Bryan and I just returned from a trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, to celebrate the wedding of two good friends. Having never been to "Zihuat" -- my last trip to Mexico was a questionable visit to even more questionable Tiajuana bars during college -- I had no idea what to expect. Turns out the small town sits right between a picturesque bay and lush, green hills, appealing to both sun (and infinity pool) worshippers as well as tourists looking for more "authentic" Mexican experiences (read: food). Not being one to turn down authentic Mexican cuisine, I was into the idea of going into town but admittedly nervous about turning the wrong way down a deserted street or running into a less-than-friendly Federale with a penchant for false arrests. What can I say? I'm paranoid, especially about unfamiliar international places.
Lucky for us, our friends Kyle & Catie had previously honeymooned in Zihuatanejo and led seven of us on an expedition into town to sample two of Zihuatanjeo's finest: tacos and tequila. More specifically, mezcal, a distilled drink made from the maguey plant (similar to agave) with a strong, smoky flavor. Almost five hours, four stops, nearly twenty mezcal shots and countless pastor, bacon, asada and fish tacos later, we made our way back to the hotel with a decent buzz, full tummies, smiles on our faces and memories to last a lifetime. Or at least until we go back. In the meantime, enjoy our taco and tequila tour.
Our first (read: warm up) stop was La Sirena Gorda, translated to mean "The Fat Mermaid." Kyle, the leader of our pack and taco crawl mascot, wore a La Sirena Gorda t-shirt he had purchased during his and Catie's honeymoon. To say he was enthusiastic doesn't do justice. The restaurant -- the walls of which are packed with painted and sculpted artistic interpretations of the "Fat Mermaid" -- is basically a covered patio with an interior bar. We sat down and another couple -- actually, the only other people in the restaurant -- raved about the fish and lobster tacos. We ordered a round of margaritas, beers, a few mezcal shots and guacamole, which came with a homemade habanero pepper salsa. That's what got the fire started. More beer and a round of fish tacos later, we were ready to start our search for Zihuatanejo's mezcal bar and Los Braseros restaurant.
Clockwise from top left: Kyle, La Sirena Gorda's #1 fan; tomatillo salsa & pico de gallo; the interior bar; guacamole.
After about 3o minutes of walking (I'm hesitant to use the word aimlessly because Kyle certainly knew where he wanted to go), we found the mezcal bar. Is that it's official name? I have no idea, because we simply refer to it as "the mezcal bar." I think it's better that way. We sat down, were firmly instructed by Kyle not to order "actual food" (after all, we were headed for tacos next)and ordered a round of Mezcal shots and beers. That's when things got awesome. The waitress brought over each of our beers -- Pacifico, Modelo, Victoria -- in individual coozies. She then presented each of us with a TINY terra cotta mug filled to the brim with smoky Mezcal. Since tiny things are always cuter than their larger counterparts, these miniature mugs won the award for cutest shot glasses ever. It also won the award for the cheapest, considering each shot was only $1. Armed with that knowledge and some chips, pickled peppers and spicy salsa, we said cheers with a loud "Salud!" and drained our tiny mezcal mugs, pinky fingers proudly in the air.
Clockwise from top left: A group "cheers;" our tiny mezcal mugs; homemade salsa and pickled peppers; taking a break from the mezcal.The waitress magically reappeared at our table, this time with a glass jug of clearly homemade mezcal, asking "Uno mas?" or "One more?" Hoping the homemade Mezcal wouldn't kill us -- and figuring it was probably too late anyway -- we said, "Si!" The waitress literally filled our mugs until they overflowed. We had a strategic group discussion about whether to shoot or sip the wonderful mezcal and smartly decided to sip it, giving our bodies time to absorb the booze and our waitress the message that we didn't need another immediate refill.
We took our time with our drinks and exclaimed that we were all ready for some tacos. We paid the $20 bill -- thank you, peso to dollar conversion rate -- and walked a few doors down to the main destination of the day: Los Braseros restaurant. Kyle took charge with the menus, ordering no less than five plates of combo carne asada, bacon, carnitas and pastor tacos, each served with folded piping hot homemade tortillas. While we waited, we sipped our beers and dug into the salsa selection: a variety of ranchero and tomatillo salsa served warm with limes, pico de gallo and chips.
Clockwise from top left: Los Braseros Mexican Food Restaurant; salsa tray; our practically licked clean plates of tacos; Los Braseros' huge menu.The tacos arrived and I can only describe them as amazing. Diced chunks of beef, pork, bacon and chicken cooked in various combinations, covered with melted cheese and plated with the aforementioned blazing hot tortillas. [Side note: there's nothing better than a homemade, just-pressed tortilla. Seriously.] Someone remarked that it was our first quiet moment of the day, and we all responded by nodding with full mouths and looking back down at the tacos clenched between our fingers, dripping salsa and meat juice. That's right, meat juice.
One of Los Braseros many taco combinations
Once we cleared our plates and gave Kyle the honor of having the last taco, we made our way outside... to Los Braseros' taco stand. As though we hadn't stuffed ourselves enough, we found ourselves standing in front of Los Braseros' pièce de résistance: a sidewalk taco stand with a giant rotating spit and two chefs selling tacos for thirty cents a piece. There was no way we were going to pass up thirty cent tacos. I know, it sounds sketchy: being on a random street in deep Mexico and being excited to order questionable tacos. But look at the chefs: they were clearly organized, their workstation sanitary and they were totally proud of their work.
Clockwise from top left: Kyle posing in front of his favorite thirty cent taco stand; the chef proudly making and presenting his tacos to us.We ordered a plate of four tacos and watched as the chef organized four piles of two tortillas each on a plate. He then picked up a machete-sized knife and began to quickly yet gently slice the meat (I'm still unclear as to the origin or type of the "meat") into the tortillas. He then cut a small chunk of pineapple, also rotating at the top of the spit, and caught the tiny piece as it dropped about two feet into each tortilla. He sprinkled on chopped onion and cilantro and repeated the process three more times. Then it was our turn. We dug in and they were great: the tortillas were warm, the rotisserie meat was moist and the cilantro and onion gave the tacos some earthiness and bite. They were easily better than most tacos we get at wanna-be tacos stands at home.
The thirty-cent tacos.With that, we checked our watches and knew the sun would be setting soon. We decided to head back to the hotel, taking a long walk along the beach with the last of our beers. We were all so happy: our faces flush from the sun, humidity and mezcal; our tummies full of chips, salsa and tacos; and our next step being a dip in the infinity pool at the resort. Life was good.