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Mexican cuisine is so popular that many people might assume they’ve tried all the best dishes, even if they’ve never stepped foot in Mexico. But even the most experienced gourmands will find new experiences in Guadalajara, a metropolis with a distinct flair for creating its own unique culinary style.
In fact, food has become such a selling point for this city that it’s about to host the first-ever Semana del Restaurante (Restaurant Week), from July 13-23. As of press time, 58 restaurants had confirmed participation in the event, and an array of special lunch and dinner options are in the works. Among the host venues are I Latina, a trendily casual eatery that serves popular Mexican dishes, and Hueso, a stylish restaurant where the decor — which features more than 10,000 real bones — attracts almost as much attention as the contemporary Mexican and fusion cuisine.
Even if you can’t visit during the event, it’s possible to savor the creativity of local and international chefs at the participating venues year-round. As the capital of the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is Mexico’s second-largest city and a hub for authentic regional cuisine as well as 21st-century sophistication. From simple street food to upscale dining, Guadalajara offers myriad options for hungry travelers.
Both pre-Hispanic and Spanish colonial influences play a role in the dishes most revered by Tapatios (as Guadalajara natives are called). Among the local must-try meals is the torta ahogada, literally a “drowned sandwich,” so named because it’s bathed in a sauce made from dried chili pepper or tomatoes. Fried pork and chicken are the most common fillings in this very satisfying treat, accompanied by radishes and avocados. Local legend claims that this particular torta is the perfect remedy for a hangover, possibly making it a good option for anyone who spent the previous night sampling excessive amounts of the popular distilled beverage made in the nearby town of Tequila.
Another local favorite is birria, a spicy stew made with goat meat, mutton, beef or chicken. Especially popular for special events and holidays, this tasty dish is nevertheless available on a daily basis at many restaurants. Travelers will find multiple opportunities to taste birria at las Nueve Esquinas (Nine Corners), a scenic plaza downtown where several restaurants specialize in the dish. At Birrieria Las 9 Esquinas, for example, diners can dive into the healthy portions of birria and also sample barbecued lamb, machito (goat tripe) and cochinita pibil, a savory pork dish that originated from the state of Yucatan.
Food tours are a good way for visitors to get an overview of the local dining scene. A company called Guadalajara Food Tours offers the GDL Taste Tour, a guided excursion downtown that includes tastings at a number of venues, including Las Famosas Tortas Ahogadas, a restaurant that specializes in the drowned sandwich, and Fonda San Miguel Arcangel, which focuses on “high Mexican cuisine,” with seafood and beef among the specialties. Another company, Pitaya Food Tours, complements its tastings with a visit to a food market, where local residents and chefs buy meat, seafood and produce.
Nearly every city tour — whether food-oriented or not — includes a visit to Mercado San Juan de Dios, which locals claim is the largest indoor market in Latin America. Among its hundreds of vendors are food stalls that sell cheap and tasty Mexican dishes.
Mexican Food Tours offers a slightly different experience. Its three-hour Tlaquepaque Food Tour provides a culinary introduction to the tourist-popular Tlaquepaque neighborhood, with visits to a market and samples of classic cuisine including birria, tortas ahogadas, accompanied by tequila and tejuino, a cold drink made from fermented corn.
With so many mouthwatering options in Guadalajara, it’s unlikely any visitor will go home hungry.