Friday, 30 May 2014

Viva Las Vigas!

MÉRIDA, YUCATÁN – I generally avoid restaurants in the middle of centro in Mérida, since they can be overpriced, poor quality, or tourist traps, or a combination of the three. On the other hand though, there’s Las Vigas. It’s only a half block from the Plaza Grande, but situated as it is, somewhat hidden from the street, it’s not surprising that many people have never heard of it. It has a devoted local following though, and I would estimate that around 90% of the customers are locals; the other 10% being expats in the know, or tourists who happened to find their way in.

I first visited Las Vigas several years ago, following the recommendation of a friend to try it for its good quality food, cold beer, excellent value pricing, and air-conditioning!  She was right about all four things, and today, the same reasons for visiting are as valid as ever. It’s not haut cuisine, but good honest food, and with the most expensive food item on the menu $80 pesos, you’ll never need your accountant’s permission to eat there.

The bar/restaurant is located inside the Hotel Los Arcos, on Calle 63 between 62 and 64. The stairs next to the hotel front desk lead up to Las Vigas on the second floor. On a hot day (and when isn’t it hot in Mérida?) a welcome blast of cool air greets you when you open the door at the top of the stairs. It’s a casual kind of place, and no hostess will greet you; just take a seat at whichever table takes your fancy, and one of the friendly waiters will soon hand you a menu and take your drink order. Menus are available in English; often, if the waiter realizes you are not local, he will provide one; if not, don’t be afraid to ask for one if it’s easier. This being the tourist zone, some of the waiters do speak some English, and you can always point to the items on the menu if all else fails.

Las Vigas is popular, and from Thursday to Saturday, you can expect a wait for a table if you arrive after 8pm. The rest of the week you’ll still find it busy, but generally tables are available anytime without a wait. They don’t take reservations, so arriving early is the best bet.  

An extensive menu begins with breakfast, daily between 8am and 11.30am. Hotcakes are $25 pesos (including juice or coffee); an omelet with ham and cheese, 2 hotcakes, and fruit (again including juice and coffee) is $45 pesos. Chilaquiles run from $35 pesos to $50 pesos according to choice of additions, while various egg selections are $40 pesos. Fresh fruit drinks, made from watermelon, papaya, or melon are $20 pesos made with water, or $25 pesos made with milk.

Anytime from 11.30am onwards, the lunch/dinner menu kicks in, featuring a wide variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, snacks, Mexican dishes, cocktails, ceviche, fish, Yucatecan dishes, red meat, chicken, and pasta.

A simple ham and cheese sandwich is $30 pesos, club sandwich is $45 pesos, and Cuban sandwich is $45 pesos, all including French fries. An excellent large chicken Cesar salad is $50 pesos, while sopa de lima is a bargain at $25 pesos. Watch out for the Chilpachole de camarón (a type of shrimp soup). The menu indicates it is ‘picante’ (i.e. spicy hot) and they are not kidding…

If you are looking for something more substantial, chicken enchiladas are $49 pesos, while the delicious shrimp enchiladas are $55 pesos. Tikin-Xic, an excellent Yucatecan fish dish is $59 pesos; cocktails and ceviche run $55 pesos for small, or $75 pesos for large.

The ever popular poc-chuc is $40 pesos, and chicken cordon-bleu is $54 pesos. If pasta is your thing, fettuccini Alfredo with shrimp is $60 pesos.

For my money, the star dish on the menu is the Fish and Chips (listed as Filete al sol in Spanish); served English style, the whole filet of fish is encased in a crispy batter, served piping hot, with French fries and a small salad. They even offer malt vinegar, an English staple, to accompany it. At $59 pesos, it’s the best tasting and best value fish and chips I have eaten in Mexico and I rarely go through a week without obtaining my fish and chip ‘fix’ at Las Vigas.

There’s a full service bar, featuring domestic and imported liquor brands; however, as normal in Mérida (thanks again to the heat), beer is the main event, with individual ‘media’ bottles of domestic beer $20 – 22 pesos. Your beer will be served with a plate of lime segments, accompanied by ‘miguelito’, a salty/sweet mixture to dip your limes before chewing them. Buckets of 5 beers start at $90 pesos, and most days there are promotions for buckets including an appetizer. On Thursday for example your $90 peso bucket of ‘Sol’ will get you a free plate of French fries; on Monday, for $100 pesos your bucket also includes 8 hot, crispy fried chicken wings and a delicious chile xcatic dipping sauce. I like the sauce so much, I always retain it after the wings have been eaten to use with whatever I order later.

Las Vigas features plenty of TV screens for sporting events, and music videos when no sport is on. It’s always loud, and not a place for a romantic dinner for two. For a fun lunch, afternoon or evening however, with good quality food, friendly service, and extremely reasonable prices (is there anywhere else in centro where a meal for 2, including a bucket of beer can be had for under $200 pesos?), it’s hard to beat. Next time you are in centro, and feeling the heat, make a beeline for the Hotel Los Arcos on Calle 63, between 62 and 64 and head upstairs to the cool, welcoming environment of Las Vigas. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

London Calling

LONDON, ENGLAND – It’s always nice to spend time in London, even if, as was the case on this occasion, the weather is traditionally British (that is, awful). To be fair, the weather was only awful on one of the two full days I spent in the capital; the other day was ‘changeable’ as the British like to call it (meaning all four seasons can be experienced within the span of a few hours). Luckily, London has plenty to do indoors, and the famous pubs are always warm and welcoming; great options for taking a break when the weather turns nasty outside.

My choice for accommodation was the fabulous Morton Hotel, located on Russell Square in the heart of Bloomsbury, one of the capital’s most exclusive addresses. Rooms are named after some of the original members of the influential ‘Bloomsbury Group’, who were English writers, intellectuals, artists and philosophers, who lived, worked, and studied together in the Bloomsbury area during the second half of the 20th century. Mine was almost on the corner of the hotel, and directly opposite the entrance to the gardens in Russell Square. All too often in London, hotels offering quality accommodation are pretentious; or at the other end of the scale, those offering a friendly and unpretentious atmosphere are run down and in need of renovation. The Morton on the other hand strikes the perfect balance; quality accommodations in a beautifully renovated building, with comfortable and unpretentious surroundings. For more information and contact details, visit their website at

I spent a fascinating afternoon at the Mexican Embassy, where Ambassador Diego Gomez Pickering has recently arrived as Mexico’s representative in the UK. While at the embassy I learned about the strong, growing connection between the two countries. Without exception, everyone I spoke to in London during my visit had a positive image of Mexico, and commented that it is a country they would love to visit. Very few of them however had done so. Mexican food is ‘hot’ in the UK at the moment, and London is well supplied with Mexican restaurants; recently ‘Londonist’ published a list of their favorites. The interest in Mexico amongst the British represents a huge opportunity for Mexico, one which the Mexican national tourist board has every intention of exploiting.

Interesting in a different way was the afternoon I spent in Greenwich, famous of course for its observatory, the Cutty Sark, the Maritime Museum, and the line on the ground separating the eastern and western hemispheres. My destination however was the Meantime Brewery; founded in 1999, and operating from its current location since 2010. If you’re in London, and interested in craft beer production, it’s a great place to visit and take a tour. I’ll be writing a longer article about Meantime Brewery soon. See their website at for more information.

Another ‘first’ for me was the opportunity to look down on Oxford Street (London’s “main street”) from the rooftops, thanks to the roof garden at John Lewis department store, opened earlier this month for the 150th anniversary celebrations. If you are in London this year, it’s well worth a visit for its unique views.

And what of the pubs, in which you should seek refuge if (when) the rain comes down? London truly has a pub on almost every corner, and in the main areas of the city, literally any port will be fine in a storm. The Covent Garden area has some of the most interesting pubs; my personal favorite, which also happens to be the largest pub in London, is (ahem) an Irish pub, The Porterhouse Covent Garden, where from Thursday to Saturday the music is live, and every day the craft beers are cold, and the ‘craic’ is always mighty. Other pubs in the same area worth a visit include The Chandos, The Marquis, and The Spice of Life.


I travelled to London with Air Berlin (, with service from Cancún, via Dusseldorf.

I stayed at the Morton Hotel, located at 2 Woburn Place, London, WC1H 0LH. The hotel phone number is +44 20 7692 5600 (020 7692 5600 if calling from inside the UK), and email address is For more information, maps, etc., visit the hotel website at My review of the hotel can be seen here:

Meantime Brewery and Visitors Centre is located in Blackwall Lane, London SE10, accessible by bus, train, and underground. For more information and opening hours, visit their website at

John Lewis flagship department store is located at 300 Oxford Street – more information on their website at

The Porterhouse is located at 21-22 Maiden Lane, in Covent Garden. More information and a map can be found on their website at

For more general tourist information, check Visit London’s website: London’s (sometimes confusing) vast array of transport options can be explored here:

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Mexico – UK connection strong and growing

LONDON, ENGLAND – While in London, I was invited to visit the Mexican embassy. I don’t go to embassies very often; in fact the last two visits have both been to US embassies or consulates; in London and Mérida respectively. Consequently visions of guards with guns, high security fencing, x-ray machines, metal detectors, and the surrendering of all electronic items before entering were in my head, and I arrived for my appointment 15 minutes early to allow for the formalities.

I approached the address to find a building that looked like a house. Could I be at the right place I wondered? The discreet plaque, and Mexican flag over the door confirmed that indeed, I was. But where were the guards? The fences? The guns? Still doubtful, I rang the doorbell, and the door immediately opened. I stepped inside, where a smiling receptionist greeted me. No security check, no need to leave my electronics, no x-ray machine or metal detectors.

Five minutes later I was in the office of the press attaché. Ambassador Diego Gomez Pickering (who has been in the country only since January this year, and was officially introduced to Queen Elizabeth II yesterday) was in his own office down the hall.

What a different type of embassy. The advantage of being a country with no international enemies is obvious; and for those of us lucky enough to live in México, it’s another great benefit.

While at the embassy, amongst other things, I learned that approximately 7500 Mexicans live in the UK; far fewer than I had imagined; and that around half of them are students on multi-year degree courses. I also learned that the UK is the main market for Mezcal in Europe, consuming 2.5 million liters in 2013, and that Mexican food has now surpassed Chinese food to become the second most popular ethnic cuisine in the country (Indian, of course, remaining far out ahead as number one)!!

2015 will be the “Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom and Year of the United Kingdom in Mexico”, with festivals, cultural events, and educational exchanges taking place in both countries; and the Mexican government has set a target of 500,000 tourists annually from the UK to be reached by then. With increasing interest in Mexico being witnessed in the country, the target looks certain to be exceeded; indeed UK travel company TUI has this month launched direct flights from London and Manchester to Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s Pacific coast; highly significant since no direct flights to the Mexican Pacific from the UK have existed until now.

Mexico’s current program of reforms is attracting investments from the UK and the rest of Europe, and the ambassador has been visiting universities throughout the UK to promote exchange programs and projects of cooperation. Mexican nationals do not require a visa to visit the United Kingdom (or other parts of the European Union) as tourists or business visitors (nor do the British to visit Mexico,) which greatly simplifies travel plans and the ability of companies to operate in both countries.

Stories about Mexico appear with increasing regularity in the UK press – in January this year, the flagship Guardian newspaper ran a story entitled “Has Mexico’s moment finally arrived?”.

In February this year, UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, accompanied by Trade and Investment Minister Lord Livingston, Mexico Trade Envoy Baroness Bonham-Carter and more than 40 UK business leaders visited Mexico to promote bilateral trade and investment, and cooperation in scientific innovation.

With so much interest about Mexico in the UK currently, it is to be hoped that the state of Yucatán will make efforts to share in the benefits sure to be heading across the Atlantic Ocean very soon.