As I mentioned in my last post—a love letter to Guadalajara—one of the major reasons we decided to visit and spend a month in the city was because we had heard such good things about the food. This isn’t the first time we’ve let our stomachs make the decisions when it comes to deciding on a destination (one could argue that indeed, our time in Asia was essentially spent pursuing their whims!), and I sincerely doubt it will be the last. If there’s one thing that can guarantee we will fall in love with a place and not want to leave, you can bet it will be food-related.
We arrived in Tlaquepaque excited for vibrant food scene, preferably one with more than just meat wrapped in corn tortillas on offer. After a month in La Peñita, we were pretty burnt out on tacos and the limited flavor profiles we had experienced thus far and were ready to mix things up.
Although we had all of Guadalajara at our disposal, we ate 99% of our meals in Tlaquepaque, partly out of convenience, but also because we found quite a few places that we really liked and wanted to eat at frequently. Also, despite staying pretty close to home during our stay, we managed to sample all of the dishes for which Guadalajara is famous so we don’t feel like we missed out.
Here, then, are our major food highlights from our month in Tlaquepaque and the places we recommend fellow food travelers visit. (A map with all the destinations is included at the end.)
Rio San Pedro
Because of our early Spanish lessons, we tended to eat most of our breakfasts at home, but during our final week in the city when we were footloose and fancy free, we made a pilgrimage to Rio San Pedro and found ourselves feeling like we had possibly wasted all of our previous breakfasts while in town. Rio San Pedro is technically open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but since this place is pretty much the Holy Grail of chilaquiles, you’ll want to come for breakfast.
Chilaquiles are essentially left over corn tortillas that are warmed in a flavorful sauce and frequently served with beans, eggs, and sour cream… essentially breakfast nachos! What sets Rio San Pedro apart from anywhere else we have ever been is the astounding variety of chilaquiles they have on offer: most places will let you choose between red or green sauce (if that), but here, they have something like 25 different permutations of the dish, some with some really exotic/unusual ingredients, and they all sound delicious.
We didn’t have a chance to try them all, but the two that we did order were incredible and still remain the best chilaquiles we’ve had anywhere in Mexico. Tony’s order featured a green salsa made from peppers, and was accompanied with corn and machaca, which is a dried beef that is generally served with scrambled eggs. My order featured a huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn!) salsa, garlic-roasted mushrooms, and lots of ooey gooey cheese. Both plates were a complete flavor explosion and it remains a regret of mine that we were only able to visit Rio San Pedro once. The chilaquiles here will cost you two or three times what they would cost anywhere else, but the ingenuity of the ingredients and the amazing flavors make it well worth the splurge.
Address: Calle Juárez 300, Centro, Tlaquepaque
The main market in Tlaquepaque was the very first place we ate and it swiftly became our go-to lunch spot. The lower floor of the market is devoted to food stalls, many of which offer incredibly affordable combos (known as “paquetes”); we could often grab lunch for $2 a person! Some of the stalls specialize in one specific thing (for instance, there’s a stall that just does beef and goat birria—a spicy, soupy stew that is native to Guadalajara), whereas others offer a variety of standard Mexican dishes that you can choose from (like chicken mole, chiles rellenos, etc.,). You can also get tacos, tortas (including the hometown hero, the torta ahogada, which is a sandwich drowned in a spicy tomato sauce), and seafood too. In fact, our favorite place to eat was the large seafood restaurant that served up amazing fish & shrimp tacos, and incredible ceviche too. The market is open early in the morning and many of the places serve until the late afternoon, so this is a great place to get either breakfast or lunch. As far as cheap eats go, Mercado Juarez can’t be beat!
Address: Mercado Juarez is found one block east of Tlaquepaque’s main square.
We both assumed that once we moved inland, our seafood consumption would go waaaaay down but, in a surprise move, we actually saw far more seafood restaurants in Tlaquepaque than we did when we were on the coast. Even more surprising? The seafood was tastier too!
Tacos Charly is a great option for seafood lovers at lunchtime as they not only offer your standard shrimp and fish tacos, but they also have octopus, crab, salmon and several other types of fish on offer. You also can choose between getting a soft taco or a taco dorado (where they fry the shell so that it’s crunch), and they have an incredible salsa bar so that you can really make your taco sing (the chipotle salsa was the bomb!). Tacos here are more expensive than at the market, but they are really delicious and well worth a visit!
Address: Blvd. Garcia Barragan 1924, Tlaquepaque
Carnes en Su Jugo de La Torre Morales
“Carne en su jugo” is another one of those iconic “only in Guadalajara” (only, not really, because we’ve seen this, along with several other supposedly limited-edition dishes far from their locus of origins throughout our travels in this country) dishes that we made it our mission to try. We intended to sample this dish at Karne Garibaldi, which isn’t just a Guadalajaran institution but also holds a Guinness World Record for being the fastest restaurant in the world, but instead we wound up visiting Carnes en Su Jugo de La Torre Morales. It was closer and cheaper and we figured those were worth waiting more than 3 seconds between ordering and eating.
The dish “Meat in its own Juice” may not sound delicious. Truthfully, it doesn’t even really look delicious either. But the taste? SO GOOD. I had assumed the “juice” would be watery and insipid, but it turned out to be a full-bodied broth and the surprise star of the dish: It was redolent with a rich, smoky aroma (likely due to the little chunks of bacon mixed in with the thin slices of beef) and was supremely satisfying and hearty too. I admit that I approached this dish with a sense of obligation, one of “when in Guadalajara…” but I was converted. Packed with flavor but not too greasy or rich, this dish (& this place!) is a must-try.
Address: Blvd. Marcelino Garcia Barragan # 1920 (Rio Mezquital), Tlaquepaque
The food scene in Tlaquepaque was a lot more diverse than La Peñita, but it was still extremely meat-heavy. Consequently, I researched a few vegetarian-friendly options and we made it a priority to visit and stave off heart disease & scurvy for another day. Maria Tamales was one of the places we discovered and enjoyed immensely.
They offer a variety of different fillings, from chicken to pork to chard and poblano peppers. They even have sweet tamales (we tried one stuffed with pineapple and drizzled with a sweet cream sauce; it was goooood.)! Although there are plenty of mobile tamale vendors who drive around Tlaquepaque selling tamales for a third of the price of the ones sold at Maria Tamales, but we found they were uniquely carnivorous; Maria Tamales not only offers vegetarian fillings, they actually have specific vegetarian tamales where they make the dough with butter rather than lard, an important consideration! All of the tamales we sampled were delicious, but I particularly enjoyed the swiss chard one—the filling was earthy and rich, which contrasted nicely with the light fluffy dough. I found two tamales were more than adequate for lunch, while Tony would have three. At $12MX (~$0.80US) each, lunch at Maria Tamales is a healthy and very affordable option.
Address: Calle Donato Guerra 239-A, Tlaquepaque
This was another restaurant we sought out, solely on the basis that I discovered it offered salads that consisted of more than iceberg lettuce, tomato and onion. We went in hoping for some leafy greens and wound up enjoying one of our most memorable dining experiences of the month. Turns out that Zaguan is something of a boutique eatery—you feel as though you’re enjoying your meal in the middle of an art gallery and the food absolutely meets the brief. Our meal began with a surprise amuse bouche, little toasts covered in a mushroom mousse and a drizzle of a balsamic vinegar reduction.
Then for our mains, I ordered the incredible “pasión” salad, which featured arugula, strawberries, goat cheese, tempura prawns, and passion fruit caviar. The flavors were bright and blended together beautifully; if I had any complaint, it would simply be that I felt the salad had a bit too much dressing for my taste (however, the dressing was really delicious!).
Tony ordered the pork rib sampling platter that came with a trio of mole sauces. We had only seen the popular mole negro at this point, so it was a thrill to taste three totally new sauces. They all had very distinct (and in the case of the peanut mole, unexpected!) flavors and the meat was perfectly cooked. The dish was very decadent and bold and completely unlike any of the Mexican food we encountered elsewhere in the city. Although Zaguan definitely constitutes a splurge, it is actually very affordable for the quality and ambitions of the food—our entire lunch came to less than $20! If you are getting a bit fatigued by Mexican street food and want something to reinvigorate your palate, we highly recommend treating yourself here!
Address: Calle Juarez 5, Colonia Centro, Tlaquepaque
Kekas el Olivo
One of the things we loved about our neighborhood in Tlaquepaque is that little “pop up” restaurants would crop up in locals’ living rooms and front patios—it reminded us so much of being back in our beloved Ho Chi Minh City! During our first week, one of our next-door neighbors had a late night taco stand that we adored (but unfortunately, he didn’t get enough traffic to keep doing it!) and then on the last two weeks of our stay, other neighbors a few doors down from us started up this place, which specialized in tacos, gorditas and deep-fried quesadillas. Because they were just starting out, they were only open three days a week, but I think for the six days they were open while we were there, we ate lunch there 5 times… It’s one of those super local places that you’d never find as a day tripping tourist, but obviously was one of our favorites. Not only was the food amazing, but the people running it are incredibly kind and wonderful—they would patiently talk to us and have really lovely conversations with us, allowing us to practice our Spanish and build up our confidence. We always left their place feeling happy and full.
Our favorite thing to order was the quesadillas, which were made fresh in front of you (while we would snack on pickled veggies…) and could be filled with beans, poblano peppers, chicken, chicharron (either stewed or crispy) and—on one magical day—zucchini flowers. I loved all the veggie options, but Tony was particularly partial to the chicharron. Everything was delicious and the agua fresca was always the perfect accompaniment (& they would always offer free refills too!). This is actually where we tried agua de lima for the first time, Mexican sweet lime, which absolutely confounded our tastebuds. I kept asking what was in the water, and they kept saying lima and sugar, and I kept saying incredulously, “¿Es todo?” (“That’s all?”). I just couldn’t believe it because it tasted slightly peppery with hints of cardamom and it didn’t seem possible that a fruit could taste like that on its own… but Mexican sweet lime does!
Address: Calle Republica de Argentina 87, Tlaquepaque. As of writing this, Kekas el Olivo was only Open Friday, Saturday & Sunday from about 8am – 1pm… but hopefully in the future they will be open more frequently!
It took us a while to get a handle on evening dining spots in Tlaquepaque—Mexicans tend to eat dinner much later than we normally do (many evening dining spots don’t even open until 7pm), and it is generally lunch, not dinner, that is the biggest meal of the day. Our first evening in town, we headed to the main square—the Jardín—because it seemed like it would be the likeliest candidate for street food and an obvious place to pick up a meal.
There were a lot of food options, but they were generally just late-night snack options (think French fries and deep-fried pork skin…) rather than substantial meal choices. The one exception was a torta ahogada stand, so we ordered two sandwiches and took a seat on one of the benches where they had set up tables for diners.
Two odd things to note about tortas ahogadas (and this is true of them everywhere) are:
- Even though they’re super messy (what with being doused liberally in a tomato sauce), locals will dig into them with their hands rather than using a knife and fork.
- The sauce that is used is always cold, or lukewarm at best. It’s kind of unsettling and we both agreed that we would prefer if it were actually warm or hot.
Quirks aside, the sandwiches in the jardín were good, though we preferred the ones we would get at the main market. But for an affordable late night option in that area of town, it’s a good choice (and allows for excellent people watching: we saw a man get arrested (possibly for stealing a beer?) while his mother stood by wringing her hands and weeping!).
Cenaduria Los Merquetengues
This is one of the most popular dinner places we visited in Tlaquepaque and for good reason. The menu is small, but it’s extremely good value and the food is excellent. They are well-known for their Cafiaspirinas, which we discovered are essentially the popular Mexican dish called sopes (pillowy discs of fried corn dough topped with meat, cabbage, sour cream and salsa… think of it like bite-sized tostadas that are chewy).
The cafiaspirinas are good, but for us, the real showstopper here—and the one dish you must order if you dine here—is the flautas. Named after the musical instrument they resemble (the flute), rolled tortillas are stuffed with meat or cheese, deep fried, and then covered with cabage, tomato, crema and salsa. The ones at Cenaduria Los Merquetengues are impeccably fried, bursting with flavor and became our “go to” dish. (We always ordered them with the picadillo filling—a ground beef & vegetable mixture—but I’m willing to bet any version is good.)
Address: Calle Florida No. 83, Tlaquepaque
Casa la Furia
We gave this restaurant a try based on the recommendation of our Spanish teacher. It looked slightly upscale from the outside, but the prices turned out to be very reasonable. The flautas we ordered were good, but not as delicious or substantial as the ones from Cenaduria Los Merquetengues. However, their enmoladas (which are enchiladas in a mole sauce) were incredible! The sauce had deep, complex flavors that reminded us ever so slightly of the multi-layered curries we loved from Asia—we made sure every last bit of the sauce was sopped up by the end of the meal, making these the “must order” dish when dining here.
Address: Calle Donato Guerra 136, Tlaquepaque
Another restaurant that looks way more expensive than it actually is, El Tacote is essentially a Mexican steakhouse-cum-sports bar that is fantastic for when you are feeling carnivorous. We decided to split a molcajete, which is essentially a little cauldron of volcanic stone that is filled with meat, cheese, and a bubbling salsa verde. The portion was generous and the meats were amazingly tender (we still dream about the melt-in-your-mouth arrachera steak).
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their mindblowing guacamole. We’ve actually eaten embarrassingly little guac since arriving in Mexico (since you normally don’t find it anywhere other than slightly nicer restaurants and we tend to eat at really local places and taco stands) but we more than made up for it here. Not only was it super cheap (I think we paid the equivalent of $2US for the order), but the flavor was incredible… there was definitely more going on here than just some mashed up avocado. The portions at El Tacote are quite generous, but you definitely have to save room for their guac.
Address: Calle Reforma 263, Tlaquepaque
We visited Tlaquepulque for the first time to celebrate a major travel milestone as we wanted to commemorate where our journey began (in Japan) and where it had brought us 1000 days later (Mexico!). It felt like this restaurant was a perfect gift as it specializes in sushi (as well as the hyper-traditional Mexican drink called pulque. The symbolism was too perfect to ignore!
Now, don’t misunderstand me: the sushi at Tlaquepulque is not at all authentic Japanese. It is definitely Mexican sushi through and through, by which I mean most rolls feature A LOT of cream cheese, some are pan fried, others have gouda cheese melted on top of them, some are drizzled in a spicy chipotle mayo, and one roll even features crunchy fried grasshoppers inside of it! This is fusion cuisine, through and through, and while it might horrify traditional Japanese foodies, we have to admit it was really tasty. Just be sure to pace yourself—start with two rolls and order as you go; they’re really decadent and quite heavy and filling. On our first visit, we ordered 4 rolls and couldn’t finish them all.
Part of that may have been due to the pulque we ordered. Made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, pulque is an alcoholic beverage that is heralded for its health-giving properties. And really, it would have to be, because it is gross! Many people claim it has the consistency of snot, and while we didn’t find it overly slimy or viscous, we did find it overwhelmingly sour… like, gut-curdlingly so. Neither of us could finish our tankards, and the next time we returned to Tlaquepulque, we opted to get a pitcher of peach juice instead. Pulque isn’t the drink for us, but if you’d like to give it a try, this is a great place to do so—it’s affordable and there are a lot of different flavor combos you can try in an attempt to mask its lip-puckering flavor!
Address: Calle Independencia 336, Tlaquepaque
Our Favorite Taco Stand
Finally, no round-up of our favorite meals in Tlaquepaque would be complete without giving a shout out to our very favorite taco stand. It was, after all, the place we ate at the most, in part because the tacos here are only $7MX! That’s less than 50¢! True, they are smaller tacos than the ones we were served in La Peñita (I think these are considered Mexico City style), but since they were about half the price, it balanced out. I would normally order 3 or 4, whereas Tony would get 5 or 6.
Like most taco stands, this place was all about the meat and offered more conventional fillings like beefsteak and suadero (another cut of beef) to more adventurous ones like tripe, tongue, and eyes! Their tripa dorada absolutely blew our minds—they deep fried the tripe so that it was crispy little golden nuggets of goodness that were reminiscent of chicharrón (pork skin) and incredibly addictive. We also concluded that they had the best lengua in town, but at $15MX per taco, we didn’t indulge that often. Instead, we discovered that the suadero was a good stand-in, and their chorizo was very good too. As a nice bonus, they’d throw in grilled onions (cebollitas) and crispy little tostadas as well. We ate here so often that we could often just walk up and they would start assembling our food because they knew what we were going to order!
Address: Corner of Cinco de Mayo and Republica de Guatemala. The stand starts setting up around 7pm but doesn’t really start getting into gear until about 8pm.