the tacos arabes pictured below that everyone is here for. As we left I watched as the taquero gave each tortilla a dip into the pool of liquid fat created by the cone of meat. Desde 1969.
Tacos Arabes at Tacos Cambry
When you're the one who likes to explore through food and then blog about it you often get tasked with picking places to eat while on vacation with others. That's exactly how I want it. I refuse to dine at touristy type spots that have zero reflection of the local culture. But sometimes there's pressure in picking a place and I felt that pressure when deciding where to eat on my uncles bday. Much like me he wouldn't be happy going to a below average uninspired spot. So I ended up picking a newer place called Maizal that's located in the Casona de los Sapos Hotel. It too was listed on that Gastronomica Mexico list that I mentioned up above. It's a very local menu as they don't use ingredients that aren't from the region if not Mexico itself. I'll be honest at first I thought our meal was doomed the way it started but this was before we ordered anything and after that it ended up being a really good, damn near spectacular meal. More than a few of the dishes were hits (pictured). Just a couple were misses. We got one tasting menu (between four of us) which was cool that you could do bc we also ordered a bunch of items ala carte. Aside from the setting which felt like a hotel lobby this was a really nice spot that I would recommend checking out. Also of note is their bar which is in the front of the large open space. It's supposed to be great but I chose to go get antojitos afterward.
Salmon trout - Cured and smoked with pine, pine nuts, pickled cucumber, wax chili emulsion, jocoque and edible flora
Shrimp Tostada - Tostada de maíz, camarón cristal de Veracruz, kimchi casero, aguacate y recado rojo
Costra de Quesos - Cheese crust, purslane and quintanil, yellowish mole
Duck Molote - Fried corn and ashes dough stuffed with tinga poblana and duck confit, sour cream and pipicha
Aged duck - Oaxacan black mole and seasonal fruits. Served with heirloom corn tortillas.
Tamal de Quelites - Quelites tamale, bean paste and avocado leaf, sikilpak, roasted poblano, holy leaf and yellow mole
Cacao - Oaxacan chocolate ganache, mixe pasilla branches, orange peel fritter, praline grasshopper and mezcal gel_______________________________________________
Though I was pretty full following our dinner at Maizal we weren't far from the local legend that is Antojitos Acapulco. So me and my uncle chose to walk over. Not for dessert but this was a treat nonetheless. Antojitos Acapulco is a popular locals type spot that's just a walk-up window that opens in the early evening and stays open late. Cars of people pull up, order, and eat before riding off into the night. Antojitos means snacks so the types of antojitos out there is endless. But here they serve popular Poblano snacks such as Molotes and Pelonas. They offer other things too but we were here for those. The Molote is basically an extra large fried empanada and they're very popular around town. The fillings in these can be endless but for the most part you'll find them stuffed with common Mexican ingredients like chicken tinga and or cheese. We got one with the local quesillo cheese ordered with both green and red sauce as well as some crema. Like most street foods these are great after a few rounds. Same goes for the Pelona which is a much lesser known specialty than the cemita outside of Puebla. I've never seen a Pelona on offer in Chicago or anywhere else so I was eager to try this fried bread sandwich. A Pelona (bald in Spanish) is a local bread roll which is where the sandwich gets it's name. The bread is fried but it doesn't absorb the grease. It just gets nice and crusty on the outside. They're filled with shredded beef, beans, lettuce, crema, salsa. Desde 1962.
Molote at Antojitos Acapulco
Cemitas La Colonial
After ending the previous night with a sandwich we started the next morning with one too. Cemitas La Colonial is a well regarded street stand known for their cemitas filled with carnitas as well as tacos and jugos. I very much enjoy ordering my carnitas tacos "surtido" which means a little bit of everything in terms of the both the pig parts used and the textures of each piece. So I ordered our sandwiches that way thinking that's just how everyone likes them. So my dining companions weren't big fans of the mixed meat in these but I thought they were awesome. Simple in that it's just chopped carnitas meat inside a cemita roll with cilantro, onion, and salsa. The salsa in Mexico is always so good. So this didn't need anything else when paired with all those delicious different parts of the pig.
Carnitas Cemita at Tacos Y Cemitas La Colonial
Tacos Arabes Bagdad
Next stop up was another Tacos Arabes spot on my must hit list. Luckily for me we just so happened to be walking by so we stopped in for some tacos. They claim to be the first spot in Puebla to make Tacos Arabes but others do too. Of all the spots we tried these at Tacos Bagdad had the biggest spit of meat by far. It's massive and close in appearance to the spits of doner found in Turkey. These also happened to be the most similar to European spit roasted meat and the pork gyros of Athens in particular. They were the biggest of the bunch as well. Really good though I loved all of the spots tried. This place made an appearance on David Chang's Netflix show 'Ugly Delicious.' Desde 1933.
Tacos Arabes at Tacos Bagdad
There's lots of attractions in Puebla but anyone who's a fan of booze and or bar culture has got to go to La Pasita. This place is by no means a hidden gem. There's all sorts of articles on it including this fun one
from Gastro Obscura. The former grocery store turned bar / liquor store was purchased by the current owner in 1960 and it was he who switched it up into it's current iteration. La Pasita is famous for serving a homemade raisin liquor that's available in a shot or in bottles to go. We arrived around opening and they were late in opening up for the day and we watched as handfuls of people stopped and tried to enter. It's a very popular place. Most people it seemed were just there to buy bottles but we had some shots of the signature drink which come with a little piece of cheese that works pretty well. I enjoyed my sips for what they were. It was as much about the experience as anything. It's such a cool little bar with tons of clutter but it's all organized really well. I should've bought a bottle to take home. The Pepto Bismol looking shot was called mystery drink. Not bad.
Drinks at La Pasita
Tortas Chanclas are Puebla's answer to Guadalajara’s Tortas Ahogadas. These seem to be least heralded of Puebla’s iconic sandwiches but I thought it was just as good as the other sandwich specialties. Small pieces of flour dusted bread are split with chicken + avocado before a semi spicy tomato sauce goes on top. First time trying one of these (never seen them elsewhere) but hopefully not my last. Not a ton of spots serve these but Tortas Chancla has for a long time. Desde 1914.
Chanclas at Tortas Chanclas
El Mural de los Poblanos
If you have just one dinner in town this is a good pick for traditional local dishes with chef driven touches. Those that love mole and mezcal will likely really enjoy this place. It's commonly mentioned by those in the know as one of the best sitdown spots in town. Popular with both locals and tourists alike they have a huge selection of tequila and mezcal as well as a menu full of mole. It sits in a nice courtyard with beautiful murals adorning the walls. The type of place you should make reservations for should you really want to go. Our table started out with a trio of appetizers including an order of their Cemitas de Chalupas which is a 100% Poblano dish. A Cemita being the bread used to make sandwiches around town and despite what Taco Bell miscasts as a chalupa they're actually just corn tortillas dipped in a red or green lard laced sauce and fried before serving. Unfortunately I didn't get to try chalupas anyplace else but this was an excellent local offering. Moving on an Ensalada de Verdolagas was really refreshing while an order of the Quesadillas de Mercado (tortillas hecho a mano, squash blossoms, mushrooms, calabacita, and costra cheese crust) was f'ing fantastic.
Appetizers at El Mural de los Poblanos (Not Pictured: some smooth ass mezcal)
We didn't have as much luck with entrees but in the case of the other two who got them they both ordered wrong. One got a steak and the other some shrimp neither of which was a locally inspired dish and neither of them were any good. I got mole enchiladas with duck and they were pretty good. My only complaint was it was a bit hard to eat bc the duck was shredded into larger pieces which made it tough to cut. But the moles were all on point. Pictured L to R is Adobe, Poblano, Pipian Verde. Also of note was they served up one of the best desserts of the trip in a Meringue with Seasonal Fruit.
Mole Enchiladas con Pato at El Mural de los Poblanos
Meringue with Seasonal Fruit
On our final day we decided to get some breakfast before heading off to Mexico City. Casa Barroca got the call. It's a hotel restaurant which in Mexico can often be pretty good especially for breakfast. They tend to be really nice in both looks and service too. All that said we were here for my aunt, uncle and wife as I wasn't going to miss the next stop which was near the top of my hit list. Before heading out I had a margarita and a taste of the breakfast plates that the others ordered. Chilaquiles for the wife (always good down here) and some excellent enfrijoladas for my aunt + uncle.
Breakfast at Casa Barroca
Last stop for me before CDMX was this limited hours weekday only taco stand away from the city center. I have to make note of one of the best tacos in Mexico that I’ve come across. Tacos Roger is a locals favorite that makes some of the biggest tacos in town. These are constructed with three tortillas and your choice of fillings the most popular of which is milanesa de res con adobo. Each taco gets layered with refried beans, mashed potato, and your choice of heat which for me was rajas (strips of hot peppers, onion). Roger puts these together with ease in less than 30 seconds each. My lips were on fire afterwards but it was one of the most satisfying things I ate on the trip. Desde 1992.
Taco con Milanesa at Tacos Roger
Email me for a free Puebla Google Maps Guide
WOW, this is an epic post. So much to check out. I have a question for you. Comparing the fine-dining establishments you visit to the street food / blue collar / Joe Blow places you visit, do you think the fine-dining places are more enjoyable or the "lower class" joints?
Post a Comment