Sunday, March 8, 2009

Me Gusta Mucho!

I have written before about shopping for food at the Market and in some of the stores in the town of Loreto (see “To Market, To Market” and “Hunting and Gathering”) so this week I thought I would post about some of our favourite restaurants, here in thetown of Loreto. For the record, the following notes are in no particular order, nor am I trying to review these establishments or rate them in any way. We have enjoyed all of them at one time or another and I look forward to going back to all of them in the future, so I am not going to play favorites here, just compile a partial list for your information. Finally, I would like to say that for a town of 12,000, Loreto is blessed with a fine collection dining establishments and we are lucky to have so many great options to choose from.

On the south end of Hidalgo, (the extension of Salvatierra east of the one and only traffic lights) just before you reach the seaside Malecon, is La Palapa. True to it's name, it is a Mexican style restaurant sheltered under a huge palm thatched roof (or palapa) with a wood fired oven in an open air kitchen at the street entrance. They offer a complete selection of traditional Mexican fare and the open air ambiance creates a great atmosphere for an evening of food and fun with friends. Perhaps, also in the Mexican style, the hours of operation are a bit uncertain, we have arrived for an evening meal and found the place either closed or packed full with no predictability.

The Malecon is the address for several different types of eating establishments. Mediterraneo has one of the largest dining rooms in town, on the second floor of their beautiful, purpose built location, two doors north of Hidalgo. With a choice of seating indoors or on a large patio with one of the best ocean views in town, they offer a sophisticated menu of mediteranean-style specialties (hence the name) with attentive service and a large wine list.

In keeping with the Mexican style of contrasts, right next door is a small modest restaurant called Los Mandiles de Santa Lucia with a few tables in the colourful interior room and an equal number of seats outside under a palapa roof right of the Malecon sidewalk. Here you will find a typical variety of local fare with tacos, enchiladas and lots of seafood selections.

At the north end of the same block is a local favourite, Loreto Islas. The specialty
here is seafood with fresh local catch as well as a variety of preparations of shellfish, shrimp, and scallops among other choices. Since the recent interior redecoration and the addition of rich colours and nice detailing, the atmosphere here is as warm and inviting as the excellently prepared fish.

Anchoring this stretch of the Malecon is the newest addition to Loreto, La Mision Hotel, which I wrote about here at some length recently (see Misionary Style). This establishment has quickly become a landmark and has set a new standard for elegance and quality hospitality. The main dining room on the mezzanine is quite intimate and enjoys another spectacular ocean view across the Malecon from the outdoor terrace. The menu features a classical selection of fine dining specialties, many of which, including rack of lamb and duck breast, are only available here.

Heading away from the Malecon on Juarez you find a quaint little bar/restaurant whimsically called The Giggling Dolfin. A unique feature of this establishment is the “beached” cabin cruiser high and dry between the sidewalk and the seating area in the back, that serves as the bar. They also have an environmentally sound margarita mixer - a bicycle with the blender attached to the drive wheel. The faster you pedal, the frothier your drink! In addition to these colourful details, the local seafood is well and simply prepared in a relaxed atmosphere.

If you head west on Juarez and turn south (left) onto Davis Street, you are heading toward the town square. Before you hit a dead end, you will come to 1697 - an Italian style restaurant in a low tan building with a wrought iron railing and a large side patio area beside the main building. The name, or number, refers to the date the Mission church was founded here in Loreto, and this stylish “bistro” specializing in pastas, pizzas and other local specialties, also has special theme nights featuring different international cuisines. Norma fronts the restaurant, while hubby Kieran runs the kitchen.

Next door is another local favorite, Mita Gormet. There is a large romantic patio area fronting on the main town square with a tiny building in behind housing the small bar, a few tables and one of the most “compact” kitchens in town. But, like in many aspect of life, here size is no measure of quality. From this small work area emerge some of the best local fish dishes available in town. In this family run restaurant, the host/chef is Juan Carlos who works closely with his wife Marta in their business which is named after their daughter.

As you cross the town square, Posada de Las Flores is on your left - a beautiful boutique hotel, that although quite new, looks like it could have been in this location for generations. On the ground floor, facing into the square, there is a cute little Tapas Bar. Unfortunately, with the beginning of a major renovation of the square, they have temporarily lost their patio area in front of the bar, but when the new square opens they will have a prime location for passers by to enjoy a drink and nibble.

Continuing west on the laurel tree lined Salvatierra and turning right onto the first street before the Mission church, you will find Canipole - one of the most beautiful and interesting restaurants in Loreto. They carefully prepare very traditional Mexican cuisine, and serve it in a beautiful open air courtyard nestled in behind the Mission tower. With colourful table cloths, a fountain and a facinating collection of household and kitchen implements they create a perfect setting for a looooooooooong relaxed evening of food and conversation.

Back on Salvatierra, just west of the Mission and on your left you will find one of the newest additions to Loreto's tourist district. While El Canaveral is not technically a restaurant, it sells the widest variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in town and makes fantastic juices and smoothies, a definite recommended stop on any daytime tour of the central historic district.

Again west of the first few tourist shops on your right there is a pretty little patio restaurant called Cascada. This is a great lunch stop in the centre of the shopping district and they have my favourite plate of fish tacos and one of the best fresh chopped pico de gallo salsas in town.

Around the corner from Cascada you will find another favourite destination for fine dining at Pachamamas. This Argentinian style restaurant has changed hands this winter, but the new owners Carolina, and her husband visited Loreto a year ago, and returned this fall to take over one of the most popular eating places in town. If anything, the fare has even improved under their sure hands. Great steaks, chorizo sausage, and melt in your mouth short ribs are just some of the delights that await you here.

“These are a few of my favorite things”, as the song says. I have tried to qualify my selection at the beginning by saying that this was not intended as a review but more of an information base of some of our favorite eating places. Let me go further and say that there are a couple of our favorites that I have not included in this listing, like a fisherman who dosen't tell you about his “secret” spots.

But the point of this piece is, that we are blessed to have an abundance of quality eateries offering a variety of foods, (with and accent on fresh local seafood) in settings as varied as taco shops with Tecate chairs on the sidewalk to linen tablecloths and flickering candles. It's important to note, in these days of financial strain, eating out in Loreto is very reasonable. Comparable meals in high end restaurants are typically half the price they would be “up north”, and delicious fresh fish tacos in an open air setting are less than the cost of a “full meal deal” in a mall food court at home.

Also, if you go to a restaurant here, more than a few times, you become a regular and are usually on a first name basis with the owner. What's even better, you will probably bump into those same restauranteurs shopping in the same stores as you do for the groceries that you maybe enjoying later that day in their establishment. So enjoying good food at reasonable prices in beautiful surroundings is a wonderful part of "Living Loreto"!