We eventually gave in to the charms of the pretty café attached to the Teatro Contreras, facing Hidalgo Park and some of the historic hotels. It was so pretty, I couldn’t resist. I also suspected strongly that it was what we call a tourist trap. It looks like every other outdoor cafe you’d see in Europe.
The online reviews are accurate. A simple pasta dish was horribly overcooked and salty, and my shrimp, although tasty, were so soggy they soaked through the soft corn tortilla they were wrapped in. Only one waiter was on duty, and he was friendly considering he was being badly overworked.
I went there, in part, for the people watching, but it was the people who were watching me instead. Street vendor approached our table three times, and a woman with a large growth on her face persuaded us to share some coin. Meanwhile, two men on a bench in the park kept eyeing my shoulder bag that I had tucked under the table between my feet. I eyed them back until they sauntered away.
This is life in a city with extreme poverty. It was folly trying to emulate a trip to Rome or Venice. I never felt more like a dumb tourist than that unfortunate 45 minutes in the Café Peon Contreras.
I respect a good tourist trap. You make that trade off: a good view, dining in the shadow of some historic cathedral, in exchange for overpriced, mediocre food, all while being sheltered from the harsh realities of the outside world. Unsympathetic as that may sound, it’s bad for tourism if a restaurant can’t provide that experience.