Best Fine Dining Around Merida
As we are fresh from the experience of a mini-onslaught of out of town visitors, whom we were required to take out to dinner on multiple occasions, we decided it was time to poll our readers about their views on the best fine dining experience in the Merida area. We aren't going to limit this to a dinner experience, because due to the culture here, sometimes you can have a really lovely meal in the early afternoon, followed by an even lovelier siesta. The heat and the culture of flojera (we like to translate this as "going with the flow" but our Yucateco friends liken it more to "laziness") mean that a good meal can take up the better part of the day, given the right setting and good company. And why not? What better describes 'fine dining' than the slow and leisurely enjoyment of food and friends?
We begin the poll with our five suggestions for the best places to take your loved ones, business partners or anyone else you want to go all out for. But please remember that all you have to do is add a suggestion in our comments and that nomination will be added to the poll. As always, we welcome your suggestions, as they improve our repertoire of possibilities as well!
Here are our five suggestions, pues, for the Best Fine Dining in Yucatan:
Casa de Piedra at Hacienda Xcanatun - In our mind, Casa de Piedra just about has it all. First of all, the restaurant is located in the excellently renovated Casa de Maquinas of the hacienda. The high ceilings, a large and majestic bar, the grand piano and the dramatic ceiling treatment, as well as the tastefully preserved portions of the old machinery, create a space full of interest and elegance. Outside the impossibly grand French-style doors is our favorite place to dine on most evenings (and Sunday mornings), the terraza. From our favorite table in the corner, we can enjoy the elegance of the restaurant and the tropical lushness of the well-manicured garden. But Casa de Piedra isn't all about ambiance, because the food is really delicious as well. We still remember the first time we had their cochinita en xcatic chiles appetizer... it was a moment of revelation. Casa de Piedra executes both Yucatecan and international cuisine equally well, and if it wasn't for the fact that we have to get in our car and travel for at least 30 minutes to get there, we would probably eat there more often. Casa de Piedra is certainly reasonably priced compared to restaurants "back home" that only wish they could deliver the ambiance that Xcanatun provides effortlessly.
Nectar Restaurant - Nectar is the restaurant in Merida where they make art that happens to land on your dinner plate. You might have a salad that looks like something a church lady would wear on their head, complete with something that might pass as a feather but is really a piece of fried parmesan cheese. You never know, and that's part of the fun. We've been to Nectar on an ordinary evening with friends, and we've been there for a special lots-of-money-per-person dinner with a visiting chef from Europe. Whatever the occasion, from wherever you sit in the all-white restaurant, you can enjoy a view of the kitchen, where the chefs dressed in black and grey create your future meal with flair and dedication. Nectar is nothing if not incredibly serious about their food. The wine list is usually very good, though often they don't have everything on the list and the surest way to get something you want with the least amount of trouble is to ask to visit the cava yourself. Desserts are a total indulgence, after all that good food, but not to be missed. Our biggest complaint about Nectar is that sometimes in their exuberant creativity, they miss the mark. Small price to pay for all the times when they hit it right on the proverbial nail.
Trotters Restaurant - The first time we walked into Trotter's, our mouths dropped open. We'd been to Pancho's, we'd been to La Tratto (owned by the same family) but none of it prepared us for this. Trotter's rivals Casa de Piedra in elegance and drama... no, we dare say, it wins the contest. And it appears that hundreds of Merida residents agree, because we have never seen the restaurant empty. Trotter's different levels and intimate bar, all of which look out to their dramatically-lit garden, allow diners to be seen or to hide away in equal comfort. We love the garden seating on a tropical night, and the indoor air-conditioning on a hot day. We also love the wide assortment of appetizers, including fresh oysters. Trotter's makes great steaks, roasted chicken and has the only wine list in town where we have ever found some of our favorite California wines. Though it is an incredibly popular restaurant, Trotter's is big enough to never feel crowded, though sometimes you actually cannot just walk in and sit down. We know some expats that don't want that 'big city' experience here in Merida, but apparently the local Yucateco population doesn't agree, because Trotter is NOT an expat hangout, but frequented mostly by locals.
Hacienda Santa Rosa - A meal at Hacienda Santa Rosa is going to be an event, no matter how you slice it. If you are staying overnight, then your journey there and your stay is a big event. If you aren't a guest at the hacienda hotel, we suggest planning a leisurely lunch. From Merida, the drive to Hacienda Santa Rosa is a little over an hour. That means the drive back is going to be the same, and we don't recommend doing that late at night. If you can spare the time in the middle of the day, then a meal at this out-of-the-way hacienda owned by the Starwood Hotel chain is an event worth indulging in. First of all, the food is really delicious. Our last meal there included one of the freshest and most delicious salads we've ever had in the Yucatan, a to-die-for sopa de lima and many other wonderful dishes. The menu is a mixture of Yucatecan and international recipes. The setting is the beautifully restored hacienda, of course, with an outdoor dining room that faces a lush garden. After lunch, take your coffee on the veranda and face the other direction, gazing out over the immense green lawn to the old trees and the unrenovated casa de maquinas at the entrance. Take a stroll to the two different pool areas where all the guest rooms are tastefully tucked away behind arched doorways and stone walls. Before you return to Merida, visit the nearby semi-abandoned haciendas at Granada or Chunchucmil and revel in the history of it all. A lunch at Hacienda Santa Rosa takes the whole afternoon, and is well worth it. (Don't forget to call ahead to let them know you are coming... just a necessary courtesy for such an out-of-the-way place so they know to expect you).
Hacienda Temozon Sur - One meal has been left out of this list, but we're about to take care of that. Our favorite place for an elegant breakfast is another restored Starwood hacienda, Hacienda Temozon Sur. Just off the highway on the way to Uxmal, it's the perfect place to stop for a sitdown breakfast with white linen tablecloths and white-clad waiters on the way to a day at Uxmal or other ruins south of Merida. Only guests who pay the $400+ USD per night for a room can enjoy the huge swimming pool that Temozon features in all its photographs, but you can gaze at it all you want while having breakfast on the verandah of the Casa Principal. After parking near the helicopter pad that President Clinton landed on during his meeting in the Yucatan with then-President Zedillo, you'll walk up the most dramatic hacienda entrance, between a row of water-spitting stone dolphins to the restaurant. Surprisingly, breakfast at Hacienda Temozon is not expensive, and you can have everything from fresh fruit and juice to American-style eggs and bacon, fresh yogurt, freshly-baked bread and other delicious breakfast meals. The capuccino and espresso are both excellent too. Our only complaint about breakfast at Hacienda Temozon is that sometimes you will drive all that way and get turned away at the gate if Temozon is hosting a private party of some kind, which it does on occasion. If that happens, give up your fine dining ideas, and just go to Hacienda Ochil (across the highway and south a few hundred feet) or to the Pickled Onion down the road at Santa Elena.
Acqua: Reader Jim Anthony says Acqua is "a small, chef-owned and -operated restaurant which I love. The food is always delicious, with excellent service. Try the special desserts."
Macanche: Reader (and owner) Alfred Rordame writes "The food is always fantastic, the setting is a tad rustic but beautiful (under a palapa in the midst of one of Yucatan’s finest tropical gardens), and the service is attentive but not over-bearing. The only glitch is that they are not generally open to the public–you have to call ahead and order and reserve your dinner time (988-954-0287) at least one hour in advance. But, don’t let that deter you. Izamal is a great place to visit and you’ll have a great meal to boot. The menu is posted on their website (www.macanche.com) to facilitate pre-ordering and they are always welcome to creating special dishes on the fly (just ask!)." We like to include ourselves in the long list of Hotel Macanche's fans, and we would add our assurance that the food there is delicious. And it is indeed in the midst of one of the Yucatan's most beautiful tropical gardens.
Kinich: Reader Susi Villanueva writes "It´s located only 5 min walk from the main plaza (in Izamal) and 1 block from the pyramid Kinich. The owner is very welcoming, they offer Mayan style and Yucatecan dishes. It is also under a palapa. In a separate small palapa there are ladies making handmade tortillas that are served to you with your meal. Here is their webpage."
There you have it, our five favorite fine dining experiences in the Yucatan. Vote for one and/or nominate your own suggestion! The winner will be announced at the end of the year, along with all the other winners of the 2008 Yucatan Living Readers Choice Polls.