“Sopa de lima” (chicken soup made with lime juice) is a traditional soup found in Yucatan. // © 2016 Mexico Tourism Board
Feature image (above): Ceviche is a popular dish at Ramona restaurant at Nizuc Resort & Spa. // © 2016 Nizuc Resort & Spa
Mexican cuisine is easy to find in many parts of the world; the fact that it was named to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010 attests to its popularity and importance on a global level. But to get the real flavors, in all their complexity and creativity, you’ve got to go to Mexico, where culinary creations can satisfy every palate and budget.
Mexico is a large country, and every region has its specialties. In Acapulco, a regular favorite is “pozole,” a hearty hominy stew that is the preferred dish on traditional menus in the state of Guerrero, especially on “Jueves pozolero” — literally, “pozole Thursday.” Many hotels and restaurants showcase this satisfying creation during the weekly occurrence.
Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala
The states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Tlaxcala all claim to be the birthplace of “mole,” a category of sauces used in many dishes. In Oaxaca, foodies savor variations including green mole, which is made with fresh herbs, green tomatoes and chili peppers and served with meat at local restaurants including Los Pacos, Las Quince Letras and Catedral. Mole is also featured in two signature dishes at Manta Raya Hotel, a stylish, seven-room boutique hotel on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.
The highest-profile mole with travelers from the U.S., however, is likely “mole poblano,” which hails from the state of Puebla and is sometimes made with more than 30 different ingredients (including chocolate). The sauce can be enjoyed at Puebla restaurants such as Hotel Boutique Casa Reyna, El Mural de los Poblanos and La Casita Poblana. Visitors can also learn how to prepare it at Meson Sacristia de la Compania, a boutique hotel in Puebla that offers cooking classes.
Day trips are also a good way to connect clients with authentic regional cuisine. From Mazatlan, located in the state of Sinaloa, it’s just 35 minutes to El Quelite, a tiny town where popular restaurant El Meson de los Laureanos offers specialties such as “chilorio” (shredded pork in adobo), “machaca” (dried, shredded beef) and “pozole Sinaloense” (a local variation on hominy stew). Considering that Mazatlan is one of the nation’s largest port cities, it’s no surprise that shrimp is another must-try specialty, and it’s easy to find venues with creatively presented options, including the aptly named Shrimp Bucket restaurant.
The Yucatan Peninsula — which encompasses the states of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo, home to Cancun and the Riviera Maya — specializes in cuisine with Maya, Spanish, Caribbean and even Middle Eastern influences. Among the tasty choices available in the area is “cochinita pibil,” a baked pork dish that is marinated with achiote (seeds from a bush of the same name) and sour orange and wrapped in a banana leaf. Also popular are “panuchos,” which are corn tortillas stuffed with fried beans and served with crumbled turkey, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion and avocado. These dishes are among the specialties in restaurants such as La Tradicion and La Chaya Maya, both in the city of Merida. Travelers can also unlock the secrets of Yucatecan cuisine at Los Dos, a cooking school that offers classes in English.
At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Chaka restaurant features a menu inspired by what it calls the four pillars of Mayan cooking: achiote, citrus, habanero peppers and smoke. The venue’s appetizers include empanadas filled with pork, Oaxacan cheese and tomato sauce, as well as “sopa de lima,” a chicken soup made with lime juice. Main courses include grouper marinated in achiote and spices, as well as “pollo pibil,” a variation on cochinita pibil made with chicken.
Many hotels serve gourmet versions of traditional Mexican dishes, with influences from multiple regions. In Mexico City, InterContinental Presidente Mexico City in the Polanco neighborhood is home to Chapulin, an upscale restaurant that blends trendsetting techniques with traditional cuisine under the guidance of chef Josefina Lopez Mendez. Signature dishes include pork and carrot tacos and ceviche with shrimp and watermelon.
La Joya, a Mexican restaurant at Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun, serves a variety of pan-regional options, including chicken smothered in Oaxacan mole sauce, Gulf of Mexico shrimp prepared in a spicy diablo sauce and Mexican-style beef barbecue, a popular dish from the north. Ramona restaurant at Nizuc Resort & Spa, meanwhile, serves “mole de olla,” a broth-based soup of chili and spices prepared by chef Bladimar Garcia that is based on his own family’s traditional recipe. The region’s seafood is the focus of Garcia’s Trilogy of Ceviche Ramona, which makes good use of shrimp with coconut and mint, lobster in coriander sauce and crispy octopus.
This year, Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort introduced new meal plans to offer guests more ways to enjoy Mexican-Caribbean cuisine. The meal plans — available for three meals per day, lunch and dinner only or just for dinner — provide inclusive pricing for menus that include Yucatecan cochinita and other local favorites.