Lucky us! Last weekend we enjoyed two of our favorite San Pedro eateries on back to back nights. We enjoyed the casual beachside setting of Caliente for their half-price margarita Friday taco night special and the more upscale, urban feel of Red Ginger for artful cuisine on Saturday evening. I'll let the photos do most of the talking.
After our meal and three margaritas each (!!!), we were craving ice cream, so we walked over to Mannelly's for a treat. Believe it or not, Barry had to have TWO separate servings. Yep -- he ordered two scoops, and after finishing those, went back for two more! I don't know how he does it! We get ice cream so rarely in Belize (since it would melt if we tried to bring it home on our bicycles), it's a rare treat, and we really had an appetite for it this night!
We've only eaten at Red Ginger a couple of times because it's rather pricey, but it's absolutely scrumptious, and service is top-notch. We were not disappointed this time either. Once again, the service and food were perfect, and the atmosphere so tranquilo, it helps you forget any worries or stress you might be experiencing. When you want the best San Pedro has to offer, this is the perfect place for that special meal -- birthday, anniversary, or just because!
Instead of bread, your meal comes with complimentary plantain chips and a spicy chipotle aoli that is rather addictive.
Of course we couldn't resist their very special desserts. We shared a molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and a tart key lime pie. Both were irresistible, and just look how beautiful!
I may never cook again.... :)
We hadn't eaten dinner at Wild Mangos, one of San Pedro's most popular restaurants, in quite awhile, only lunch. It was time to ride our bikes to town and enjoy the delicious creations of well-known Chef Amy Knox once again. Since we had reservations, we got a primo table!
We started by sharing a tasty black bean gordas appetizer. Barry enjoyed a Pantyripper (coconut rum and pineapple juice), and I went with SanPedroScoop's favorite here -- Caipirinha (not on the menu, but delish and reasonably priced at $8 BZD).
For our entrees, I tried the Budin Azteca ("Layers of tortillas, beans, sauteed veggies, mole negro, cheese, and garlic white sauce (Mexican lasagna-ish), side salad with chili-raisin vinaigrette.") Both the Azteca and the salad were super flavorful and great to look at, too. I just love creative, healthy food!
Barry went with the Conchita Pibil ("Mayan spiced shredded pork, rice, black beans, plantains, pickled onions, and corn tortillas"). He loved that it was served with an assortment of salsas, from hot to inferno level, just like in Mexico!
We've always had a soft spot in our hearts for Mangos' desserts, though we do miss the molten chocolate cake that used to be served hot in a coffee cup. (Just putting in a plug for it's return!) We decided to try two of the desserts we hadn't had before, and they were both absolutely wonderful choices -- and good together, too, since of course we shared.
This Ultimate Flourless Chocolate Cake would whet any chocolate-lover's appetite. Moist, rich, simple dark chocolatey perfection!
Every bit as good was this Mexican Margarita Cay Lime Cold Cake, described as a "local dessert made of a creamy lime filling, biscuit layers, tequila, with a guava sauce". It was truly a thing of beauty, and we loved it's tart creaminess.
The perfect way to end a perfect meal is a ride back home on our bikes with our headlamps. It's so much fun to ride under the stars with a cool breeze and less traffic than during the day. It's one of our very favorite things to do here on Ambergris Caye.
Not quite a year ago we met a future Belizean expat, Debbie, and her family for a nice lunch at Aji. They are building a condo on north Ambergris, which due to some initial problems with the development that is now back on track, has been in progress for several years. This month she and her family were visiting Ambergris Caye again, and they were kind enough to invite us out for lunch. This time we chose Blue Water Grill and had an absolutely beautiful day for it. Joining us were Debbie's husband Tom, son Justin, and friend JW.
The food was almost as good as the conversation. We all shared this gorgeous coconut shrimp appetizer that Justin ordered.
I got the delicious shrimp po-boy, and Barry tried the jerk chicken wrap. Excellent!
It was great to catch up with the "Wags", and since I know Debbie will be reading the blog at some point, I'll say thank you once again for your generosity. We truly enjoyed spending time with all of you!
We woke up this morning to the coolest temperature recorded on our digital thermometer since moving to Ambergris Caye -- 62F. Yes, that's sixty-two. COLD by island standards! The humidity was desert-like for here (which I love), and the wind was blowing fairly hard out of the northwest. Dressing quickly as I shivered, I got Paisley out for her morning ablutions, and felt just how brisk it was out there. This would be a much cooler than usual Sunday morning bike ride!
Once we'd had a snack (and a quick cup of coffee for me), we saddled up and headed north on the beach and over to Grand Belizean Estates on our bikes. It was a bit chilly starting out, and the wind was at our noses as we headed west on the road towards the lagoon side of the island. It was a slow slog as we fought the fresh breeze, but once we'd hit the most westerly point of the road and made the u-turn, we were flying! Such fun that is, to be pushed along by the wind.
We continued riding east, then southward, right past our condo and on into town as we had breakfast at Estel's by the Sea on the brain. We hadn't been there in a long, long time, and were hoping that with high tourist season in full swing, the slight chill in the air would keep at least a few folks away so we'd be able to snag a table on the beach, and fortunately, we were rewarded with a nice one.
Barry got his usual breakfast burrito. Not for the faint of heart, this thing is huge. And yes, he ate every bite!
I had been hankering for a cinnamon roll ever since seeing (and smelling!) a tourist eating one outside of The Baker earlier in the week, so I went with two eggs over medium and a warm, gooey cinnamon roll. It hit the spot just perfectly! And I too joined the clean plate club.
Seems like a lot of folks were sitting inside today rather than on the beach. Wimps!
After our delicious breakfast, we headed back home. Barry chose to be brave and venture into the pool for the traditional post-biking "pool down", but I just sat on the pool deck with Paisley and enjoyed the sunshine. Our pool was bathwater warm a few days ago, but thanks to the cold front has cooled down a bit now.
While enjoying the pool, we caught a glimpse of a Green-Breasted Mango in a tree close by. We actually had time to run inside for binoculars (to confirm the id) and camera.
It was a good day for the birds as I also noticed that this woodpecker pair were tending their nest-hole in a palm tree right outside our condo.
Despite the "chill", and a high temperature only in the 70s, it was a beautiful day!
The town has been widening parts of the unpaved road in the Tres Cocos area of Ambergris Caye this past week, as we showed in some photos in a previous blog entry (Ch-ch-changes north of the bridge). In some areas, this involved plowing down vegetation and relocating fences that were apparently encroaching into the town right-of-way. In other areas, it is swampy or low near the road on the lagoon side, so fill had to be brought in. The fill consisted of a mixture of tree branches, stumps, vegetation, and dirt (probably gleaned from early-week plowing). Yesterday, the dozer was at work again flattening it all out. This is the area right across the road from Lazy Croc BBQ.
Looks like the low concrete walls that demarcate the driveway for this home/bed & breakfast (to right in photo above) are going to have to be torn out as they extend into the right of way, which I believe runs right up to the power pole.
We snapped the photos above on our way to Lazy Croc with Chunky and Ruthie. We had barely seen them since they arrived back on the island in November as they've been having nearly continuous visits from family or friends. It was great to catch up with them again. They are always so much fun to hang out with and full of laughs.
And speaking of crocs, there was the obligatory sighting in the pond below.
We had a great meal as always, but must haven been distracted by the lively conversation as we totally forgot the traditional food photos. Sorry about that!
After lunch as Ruthie and Chunky prepared to head back south on their bicycles, Paisley brought a toy over as she was sure that they couldn't resist playing. She knows as well as we do that they are good peeps!
It worked out to be very good timing having our lunch yesterday, as it was the last in a series of beautiful days. A cold front passed through last night bringing overnight rain, cool weather (72 this morning - brrrr!) and a general gloom to the island. Sounds like it will be quite windy and cool for the next few days, a real bummer for the tourists.
We rarely go out on Valentine's Day any more since most nice restaurants do special (i.e., more expensive) menus, and we also prefer to avoid crowds. So we decided to have our "Valentine's" dinner out two nights before the actual day of hearts and flowers. It's just a day, right?
We hadn't been to Aji in a long time, and it couldn't be more convenient since it's in very close walking distance of our condo, so off we went. We had a lovely table in the garden with a view of the sea. And once the sun went down, the twinkling white lights combined with the clear, starry night sky provided the perfect setting. There was a good breeze so no bugs bothered us, an added bonus.
We started with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and our cute waiter, Rudolph, brought us a plate of bruschetta to accompany the wine. It tasted like parmesan cheese bread, homemade of course. Yum.
We both ordered the special, Tropical Snapper. Rudolph commented that he could tell we'd been married a long time since we ordered the same thing. We laughed and told him how we did that so often in Mexico -- I'd order from the Spanish menu, and Barry got very good at saying "lo mismo" (the same)! We really do enjoy most of the same foods and accuse each other of "copying" in restaurants quite often.
After demolishing everything on our plates, I think Rudolph was surprised that we had room for dessert. But of course we did -- after all, this was our Valentine's Day dinner. We had two choices, chocolate rum cake and key lime pie. I let Barry decide, and he picked the cake.
The cake was great, of course, but as we were sharing it, I confessed that I really loved their key lime pie best. When Rudolph came back, Barry said "Emily said she really wanted the key lime pie, so please bring us a slice of that!"
Whatta guy! I love my Valentine.
And to top off the delicious meal, Rudolph presented us with shots of Kahlua with a Bailey's float -- on the house! If we weren't already on a sugar high, this would do it. But oh so deliciously!
It was a special and lovely night at Aji, as always!
Today's travel would take us from Merida back to Tulum, in the Quintana Roo state of Mexico. But first, breakfast! We decided to try the restaurant at our hotel (the Hotel Maria del Carmen). They had an absolutely huge buffet, but I didn't think I'd get my money's worth since I'd been eating light after my brush with Montezuma's Revenge, and my appetite still wasn't back to normal. Barry also passed on the buffet since he said it looked very heavy. So, he enjoyed hotcakes and fruit, and I had plain scrambled eggs, still babying my stomach a bit.
Thus fortified, we took one final walk up to the Paseo de Montejo. Looks like a festival was coming up, as this electronic billboard was not there the first time we came through.
The Merida ADO station was busy this morning.
Tulum was busier than when we were here before, with the end of the Mayan calendar just two days away. We were awfully glad to have reservations at the Secret Garden Hotel.
We walked right on over from the bus terminal and checked in. The room we were in this time had a sink and dorm-size fridge. It was nice to be able to keep our water bottles cold. Few hotels in Mexico have fridges in the room, at least the ones we stayed in, which tended to be older. This was the one and only fridge of our entire trip.
As usual, once we got settled in, we took off walking around town.
Barry finally managed to catch a photo of this man who bikes around the neighborhoods near the hotel, constantly squeaking a little horn to advertise his sweet breads, even after dark. He's like the Mexican version of the Good Humour man!
We decided to walk back to El Camello for a seafood dinner since it was so reasonably priced. But wow, was it packed! We had to wait for a table outside. This place attracts a lot of locals as well as tourists.
Once we finally got our table, they brought us a HUGE plate of chips and some of the complimentary smoked fish dip. Barry ordered the same grilled fish as on our first visit, but I was brave and decided to try the garlic-butter pulpo (octopus). It was really tasty but far too much for me to eat, especially after my stomach shrunk up with my limited appetite over the past few days. I felt bad that I had to leave so much behind.
Amazingly, after that huge dinner, Barry just couldn't leave Tulum without one last visit to the gelateria! Needless to say, I couldn't even think about ordering any.
Stay tuned for the very last post in this interminably long series -- our return to Belize!
Since Barry was able to sleep through the marching-band practice outside our hotel window the night before, he awoke early the next morning with plenty of energy. While I caught up on lost sleep, he walked over to the Campeche waterfront on the Golfo de Mexico and took a long walk, along with some nice morning photos.
Finally I managed to get up, and we walked to Luz de Luna for breakfast. Much to our disappointment, the very sweet proprietor told us they weren't serving this morning because they didn't have a cook or server! Maybe they were sick? So, we had to go with Plan B, wandering around until we found a place to eat. We ended up back at the place we'd had lunch on our first time in town, Chef Color. I was hungry after my brush with Montezuma, but figured plain hotcakes would be easiest on my stomach of the breakfast choices. Barry ordered fruit cup, chaya bread, and Huevos Rancheros. Wouldn't want him to go hungry!
After breakfast, we wandered around and took in the excellent Jorge Marin sculpture exhibit that had arrived in Campeche since our previous visit. The sculptures were SO cool, and the pedestrian streets of charming Campeche a perfect venue. Looks like it's going to be there through March, so if you hurry, you might still be able to check it out in person. But if you can't get there, Barry got some pretty nice photos!
After checking out of the hotel, we made the long walk to the bus station; I was feeling a lot better fortified with my hotcakes.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we had front-row seats for the remainder of bus rides on our trip. The views were great. No bulls on the road today, though! We were going through a more modern part of Mexico now.
We had no hotel reservations and could not stay at the bed and breakfast we'd stayed at on the way through Merida before, as Larry has a three-night minimum. In this case, we just wanted to be close to the bus station since we'd only be here one night and had to catch another bus in the morning. We had scoped out a few places on our first time in town, and I'd checked them on Tripadvisor. We decided to try the Hotel Maria del Carmen.
The staff was very nice, the rate reasonable, and the room was well-appointed, but we ended up with another noisy street-side location. After our experience the night before, I should have tried to specify a room off the street, but I'm always just so happy to get a room, any room, when I don't have reservations, that I don't tend to be too picky. The bathroom was not as nice as the room; it was dark, the sink leaked like crazy, and it badly needed updating. But for one night, we could live with it.
When we left the hotel to walk around downtown, we discovered that it had just rained (remember those dark clouds in the earlier photo?) This was the first rain we had seen since entering Mexico two weeks earlier, and it only lasted five minutes!
That night we ate at a downtown restaurant we hadn't tried before but that had received good reviews on Tripadvisor, El Chile Habanero. The restaurant was clean and neat as a pin, air-conditioned, and had a window into the kitchen, so we could see how clean it was behind the scenes as well. Very impressive!
We had read rave reviews for the chef's special Aphrodite Chicken, so Barry ordered that and loved it. It was packed with fresh fruit, and the colors were amazing! I was sticking to a bland-food diet for one more day since I'd been sick the morning before, so I contented myself with a plate of mostly white food, while eyeing Barry's plate enviously. Someday we'll go back and I will have the Aphrodite Chicken myself!
Stay tuned as we head back to Tulum -- our last stop before the final leg home to Belize!
For our third and final night in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, we decided to go for broke and hit happy hour before going to the restaurant we'd decided on for dinner. Woo-hoo! As we were walking around checking our options, this sign touting two for one margaritas for $70 MX (approximately $5.60 US) lured us right into Ay Dolores! for a couple of drinks and appetizers before dinner.
We tried the tamarindo margaritas, which were excellent. Here's one of my favorite photos of the whole trip, which you'll recognize if we're Facebook friends.
To accompany our drinks, we ordered some of their delicious guacamole, fried cheese, and quesadillas. I loved that the guac was made with red onion and lots of cilantro and have since modified my own recipe likewise.
Our waiter was super friendly, and although I was sure I'd remember his name, sadly, my memory fails me now since it's been over a month. (Yes, I am getting old!) He was very proud of his English and spoke it well, which was a treat for us -- we could actually have a nice conversation, something we didn't get to do often while in this part of Mexico. He had another staff member take a photo of the three of us on his phone, and we also got one on our camera.
For our dinner, we went to Entropia, a French-Mexican fusion place that is the #2 rated restaurant in San Cristobal in Tripadvisor. We got this photo earlier in the day while it was still bright and sunny out.
And here's the interior in the evening.
We decided to stick with margaritas, and they were also offering a two for one happy hour special. Score! Don't tell our friendly waiter at Ay Dolores!, but these tamarindo margs were even better than theirs. And the waiter was obviously French. San Cristobal is a cultural treat!
Barry had a chicken dish that was served with black beans and yet more guacamole. There's no such thing as too much guac, though, right?!
I had the special of the day, which was a really, really nice fish dish, potatoes, and salad. The fish looks rather plain in the photo, but it was very fresh and perfectly seasoned and cooked. I'll never know, but when I ended up with a bad stomach 36 hours later, I wondered if eating this salad was my downfall. I did eat a few other salads in Mexico with no problems, but Montezuma's revenge finally caught up with me on the way back, in Palenque.
One slight negative of Entropia was the little children who came in during our dinner attempting to sell us things. It's pretty obvious that they really only want a peso or two, but they offer little trinkets for sale instead so it's not so obvious they are begging. There was a lot more begging and what I call "aggressive vending" in San Cristobal than the other places we visited in Mexico, from both children and adults. We didn't want or need anything they were selling, but I carried a few pesos in my pocket to give out to the kids. They would normally leave quickly upon getting a peso or two. It's too bad that they are living lives requiring them to do this.
Barry still had a bit of appetite after dinner, so we stopped for him to have a gelato.
I was too full, but it looked good. However, the flavors were unmarked, and having to ask a Spanish-speaking worker what every one was made for an interesting ordering experience!
On our last morning in San Cristobal, we were disappointed to find our favorite place for breakfast, TierrAdentro, closed. We kept walking by hoping they were just opening late, but when 9 am came and went and the door was still locked, we decided we better find another place. We noticed that many restaurants in Mexico don't bother posting their days or hours of business outside; if the doors are open, they're open, and if they're closed, they're closed. Simple as that.
We ended up at the Cafeteria del Centro and had a good breakfast. The atmosphere wasn't quite TierrAdentro, but it filled the bill and nourished us for our day of travel ahead.
After breakfast, we bought a couple snacks for the road. Can you say chocolate?
Not totally related to dining, but having heard what great coffee was grown, processed, and could be purchased, in this part of Mexico, I picked up this bag of organic coffee to bring home to Belize. It only cost me $70 MX (about $5.60 US) and was indeed a special treat. Long gone now, though!
Stay tuned for more from San Cristobal before we head back through Mexico to Belize!
I had planned on a blog post on the birds of the Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden for today, but when I looked at our "birds" photo folder, I realized that it included photos from many different sites on our trip, so I am going to wait and do a bird photos post after the other trip posts, as I have done in the past. So today, instead of birds, you get food!
Our favorite restaurant in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico quickly became the TierrAdentro Cultural Center and Cafe. As I was working on this blog post, I came upon an excellent article providing much information about the restaurant and the center's goals. I didn't know until I read the article that the cafe had been recommended as one of the top five places to eat in San Cristobal by the New York Times. Not bad! In addition to the cafe, there are Zapatista co-operatives selling art pieces and crafts in the same building.
As an aside, I knew almost nothing about the Zapatistas until we got home from this trip and I read a little. I didn't much care for history when I was in high school or college, but I'm finding it more interesting now that I'm older. Turns out that we missed a parade of Zapatista rebels in San Cristobal just a few days right after we left. That would have been a unique travel experience.
Our first meal here was a daily special dinner that came with a spicy noodle soup and bread, entree of chicken mole and rice, and fresh lime juice. Everything was simple and delicious, and the price was very reasonable at $65 MX each (approximately $5.20 USD). This did not include the wine, however!
For dessert, our favorite place quickly became "Oh la la!", a small coffee and French pastry shop right down the street from our hotel (and TierrAdentro). It was very hard to choose just one goodie to take back to our hotel room, so we didn't even try.
The following morning brought us right back to TierrAdentro for breakfast. Turns out they don't open until 8:30 am, so we took a walk beforehand as we were there too early. One thing about the cities we visited in Mexico, they're so hoppin' in the evenings that everything seems to start later than in the US or Belize, where I can't imagine a breakfast place not opening by 7 am. It was well worth the wait, though, as the breakfast was muy excellente!
Quoting from the article I linked above, I found this interesting (after arriving home -- did not know this at the time):
"The center buys its coffee directly from co-operatives within the Zapatista controlled areas. Its policy is to buy the best organically produced café arábigo, which is usually exported to Europe, so that it is available to local people. It also believes in paying the price asked by these co-operatives without bargaining. Within this frame of reference, it is able to offer a truly excellent double expresso at 17 pesos (just over 1 USD) and sell one kg of high quality coffee at 90 pesos. Starbucks charges 160 pesos for the same quantity and quality."
For dinner that night, we tried a place that came highly recommended in Tripadvisor (#3 of 89 restaurants in San Cristobal): Pizzaria Napoli. This charming Italian restaurant in a colonial home seats only a few, and since we opted for an early dinner after eating only snacks for lunch, we had it entirely to ourselves. The owner took our order and was incredibly warm and welcoming -- I wish we had gotten her name.
We had a table outside looking out on the courtyard. It was a little bit chilly since the sun was going down, but I had bought this pretty shawl at one of the many market stands in town (for only $70 MX or $5.60 US, such a steal I didn't even haggle). I used the shawl quite a bit in San Cristobal, as the city's altitude is over 7000 feet, making it much chillier than anything we'd experienced since leaving the US.
Our pizza couldn't have been more delicious.
Since the pizza was a fairly light dinner, of course we had to indulge ourselves at Oh La La! bakery again. Don't worry, we did not eat all this this evening -- we saved some for snacking on the next day.
The next morning found us right back at TierrAdentro, where we both had hotcakes. We had thought we were ordering banana/blueberry hotcakes, and were excited about that since we never get blueberries in Belize. Unfortunately, the translation from our cheat sheet threw us off as the hotcakes were actually filled with bananas and dried cranberries. When we got home and looked up blueberries and cranberries in our dictionary, it appears that both can translate to arándano. Oh well, they were still quite tasty, especially since they were served with both real maple syrup and local honey. Yum!
A little later, we stopped by Oh la la! so I could get another cup of coffee -- most restaurants in Mexico don't give free coffee refills.
Here are some of the other treats they sell, though we never got any since we couldn't seem to resist the French pastry counter.
Please stay tuned for Part 2 of San Cristobal dining. There's more good food to come!