The last time I was in Guanajuato, was about 30 years ago when I took food writer Suzanne Hamlin and her husband Ned, on a food tour of the only areas I then knew reasonably well. What I did not know was how to conduct a food tour and realized , once I got there that at that time, Guanajuato had a very limited list of specialties, namely enchiladas placeras. These are traditional enchiladas meaning that you first dip the tortilla in a chile paste and then fry them to the sizzling sounds and fireworks of fat splattering all over the clean floor and walls of your kitchen. And you better cover your arms! Once fried, the tortillas are stacked and topped with carrots and potatoes, fried in the same fat. There’s no denying that they are delicious. They are also messy, highly caloric, and difficult to eat standing around the plaza where people set up stands to sell them.
But I have been hearing about Las Mercedes, a tiny owner run restaurant that has the reputation of being the best restaurant in Guanajuato. I can’t say if that is true or not because I have only eaten there once and did not have a chance on this quickie tour to sample the fare at other restaurants such as El Jardin de los Milagros. I was quite blown away by the carefully prepared and delicious food, the service, the personal attention of the owners, and the cozy, warm and comfortable dining room. My friends, Yira Vallejo and her fiance, Jonathan Barbieri, of the famed mezcal Pierde Almas (considered the best mezcal on the market now) had recommended the restaurant to me. I used their names when I made the reservation so they knew that I would be writing about the place and we might have gotten special attention, but there are things you can’t fake.
We ordered quite a lot of dishes to share. That is one of the bad things about professional dining when traveling. I have a theory that the palate becomes saturated with flavors and makes one feel full, not necessarily with the amount of food consumed, and this is very flavorful food indeed.
The meal started with an amuse-bouche of a chalupa. a crispy tartlet filled with tangy, spicy, delicious pork tinga.
We ordered four first courses. First was a fantastic soup with xoconostle, a somewhat sour green cactus fruit, and chicharrón (pork crackling) and some other delicious things. (I am waiting for the recipe.) It was paired with the tostada with crunchy duck skin carnitas. I’m adding two pictures because the carnitas look better in one, and in the other, the soup is the star as well it should be. Our third appetizer was a stuffed pasilla chile that had been marinated in a piloncillo (sugar cone) syrup, stuffed and encased in a flour tortilla and was either pan-fried or baked and topped with a rich nata sauce.
Entrees were a sensational-looking and tasting dried fruit and pork-stuffed chile.
Of the entrees, my favorite was the pork shank. Simple but intense flavors.
But my quests loved their steak.
We started the meal with an aperitif of Mezcal de la Sierra cured with orange peel and accompanied the meal with an exquisite wine from Casa Madero