It was only five years ago that Parque Santa Lucia was a quiet little corner of the Centro Histórico. Its boarded-up L-shaped colonnade had no businesses, but there was, as there is now, live music and dancing on Thursdays, and arts and crafts on Sundays. But mainly, it was a little pocket park for lovers to hold hands.
Then the colonnade opened for business. Some stores have come and gone, but great spots like Botella Verde and La Tratto have done well. When Apoala opened, it felt like an underdog. Getting a table was a little too easy considering their wonderful Oaxaca food. Then came last night, when four of us showed up on a Saturday at 8, without reservations, and couldn’t even get in. Our little “restaurant that could” … couldn’t seat us for at least an hour.
The entire intersection was pulsing with cars and tourists. A wedding was concluding at the church across Calle 55. It was so very busy, but appearing to function well. But then, our ringleader had a brainstorm.
We hailed a cab, which was easy, and shot up Calle 60. In about five minutes we arrived at the Fiesta Americana, our car gliding easily into its circular driveway. We glided up the escalators to find elaborate Christmas decorations twinkling under the atrium. A giant gingerbread house, which we surmised is made with real baked goods, and a glorious Christmas tree — a real pine tree, and without any Coca-Cola insignias! — was the fantastical centerpiece. No irony, no hipster take on the holidays. Something you’d take Mother to see. Or your grandchildren.
And we headed to Los Almendros, a Mérida standby for traditional Yucatecan food, right off the lobby. There was only a five-minute wait, and we resisted the urge to nibble around the edges of the gingerbread house.
We ended up with a week-night meal on a Saturday night. Our ringleader convinced us all to try one dish buried deep inside the multi-page menu: Puchero de tres carnes, a homey soup-like dish with chunks of pork, chicken and beef cooked with plantains, carrots, squash, potatoes, noodles, lime, spices and saffron. Simple comfort food in a very relaxing, tradition-steeped restaurant. With a glass of wine, and a favorable exchange rate, we got out for $70 US.
You could easily think we’re getting stodgy, fleeing crowds and cool, innovative bistros for the ease of a hotel lobby restaurant. But after a long week, we just wanted an option that was easy-going and dignified, and to go where we knew we’d be treated well. To be around people, but not crushed by crowds competing for space. We love the Centro more and more, but one great thing about it is that there are Plan-B-type options, just a quick cab ride away.