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. 

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