Our first trip to Mérida, in 2010, we let the guide books scare us to death. “Don’t drink the water!” is a common refrain from friends who may have visited Mexico and suffered “Montezua’s Revenge.” Our first lunch, it was the waitress who got grilled. At a perfectly respectable restaurant on Calle 55, the waitress assured two nervous gringos that the lettuce was washed and the ice cubes weren’t from the tap. Same at a cocina economica off 68 or 70, where the proprietor actually pulled out a bag of commercially supplied ice from the freezer. No one seemed astonished 0r insulted; they must have been accustomed to this line of questioning.
We each carried a roll of toilet paper around in our backpacks. I don’t remember where we got that advice. Maybe it was relevant in the 1990s, when paper was still rationed by attendants, but we personally never had any reason to go into our teepee “reserves.” Actual, real toilets and paper were everywhere, except for one coffee shop on 62, which has since been renovated and sells German bratwurst. I checked and the water closet is fine. Maybe we’re just not adventurous enough to tread where toilets haven’t yet arrived.
Another piece advice men would get is to blend in with the crowd by avoiding short pants, no matter how hot it is. Meridanos wear long bluejeans on even the hottest afternoons, and you’ll look like a tourist if you don’t sweat it out in your big-boy pants. Lately, however, I’m seeing visitors ignore that advice, tacitly allowing others to follow suit. I’m seeing local men wear short pants, too. They go below the knee, but they’re not much more than that. I still don’t think you can visit the Cathedral without covering your calves, but you can walk around the streets with impunity in your knee-length cargo pants or plaid short pants. One fair-skinned blond-haired tourist was seen strutting down 64 in nothing but cutoff shorts and sneakers. At the Jersey Shore, that wouldn’t have been worth noting, but it seemed scandalous in the Centro.
Restaurants you’d have put at the top of your list just a year ago are maybe somewhere in the middle of most lists today. We haven’t been in Merida for three months and even in that short span, there is evidence of progress. Take restaurants. Pez Gordo came and went on Santa Lucia’s park and was replaced by Apoala, which is getting raves for its Oaxacan cuisine. Then, Casa Lecanda, the boutique hotel on 47, has a small Italian restaurant down the street. Oliva Kitchen + Bar was all over Facebook the day it opened and its own page had a closeup of a Carbonara de la Casa, evidence that early praise was merited. Even Casa Lecanda wasn’t around when we first started snooping around the Centro just three years ago. Now, it’s already ranked No. 4 on TripAdvisor. Among restaurants, Rescoldos used to be something of an oasis in the Centro; now they have real competition. The photo at the top of this post: This photo would have been inconceivable in 2010 Santa Lucia, which has had nice places to visit, but never this trendy. I took the photo this year in the new La Tratto, part of a restaurant group that for years has been betting on the city’s hunger for ambiance to match the food.
New, more luxurious guesthouses and boutique hotels have entered the arena too. Rental houses are more designer-y. Standards are being quickly changed and what used to be impressive is now middle-of-the-road. Shabby quarters and service is going to be less and less accepted as something “authentic.” We first entered Merida three Novembers ago, so that’s our natural frame of reference. Swanky Rosas y Xocolate had just opened, setting the Centro ablaze, and nearby, Hennessy’s Irish Pub rapidly nearing completion, shifting the center of the Gringo Gulch a few blocks to the east. Then, this year, Alberto’s Continental closed down and its artwork was sold off, the curtain being lowered on a previous point in time. Even though the food was uneven, it was a place so memorable and charming that I would have recommended the restaurant in a heartbeat.
What other pieces of advice have gone out of date since 2010? And is this all for the good?