We’re building a home in Mérida on the eastern edge of Santa Ana. Our side of the barrio has the benefit of more restaurants and bars. But that might be starting to change in the Gringo Gulch, a more expat-populated neighborhood on the west side of Santa Ana.
Our most recent trip to Mérida, which we took to check on our contractor’s progress, found us at Casa del Maya, on 66 off 47. We’ve enjoyed changing up the locations of our stays there, seeing Mérida from all different angles before settling into our corner of the Centro.
Around the guesthouse, the neighborhood is showing robust transformation. Across the street is La Calle Escondida, the “hidden street” house made famous on “House Hunters International.” A few doors down, the owner of Luz en Yucatan is building a massive pleasure dome. Further down, in the opposite direction, an old but grand colonial-style union hall is being rapidly transformed into a boutique hotel. The Christian bookstore across the street, which looks like it’s destined to become a fabulous home, was covered in tarp concealing a fresh new facade. Development has been mainly residential or lodgings. But where to eat once the cocinas economicas run out of food?
Well, how’s this for timing? While we were there, a new Italian restaurant called Cassandra Bistro Bar opened up on 68, between 47 and 49, a block west and south of us, in what used to be law offices. The owners had posted signs inviting the public to an open house at the end of the week. The signs were in English, so obviously this would cater to the extrajenos. Until then, we only able to peer in through the gates to see a leafy, open courtyard. It looked promising! We wondered if it was the place promised on the “House Hunters International” episode that featured Betty, a woman from San Francisco who wanted to open a restaurant serving southern food. It wasn’t. (We learned that her restaurant will reside in the old Cuban antique store on 64 and 53.)
When it was finally time for the open house, we were glad to be there early because we got the last seats available. The restaurant quickly filled up and became overwhelmed with boisterous expats. The wine flowed freely, but I got maybe two bites from the traditional hors d’oeuvre the waiters passed around. Trays would come out and be emptied by the swarms of ravenous visitors. We eventually had to leave to get something to eat. (Who swept us away and where we went will be a future topic.) Our time ran out on this trip before we got a chance to try Cassandra ourselves, but I have a feeling we’ll be there before long.
Nearby, we also came across a coffee bar that we hadn’t noticed on previous trips. Dilan Coffee Bar on 70 and 47 doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once inside, there was Gustavo tamping the grounds and making some excellent, smooth and creamy cappuccinos, with the aid of some serious barista equipment. We made Dilan part of our daily regimen during the 10 days we were part of the neighborhood.
Not everyone is thrilled to see this residential neighborhood gain a restaurant or two. A small elderly women with bright red hair, whose narrow home abuts Cassandra, saw us peering through the gates and she got our attention. “Cocinan gato!” she exclaimed. Paul didn’t need to translate. They serve cat, she insisted to us and to anyone else who passed by. Her laughable smear campaign didn’t inhibit Friday’s crowd, but I feel badly for her. One day, her neighbors are a quiet law firm; the next, they’re restaurateurs passing out prosciutto to swarming expats.