Gone are the days when a newspaper or magazine food critic would make or break a restaurant; social media has given everyone a voice – often leading reviewers to the restaurant. Your experience is the only thing that matters. Hence the word introduction, not review. Thirty people have described their perfect day in Mazatlan. Many have mentioned their favourite restaurants, have a read. Visit the page Bites and Pieces and you’ll find a group of restaurants that MazatlanLife keeps returning to – some over 50 times. Reminder, all prices are in pesos and all meals are paid for by MazatlanLife.
My big fat Mazatlan caveat: some restaurants change their phone numbers and their hours – please check their FB page.
Restaurants are introduced by the most recent date – just scroll down: Casa Arabe; Santanna Kitchen Bar; Agatha Kitchen Bar; Casa Country; La Fiera; Aca Los Charros; Kit Cat Pizza Deli; Gaia Bistrot; Life en Español, Casa 46; Don’t Worry be Mahi; Héctor’s Bistro; Upscale Mexican cantina, Compañia Minera; Two words about Morena’s; Surf’sUp; Water’s Edge Bistro; Las Brochetas; Tacotorro; Ocean Grill; El Presidio; La Rosa de las Barras ; Raggio, cucina casual; Villa Italia; Casa Canobbio ; El Aljibe de S. Pedro; Topolo; La Bohemia; Casa Loma; Los Delfines; Tony’s Burgers; El Bife; La Corriente; Rosso Nero.
Introducing, Casa Arabe
By Maaike Hoekstra [November 2016]
Arab music is softly playing while you walk into the simply decorated setting of Casa Arabe. Its unassuming facade hides a wealth of authentic flavors. The owners are a mix of cultures: chef Assem was born and raised in Jerash, Jordan, his wife Anna who is working the front of the house is originally from Mexico City with a Columbian father. They both have a masters degree but decided to start this family-business in 2014.
Their passion for cooking and good company has led this self-taught couple to venture into the restaurant business. The third child of six, Chef Assem grew up helping his mother in the kitchen where she passed on the recipes he is using today. Chef Assem went on to study agriculture and specialized in livestock – sheep and goats.
Beef, chicken and lamb skewers [mixed plate] family size.
This knowledge comes in handy when hand-picking the best lambs for his specialty dishes – Kebab and lamb skewers. He brings most spices from Jordan, but luckily he can find some in Mexico City too.
On the menu you’ll find some of your Middle Eastern favorites: hummus, falafel (alone or in home-made pita bread), tabbouleh, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) or the scrumptious eggplant dip Moutabal. Ask for a sampler plate to taste them all: you can order a vegetarian version ($95) or the regular Mixto ($110 ).
Regular sampler plate [plato mixto], this version has meat samplers.
You can also order more elaborate dishes like the Arab taco or Kebab served with pita bread and tabbouleh. Any special dietary restrictions can be catered for. My favorite is falafel in pita bread ($35) with loads of yoghurt-mint dressing. I always have two portions: absolute heaven! On Fridays and Saturdays Chef Assem prepares his famous lamb or chicken skewers marinated in a yoghurt-garlic sauce.
Kebab, for this chef it means lamb [give him some notice and Assem will make you a beef Kebab] includes tabouleh salad.
The lamb is so succulent and perfectly spiced that you’ll devour every last piece. Don’t arrive late, because he only makes a limited amount. Alcoholic beverages are not available, but you can bring your own bottle and there’s no corkage fee. Try the tasty mint lemonade ($25) to accompany your dishes and don’t forget to sample Chef Assem’s Arab coffee with cardamom ($25) and home-made baklava ($35).
The restaurant is perfect for lunch and offers an intimate air-conditioned seating space for 30 people, with cushioned booths and wooden chairs. You can peek into the kitchen to see Chef Assem in action. The images on the wall emanate Chef Assem’s love for his homeland. He proudly explains that in Jordan people spend their afternoons smoking water pipe (or shisha) and drinking coffee on outside terraces. His dream is to install a shisha area at Casa Arabe, but the heat and humidity of Mazatlan make this a difficult goal to achieve.
Special dishes are available for bigger groups. Chef Assem explains that Jordan’s national dish “Mansef” can only be made for many and takes two hours to make. This upside-down dish has three layers: vegetables, lamb and rice on the top. It’s left to simmer until the meat is tender and served by turning the content upside down into a flat dish.
[Casa Arabe is located on Cinco de Mayo #1917, almost across the street from Asilo de Ancianos, close to Plazuela Zaragoza. Call for take-away orders: 910 3659. The restaurant is not handicap accessible, because of two steps at the entrance and no restrooms on the ground floor. However, tables and chairs can be placed on the front patio instead. Casa Arabe opens from Monday through Saturday from noon until 7 p.m. but if the food finishes, they might close earlier. Cash only, no credit cards accepted.]
A reader on Find it Here Mazatlan asked “where can I find the best thin crust pizza”? Eighty-five people offered their opinions, proving once again, people are picky about their pizza. La Mona was the big winner; six said Marina, six didn’t indicate Centro or the Marina location, two said Centro, that’s 12 recommendations for La Mona. Villa Italia had eight votes, and Mi Casita and Last Drop tied, both had seven. Nando Centro and GZ got six thumbs-up. Tied were Via Condotti and La Rustica at five recommendations. Several mentioned a new pizza joint Piazza Al Taglio Da Venzi [on the Malecon between the aquarium and Lola Beltran.] By the time you read this these numbers won’t be accurate either, but if you are searching for thin crust pizza now you have a few ideas. These recommendations were captured on November 22, 2016.
Introducing, Santanna Kitchen Bar
By Sheila Madsen [October 2016]
[Updated Nov. 17, 2016 – there is bubbly in house but no wine! They are creating a wine list, but until that’s in place you are invited to bring your own wine on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and there will be no corkage fee. Oct. 30, 2016 – after reading this, Jorge has promised me that bubbly was on the way, by the glass.] It was Chef Héctor Peniche who tweaked my curiosity about Santanna –“the food is delicious, it has a lot of thinking behind it and it’s an elegant space. The menu is small, one page, but there are three pages for cocktails! So you know it’s a bar.” – I couldn’t resist investigating a new bar in Centro.
The vision is clear; it’s an intimate speakeasy-like space with dim wavy ethereal lighting, well-designed wooden tables and chairs, and you just get the feeling that Al Capone may drop by – especially for Gin and Jazz night on Thursdays.
These are the types of events owner Jorge Figueroa wants to introduce. He’s lived and died at El Mil Amores, [both closed now] and he knows the success of Muchacho Alegre and he feels Centro is ready for a cool bar with a small menu.
The menu: two creative salads at $95; aguachile beef, $140; tuna tacos with chipotle dressing, $145; marinated chicken breast grilled in ancho sauce served with rice, $120; tuna tartar with wasabi, $150; zarandeado octopus, $140; shrimp sopresitos with a mole poblano sauce, $130; suckling pig tacos, $150 or a torta at $195; swordfish in a eureka lemon dressing with a jalapeño emulsion, $150; tuna torta, $145; angus beef grilled rib eye, $240; three comfort food desserts too – corn bread with cream and Grand Marnier, $75; caramelized rice pudding, $65 and vanilla cake with an Irish coffee sauce. Not so small, but just wait until you see the drink line-up.
The owners have employed a mixologist, Jonathon, from Mexico City. He will have an army of assistants to help him pour out: 13 cocktails/mocktails; currently the bar is offering five types of gin – hence the Gin and Jazz night, featuring a different gin every week; 20 whiskies; 7 bourbons; 13 vodkas [yes, Grey Goose and Ketel One]; 19 rums; 5 cognacs; 3 brandies; 28 tequilas. The most expensive bottle is Buchanan’s Red Seal and Johnnie Walker Blue Label at $8,500.More on the way including a selection of mezcals. What no Veuve? Girls love their bubbles and it would pair beautifully with Santanna’s pear and honey goat cheese salad.
Santanna has partnered with our local distillery of artisanal liqueurs, Onilikan. This is a Mexican/Canadian operation [located in the Golden Zone on Playa Gaviotas #505, a favourite tour with the cruise ships.] and they will be hosting new mocktails for you to sip. Oh, just plan on having a whole lot of fun this winter season.
Ending on a delightful note – this is absolutely a cocktail bar, there are absolutely no televisions. Salud!
[Santanna Kitchen Bar is on Niños Héroes #1500, next to La Mona – years ago it was Mil Amores, then Carlota’s – and it’s open every day at 5 p.m., on Sunday they may open at 2 p.m., but call 669 994 3396. The first floor seats 82 plus 10 seats at the bar and the upstairs lounge seats 25, depending how cozy you wish to be. Chef Julián Portugal [El Parador Español] is another owner, and Santanna is part of the COSINAR Group which Héctor Peniche [Héctor’s Bistro]and Diego Becerrra [El Presidio etc.] all belong to.] [Onilikan was nominated in the silver category for the most innovative 2016 product by the Canacintra business organization, which a 70 year old institution. They didn’t win, but Onilikan is on Canacintra’s radar; perhaps next year.]
Introducing, Agatha Kitchen Bar
By Sheila Madsen [October 2016]
[updated Nov. 4, 2016, returning with two hip men from southern California: some enjoyed the gin, others the Mar del Sur cocktail,$115, light and lively – Kettle vodka and a bunch of other fresh juices. Naked and Famous [mezcal, chartreuse Amarillo and two other liquids] got a thumbs up [$110]. New for us tonight was the nostalgic 1950/60s wedge salad. Remember iceberg lettuce? This was crammed with candied nuts, dried blueberries, croutons and cherry tomatoes, $125, some of us thought a meal on its own. Grilled salmon, $200 perfectly cooked as were the camarones gigantes again. Chef Miguel displayed a beautiful prime rib just out of the oven but we declined. Service continues to be zippy and friendly. All of us would return.] Chef Miguel Alvarez describes the food as “international, Pacific fresh food.” Miguel is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he then worked at Daniel’s for five years in New York and his latest cheffing gig was at Amalia in Mexico City, also for five years.
This is a big city boy who has been recruited to Mazatlan to jazz-up our taste buds.
Let’s start with cocktails! There are 24 to choose from – “naked and famous”, “dark and stormy”, “Mexican Rude” and a good old fashioned dry martini. The bar has been thoughtful too in offering six virgin cocktails. Speaking of the bar, it’s huge; probably seats 40 people around the plexi-glass illuminated agate repeat graphics. Another thoughtful detail is that the designer had discreetly hung tv screens in strategic areas – you can watch tv at the bar, but you can’t see them in the main restaurant area.
Chef is right about all the food being fresh. Once again, Chuy Lizarraga’s Organico Fresh Produce[you may enjoy a profile on Chuy and his wildly successful organic/pepper farm] is the main “green/vegetable” supplier. There are 25 starters to select from – crudas/cold, calientes/hot, and Oriental – sushi rolls. You could dine on this page alone: from sashimi [$170], to crab cakes [$120], soups [clam chowder, “wonderful, fresh, great texture, the vegetables are crunchy,” $95] to salads to tacos to tostadas.
Then there are the mains: salmon [$200], catch of the day [$170], tuna, [$195] and pargo [red snapper, takes 45 minutes, $295], and eight meat/chicken offerings: steak your way, to chicken, to the New Zealand rack of lamb. Agatha’s made another thoughtful decision – your main includes one choice of a side – but there are 12 to choose from. If you desire a second side, it’s $40. Our taste buds are indeed jazzed-up.
Three of us all sampled the sashimi de Nueva York, “joes rolls”, the giant shrimp on the Himalayan salt bed, rack of lamb in a wine/vinegar reduction and the octopus. All absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked or perfectly raw. Pace yourself, because you’ll be presented with three kinds of bread [baked on the premises] along with a lovely fresh pesto sauce when you are seated. This is a white-cloth napkin restaurant, no guac and chips here.
My Mexican professional friend believes Agatha’s was designed for Mexicans between 30 – 55 years old. The décor is sleek, slick, urban, modern; there’s nothing old about it. The walls are bare brick, no artwork, the ceiling is black ice with pin lights and the floors are a beige slate. The banquettes are navy blue, and that theme marries up with the bar graphics. It’s all super-clean lines with a splash of blue. Excellent snap-to-it service, nothing is a problem.
You will only have one problem at Agatha’s – deciding on what to eat.
[Agatha’s is located on Av. Playa Gaviotas #225, in front of the Ramada Inn. The owner of the Ramada Inn owns Agatha’s – The Ramada Inn does not own it. The restaurant is handicap accessible and is open from 1 p.m. on. There are approximately 35 employees and room for 210; outside on the terrace or inside with air conditioning. Call for a reservation: 669 990 3202.]
Meet Dario Veliz, the creator of Casa Country.
Perhaps you are thinking about going to Casa Country, or perhaps you already are a fan, you may enjoy this profile of the owner, Dario Veliz. [October 2016]
Introducing, La Fiera
By Sheila Madsen [August 6 2016]
Napa Valley meets Croatia. No, that’s not it. Chef Elmo Ruffo is from Ensenada and studied at the Napa Valley Cooking School. Owner Yamil Gonzalez Rudametkin, also from Ensenada, [who has a Russian mother and a Mazatleca wife] travelled throughout eastern Europe last year and fell in love with wood burning ovens – the smell, the taste, the dense smoky flavours. Both are passionate about wanting to offer only the freshest ingredients and to give their customers a farm to table experience.
La Fiera is not Mexican, it’s not Mediterranean, it’s not international, it’s not European, it’s absolutely its own unique brand. It can’t be labeled. They are serious about their farm to table claim. One of Yamil’s family members owns a ranch and supplies all the meat – lamb, pork and beef are heavily featured on the menu. Elmo has contracted Chuy Lizarraga [if you wish, you can read his profile here] for all the organic produce and chef spends hours selecting the freshest fish. Ironically Elmo says “that’s one of my most difficult tasks, sourcing the best fish and seafood, you’d think it would be easy here, but it isn’t.”
The top of their menu starts with this statement: “this kitchen propose the ancestral way of eating, wood, fire, oven…smoke fresh flavours, and as much as we can, we work with seasonal ingredients, wild and organic.” Yes, expect a lot of smoky flavours and if you don’t like surprises ask questions. For instance, the Fiera hamburger [$150] is lamb. I asked Elmo why he didn’t say it was beef, his answer “we like to surprise people.”
There are six shellfish offerings including oysters prepared several ways and tasty chocolate clams [known for their dark brown colouring], the most expensive at $350 is an abalone tiradito. Tiradito is Peruvian and is likened to ceviche and sashimi; among their eight starters there are four versions of tiraditos – shrimp and beet, beef, pork and fish all beautifully presented with interesting side sauces. I had the grilled pod salad which were Chuy’s fresh green beans cooked al dente served with a slightly spicy arugula, crab pesto topping [$80]. Surprise! There are two Tagliatelle pasta dishes – basil, Ramonetti cheese, Kalamata olives and mixed tomatoes, or sage, pumpkin, butter and mixed tomatoes, both $130.
I chose shrimp risotto [$150] for my main. It had a deep smoky flavour from the tomatoes that were roasted in wood oven. Simply delicious and certainly a change from a typical creamy risotto. Perhaps Elmo was right. Better to be surprised because I may have said “no” to a new taste experience. My husband had the pork loin which was cooked perfectly with a hint of rose, just so tender and a generous portion [$205]. Again, a welcome change from the usual pork shank or pulled pork. There are six mains, the most expensive being the rib eye at $380. Chef Elmo claims La Fiera has the best grilled octopus in Mazatlan [$180]. You decide.
Yamil insisted we try the panna cotta with red berry sauce and slices of fresh fruit [$75]. Sweet and sour and oh, so smooth, made with fresh Greek yogurt. I can only imagine what the chocolate cupcake drizzled with orange and mezcal whipped cream and then topped with caramel and nuts tasted like – also $75.
Interior designer Johannes Pons gave La Fiera a quiet elegant look with a slight nautical twist. All done in hushed greys and blues. The lighting is soft and flattering controlled by dimmers. The popular seats to reserve are the five royal-blue plush banquettes with the large port-hole like windows above.
Elmo, Yamil and Johannes [I have no idea of who owns what] have created a wonderful, unique restaurant for Mazatlan. For us it was a surprise and a delight. I hope you have the same experience.
Updated August 17, 2016: We happily returned to La Fiera with our Mexican friend JR; he’s a bit of a food snob and I always enjoy and want his opinion. He simply gave Chef Elmo these instructions: “ I live here and want to come back once a week. I don’t want to eat a lot, so please choose your two best dishes.” JR had the grilled shrimp and beet ceviche [$170] bathed in a tomato, arugula, green apple, ginger and serrano pepper sauce. A big spoon was provided to sip the sauce like a soup. JR said “it’s an amazing balance of citrus that goes perfectly with the grilled shrimp.” Chef stretched a starter into a main for JR following the “I don’t want to eat a lot” request. It was the pork loin tiradito with refried beans, in a smoky salsa sauce dotted with hard boiled eggs [$95]. JR loved the smoky lightness and he’ll definitely return to La Fiera. My husband had the tongue and shrimp tacos with a black bean salsa verde [$90], he said they were excellent and would have them again, followed by the lamb burger, Fiera hamburger [$150] – that was a wow, perfectly cooked, with a hint of mint, just scrumptious.
All three of us would order that again too. And look at those square cut potatoes! I had the catch of the day, red snapper, surrounded by homemade hummus, parsley, Chuy’s organic tomatoes and Kalamata olives [$210], perfectly cooked and moist. We all felt that Chef Elmo is one of the more inspired chefs in Mazatlan creating new flavours from local ingredients we haven’t tasted before.[Updated September 2, 2016 – returned with a chef from Centro. The is one of chef’s favourite place to dine too. “Fresh, clean, and you don’t mind paying for it.” All the tacos got rave reviews. We didn’t eat a lot, yet we left full.
[La Fiera is located on Av. Camáron Sabalo #1968 [just north of La Palapa, same side], closed Tuesdays, opens at 1 p.m. Credit cards accepted, not handicap accessible. Baby changing table in the woman’s washroom. Phone 669 913 1685 for a reservation. Air conditioned as well as an outside terrace. The restaurant seats 130 people and has 26 employees. There’s a limited wine list, a couple of reds and whites by the glass – L.A. Cetto is decently priced at $65 per glass.]
Introducing, Aca Los Charros
By Sheila Madsen, May 2016
To quote a good friend, “if you don’t go, you don’t know.” This is certainly the case with Aca Los Charros. The restaurant opened on November 12 and the verbal reviews were a complete mixed bag of: it was great the first time, then all down hill; it’s the best meat and service in town; we like to go every Sunday; it’s not worth it; parking is a nightmare; it’s too loud. Yada yada yada.
Ray Paez is the manager and you may remember him from El Shrimp Bucket and the Jonathon. He manages the 40 employees with his wonderful flare for detail and goodwill – the service is fast and attentive. Charros is a very lively place, lots of music [see below] the occasional Folklorico dancer swings by your table and there are other entertaining surprises. There’s a huge outdoor terrace and a large inside air-conditioned room. It’s fun, really fun.
While there were only four of us, we embraced the table of four people next to us [this was their forth time] and here’s what we all loved: Los Volcanes, molcajete de arrachera, $189 [it’s also the fourth time this group had ordered it]; El Negrete, corn on the cob slowly roasted, $45; El Trompitas Al Pastor, pulled pork and pineapple designed to be shared, $229; Las Huesudas, baby- back pork fall-off-the bone ribs, $198 – bbq sauce divine, meat tender, with small side dishes that don’t float onto your meat, it’s a definite repeat.
And oh, the fabulous beef! It’s the first time we had all seen a visual “cooking chart” – instead of saying “rose” or “medium” it’s numbered so the kitchen knows exactly what a 7/8 is, or a 5/8 or a 3/4. The guesswork has been eliminated and the results were outstanding. Three of us had the vacio [300 grams], $259, tender, full of flavour and again with delightful side dishes of fresh vegetables and interesting puffy potatoes. It’s certainly some of the best beef in Mazatlan – they offer both Black Angus and Sterling Silver.
Other beef cuts include: rib eye, [400 grams], $329; arrachera [300 grams], $199; cowboy [650 grams], $429; sirloin [400 grams],$249; tomahawk [one kilo], $1,199. The presentation for all the dishes is thoughtful yet visually exciting. There are a total of 40 items on the Charros diverse menu – some better suited for lunch, or tapas, others for dinner, or go with friends, sit at a large table and order a little bit of everything. I’d be surprised if you were disappointed. But if you don’t go, you won’t know.
[Aca Los Charros is open every day from noon on and is located on Av. De la Marina in front of Home Depot. For large parties it’s best to reserve, call 986 8606. There’s a full bar and some decent wines by the bottle. Thursdays and Friday they feature a mariachi band from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sundays the mariachi band plays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday night is also a Mexican Fiesta night from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. complete with fireworks – it’s not a Mexican buffet, it’s a show and you order from their menu. Saturday nights it’s an acoustic group, Cithara, that perform from 10 p.m. to midnight. The music will change, please call ahead to confirm. Charro is a name for a sophisticated Mexican cowboy who dresses in elegant clothes and performs on his beautifully groomed and trained horses. The staff consider the name to really mean,“here we are”!]
Introducing, Kit Cat Pizza Deli
By Sheila Madsen, April 2016
Eddy Espinozo is from Chicago. Ramon Moneda is from Mazatlan. Ten years ago they met, fell in love and settled in Mazatlan. In 2010, they opened the Kit Cat Pizza Deli. Because I can’t eat pizza I didn’t know any of these details until my thoughtful friend RM, urged me to chat with the owners. RM doesn’t normally choose pizza, as she prefers “proper meals”, but because of meeting Eddy and Ramon at the Sky Gym during her morning workouts she’s now visited Kit Cat. Often. RM has become very fond of their thin crust, “it is kind of crispy, not soft and soggy like most pizzas…if I’m in the mood for pizza then it’s Kit Cat for me…the service is friendly and attentive, and each pizza is made to order with a reasonable wait time…”
Eddy is the cook, the only cook and each pizza is indeed custom made – it takes about twenty minutes. Eddy has created nine pizzas “all pizzas same size, medium squared, perfect for two people”, and the most expensive is the deli shrimp at $165 and the least expensive is the margarita Kit Cat at $115. Or, you can design-your-own pizza; start with two toppings at $105 and leave it there, or add on more toppings for $8 each.
While Eddy is cooking a Hawaiian pizza Ramon tells me the two most popular pizzas are the deli shrimp pizza and the Italian classic pizza [$125, pepperoni, green pepper, mushrooms and black olives]. Ramon works the bar area, really he manages the entire restaurant, and he explains there are three fresh salads – Cesar, summer and Greek, at $65, – and six baguette sandwiches [turkey, vegetarian, pepperoni, tuna, chicken breast, turkey club] from $60-$80. Ramon’s bar serves up coffees, teas [iced or hot gourmet], and all kinds of natural juices. Kit Cat does have a wine license and Ramon will serve you a “table” wine for $45. Even better, you are invited to bring your own bottle with no corkage fee.
For six years they’ve adhered to the same rigid routine; wake up, go to the gym, then “topping shopping” and be at the restaurant by 4:30 p.m. The daily shopping is necessary. Eddy and Ramon wouldn’t have it any other way, all the ingredients must be fresh. Their diligence has clearly paid off because Kit Cat has loyal customers and now with the additional terrace seating their business continues to grow. Eddy-from-Chicago knows pizza lovers are picky and if they are willing to wait twenty minutes, then he’s only going to serve the absolute best. These two humble owners take great pride in their food and customers are only too happy to swallow their pride.
[Kit Cat is located on Sixto Osuna #22, at the Plazuela Machado and opens at 5 p.m., closed Mondays. Ramon and Eddy had a cat they adored and called it kitty cat. A week before the yet- to- be- named deli opened, their cat was poisoned and died. It was just natural for the partners to name the restaurant Kit Cat.]
Introducing, Gaia Bistrot. Celebrating seasonal offerings with a sprinkling of international flavours.
By Sheila Madsen [March 23, 2016]
[Updated October 2016: Chef has had a busy summer, the tables move to the street to accommodate more people. Gilberto is adding new dishes and has many specials planned.He enjoys celebrating the smallest holiday with food. Chef is keeping it fresh, always a surprise except for the service – it continues to be superb.]
“On February 22, 1988 I decided to become a chef” says Gilberto del Toro owner of Gaia Bistrot. The 17 year-old abandoned his mechanical engineering studies [“I hated calculus”] and began his culinary career. His family was supportive; they owned Oceano Palace and the Don Pelayo Hotel so they knew all about the adventures that were waiting for an eager chef and sent him packing with this upbeat message – “you’ll get to travel and you won’t starve.”
With passion and determination the young Gilberto did indeed travel. To New York’s Culinary Institute of America [CIA], then to the CIA in California followed by a six-month internship in Jesi, Italy at the Istituto Superiore di Gastronomia. Throughout all of Gilberto’s education, the famous Mexican chef Enrique Olvera remained his inspiration. The success of Pujol restaurant in Mexico City [The Wall Street Journal ranks Pujol as the best restaurant in Mexico City and the 17th best restaurant in the world] was motivation for Gilberto – if a Mexican chef like Olvera could have his own restaurant then some day, “I will too.”
That some day turned into 28 years. He briefly returned to the city he was born in, Guadalajara, and was a pastry chef at Camino Real where he routinely served 500 people on a Sunday morning. Moving back to his beloved Mazatlan, he spent ten years as executive chef at Pueblo Bonito and then another ten years with his own catering company. While Gilberto is at home with large numbers he’s enjoying the smaller scale of Gaia [from the Greek, ‘mother earth’] with seating for 24 inside and 32 on the terrace.
Taking a break from a busy evening he pulls up a chair and shares a few memories; “back in the day I was a diva, a drama queen, I was yelling and throwing plates just like you see those celebrity chefs on tv. I had wild ideas too; once I served a rooster crest on top of beef fillet. I’ve waited 28 years to have my own restaurant and I’m calmer now, more peaceful, no more yelling. I like cooking everything and with my four cooks I am able to concentrate on different dishes. I don’t think I’ll be serving food garnished with a rooster crest but I am determined to keep changing the menu with seasonal offerings.”
In the past ten days friends have dined there several times, adding up to about 14 different dinners. I’ve enjoyed the six jumbo shrimp dish [$215] with a light jalapeño sauce twice, the chicken breast infused with fresh coconut with a side of chorizo and potatoes [$165] is popular, as well as the salmon [$215] and the catch of the day, often sword fish, [$180] and nothing but rave reviews for the rib-eye steak, [$240]. Friends praise the Portabella croquettes [“I loved it so much the second time I asked for a dinner-size portion.”], then there are three soups, and three salads. For pasta lovers Gilberto offers lasagna [$140], and fettuccine alla “Norma” [$105]. The pastry chef’s desserts are still being perfected but currently there are four sweets.
Chef’s fresh, beautifully cooked food is supported by a stellar wait staff thanks to the dedication of Angel and Horacio. Gilberto’s is not about to disappoint customers with haphazard service. Oh, no, he’s not. Twenty-eight years is a long time to wait but at last he’s in the right place, at the right time. Gilberto’s dream has become a reality and his vision is crystal clear – to celebrate seasonal foods with a sprinkling of international flavours.
Momentos Inolvidables, Unforgettable Moments, is what Gaia is all about.
Introducing, Life en Español. Just don’t call it a restaurant.
By Sheila Madsen [March 2016]
[Updated Nov. 4, 2016: taking guests from southern California tonight. They so enjoyed the ambiance, the lighting, their cocktails. We sampled Mexican corn bread served on a bread of rich poblano chile cream sauce and melted chihuahua cheese,[$85] and the Mexican street corn continues to be a winner. The long menu has now been organized into: specials, starters, tacos and gorditas and seconds and sides. A wedge salad has popped up here too, at $120. Is iceberg lettuce having a moment? California dreamers said they wanted to return and begin their dining experience here. Ok, we can do that! ]
“It’s not a restaurant. It’s a bar. It’s a contemporary cantina. It’s a bar serving food with plates to be shared. There are no high chairs, there’s no kid’s menu. It’s a place to socialize. It’s a place to bring special people. It’s a late night spot.” Those are the phrases that owner Abelardo [Abe] Juárez has chosen to describe his “comedor social”.
Although born and educated in San Diego, Abe grew up at El Shrimp Bucket. His beloved father “Chuy Juárez” along with Carlos Anderson, opened the Bucket in 1963. Then the two friends opened a second restaurant in 1976, Life en Español, on Olas Altas south of the Shrimp Bucket. After that, with other partners, came the popular Señor Frogs nightclub and a slice of the pie at Diego’s Beach House. Abe says “I’ve always worn an apron, I’m used to the front of the house, as well working with chefs and managing wait staff.” In addition to the family businesses, Abe has been president of the restaurant association [CANIRAC] as well as organizing major events for surfers. Understanding food, service and what it takes to keep a family restaurant prosperous for 53 years, is in his DNA.
While he respects the traditions of El Shrimp Bucket, Abe felt that Mazatlan was ready for a big-city urban chic injection. He took his two chefs from Monterrey and they went on tasting road trip. Hundreds of dishes later they have created an exciting menu promising constant change. The first thing you notice is that it’s not organized into appetizers or mains. It’s a free for all spilling across three pages. You want it all. Eventually you calm down and order plates to be shared. Abe did predict that.
Before we dig into the food, the space, the décor needs to be described. It’s a high energy, hip, hipster place designed for millennials and forty somethings. You’d find this vibe in Mexico City. Since Abe is 43 years-old and wanted a place “I’d like to go to”, it’s not surprising that Life en Español [he always loved the name and the family owned it, so why not?] is an eclectic combination of concrete, tin, copper, brick, wood [bleached and dark] and herringbone tile patterns. The 180-seat “restaurant” is on two levels, has two large bars [no bar flies here, limited bar seating, all drinks are served at your table, remember this is a social place] the lighting is low the music is running high. There are comfy chairs, there are high swivel bar stools with backs, there are banquettes, there are tables for two or tables for ten. Anything and everything is possible. The casual grey tin plates are dressed up with checkered cloth napkins. The centerpiece is a funky abstract concrete holder containing interesting greens. You’ve never seen that before, but Abe had.
When Abe and his team gutted Señor Frogs he had a clear vision of what Life en Español would look like. So clear, Abe declined to hire an interior designer. He went online and what he couldn’t import or buy, he had made in Mazatlan. He did save some of the large concrete bas relief murals from Señor Frogs and made sure that front windows opened onto Sábalo for air and light. Big-city feel? Mission accomplished.
Abe proudly announces, “we have no freezers, we want the food to be as fresh as possible. We believe in farm-to-table.” The menu certainly reflects that: oysters Rockefeller, clams, Mexican street corn [a must try, packed with a citrus flavour], beet carpaccio, tuna and octopus tostadas and oh, the fancy shoe-string French fries. There are 12 artisan tortillas/tacos/gorditas [$40 – $165] eight mains – pork, octopus, fish, tuna, beef and shrimp ranging from $220 to the most expensive, the aged rib-eye at $395. Our group of four ordered the oysters [6 for $160], the fancy French fries, [$70] the gordita de chicharron de cerdo, [$40], gordita de barbacoa [$40], the adobo pork shank with mashed potatoes and cauliflower [$290] and grilled jumbo shrimp in zarandeado marinade with red rice [$240]. All delicious, all with a kick and twist – that chef road trip brought a whole bunch of new flavours to Mazatlan.
There’s no need to discuss the service. The child who played the day away at the Shrimp Bucket has assembled an elite team. The sixty employees hop to it; they adore working for Abe because he has done their job.
As we wrap up our evening at 10 p.m. the millennials are pouring in. Around midnight there will be between 300 to 400 people laughing, drinking, talking and dinning at Life en Español. Big-city feel? Si, si, si.
[Located at El Cid on Camarón Sábalo, where Señor Frogs was, open Wednesday to Fridays 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays it opens at 1 p.m. Call 669 159 0161. Desserts in progress and watch for a very private night club on the second floor.]
Casa 46, a seriously elegant evening to remember.
By Sheila Madsen [November 2015]
[Updated June 2016: I continue to be irritated by the high wine prices. The sky-high mark-up for mediocre wine is just ridiculous. The menu has not changed, and the wait staff, while helpful, still haven’t got it together. March and May,more chatter: “not worth the price”, “wish the wait staff were more up to speed”, “I’d go just for the view” “The service was impeccable”…Two weeks later, November 21. Four-star service. Chef Marino made the rounds twice. Three friends had the prime heart of beef tenderloin, grilled marrow, sautéed wild mushrooms and a fennel bulb purée, $335, they loved it and said “it’s a tie with El Presidio.” I had the four jumbo shrimp cooked in lobster butter in a la diabla curry sauce surrounded by vegetables – baby carrots etc. Shrimp superbly cooked, $280. Also on the menu: house-made Tagliatelle in a variety of seasonal mushrooms, fresh tomato and burrata with white truffle essence $335; suckling pork confit, Tacu Tacu, Mexican salsa with nopales, aged mole, $230; organic chicken marinated in Rempha, eggplant croquettes and hibiscus pipián, $195; braised short ribs, Yorimuni bean stir-fry with mussels and stewed meat juice, $285. Chef, sommelier, Maître d and wait staff present and accounted for – all at your service. Weekend dining on the terrace: you may wish to choose the-not-so-stylish hour of 6 p.m. to really hear singer Arsenio who has the challenge of singing over and around the competing bands in the Machado after 8 p.m.]
Casa 46 exudes the feeling of a private club. Downstairs, on either side of the old wooden banisters, are plates with head shots of all the stars of Mazatlan – from Raul Rico González to Carlos Felton González – the faces of all the Mazatleco families are represented. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a VIP to dine at Casa 46, you just need a reservation.
Shed your flip flops and dress up for Chef Marino Maganda’s excellent culinary adventure. For the past eight years he has been the executive chef at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay and now Chef’s dream restaurant is a reality in the Plazuela Machado. Casa 46 consists of a series of intimate rooms all exquisitely decorated by designer Victor de Rueda. He’s honoured the history of Mazatlan [original tiles, wooden beams, black and white photographs] but modernized it with subtle grey marble, smoky mirrors and large sumptuously upholstered chairs. These are not your standard restaurant chairs, they are designed for you to stay awhile, relax, just like you would at a private club.
The small bar with chat sections was created as a leisurely pause before you are ushered to your table. It too, is seriously elegant, but it’s not a hotel bar; it’s a bar that says please wait five minutes and your table will be ready. If you wish to dine inside, there are three dining rooms: the wine cellar – perfect for a private party of 12; the joyful Carnaval themed room which pays tribute to all the queens and kings; and the sophisticated dining room devoted to the ocean. You just want to sit in every single gorgeous upholstered chair!
The jewel in Casa 46’s crown in my mind, is the large outdoor terrace that overlooks our beautiful Plazuela Machado. The lighting is expertly executed with warm drop-filaments, there are twin flower-fans twirling, the air is like silk and then Arsenio quietly sings Sinatra songs. It’s a magnificent Mazatlan moment, where absolutely everything is just right.
Once we are seated, Maître D Luis Parra comes to welcome us, to see if we want more wine and to explain the menu. You’d think we were one of the famous families on a plate – he treated us with such respect. Luis asked us, what do you think is different about Casa 46? We both spouted off about the décor, the intimate rooms. “No. Have you not noticed all the female wait staff?” He’s right, we were greeted by Valery who is the pr point person, then a young lady escorts us to our table, and Luis proceeds to introduce us to our female server, Yvonne. He goes on to say, “Chef Marino is committed to hiring female wait staff, he believes the feminine touch enhances the atmosphere. There are 46 wait staff and 80% are women.” A little less macho and empowering the young woman of Mazatlan is a wise decision we think.
The terrace is dimly light, thank heaven, and Yvonne gives us tiny flashlights to read the menu. I ask Luis if I could take it home so I can be accurate in the descriptions and prices. He diplomatically responds “no, Chef would not like that, it’s a work in progress. The menu will change often.” [the menu on their website is slightly different from the one I received.] I chose the sea bass on a risotto bed with vegetables [$280] and my husband, the beef fillet [$335]. The beef is tender, smooth, flavourful and cuts like butter. The sea bass was divine. Please think of this as an introduction to Casa 46, this certainly isn’t a restaurant review as we had no appetizers and desserts. Besides, it’s only your experience that matters. I did note that the most expensive main was $350, and there were many affordable appetizers. Wine pours in the finest stemware are $95. Desserts were all $97.
The chef from Guerrero only wants to offer you the finest foods of north-west Mexico. Combine that desire with a highly trained team, add in a seriously elegant setting and you’ll have an evening to remember, forever.
[Casa 46,(this was the old Machado Museo) enter on Constitución, just before the Plazuela Machado, up two flights of stairs (no elevator), closed on Tuesdays, opens for dinner at 6 p.m, reservations a must, reserve online with Open Table,credit cards accepted. ]
Don’t worry be MAHI.
Japanese fusion awaits you at the Mahi Sushi Bar
By Sheila Madsen [November 2015][Updated December 13, 2015: return visit just as fresh and delicious. Repeat performance. Carolina Perez now has five restaurants open in Mexico.]My two sushi-loving friends, snobs really, wanted to put Mahi Sushi Bar to the test. Two hours later, they showered it with gold stars and both said, “it’s the best sushi in Mazatlan.”
Owner Carolina Perez opened Mahi several years ago on the Malecon and in April moved the restaurant to the Golden Zone’s Lomas Plaza. The pristine décor of white and celery provides a cool backdrop for the presentation of all the colourful food. Each dish is served on bone-white china and you feel as if you have been presented with a delicate origami sculpture. “You’d find this plate and quality of sashimi in Mexico City.” Surprise! The chef was trained in Mexico City and Carolina lured him to Mazatlan.
The insanely fresh salmon and tuna sashimi [$150] “tastes the way it’s suppose to.” All the delicious rolls [27 of them, ranging from $60-$155] “have the exact right balance – the ratio of rice to fresh ingredients is perfect. ” The snobs went on to order a shrimp tempura [$95]; gently battered in rice flour they were beautifully cooked and as light as a meringue. A real melt-in-your-mouth delight. If you are gluten-intolerant, be sure to alert the staff, as many of the items are battered but they will happily switch it to a rice flour batter.
Because every dish is hand made, hand cut, and prepared just for you, these food sculptures take time. Beer and white wine are available while you wait. If you have a special request, ask Carolina’s father-in-law, Crisoforo Ayala, he’s more than willing to accommodate you. Two tiny observations: one, the lighting is super bright [I think that is on purpose to show you how fresh the food is and to send the message “we are not hiding anything, our restaurant is white-glove clean”] and two, the menu is in 3pt type, so bring your reading glasses.
I left with my tummy full of California rolls and shrimp tempura. My two snobs left wishing they had ordered more sashimi. Don’t worry. We’ll be back.
[Mahi Sushi Bar is located on Camarón Sábalo, Plaza Lomas, Zona Dorada, open every day from 1 p.m. on, call 913 2070. Credit cards accepted, easy parking in front. White wine only, and beer. There is also outdoor seating in the plaza. Home delivery too. You may want a dessert at the newly opened London Crepe, it’s next door, with dozens of crepe choices.]
Héctor’s Bistro – so full of passion, pride and patience
By Sheila Madsen (November 2014)
[Updated July 2, 2016: It’s Saturday night and every single table is reserved. Hurray for the big bar! There are five specials tonight and the menu has been refreshed. There are now two risottos, mushroom and shrimp [$195] and meat lovers will inhale the new French Platter with various pates and homemade sausages [$175] – it’s published as a starter but it’s really a main. There are three white wines by the glass for $90 and one red by the glass, also $90. Updated June 2016: Via Condotti, formerly Krema, formerly Molika is now open for breakfast from 8 a.m. until noon, and then it’s pizza and salads at 4 p.m. on. Same great breakfast just served with air conditioning on the side now. Quickly – Chef Héctor Peniche moved his restaurant (the old Molika) across the street into The Culinary Market in 2014 and renamed it as Héctor’s Bistro. Same great food in a new/old space (The French Reynaud Building dates back to 1847) with a jazzy 1930s art deco design. I’m confident about my statement “same great food” as I have eaten either breakfast, lunch, or dinner, at least once week at Molika/Héctor’s Bistro since 2009 – that’s easily 400 times. You don’t return 400 times if the chef isn’t up to snuff and the food is so-so.]
As I hop up on the comfy bar stool (tested, rejected, and tested again for maximum comfort) a friend of Héctor’s confirms my opinion, “there’s no shame in saying your friends are great, when they really are” says Lis Maiz. Lis owns the small, but popular Thai restaurant in Mexico City, called Mibong. We have been to Mibong for lunch, the chef was not there, so it was a treat to meet her and her Mazatleco husband at Héctor’s Bistro (HB) bar. They return to Mazatlan often and as a chef and Héctor’s friend she is proud to sing his praises: “really, four years ago there were not many options; today there are a few more, but I still prefer Héctor’s fresh cooking – this rack of lamb is simply perfect.” Yes it is. I’ve ordered it at least eight times.
On the current HB menu you’ll recognize some your favourites: Antipasti – farm-to-table organic roasted vegetable platter, $165; pate de champagne, $125, tuna or octopus Carpaccio, $120. From the deli – five selections including organic vegetable quiche with salad, $155-$135 and the delicious certified Black Angus burger, $165; there are salads and soups, $145-$215 and several pastas, $165 – $235 And oh, the five mains! Salmon, $235, Kowi pork mignon fillet, $175; steak and frites, $195 (best in town, had it four times); that tender, tempting rack of lamb, $295; duck’s breast (delicious, had that four times too), $195. The wine list has been pumped up – more available by the glass (starting at $90) and a bigger selection by the bottle. HB is also serving artisan beers. Fresh homemade desserts, changes every day. Héctor is a pastry chef, expect the very best.
The chef likes to refer to his cooking as traditional European artisan food. His chef wife, Victoria, works quietly behind the scene – tasting, suggesting, improving and both are dedicated to making wonderful artisan food. In answer to the question, why a bistro, the chef couple answer: “the seed for the idea of a bistro was planted while living and working in the beautiful Guadalupe Valley, the wine country of Mexico. It began germinating in Europe during our years of working for some of the best traditional Italian and French restaurants in London. We fell in love with the European craftsmanship – so full of passion, pride and patience. We decided to reproduce these values here in Mexico. After five years our dream is slowly blossoming with the opening of our new venue, Héctor’s Bistro.”
The bistro offers a variety of seating spaces. Make a reservation inside at the elegant tables and banquettes or drop in and sit at the large U shaped bar, it seats 20, or outside on the patio. There’s a very sexy burnt orange lounge area that seats 12 people. It’s so inviting that people don’t move on! Orange is the new hot spot. If your group arrives early perhaps you could persuade chef to let you remain in the orange zone. Outside, inside, the bar, the lounge, the menu, the chef, the food, the atmosphere, that’s in full bloom. Returning to Lis’s quote “there’s no shame in saying your friends are great, when they really are.”
(Héctor’s Bistro is located in Centro, on Mariano Escobedo #409, at Heriberto Frias, opposite Casa Haas, open from noon on. Reservations recommended, call 981-1577, closed Sundays. Credit cards accepted. To watch cooking shows with Héctor please click here. Mark Jay designed the interior, to watch his videos on décor tips, please click here.)
Upscale Mexican cantina, Compañia Minera is open!
By Sheila Madsen, September 2014
( Third time around, September 13, 2014: After a friendly waiter (and the couple from San Francisco) had raved about the ‘hangover dish’ it was high time to sample it. Diego said “I fell in love with this combination when I was in Spain. I don’t care if anyone else likes, I want it on the menu because I love it. You must fry the eggs, just ‘so’, because you want the yolk to drip into the French fries and chorizo.” The wonderful dish is named huevos rotos sinaloenses ($112)and was everything Chef promised: a divine blend of fried eggs, shoe-string French fries and finely chopped chorizo. It also has a tiny spicy kick. Easily shared. My husband had the salmon (or as he calls it, gravlax) for the third time. Our neighbours (at the bar and in our condo) had their favourite botana for the fourth time – taco de chile relleno de marlin – a chile stuffed with smoked marlin resting on a fresh tortilla, $30. We left them at the bar trying three new tacos while we headed for the courtyard for a coffee. The bill follows you – you don’t need to cash out at the Catina to enjoy something else in the courtyard of El Presidio. You will be presented with two bills, but at the same time.
Second time around, September 7, 2014: two of us had the sea bass, perfectly cooked and seasoned served solo with a side of potato dauphinoise. The decadent potato dauphinoise was served in a miniature cast iron casserole dish, a cocotte. This creamy, rich, luxurious blend of potatoes, cheese, cream and other secret spices has you hooked from the first taste. Chef has named this plate pescado compañia, $185 – try it just for the potato dauphinoise! A friend popped in for a beer and a sandwich and he had the Torta Cubana. “What’s in it?”, I asked, “Everything” was the answer. Not very descriptive but fortunately a waiter came to the rescue: ham, brisket, avocado, cheese smoked pork and chicken Milanese, $130.)
Chef Diego Becerra is certainly making excellent use of his grandmother’s house, Casa Garcia. First up was El Presidio, the elegant indoor restaurant. Next, was the ground floor courtyard-restaurant carefully leaving all the original stressed concrete and exposed brick – all bathed in subtle lighting, surrounded by trees and night blooming flowers. The highlight of this area is the long bar where you are never rushed and can spend hours people watching. Diego has always wanted a high-end Mexican cantina and Compañia Minera de Panuco opened on August 31. He walks me through this huge space; the front is for adults and children, restaurant style, there will even be tables outside on Niños Heroes.
That street plan has been in the works for ages. The hope is to close Niños Heroes at Sixto Osuna so all the restaurants in the area can have outdoor seating. Moving past ‘the family’ section the space gets more interesting – a glassed in kitchen (it’s a totally separate operation from El Presidio), intimate seating areas that flow into a massive bar. Speaking of families, the entire decor is once again a family affair – brother Rodrigo has managed all the interior design. Soft lighting with light fixtures bought in outer space, burgundy leather banquettes and chairs all against the same backdrop – the original jagged concrete slabs, vines, and exposed brick. The cantina continues upstairs complete with a pool table and poker tables.
The menu is big, with both tapas and full dinners. The afternoon begins with seafood and ceviche selections. Fifteen mariscos frescos de carreta ($45 – $276) are offered from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. The evening menu brings 11 botanas ($30 – $150), 8 tacos ($28 -$31), 7 tortas ($105-$150), 5 tapas ($89-$170) and 7 ‘strong plates’, los platillos fuertes ($95 – $249). I had three tacos; these are gourmet tacos – sweet and sour pork, crispy beef and pulled pork. The designer tacos are four inches and depending on your appetite two could be enough – at only $28! San Francisco visitors raved about the hueves rotos sinaloenses ($112) – eggs served over French fries – they said “it sounds like hangover food but it’s really good.” The salmon curado con vinagreta española is Diego’s version of gravlax, delicious.
Weeks ago Diego said, “I want a space where people can come and relax any time of the day – Mexicans like to share their dishes, so I’ve created many dishes that can be split, like a tongue sandwich in a mustard sauce. Or you can have a steak. I also want the bar to be filled with different tequilas and many mezcals. At different times during the day, for different reasons, you are going to want to try different things, I’m going to makes this an exciting place for people to come – not just at night, but also during the day.” He has delivered on that promise. It’s a glorious selection from light to heavy in wonderful air-conditioned space. It is exciting. To be a proper cantina it needs to have tvs; Diego went all out with three 70″ LCD screens – one in the ‘kids area’ and two in the bar.
Compañia’s name is to honour Diego’s great grandfather, Genaro Garcia, who was president of the mining company – Minera de Panuco. This expansion means Casa Garcia has over 200 seats, a challenge for any chef and his staff. Diego is upbeat, not stressed. He reveals to me that he is an adrenaline junky. “Did you know I was a bull fighter for ten years?” Didn’t see that coming. He whips out his smart phone and shows me what a forcado does. These crazy guys form an eight member team that perform the ‘pega de cara’ – the face catch. Forcados are a Portuguese tradition that were very popular in Mexico where the forcado’s job is to challenge the bull with their bare hands – grabbing the horns, grabbing the tail, all with the objective to subdue the bull. Diego says “I was popular in Mazatlan and even travelled to California, the bulls are really nasty, but the whole deal was really fun. I used to be a cliff diver (behind El Faro) and I enjoy the fear. That’s what I feel about cooking, it’s a big adventure.” Fortunately for us when he was not in the bullring Diego did attend culinary school. While his mother appreciated his zest for life, she would have preferred her son at home on mother’s day, rather than dedicating the bull to her on May 10.
Diego seems to have successfully transported that wild young energy into a mature culinary adventure that we can all share. There’s still more space at Casa Garcia and once Compañia Minera is running smoothly who knows what the cliff-diving bull-fighting chef will cook up next.
(No reservations required, open from 1 p.m. on, every single day, Casa Garcia is located on Niños Heroes, wrapping around Mariano Escobedo. If you like to watch a video of Chef Héctor Peniche, Molika, interviewing Chef Diego, please click here , it’s the second video)
Two words about Morena’s urban-resto-bar now called Morena’s Taste of India
By Sheila Madsen (April 2014)
[Updated February 2016: just reopened with double the space. Credit cards accepted, new comfy chairs.]Butter chicken. Yep, that’s the reason to go. Butter chicken (or murgh makhani) is a divine blend of chicken (thigh, off –the- bone) marinated in a bunch of Indian spices which could be: garam masala, ginger, lime, pepper, coriander, cumin, turmeric and chili. The marinated chicken is then cooked together in a traditional ‘tomato gravy’ which could include: fresh tomatoes, garlic, cardamom, butter, asafetida, cumin cloves, cinnamon, fenugreek and fresh cream. Chef Courtney Hitchings (just turned 26!) is not revealing her butter chicken secrets as she inherited the recipe from her father who owned The Taj Mahal restaurant in Calgary. She’s following tradition by offering a baseline of mild and then she’ll add spices to match your taste buds. I like a little kick, others like to blow their heads off – Courtney will accommodate everyone’s range. It’s a generous portion (some people would share) and it comes with rice and a fresh, crispy salad, $150. Morena’s has elegant stemware and serves a great wine pour for $50 (Sol de Chile).
Oh, there are other items on the menu and friends have all praised: samosas (chicken, beef, vegetarian) $30 each; triple threat wings, $150; beef Souvlaki $150; Tandoori grilled salmon, $185; Caribbean curry chicken, $130, spicy Thai shrimp curry, $150; fresh oysters on the weekend, $125.
Courtney will spend the summer creating delicious dishes such as lamb korma and chicken tikka. Her father is bringing a tandoori oven and you know what that means – naan, glorious naan!-that you can’t stop dunking in your butter chicken or curry sauce. Chef is also perfecting many more vegetarian dishes. Courtney’s husband Warren Wray, (from Jamaica via Toronto) is working the front of the house and the service is zipping along. No one is complaining about wait times, those were simply growing pains and those days belong firmly in the past.
The décor is a little dark but there’s no point in discussing that. That’s all being refreshed too. Just watch this little Taj Mahal in Centro grow and become a shrine for Indian food lovers.
(Morena’s Taste of India, Sixto Osuna # 26, closed Sundays, opens at 4 p.m. Reservations recommended, 176 8547, phone is answered after 4 p.m. (or cell, 669 120 3776) pesos only. For those of you who may visit the Calgary Taj Mahal Courtney and Warren wish you a happy experience, they just want you to know their dad no longer owns it.)
What’s up with Surf’s Up? Everything is up and upbeat!
By Sheila Madsen, December 2013
(Closed now until mid October, 2016. Updated January 25, 2015: Same great ten dishes, just a slight price increase, all $45. Personal favourites are our table – #6, Coconut chicken curry, and #4 The Bourb. The place was packed and it’s obvious people come for the food, the music and the ambience. Leanne continues to excel in customer satisfaction.)
I’m probably the last woman standing who has not been to the beautiful beachfront café, Surf’s Up. Before you go, please do two things: make a reservation and let Leanne Wright (owner, chef) know of any food allergies you have. Give her the time and she’ll make you gluten-free empanadas as she did for me. My first empanada ever! She’s a micro-manager too. I overheard her briefing her staff on various tables and who likes what and when and how. She cares about us, she really, really cares about us.
If you read my lead-in to restaurant reviews you’ll understand I don’t really believe in them. That shipped has sailed with social networking; think of this article as a FB post, just one of many opinions that you can choose to disregard! I was spoiled living in such a diverse restaurant city as Toronto. Friends began conversations about dinner with the country: Thai, Caribbean, Indian, French, Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Polish, German, Danish, Middle Eastern, Canadian or Fusion then you nailed the location and time. All of our kitchen drawers were stuffed with take-out menus of every imaginable cuisine. Obviously that selection is not possible here in Mazatlan, so my eyes popped out as I inhaled the different flavours on Leann’s Caribbean Tapas Menu. At $40 per item, our trio was in a frisky mood and said “what the hell, let’s order all ten.” Big deal, a total of $400 and you get one taste sensation after another.
Here are Leanne’s descriptions: #1 Panamanian Beef Empanadas – baked in the oven this sweet dough is a pocket of goodness with a savory beef filling with onions, peppers, and cilantro inside, served with chipotle aioli; #2 Caribbean Beef Patties – a delicious curry-flavoured beef pasty, made with chives, thyme and chili peppers, served with sweet chutney; #3 Garden Groove – cool citrus gazpacho salad with grapefruit, oranges, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, red onions, cilantro, garlic tossed in a zesty sweet and spicy dressing; #4 The Bourb – smoky bourbon glazed pork with pineapple that has been slowly roasted to tender perfection; # 5 Jamaican Me Crazy Jerk Chicken Skewers – chicken marinated in a spicy jerk season and lime juice, serve with curry yogurt sauce; # 6 Coconut Chicken Curry – Caribbean blend of curry spices with coconut milk served over rice; #7 Leanne’s Surfin’ Salad – mixed green with onions, peppers, carrots, raisins, almonds and homemade kiwi dressing; #8 One Love – (chimichanga) rolled flour tortillas stuffed with a mix of chorizo sausage, beef, onions, peppers and lightly fried, topped with chipotle aioli; #9 Zion Roots – homemade mac and cheese bites lightly deep fried; #10 Papas – they were the size of a smart phone and just beat out Morena’s for the best potato wedges in Mazatlan.
Vegetarians won’t care but our favourites were the #4, The Bour (oh, that tender pork!), #6 Coconut Chicken Curry (Thai meets the Caribbean), # 8 One Love.
All of this tasty tapas happens on Saturdays. Sit in the shade (or in the sun) watch the waves roll in and listen to the ten piece band, Rootsterford, entertain you with the best reggae music. There is a cover charge for Rootsterford of $80 but it includes one drink. Ten piece band, live music, a free drink, $80 is a bargain for that level of professional music. Have a listen. Surf’s Up does serve breakfast and lunch too from Wednesday to Sunday, as the café also caters to the four room B&B, El Sol La Vida. Everything is up and upbeat at Surf’s Up.
(Surf’s Up Beach Café/El Sol La Vida are located on Avenida Ernesto Coppel #52 – go past Emerald Bay, veer right and you’ll hit a dirt road which will take you to Surf’s Up, call: 988 0951 or e mail Leanne Wright at: email@example.com. Handicap accessible, major credit cards accepted (just not American Express), it opens on Friday November 14, and Rootsterford Reggae – with the Caribbean Tapas Menu starts on Saturday November 22.)
Water’s Edge Bistro, less is more
By Sheila Madsen and her three amigos, November 2013
(Updated August 2016 – Water’s Edge will be closed from Sunday August 13 until Wednesday October 6.Updated March 15, 2015. I have returned with a group of eight and then again with a group of four and once again with just two of us. Water’s Edge continues to excel in service, attitude and quality. Depending on your mood you may want the buzz of Héctor’s Bistro or El Presidio. Buzz is really a code word for erratic service. Depending on your mood that can be fun too.. Sometimes you just want calm, tranquil four- star service with polite, efficient wait staff. The well-trained waiters enjoy working at WE, it’s a career for them and it shows. Chef Alastair also celebrates vegetables! Tiny tender carrots, el dente green beans, mouth-watering squash and zucchini all surrounding your main – be it beef, shrimp, pork, the plate is lovelingly prepared and served to you “just right.” It’s probably one of the best dining experiences in Mazatlan right now: if you crave farm-to-table food, and superb professional service in an elegant atmosphere.)
I didn’t like Water’s Edge. I loved it. Everything is just right. The new location on Sixto Osuna is a series of four intimate and gracious rooms. The front of the house is a bar plus an area to dine, walk on through to a middle room with large windows, or dine outdoors in the courtyard. The Chef’s table is the fourth room – it seats 12, and sumptuous curtains are quietly drawn for your private dinner. Mark Jay, interior designer, likes to describe the space as Tuscan modern. He’s probably right, but I felt the rooms flowed into one another, smooth as silk with tiny details everywhere – nothing distracting, no big aha moment, all subtle and well, elegant. He nailed the most difficult design challenge in any restaurant – the lighting. All four of us relaxed in the soft atmosphere and took our time over the dinner menu. It’s an exciting array of choices.
The menu is well written and each item is perfectly described. My comments will add nothing to Chef Alastair’s creations; the aha moments come with all chef’s flavourful twists and turns. We had amaranto pork ($80), crab cake ($80), vegetarian ravioli ($140) and jumbo shrimp ($200) and beef fillet ($200). For instance, the amaranto pork on the menu said: grilled tenderloin of pork dressed with composed sauce of pecans, pumpkin, and amaranto seeds served with grilled zucchini and banana. Sound good? It tasted even better. All five dishes exceeded their descriptions. All four of us appreciated the portions. Some people have said they are too small, we disagree. Less is more.
The wait staff is friendly yet inconspicuous (you didn’t feel as if they were hovering about, or texting), wine was poured in a timely manner and the food arrived hot and simultaneously. There are daily specials to keep your taste buds tantalized; perhaps one evening you’ll be in the mood for a seat at the bar, or move into middle earth, or enjoy the patio. Water’s Edge Bistro is like a river of silk – it just flows along, oh so quietly.
(Water’s Edge Bistro is on Sixto Osuna #48, reservations recommended, 669 136 0895, closed until October 6, 2016.)
Ocean Grill – a splendid balance of price and quality
(Updated January 2016: after two years, sometimes the décor becomes shabby, bathrooms are not maintained and a restaurant can just have that “tired” look. Not so with Ocean Grill, all gleaming, upholstery in good shape, bathrooms immaculate, floor clean, as are all the glass partitions. They still have the dinky square napkins, tvs going and music blaring to satisfy the staff – not the customers. I asked them to turn down the rap, they did, but ten minutes later the volume had increased. Decent wine pours are $50. Sashimi is now $149 and my husband sent it back – again. Second time around, better. I had six perfectly grilled shrimp that included a small salad and rice for $159. The menu is all in Spanish, and the wait staff are willing to please, but do not speak English. Today they offer: nine shrimp dishes, $139-$169; nine fish dishes, $139-179; Sashimi, $149; nine tacos, $40. There are still burgers, steak and chicken dishes on the menu. I’d say if you are in area, speak Spanish and are in the mood for seafood, drop by. Patio seating during the day or on a hot night may be more desirable as you would avoid all the tv screens and loud music.)
October 2013: By Sheila Madsen and liked by eight This began like most evenings, my husband, Soren, and I trying a new restaurant. We had just received our mains when three friends walked in. Naturally we shared a table, food and opinions. I came home to an e mail from another friend who had been at Ocean Grill for lunch, that’s eight people in one week for a restaurant that’s only been open for two weeks. We are starving for new foods in Mazatlan! Below, I’ve woven their comments into this write-up; it’s a mix of Mexicans and expats.
The welcome mat is out at Ocean Grill like a red carpet greeting. No one asks me “who are you wearing?” but doors are opened by smiling staff, and Miguel immediately rushes over to greet us and says “where have you been?” We barely sat down in our turquoise tufted banquette when Miguel brings us an ice cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc; he should know, we’ve drunk copious amounts of Undurraga at his previous bar, El Presidio. (Of course, it’s Diego’s bar, but you know what I mean.)
We are drinking in the modern décor. It’s all chrome, pewter, and wrought iron, combined with wooden and tile floors, and contemporary furniture. The chairs are comfortable, even the bar stools have proper backs, that run along the turquoise marble counter. It’s been designed with privacy in mind. Areas are discreetly divided with chrome screens, and with different styles of furniture. It’s really like a furniture showroom; although the room seats 90, you can be in different dining rooms. The owner is apparently big on privacy – there’s a hidden staircase taking VIPs to the upper terrace that is divided into two private event rooms. Your best friend (now ex) could easily be hosting a party on the terrace and you’d never see her friends coming or going. Apart from that staircase, all other areas (including the outdoor ground floor patio) are handicap accessible.
I ordered the grilled shrimp on a bed of homemade mashed potatoes. I counted eight perfectly cook shrimp (no shell), $105. Soren was about to dig into the tuna sashimi ($75) when our friends entered the scene. Here’s where the opinions start flying. “Dinky square napkins, flat screen tvs and the menu printed on paper placemats do not say ‘fine dining.’” “ Sashimi tasty, but cut too thick.” “Shrimp burger ($75) delicious, but too much bun.” “ Shrimp tempura ($99) excellent, the right amount of batter.” “ Shrimp Chimichangas ($55) good, on par with everyone else.” “Presentation is excellent, a splendid balance of quality and price.” The name says it all, ocean, but there are three meat dishes. Soren enjoyed the 180 gram Black Angus burger ($70) and for once it was too rare, no problem to fix. Carnivores can also choose a rib eye ($150) or an arrachera ($100).
“The food arrives quickly…when my friend was half way through her tostada ($29) her main arrived (perhaps a little too quickly) and you should have seen the size of the tuna on the tuna burger ($70). It was a beautiful thick slice of tuna, on a fresh bun with jojo fries. She said it was delicious, tasty and juicy. Unfortunately my sushi roll ($65) was terrible. I sent it back and ordered a tostada thinking I would likely have to pay for both. The manager appeared, apologized and then took everything off my bill. The professionalism he showed, I had not seen in a very long time in Mazatlan. We ran into some friends on the way out and they agreed the Oriental section (five dishes) is not very good. Perhaps stay away! The beers are inexpensive, $17 for Pacifico and $19 for a Corona.”
So there you have it: from the silly square paper napkins, to the fabulous fresh fish and seafood, to the superb service with low prices, to the normal goofs that crop up in any restaurant that has been operating for only two weeks . And let’s give a round of applause to the day manager who comped that entire order. I figure if they have Miguel manning the ultra modern Plexiglas wine room/bar, and Sammy the evening manager who’s super service oriented, the Ocean Grill will become a popular place to meet friends and watch the sunset. Just keep one eye open for those private parties.
(Ocean Grill Restaurant, Ave del Mar #1113 (just north of Insurgentes), open every day from noon on. Beautiful bathrooms with the latest fixtures; handicap accessible; parking behind for 100 vehicles; call 669 983 2299 to reserve. Americano coffee only, no espresso. Glass of wine averages $55, bottles from $180-$380)
El Presidio – Cocina de Mexico, inside the Casa Garcia
(Updated January 2016: Seven of us dined in the courtyard – we did not have a reservation, but the staff accommodated us. Our wait time was one hour. My hot chicken dish was served cold, sent it back, returned cold. There was something wrong with almost every dish. Also, there seemed to be no captain, no one steering the ship. If you do decide to dine in the courtyard beware of bats and flying poop. Luckily “it” washes out in warm water. I understand that Chef Diego has moved to Culiacan [or is undertaking a new project there] ; if you are disappointed with the food or service and want to express your concerns, there is absolutely no employee who cares to listen to your feedback. The bar continues to be our favourite space. Updated September 2015 by Sheila Madsen: There are four distinct areas for dining now. The main dining room inside, tables in courtyard,Compañi Minera and the sexy bar. The food is always superb and the wait staff just keeps on getting better.)
By Sheila Madsen, December 2012
(Updated May 2013 -The best mole sauce is in Oaxaca. No, the best mole sauce is in Pueblo. No, wait the absolute best is a restaurant in Mexico City. Chef Diego from El Presidio gave me a crash course in mole sauces last night. The fact is: there are literally hundreds of ways to make it and it’s entirely personal. One could have more peanuts, more fruit, more chilies or more chocolate. One could stir the sauce for seven days. Or, as he experienced in Oaxaca, all the ingredients are burned and the ashes are folded into a secret liquid.
Chef is animated when he discusses mole and being a chef he’s developed his own special sauce. He was tempting me with gorgeous photos on his phone. When can I try it, thinking I’d come back in a couple of weeks, how about right now Diego replied, good idea says me once again, twirling away on my bar stool. The new creation is called El Presidio Platter and is comprised of three separate dishes, with completely difference flavours, yet complementary. I began with the small thin corn tortillas that are layered with pulled pork, dripping in Diego’s mole sauce and topped with sour cream. OMG. I then moved onto grilled beef fillet (four generous slices) that were swimming in a seafood sauce. Another taste sensation and the beef was oh so tender and cooked medium rare. Perfect. The last item on the large white rectangular plate was chef’s version of a chili pepper – the pepper was stuffed with pork rinds, caramelized onions and then broiled with Gouda cheese. It has just the right spicy kick to it. This is tapas on steroids, and can easily be shared,$279. It hasn’t made it on the menu yet but it’s sure being made in the kitchen. Just ask for Pastel Azteca and you too can savour this trio of divine flavours.)
Casa Garcia, a large house painted a soft grey, has been gracefully sitting on the corner of Mariano Escobedo and Niños Heroes since 1876. You’ve walked by it hundreds of times and you may have attended private events in the courtyard. At long last, the interior restaurant is completed and the large, custom made kitchen, is ruled by Chef Diego Becerra.
Meet the Becerra brothers: Diego, Chef (still planning menus at Diego’s Beach House); Rodrigo (owner of La Mona Pizza, and sculptor) manages El Presidio’s operations; Rodolfo (aka Fufo), videographer; absent tonight is Roberto, engineer, and motivational speaker. Señora Gabriella Rodriquez gave birth to four boys all with unique talents. She ensured their education included a stint in New Hampshire so they would learn English. The Becerra brothers rode their tricycles in this courtyard; it was their great grandmother’s house. The years fall away from the three brothers as they reminisce about visiting the casa. They even start to poke and nudge one another as boys often do when they are six years old. Their smiles are as wide as the El Presidio river, Mazatlan’s largest river, the name Diego chose for his restaurant.
The interior is an elegant industrial look. There are hanging aluminum air ducts, rough concrete walls inset with rocks, exposed wooden beams, a gilt mirror, old photographs, pendulum lights with glass drops, and a large mural of birds in a habitat that only exists in the artist’s mind. Coffee coloured granite tables sit on the original black and white tiles, and the chairs are padded leather in shades of burgundy and black. The cutlery is a beautifully designed stainless steel, the china is pure white. Vases and votive candles on every table. An enclosed atrium with plants, water, and rocks is a lovely visual distraction. Lights are low, as is the music. The mood is set: tasteful yet exciting, comfortable so you can absorb old Mazatlan, while the new generation is ready to serve you a wonderful dinner.
Diego is passionate about Mexican food, and using local ingredients. He trained in Mexico City and has always focused on Mexican cuisine. The menu reflects his passion; new world fusion loaded with Mexican flavours. There are eight “let’s begin” – from a simple salad to beef tongue, and a mole and duck burrito. One appetizer that is not Mexican is hamachi (a farmed version of yellowtail) sashimi, for $195. The rest of the “let’s begins” run from $89 to $119. Moving down the menu to “the main stuff”: Mexican fried noodles with grilled zarandeado shrimp, $179; chipotle and vanilla glazed roasted chicken, $129; boneless pork ribs in tomatillo sauce, $129; grilled catch of day on a cream poblano chile rice, $179; duck confit in a mole sauce, $195; a ribeye steak, (Diego swears it’s black angus imported beef) with habanero and lime butter, $329.
As you can see it’s a small, varied menu which Chef intends on changing often. I finally decided on the chipotle chicken with potatoes anna. The chicken was perfectly cooked, served on a bed of asparagus, moist, and a blend of many wonderful spices, just delicious. The classic French presentation of the potatoes anna was sinful – thin sliced, cooked in a vat of butter. Hello treadmill. My companion chose the boneless pork ribs, which arrived with a small portion of fried beans, plus a scoop of rice topped with a soft boiled egg. Diego explained the rice and egg were to offset the acidity of the tomatillo sauce. Ribs were super tender, no bone to pick at, but be prepared for a spicy zing. Last on the menu is “did you save room?” No, we didn’t but all desserts are $75: goat cheese filled crepes, warm chocolate cake with garrafa ice cream, brioche with cajeta and strawberry sauce, and banana cream filled fritters with chocolate sauce.
Diego suggested we have coffee (yes, the espresso machine is working) and drinks in the courtyard. That’s when he explained his vision of the 40 seat El Presidio. There will be a discreet bar in the corner of the courtyard and he plans on following what all private clubs have been doing, successfully, for centuries. When you arrive you’ll be seated in the courtyard with a drink and then given a menu. You’ll take your time selecting, ask a few questions and then place your dinner order while still in the courtyard. When your dinner is ready you’ll be ushered to your table, and be served immediately. It’s an ideal dinner flow; you enjoy the courtyard lit with votive candles, and fairy lights, surrounded by fig, laurel, mango and banyan trees that reach up to the stars, and then you glide into the dining room for taste sensations. The kitchen is far away from the dining room – “we put it in the least attractive space” – so Diego invented and made portable incubators to carry the food to and fro. After dinner you return to the courtyard for coffee and a liquor and perhaps gaze into the two fish ponds with muted lighting. This is an upscale restaurant with all the right ingredients; excellent service, amazing ambience, and quality food with a Mexican gourmet twist. (our bill with tip was $800, wines by the glass are $65, worth every peseo and we’d do it all over again.) (Updated December 6: Opens on a Friday packed on a Wednesday night. I’m sure El Presidio will become a reservations only place. Three of us happily waited in the courtyard for our table. Didn’t take long before two in our party were enjoying the Japanese hamachi – fresh sashimi, one person approved of the added spices, another person would order it naked the next time. Diego was right about the ribeye, it’s the real deal. We asked for it medium and it came rare, so I suggest you say pink, (if that’s the way you like it) and Chef will know exactly how to cook it. I’d guess it was at least 9 oz, perfect for sharing. No complaints from the kitchen about splitting, so at $329 that becomes a reasonable price for a great piece of steak. Second time around I checked out the ladies room, wow, 11 stalls, and rows of basins! No line ups here, all super clean.)
[El Presidio, Mariano Escobedo and Niños Heroes, enter on the Niños Heroes side, open every day from 1 p.m. on, call for reservations at 669 910 2615 or 669 910 2615 credit cards accepted. Sometimes closed for private events, call ahead.]
The sounds of silence – dining at La Rosa de las Barras
By Sheila Madsen ( May 2012)
I realize this article is under restaurant reviews. But first one needs to describe Gail Blackburn, the owner of La Rosa de las Barras. Where to begin? Perhaps I’ll start with superwoman. She owns and operates the beautiful getaway one hour north of Mazatlan. Running a remote beachfront lodge is not so unusual; any normal person would hire workers to build one’s vision. Here’s where the superwoman part comes in: Gail has built every single structure, and planted every single tree by herself. After 12 years it’s a garden of Eden overflowing with oleander, clumping bamboo, vivid bougainvillea, palm trees, flowering hibiscus the size of dinner plates, and hundreds of other flora I could not identify. I have no idea when she found the time to create her new restaurant.
Four of us were there for a tranquil lunch at her new restaurant. She happily chatted with us and shared the history of La Rosa. It appears she doesn’t do the cooking for the restaurant and has actually hired a chef and wait staff. It’s a relief to see her relax, but I have no doubt she’s an excellent cook too. It’s a large menu, complete with pizza, but being surrounded by crustaceans and fish we all decided on the catch of the day. Oh boy, the sweet fresh shrimp, 7” long, were perfectly cooked and nothing like I had ever tasted in Mazatlan. Seriously, super sweet, like Maine lobster claws. Caught right out of her backyard (it’s a giant estuary with 40 pangas) we also devoured fresh corvina, grilled just right. At our request, lightly spiced, no heavy sauces, everthing so moist and fresh. Next time I am ordering lobster. Bring your own alcohol and be prepared to chill out with delicious food under a palapa overlooking the ocean, or sit right on the beach with the sand between your toes. Stay all day and swim. Bike, kayak, surf. Spend the night. Gail encourages it all.
When Gail isn’t building, or fixing, or adding on, she often has mosaic workshops. The 360 degree view from her workshop is well worth the price. Unbelievable – not a billboard, or a highrise in sight. The San Ignacio county does not permit anything over two storeys. Only rivers, estuaries, various vistas of the Pacific, acres of lush green land and always the background of the Sierra Madres. In the cooler months she grows organic veggies and food to supply her restaurant and to sell at the Organic Market in Zaragoza Square. Her Saturdays begin at 2 a.m. and wearing a miner’s helmet allows her to pick the freshest produce for Centro. Then she’s on the road by 4 a.m. and her booth is set up by 8 a.m. There’s that superwoman thing again. Did I mention she’s completely bilingual and is just one of three gringos in the entire area?
We chose to complete the day with a visit to Las Labradas petroglyphs. Nothing but sea and surf, and petroglyphs carved into inky black rocks. Not a person in sight. Perfect.
If you are craving calm, quiet and tranquil in a people free zone then La Rosa is the place. Perhaps visit Las Labradas first and then hang out at La Rosa for the rest of day. La Rosa can book up quickly so it’s best to call ahead to: reserve, ensure the kitchen is open, and to check on the road conditions. A four wheel drive can handle the 20 minute dirt road into La Rosa, but when the rains arrive it can be a difficult negotiation. Perhaps it was the volcanic rocks (are they?) but I got the feeling I was in a very hot spot of Ireland, or Newfoundland, or even somewhere in Australia. Probably the fact that there were no parades, no horns honking, no blaring banda music, no promotional loudspeakers, simply the silence of nature.
[Call for reservations: 696 102 5001, e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.larosadelasbarras.com. Gail could be mending a fence,or sorting through glass baubles, so I think a phone call is the best method.]
Raggio, cucina casual
(Updated February 2016: RM had this to say about Allegro in Centro, the corner of Belisario Dominguez and Sixto Osuna:”Our waitress was a most charming young lady from New York, living and working in Mazatlan to perfect her Spanish, which sounded perfect to me. The restaurant was quiet, so we enjoyed chatting with her. The interesting thing about the menu is that you have two options for the size of portions – (perfect for my husband and me). Also, a small symbol on the menu indicated the vegetarian dishes. My husband had the smaller Minestrone soup, quite generous, and I had the large Minestrone which came in an outsize cup, enough for a full meal, my husband had the large Mom’s lasagna with meat, and I had the small vegetarian lasagna. A basket of bread with a plate of olive oil and good Balsamic vinegar was also provided. We found the food and the service excellent.” Updated April 2013 by Sheila Madsen: It’s my first time and I knew I’d be dealing with many pasta and pizza dishes, after all it is an Italian restaurant. I’ve resisted going because I am gluten intolerant, Celiac, and this eliminates many choices and it’s not Raggio’s problem, it’s mine. The menu did offer specials of seared tuna, pork shank and a fillet of beef. I was in the mood for a salad and the Greek salad was fresh, crispy and had all the right ingredients. My friend order the spaghetti and meatballs, she said it was so so, and really preferred the same dish at Casa Canobbio. Wine is still $60 a glass, decent pour, and Raggio has an excellent, enthusiastic wait staff.)
By Rick Azulay, April 2012 [RIP/DEP, May 30, 2015]
I was brought up in an Italian neighborhood in Boston, so when I travel, I usually steer clear of restaurants that claim to have Cucina Italiana. However, Raggio in the Golden Zone, was a pleasant surprise. The restaurant features a crisp modern décor; marble top tables and magenta chairs and cushions. The centre pieces are the large authentic pizza oven and an open kitchen. Upon entering, my wife, Joan and I were greeted immediately, seated and presented with a menu that was brief but covered all the bases. The starters included two salads, a soup and wood fired roasted vegetables. Four pizzas and seven pasta dishes were the main offerings. I opted for the lasagna dish with iced tea, while my wife chose the spinach ravioli with a white wine. As soon as we ordered, the waiter brought us bread with a tasty olive oil balsamic dip and complimentary minestrone soup. The soup was light and flavorful with fresh vegetables and capellini. Even my wife had to note that it beat her recipe.
The huge lasagna portion was served with a side salad of arugula. The ravioli with mushrooms and white wine and shallots was light and filling at the same time. The most outstanding feature is that the pasta is homemade and this is what sets the Raggio experience apart from the usual Italian fare. The only downside was that the wine list consisted of only one white and one red and soft drinks were served in their original cans or bottles. This was a little too casual for me. All in all, a great experience and we will return soon. Dessert and coffee are available from its sister coffee shop next door, Allegro, which shares an outside patio. We wish a Raggio Due (2) would open next to the Allegro in El Centro. I’d feel like I was back in my old neighborhood. [ Rick Azulay died in May, 2015. Sadly, he didn’t live to see Raggio move right into his apartment building, in Centro on Sixto Osuna in August.]
Greek and red salad, $65; roasted vegetables, $80; minestrone, $70; meatballs – three large meatballs in a ragu sauce, $90; four pizzas $110-$120; seven pasta dishes $90-$120. Glass of house wine $60, beer $25.
[Closed Mondays, open from noon on, 669 913 5999, call ahead in low season or check the FB page.]
Villa Italia – excellent service, ordinary food
By Sheila Madsen (February 2012)
Large groups were leaving at 7:30 p.m. and more people were pouring in to take their places at Villa Italia, the restaurant attached to El Cid. The wait staff barely had time to brush off the tables and lay down clean cutlery for new customers. You can eat on the front terrace (noisy on Sabalo), the back terrace ( set back, a little quieter) or in the two beautifully decorated rooms inside. We opted for inside and are glad we did as a freak rain storm paid us a visit for fifteen minutes.
Chairs are padded in soft reds and beiges. White table cloths and matching napkins, all very proper, waiters are prompt and ready to please. Too bad about the food. Too bad about the wine. There are only two wines offered by the glass; Concha y Toro- merlot or cabernet sauvignon , we ordered two glasses which were served in cheesy, dollar store wine glasses. I noticed another table bought a bottle of Concha y Toro and they too were given the cheap glasses. Yet a second table went a little upscale in their wine order and received the proper, elegant stemware. I asked the waiter and he said “when you order anything else other than Concha y Toro you get better glasses.” Right away the owner had decided to penalize us, by not ordering a bottle of better wine. Remember, the only wine by the glass was Concha y Toro.
The pasta was ordinary. Spaghetti with meat balls in a ho hum tomato cream sauce, served lukewarm. Chicken breast with porcini mushrooms was beyond bland. The chicken was cold, absolutely no flavour, the rice was piping hot, but raw. The waiter removed the uneaten chicken, no problems, not a care in the world, and returned with steamed asparagus in the same boring tomato cream sauce. The asparagus was perfectly cooked and hot. Small wine pours $52, returned chicken $165, spaghetti $100, asparagus appetizer $100. I don’t know who is MIA, the chef, the owner? I don’t think anyone had tasted the food at Villa Italia in three years. Tons of attention to detail on service, but zero on the food, sort of an anomaly for Mazatlan. Usually the food is lovingly prepared and it falls down on the execution. All we could think of was how Héctor Peniche of Molika would never let food like this leave his kitchen. So that’s Villa Italia; great service, lovely atmosphere, ordinary food.
[Camaron Sabalo, attached to El Cid, call 669 913 0311 for hours of operation and reservations].
Pizza and pasta in the Plazuela Machado
Introduction by Sheila Madsen (being gluten intolerant there is very little I can eat here, so I’ve relied on friends for reviews. Owner Gaston Espino has promised to make me fish or chicken at any time. This really isn’t a review; go, decide for yourself, Feb. 2012)
Casa Canobbio, is the new Italian restaurant in the Plazuela Machado. Mazatlecos, Gaston Espino and his wife Yolanda, own two restaurants and three bars in Cabo. “We’ve been longing to return to Mazatlan, and the only area we wanted to open a restaurant in was in the Plazuela Machado.” The Canobbio family owned one of Mazatlan’s largest pharmacies in 1899, and under these architectural portals they manufactured the elixir, “the goddess of Venus”, which promised eternal youth. Casa Canobbio is promising an Italian décor complete with graceful drawings from a great, great, great, Canobbio auntie, and the original pestle and mortar that mixed the ingredients for eternal youth is proudly on display. The bar is wrapped in a wrought iron repeat pattern, the walls have a rustic finish, the music is low and discreet, the lighting is soft and the ceiling fans are beautifully designed. The tables are covered in traditional red and white checkered cloths and as Darian Day said “I feel as if I am in Italy, in Sicily, this is exactly the kind of restaurant the Machado needs.”
The wait staff uniform is so Italian; crisp white shirt, red bow tie, black tuxedo vest and a bright red apron. The menu cover is elegant in deep shades of earthy brown. Open it and you’ll discover salads, 11 pasta dishes and a choice of eight thin crust pizzas ranging from $85- $140. There’s a full bar, a choice of wines by the glass or bottle, and beer on tap. Sit inside and soak up the atmosphere, or outside where the entire square is before you. When Gaston Espino was teenager his parents sent him to Windsor, Ontario to learn English (poor guy, freezing to death in that small town) so he asked that you all drop by to say hello, and sample his food. He’s charming and very service oriented. If he could, he would give you the recipe for eternal youth, but for now it lies in the red wine and in his delicious Italian food.
Update: four of us went there for dinner. It was only the second night yet waiters were attentive, not hovering, and items requested were brought quickly. The Caesar salad was good, not amazing. I prefer the dressing of El Shrimp Bucket, and the chicken to be grilled. Romaine lettuce was crisp with lots of parmesan cheese. Val Johnson had the spaghetti Napoli and she reported “the pasta is perfectly cooked, el dente, the flavours rustic, not acidy, it has a true Italian flavour.” Her husband, Roy, ordered the lasagna and claimed “it was very good.” Ok, so he won’t be employed as a restaurant reviewer but his plate was polished clean and both Val and Roy will return. Later that week…Joan and Rick Azulay said they enjoyed their thin crust pizza “we preferred the crust and taste to the pizza at La Bohemia.”
[Casa Cannobio, in the Plazuela Machado, on Heriberto Frias, check FB page for operating hours accepts credit cards.]
Dining in an eclectic art gallery
By Sheila Madsen (January 22, 2012)
(Updated December 2014: Taking guests from out of town is like seeing El Aljibe again for the very first time. This time around a 23, a 26 and a 30 year-old were wowed by the food and the space. One was a strict vegan and José served a springtime-time fresh vegetable plate – not on the menu. We ordered shrimp cooked two ways, oxtail stew, chicken dish (too large to eat) and spaghetti Bolognese – the 26 year-old finished that! The food is lovingly prepared and there’s just one attitude – to please you. José still does not accept credit cards or make margaritas! Updated November 2013: Over the years owner José Pérez Garcia has tried adding specials, he just keeps experimenting. This year he has decided to return to this original menu (extensive, varied) and perfect those dishes. So far, all our food has been delicious – from pasta to shrimp tacos in a creamy sauce. The food is as creative as the space. José is a gentleman, a gentle man; when El Aljibe becomes busy, please remain calm and gentle.)
When you are longing for a cool atmosphere -think Paris underground circa 1950, then head to Centro’s newest restaurant, El Aljibe S. Pedro. It’s difficult to pull yourself away from an ocean view, or our wonderful Plazuela Machado, or the beautiful interior courtyards of La Bohemia, and Topolo, but when you eventually tire of that, do venture downstairs into the 150 year cistern of El Aljibe.
Eight years ago owner, José Pérez, pumped four feet of water out the building and then spent two years renovating and restoring this space into an art gallery – unlike anything you have seen before. Perhaps it’s his Spanish heritage, perhaps it’s just his eye as an collector, but this is one far out collection of: old sewing machines, a red leather barber’s chair, dolls heads propped on wooden beams, lasts hanging from the ceiling, sconces with shades and sun glasses, saxophones dangling on thin wires,and ancient wooden chairs suspended, The table of six beside us of commented “it is organized chaos, we feel that we are in Europe somehwere (Paris or Spain) and we think the place is unique and so different from any place in Mazatlan.” Even the bano doors are completely different. One is covered in thousands of multi coloured buttons, the other is plastered with comics. Who thinks like this? José does, and continues to add to his vision.
Chunky tables and chairs – both antique and modern – await customers. Not too close, not too far apart, and the cylindrical ceiling acts as a natural baffle for noise. The rough concrete walls also display a fascinating selection of paintings so you won’t get bored while waiting for your meal. Although we didn’t have to wait at all. We were greeted warmly, shown to our table, and were allowed to try two Spanish red wines – a Rioja and a Rivera de Duero. We chose a glass each of the Rioja and it’s a generous pour for $40. Heck the whole bottle is only $140. With our wine arrived a complimentary tapas of fresh mushrooms stuffed with bacon. Very tasty. I ordered the catch of the day, my husband Soren, filet mignon. Fifteen minutes later our meals arrived, hot and at the same time. That’s a good sign. My white fish (corvina?) was perfectly grilled, moist and flakey served with fresh chopped veggies crowning a bed of rice. Two large pieces for $120. Soren’s beef was cooked as requested, medium rare, and arrived with a red wine sauce and heaping scoops of mashed potatoes. No greens, price, $130. Soren is very fussy about his tenderloin and said it was acceptable, but wouldn’t order it again. Next time he has lots to select from: six starters, all different from $40 – $80, two salads at $80, four mains the most expensive is $120, and six grilled offerings ranging from $100 – $130.
It’s a large menu with something for everyone. From gorditas topped with smoked marlin, to spaghetti with sea food, or maybe you are in the mood for pozole with chickpeas. Both of us had two tiny complaints. The Ipod music should have been a light jazz not disco/technopop (and José did change the shuffle for us) and for such a European feel, lose those small square paper napkins. Let’s take it from the top. Where you actually walk down to the exciting environment of an old cisterne where the service and quality of food is excellent. The attention to detail is rated high and that always gets confirmed in the neatness of the restrooms. We’ll return often, there’s more I want to see, and there’s more I want to eat. Then again, there’s a great bar area where I can sip on my Rioja and inhale this wild art collection.
(The second time around was even better… excellent service, all meals served hot and at the same time. Friends applauded the pozole with chickpeas – I had a sip and it was velvety soup with a rich meaty flavour. My friend claimed it was the garbanzo beans that made the difference. Rave reviews for both the spaghetti Bolognese and spaghetti with seafood; spaghetti was el dente, Bolognese packed with flavour with extra sauce on the side, and the seafood, shrimp and calamari in a cream sauce, was perfectly cooked. I had the grilled chicken Caesar salad – the dressing was tangy, all ingredients were fresh, even the tomatoes – which is a little odd for a Caesar salad but did not detract from the dish. All portions were huge and could have been shared. Pozole $90, pasta dishes $80, Caesar salad, $80.)
[El Aljibe de S. Pedro, Constitución # 710, 669 982 6518, open Tuesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Closed until November, 2016.]
Topolo serves it your way
By Sheila Madsen (December 2011)
(Updated August 2016 – closed from August 14 until September 29]Updated June 2014: all the good words still apply. Consistent, quality, superb service. Updated October 2012: Top marks for Topolo. The tapas menu has been perfected and offers picadas – that’s the baby brother to their pork shank on sopas. The same slow cooked pork in adobe sauce, but it’s served on a small sopa. Tuna tartar, and a cheese and fruit platter for two have been added. Mains include lobster stuffed poblano peppers and a lobster surf and turf; if not in season, then large shrimp will be substituted. For dessert there’s a new super sundae – ice cream, caramel and hot fudge sauce, blackberries, pecans, all topped with whipped cream. There’s also a dessert sampler for two; chocolate mousse, cheesecake and key lime pie. Topolo continues to serve it your way.)
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the praise for Topolo Mexican Restaurant. Is it the magical atmosphere, excellent service, or consistently superb food? After living in Mazatlan for three years and returning to Topolo again and again, it’s simply all three. Eileen and Fernando, the owners, have nailed the two most difficult things in a restaurant; consistent quality of product and amazing service. Add the open courtyard with palms reaching to the sky, the subtle lighting, the romantic live background music, and a calming waterfall and you have it all – night, after night, after night. There are no missteps.
I can assure you as a resident of Mazatlan everything you read on TripAdvisor about Topolo is true. Reservations are a must and are honoured. They don’t “lose” your name. If you are two, and a group of ten walk in before you, the service is absolutely the same. No missteps. It’s perfect. The experience begins with wait staff introducing themselves, and ensuring you have everything you need. They don’t meet and greet and disappear, they stay with you. Next, is the salsa show; it’s the famous Topolo roasted tomato salsa made fresh at your table exactly the way you want it. Our friend from Toronto wanted it spicy, we wanted it not so spicy. No problem, all mixed before us, our way. And therein lies the truth about this beautiful restaurant. It’s all about the customer, and what you want.
Over the years I’ve eaten: cilantro fish filet – stuffed with shrimp, celery onion and topped with a light butter, lime and cilantro sauce, $180; papillote fish filet, steamed in a corn husk with shrimp, scallops and a tomato sauce, $180; coconut shrimp with mango sauce, $190, tequila shrimp $190; half boneless chicken breast marinated in adobe sauce and tequila, $150; chilled crab and shrimp salad $90; strawberry greens salad, $80; and my current favourite is the pork shank slow cooked in adobe sauce, served with veggies and mashed potatoes, $170. This is fall off the bone, tender meat and during the winter I will return to this dish many times. A not very hungry couple could start with the delicious salsa and easily share the pork shank; in fact share any meal, the portions are generous.
A bottle of the house wine, a Mexican cab blend (it’s a smooth, soft red) is $300, or you can buy several kinds by the glass for $70. Because you don’t want to rush out of this delightful space, linger over dessert with an espresso, or another “fancy” coffee. If you think the prices sound higher than other restaurants, they are. What can I say? You get what you pay for. Or how about, you are worth it.
[Topolo Mexican Restaurant and Wine Bar, one block from the Plazuela Machado, Constitucion # 629, open Monday to Saturday from 2 – 11 p.m., and Sundays from 4 – 11 p.m. Major credit cards accepted. Call 136 0660 for reservations. Open every day at 3 p.m. Romantic background music.]
La Bohemia, can you dig it?
By Dakota Francis, March 2011,
(Updated August 2016: chefs and cooks have come and gone. Owners are still playing with the menu. All wait staff aim to please and the tiny kitchen can produce some decent food. The review below really reflects the beautiful space, that just keeps improving. Oh, just go and soak it in, have a nibble or two. SM)
The minute you walk into La Bohemia, you know you are in a different time zone. A different element. Hey baby, dig that crazy scene and get jiggy with the décor. Snap your fingers in time to a mental Peggy Lee singing “Fever” and wish you had on your black capri pants, red high heels and tied at the waist blouse. Okay, so you don’t, but isn’t it fun? The high ceilings, graffiti’d walls, comfy couches and lounge chairs, hidden-away tables among the banyan tree roots, and accommodating wait staff.
After a sweltering summer La Bohemia – Bar, Galería y Tapas – has re-opened with a new chef managing the kitchen, Angelina Escutia. Chef has revamped the menu and it’s way more than tapas. Five tapas appetizers are offered including mussels – eleven giant, tender New Zealand mussels were steamed with white wine, garlic and served in a delicious provence style sauce, $145. Beet carpaccio, a bruschetta platter, pintxos ( the popular skewers) and salmon burritas are also available.
Our group chose not to have pizza, there are four gourmet pan pizzas, but we all shared the house salad with lettuce, spinach, peaches, cranberries, nuts, dry fruit, topped in a fabulous plum dressing, a bargain, and a full meal at $65. We moved onto fettuccine with wild mushroom sauce – the pasta perfectly cooked and served al dente, again easily shared for $75. Chef and her team, cooked the fresh grilled fish absolutely perfectly, tender and moist with a subtle sauce of black pepper, lemon, and herb garlic, $125. The generous pieces of mahi mahi were served on a bed of rice – the rice was not your usual boring lump, it was really tasty with secret herbs, and of course, garlic. Angelina is all about garlic. The last dish, and perhaps the best, was a chicken breast with creamy chipotle sauce, $90. The flavors were mouth watering and our table was groaning with enthusiasm. Two steak dishes are offered, as well as roast eggplant ravioli and “drunken” breaded shrimp. Service was attentive and the staff are still tinkering with the wine and drink list.
This is a place to have fun, to let your hair down, to kick off your shoes and tuck a leg underneath you and discuss Warhol, Pollock or the best hollandaise in town. With the open ceilings, natural brick walls, hanging Spanish moss, tete a tete corners and a cozy bar, it still is the place to be seen. La B: it’s a bar, it’s a light bite, it’s a romantic dinner, it’s secret hideway, it’s everything you want it to B.
[Plazuela Machado, Constitucion # 511 (Between La Tramoya and Beach Burger)
Accepts VISA, open Tuesday – Sundays, 5 p.m.-11, 136 0866]
Casa Loma, 36 and counting
(Updated August 2012, Sheila Madsen:now 37 and counting… I would agree with Dakota’s review from a year ago. Same massive menu, really something for everyone. I couldn’t decide if the dark wooden paneling was a relief from the humidity, or just out of place in a Mexican seaside city. The service was excellent, waiters were very attentive. I too was glad of the 30% discount, if you pay cash, as the price point is higher than other establishments. Every Saturday night the Mexico trio, Grupo Canto Altano, play lovely background music. The upscale environment and trio are worth a return visit.)
By Dakota Francis August 9, 2011
One of Mazatlan’s oldest and most loved restaurants has a distinct flavor of bygone days, when people actually dressed for dinner and flip flops were confined to the beach. After 36 years of continuous service, there is still much of that same feeling as it tends to be a destination for a special occasion; an anniversary, a birthday, a good-bye to friends, which was the case with our table.
Called “the house on the hill”, it sits in a residential neighborhood and is very unimposing, until you enter the front door. For those who want to dine more casually with a feeling of al fresco, there are brightly set tables in a patio like setting. However, being the middle of summer, the air conditioning on the inside dining room was more than welcome. The dark wood ceilings and paneling, burgundy red walls and elegantly plated tables make one almost want to whisper or at least look around for Carlos Slim, who may be sitting in a far corner. The wait staff is prepared to give your table initial superb attention and you are greeted upon entering the front door without delay. Drinks orders are taken and served, while one takes another day and a half to read through the prodigious menu which can be found on line. A complaint that our table had and we have noticed before in many other establishments, is that waiters rarely return to ask if another drink is desired. In our case, we started with a cocktail, and while finishing that, dinner was served but we were never asked about wine or other beverages. Yes, we could have signaled, but again, restaurants could add substantially to their profits with more drink attention.
Two at our table had French onion soup, topped with croutons and bubbling cheese. Along with the soup, one diner had an appetizer of avocado stuffed with shrimp, surrounded with fresh vegetables and it wasn’t skimpy. Nine large shrimp on a whole avocado. Two diners had the osso bucco, which is served two ways; one with a rich gravy over egg noodles and another in a mustard caper sauce. We opted for the pasta. Another diner had the ajo fish, and it was literally crusted with crunchy garlic and ever so tender and good. Without the discount, the osso bucco is $280, the appetizer was $75 and the French onion soup was $59. Along with drinks a large basket of fresh bread arrives. Prices tend to be higher than many other places, but it is worth it on those special occasions. From many appetizers, seafood, beef, poultry and game, salads, traditional Mexican and house specialties, your biggest challenge will be deciding. Did I mention the dessert menu? An enormous array, from flambes to crepes and everything in between to make the numbers on your scale go up a few notches.
Yes, it does feel a bit old world and of a bygone time, but let bygones be bygones. Get out your fancy duds, count your pesos and give yourself a treat. Feels kind of good to get out of those shorts and sandals, doesn’t it?[Casa Loma Restaurant,Gaviotas Ave. #104 , Gaviotas areas, 913-5398 , http://www.restaurantcasaloma.com]
Lunching at Los Delfines Restaurant in the Maria Coral Hotel
By Zoe Jussel (August 2011)
Woke up to humidity of almost 94% with my brain shouting “let’s go to Stone Island and check out the new Maria Coral Hotel to swim and lunch. Now!” So off we went, my friend and I, gradually beginning to cool down after boarding the now $25 (each) panga ride to the island. We caught a ride at the dock for $50 (total),as the new Maria Coral Hotel is the last building on the island and a long jaunt down bumpy roads, halting for horses and riders around every bend. It’s an pretty walk along the beach from the dock too, if you are in the mood.
Looking at the pictures on Facebook, one expects a behemoth edifice rising to many stories, but in fact, when actually facing the hotel, it is rather small and comfortable. Welcoming, one might say. There is a winding staircase to the front entrance, which is also the Los Delfines restaurant and bar. Very elegant, crisp and inviting. It is a favorite during the busy season when the RV’ers head in, as evidenced by some of the online photos. The hotel, taking three years to build, is owned by a local family, with Adam Noronjo at the helm, and named after his daughter. He was also, very kindly our bartender (running to pick me a fresh mango for my margarita) and welcoming committee of one. The hotel seemed at first out of place after passing palapa after palapa, but once inside on the patio, or on a stool in the swim up bar, drink in hand, food order made, a comfort zone it is.
Los Delfines is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is 7-10 and the rest is served until 10 p.m. The pool closes at 9. The menu is fairly large with many appetizers, fish dishes, filet mignon and prices ranging from $120 for pescado empanizado to $230 for more complex dishes. We both had fish for lunch and the servings were commendable. Leftovers for another time, but perhaps that was due to the very generous and chunky guacamole for $55 and the large margaritas at $60. Other than one couple, we were the only ones there. There is room service all day and evening, and there are many activities available from the hotel that the staff is willing to organize for you.
Visitors are encouraged to stay and swim, use the facilities with an expenditure of at least $120. There are tables with umbrellas, loungers, outdoor showers and a pathway to the beach and ocean. We stayed most of the afternoon and then decided to walk back to the panga dock along the ocean’s edge and I would say it was far more pleasant than dodging (or not) the potholes and horses on the dirt road. Works up an appetite and then works it off. All in all, it was a very good day and nice to feel serene and private for while yet still able to hear the distant trill of a child’s laughter.[Maria Coral Hotel,Stone Island, open every day.
01 669 981 9491 Email: email@example.com
My breakfast at the mercado – Tony’s Burgers
You last read Bonnie Vela when she was on the Sinaloa gastronomic tour. After some brisk walks, swimming, zumba, yoga, and Pilates classes, Bonnie was ready to introduce her Texas friends to one of the best breakfasts in Centro.
By Bonnie Vela, July 1, 2011
One of the “must do’s” for my out of town guests is to experience all the wonders of the Mercado Pino Suarez in El Centro. My girlfriend and I headed out on a morning walk with the mercado as our destination. We were ready to kick start the day and eliminate our hunger pains at one of the many restaurants upstairs at the mercado. But my inner voice was telling me that the time was right to explore the small corner restaurants on the main level that had been catching my eye on several of my produce shopping ventures. We had fully intended to order a typical breakfast item, but after seeing all the locals eating tortas we quickly changed our minds.
Who would have thought a torta de pierna with french fries would land into my category of breakfast favorites? Well now I’m sold; minus the french fries. That is if the torta is from Tony’s Burgers. Oh what a fabulous find. I’m so glad I decided to give this little stand a try. The torta sandwich was large and plenty. All the ingredients tasted very fresh and delicious. Heck, everything’s right there in the market, so I’d be surprised if otherwise. For those not wanting a torta, they do serve up eggs any way you want, pancakes, bacon and we saw an amazing looking omelet being prepared.
Let’s get back to my torta. I had the pierna which is what I would call pull pork. My girlfriend had the shrimp torta. Both were served on a mouthwatering bun that was grilled followed by a nice portion of meat and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado. Jalapenos and other condiments were on the bar. My friend, Stephanie, and I couldn’t get a word out except….O’ My God this is delicious. So aside from eating and not talking we listened carefully to what all the other folks were ordering and checked out the plates as they were being served. Torta de Pierna was a popular dish but don’t hesitate to try the shrimp burger. That one is next on my list. The shrimp were seasoned, sautéed and the only thing binding this burger was Chihuahua cheese that was melted into the shrimp. It too was followed by lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado That’s second on my list – it looked fantastic.
You’ll find Tony’s by entering the southeast side of the mercado off Leandro Valle street. Montepio Casa Mazatlan is directly across the street from where you need to enter and immediately you’ll see Tony’s on the right. His booth number is B28. Tony has a corner setup where you can see him personally cooking everything right in front of you and a bar with seating that wraps around his small place. The menu isn’t what I would call extensive but it features pork, chicken, hamburgers, carne asada and shrimp which can be all can be ordered as a burger, torta or served in a tortilla. Prices are very reasonable. My meal, the torta de pierna, cost $25 and Stephanie ordered the torta de camaron which cost $42 –the highest priced item. They do offer a combo meal which is the torta de pierna, french fries, and 20 oz drink for $40. If you don’t have time to sit and enjoy a meal with the locals, call ahead and place your order; or place your order, do a little shopping and pick it up. Tony is open 7 days a week from 9:00 a.m. till 6:00 p.m. and offers home delivery. His phone number is 668 98 43 and he speaks very good English although his staff speaks Spanish. If you call, they will put Tony on the phone and he’ll be more than happy to take your order.
Tony’s gets rave reviews in my opinion. Hope you enjoy Tony’s Burgers as much as I do.
Sensational Sinaloa food
By Bonnie Vela
Recently, I was given the opportunity of joining the Gastronomic Tour group, Aromas y Sabores in Sinaloa. Sinaloa is a long and narrow state that runs along the Sea of Cortes. As in any state, food varies within its own region. I found that “inland” cities featured beef dishes while most “coastal” cities focused on ingredients pulled from the sea. Every stop on our tour was a unique experience. Some of our gatherings took place in restaurants, while at other times, we dined in courtyards of the Principal Municipal or in the gardens of Leyson Farm. Often, to accommodate our group, large buffets were prepared. The town of El Fuerte hosted our group in their Principal Municipal. At this event, I was introduced to cauques. Cauques is a fresh water jumbo shrimp that has been butterflied, seasoned with spices, topped with a light sprinkle of breadcrumbs and then broiled. A fabulous dish; I now know that if I see cauqes on a menu, I will order it.
Cazadores Steak is an excellent restaurant, located on Lazaro Cardenas #317, in Los Mochis. The decor of wall mounted wild game and skinned furs, furnishings of large heavy wooden pieces and a beautiful bar made of stone and wood all worked together to create a rustic yet elegant atmosphere. As we sat down at our table dripping in white linen, a “family style”
salad consisting of lettuce, tomato and red onions was presented, along with three types of salsas and a basket of chips. All three salsas were different. The hottest was the salsa verde. The red sauces were fairly mild, but full of flavour. The food bar was set high and I’m pleased to report it met all of our expectations. Allow me to forewarn – portion sizes are huge. I had the carne asada served with potato slices, refried beans, grilled jalapenos and grilled onions. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal until I had a bite of caberia steak. Caberia steak is a cut from the loin “lomo” which is little thicker and a lot juicer than my carne asada cut. Prices range from $90 – $180, but remember portions can easily be split.
Machacas de res (seasoned dried beef) is seen on most menus throughout Sinaloa. It’s typically served au natural, mixed with eggs or Mexican style – sautéed with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. Of course I couldn’t resist trying tamales, burritos, and quesadillas all infused with machaca, each with different sauces and seasonings. I’m afraid to mention another favourite of mine was the carnitas de puerco; pork meat that has been deep fried in its own fat. Don’t judge me before you try it. Once you do, don’t forget to thank me. Pozole soup was a common denominator among the buffets. It’s a mild hominy based stew. I understand why it was presented frequently; it warms the soul. The stew is made with white corn hominy, chicken stock seasoned with roasted onions, garlic, chilies and bite size pork cubes. Not spicy, just full of flavour.
Traveling south to the Pearl of the Pacific, that us, in Mazatlan, more seafood items appeared on our menu. Lots of restaurants have the word “mariscos” in its name, which mean “seafood”. Expect to find these oceanic delights: oysters, octopus, crab, scallops, various types of fish and, of course, shrimp. Ceviches and agua chiles are very popular among the Sinaloa communities. Both require ‘cooking’ seafood in lime juice – the difference is in the spices. Agua chile can be very spicy and for my taste palate it’s the perfect balance of lime, salt and heat. Ceviche has a hint of spice from the serrano peppers and is topped with diced tomato. Seafood soups, sopas de mariscos, are a wonderful light, but filling meal. Fish is prepared anyway you want it. Dorado is a popular white fish, not too meaty and my recommendation is to select a large fish (to be shared with everyone at your table) have the fish butterflied and thrown directly on the grill. Delicious! El Meson Los Laureanos, in El Quelite, is another restaurant suggestion. Only 33 kilometres, it’s worth the drive from Mazatlan, just to savour its breakfast specials from huevos al gusto (eggs of your choice), chorizos (spicy sausage), chilaquiles rojos to machaca de res. The average price range is $90. After your meal, stroll around the plazuela and don’t leave without buying the local caramel sauce. The caramel sauce tastes exactly like the “Sugar Daddy’s” candy I grew up with in Texas. O’ So Good!
And that sums up my Gastronomic Tour – O’ So Good!
(with special thanks to Sinaloa Tourism who invited MazatlanLife to join Aromas y Sabores. I’m thrilled Bonnie loved the deep fried pork; that’s why I chose her for this gourmet trip- she’s all about exploring, trying and enjoying the adventure. SM- June 4, 2011)
Don’t cry for me Argentina
By Dakota Francis, April 29, 2011
El Bife Parrilla Argentina
(Updated July 2016: same great service, same great food. Updated June 2014: This remains on our repeat list. The beef is tender and beautifully cooked. The wine pours are excellent. The service is consistent, it’s a favourite! S.M. Updated April 2012: Anne Heynen reports: “ El Bife is one of our favourite places. Eric is the best waiter, in my opinion. I love their grilled vegetable brochette, also the asparagus appetizer. El Bife cooks the steaks exactly the way we like. Their French fries are perfection.”)
This reviewer always has the utmost best wishes for any restaurant that takes the chance and opens in a climate of economic difficulty and doubly so, when it’s a GOOD restaurant. Let’s take a look at Argentina’s offering.
We hope that El Bife has the muscle to hang in there until they have hooked the meat eaters in this city and once experiencing the fire grilled steaks, hooked they will be. We had the Churrasco also known as Argentine top sirloin, 14 oz, which was done to perfection with just a hint of pink in the middle and juicy tender. It was served with a choice of sides and we chose the baked potato. A small serving of chimichurri arrived with the steak and it was a perfect addition. A mélange (don’t you love that word?) of fresh vegetables also graced the plate. $145
The other dinner was grilled salmon with butter and lime and was reported to be perfect and tasty. Not overdone and also served with a side and vegetables. $135. Slightly unusual here for Mazatlan, was the attention of the waiters who came to our table several times to make certain all was satisfactory and that nothing else was needed. Often we dine out and after the meal is delivered, adios, goodbye, ciao.
Shortly after we were seated, a basket of warm garlic bread was brought to the table, covered with a colourful cloth. It was not the usual dry toasty garlic bread, but buttery soft and chewy. No shyness with the garlic, either, which suits us just fine.
There is such a variety of dishes on the menu from starters to finishers; chicken, fish, pastas, salads and baguettes, desserts that one can find just what they want, even if there is no yearning for a lovely piece of meat. We had a few chuckles over the menu with the heading of “torn overs” and “beef juice” soup. I also think I would tend to pass up the “small intestines cooked with milk”. The wine delivery is different for Mazatlan. You can bring your own bottle for corkage fee of $90. Or select a wine from El Bife’s list and a corkage fee of $90 pesos will be added. The restaurant only adds $90 to the mark-up, instead of the usual doubling or tripling of the price. They are following a private club business model which is a welcome addition. The wait staff does need to be better trained on this explanation; it’s new to them and new to us.
If the attentive service and beautifully grilled meats are any indication of success, then that is just what we see for El Bife. Pssst! The restrooms are clean but be careful of the different levels.
A second visit underscored the enthusiasm of the first. Again, sitting outside on the comfortable cushioned chairs with the tables topped with pale blue linen cloths, we began with a generous pour of a red at $50. There is only one red and one white by the glass. Eyes (our own) rolled at the first taste of the fillet petit, 7 oz, charcoal grilled to perfection; possibly the best steak thus enjoyed in Mazatlan. As another side choice, it came with real hand cut fries and veggies. $155. Not many places offer a fabulous steak dinner for the equivalent of $13.[El Bife, Plazuela Machado, next to Beach Burger. Open: Tuesday 5 p.m. –midnight, Sunday until 2 p.m., closed Mondays, 669 136 0436, Visa and MasterCard accepted]
La Corriente. Hear the buzz?
By Dakota Francis, March 27, 2011
(Updated November 2013: there was no white wine, and one bottle of red wine. I just find the food so-so, the staff are happier talking among themselves but the setting is still wonderful! I have friends that go just for the appetizers, beer and sunset. They claim the apps. are excellent. SM)
This reviewer looked forward with great anticipation to trying this new beachfront hot spot and was not disappointed. It is our opinion that the buzz will shortly become a roar and the new place to see and be seen. Directly in front of the Hotel De Cima, to the right of the stairs leading into the lobby, is an underground tunnel, decorated in mosaics, which leads to La Corriente. No dodging fast moving cars, pulmonias and buses if you happen to be on the opposite side of the street. Of course, on the Malecon are stairs leading down to the restaurant, as well. We were happily surprised on arriving, to be greeted by a smiling Juan Manuel Serrano Ramos, former manager of B Gallery, who has accepted the position of manager at La Corriente. We were told that the restaurant was “officially” opening April 1, so the menu may be changing slightly.
What a fun and exciting space, with a large curved bar, several “rooms” all with a slightly different flavour and very reminiscent of what Diego’s has done in the Golden Zone. Wood bench seating with comfortable cushions, mid century designer chairs here and there, a wooden floor and interesting hanging lights that glow blue at night are all part of the ambiance. The views after dark are unbeatable as once the sun goes down, you have Centro to one side and the Golden Zone on the other. Valentinos can be seen changing colours in the distance. Large TV’s are planned, (personally, those we could live without,) live music in the future and a sun screened area. The music selection, while we ate, was at an acceptable volume and the music a soft rock.
The menu is different in a fun and playful way, but the emphasis is definitely on fresh seafood. Many fish dishes, interestingly prepared in the neighborhood of $119, tacos in a way you would never imagine, tostadas, various appetizers and drinks. The drinks alone, $50, are worth the price of admission just to read the names and ingredients although the wine pour is only 4 oz for $60. And this is for Carlo Rossi! We started with a California taco and a KiKi taco, one filled with a whole poblano chili, cheese and lovely sauce, while the other had melted cheese, chilies and a guacamole side. Along side of this was a fresh scallop tostada, with the scallops almost raw and sliced very thinly, topped with avocado and onions. We had the Pulp Friction martini, which was almost like a fruit slush with some chili pepper but ever so good, and a Negro Modelo. Two dinners and two drinks came to $180, which is a great price for great tasting food. Fellow diners were more than pleased with their selections, and we are all anxious to go back and try some of the fish dishes. We are excited to not have to drive all the way to Diego’s to get our groove on, and now have our own rising star.
To be fair, on another night of dining there, the experience was bit different. The staff was on the mark when we were first seated, but then disappeared with a distinct lack of attention thereafter. Our meal this evening consisted of 12 large peel and eat shrimp, fresh, succulent and delicious for $90, a fish dish served in banana leaves, very moist but cold when it arrived, as were the 4 interesting and well prepared tacos. Cold food, unless it is supposed to be, certainly takes the edge off a good dining experience. In conclusion, this evening’s diners were presented with the wrong bill. Because we like the location, the menu, (work on the wine) the views and the general feel of this new venue, we hope that the management gets the staff on track, trains them to explain the preparation of various items, and serves hot food hot. When all this is ironed out, La Corriente will indeed BE the hot spot.[La Corriente, Ave. del Mar #48, in front of Hotel De Cima,accepts major credit card, open every day 11-11, has “real” bathrooms for men and women]
Gracias Italy, for many marvelous Mexican wines
By Zoe Jussel
Seventeen people gathered at a local Centro home that was host to a sommelier and his assistants, representing L.A. Cetto Winery. Founded by an Italian, Angelo Cetto, history says that Cetto started the wine business in 1930, bought a number of small wineries in the 1980, and now he is responsible for more than half of the country’s wine. Cetto cultivates 2,500 acres of vineyards in Baja California; also tequila and olive oil.
L.A. Cetto is one of the most renowned and oldest wineries in Mexico. In addition to the vineyards, L.A. Cetto offers gardens, a picnic area, wine tasting room, tours and they also have a tasting boutique in Ensenada. Today, with more than 75 years of tradition and quality, L.A. Cetto is without doubt one of the most important wineries in the Mexican industry; a total of 132 international prizes in France, Italy, Spain, England, Canada and the United States. L.A. Cetto is the Mexican winery recognized internationally; their wines being an example of the quality and the certainty of the Mexican art of making good wine. Three reds were tasted, ending with an unusual and dry Rosé, but it was generally agreed that the favorite was a bottle of Nebbiolo at $158. The wines ranged in price from $82, for a petite Sirah, to $240.
Oscar Gamero, manager of Cava del Duero, our “liquor store” on Avenida del Mar # 620, opposite the seal monument, confirmed the following prices and the wines are in stock. L.A. Cetto Zinfandel $82, Cab. Sauv. $82, petite Sirah, $82, Reverva Privada Nebbiolo, $158, Don Luis Cetto Merlot $149, Don Luis Cetto Concordia $ 166,Don Luis Terra $ 240, Angelo Cetto Reserva Platino, $750.00.
Red between the lines
By Dakota Francis, February 2011
(Updated November 2013: what a disappointment – this is suppose to be wine bar, but there was only a single bottle of cabernet sauvignon. No other wine available, cash flow problem? The burgers are made from brisket and it took my Mexican friend five minutes to explain to the cook to forgo adding breadcrumbs. The request was not met with smiles. Service slow, only four people there! – SM)
Rosso Nero, Italian for red black is not easy to package. Is it a wine bar? Is it a restaurant? It is trying to be a little of both and may eventually succeed but has a way to go. What cannot be faulted is the attentiveness of owner, Enrique Espinoza and his staff who met us at the door and had our table ready and waiting. Following a suggestion to try a French Cote du Rhone, Les Violettes at $450 a bottle, we at first thought it a bit weak knee’d but it soon began to fill out and was a very enjoyable wine to begin our evening. We followed that bottle with a more fruity Mexican wine, Casa Madero Merlot at $495. This wine was chosen after the waiter brought several to the table for us to see, but also after three that were asked about were not available. If Rosso Nero wants to be known as a premier wine bar, then it should be a certainty that wines on the menu be available and if not, the menu adjusted. It is evident that the owner knows his wines and is eager to share his knowledge, making it easier to try something unfamiliar. One can fall into a pattern here in Mazatlan, of drinking the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, and I can see this place being a perfect late afternoon stop to try yet another new wine by the glass. The wine list is quite impressive and varied.
We started our meals with a bruschetta topped with caramelized onion and salmon spread, which is slightly misleading as it is offered as Brusquetta de Salmón at $150. The quantity was impressive and the presentation appealing although I would have preferred paper thin slices of real salmon instead of the spread. One of the diners had the sashimi, at $150, which was fresh and tasty and although an “entrada” was enough for a meal. Another ordered the gorgonzola burger at $85 which proved to be perfectly done and an excellent piece of meat, however the gorgonzola never arrived with the burger. A small dish of gorgonzola was then produced; kind of a “cheesy” afterthought, if you ask me. Also, when the order was given, a request for the burger to arrive on its own without the bun was made, but it did indeed arrive with the unwanted bun. The hit of the evening was the huitlacoche and camarones pizza at $190. A perfect thin crust and ample topping with the huitlacoche giving it that distinctive earthy musky flavor. The menu consists of a wide variety of salads, paninis, hamburgers, rib eye, pizzas and desserts.
The interior of Rosso Nero is small but good use is made of the seating arrangements and the bar area is cozy and inviting, but of course with the requisite big screen television. The acoustics leave something to be desired and we did twice have to ask that the music be turned down in order to have a conversation without straining to be heard. This could certainly become a little jewel sandwiched between several other businesses in a strip mall near the Marina with a bit of fine tuning. The bathrooms are directly outside the front door and are clean and well equipped.
[Plaza Bahia Marina,credit cards accepted.Shopping strip on the right after the first bridge Tuesdays to Sunday from 5 p.m. for reservations e-mail Enrique Espinoza: firstname.lastname@example.org]