Eating My Way Around Puebla, Mexico

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THE COLORFUL MEXICAN city of Puebla offers more than enough to keep a visitor enthralled over the course of a long weekend.

If you’re smart, however, you’ll arrange a much longer stay.

Puebla is a great place to stop and smell whatever’s cooking in the local restaurant’s cazula.

Relax.

Take time to sip tequila bandera-style as you watch kissing couples cruise the Zócalo (Pubela’s central square).

Here are a few highlights from my recent visit to the home of such classic dishes as mole poblano, chalupas, cemitas and chiles en nogada.

WHERE TO EAT

El Mural de los Poblanos is located within walking distance of the Zócalo.

As the name El Mural suggests, the restaurant features vibrantly painted art works–including a new Cinco de Mayo-themed piece. Service is friendly and well-paced.

Owned by the president of the Puebla chapter of the national restaurant association (Luis Javier Cue de la Fuente), El Mural’s staff offers guests drinks from a rolling Mezcal cart.

In addition to Mezcal (a distilled drink made from the maguey plant–a form of agave), El Mural’s wine selections include Barón Balché (well-regarded for intensely flavored reds).

The kitchen sends out colorful dishes topped with crispy, purple sweet potato chips or painted with Mexican flag-colored sauces.

Dessert was a highlight –molten cake oozing rich chocolate goo – and a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream – served on a sleek alabaster platter.

IF YOU’RE READY to try less traditional Mexican food (including riffs on Thai, Japanese, French and Greek cuisine), take a ten-minute cab ride from downtown to Chef Angel Vázquez’s hip intro.restaurant.

If you time it right, the restaurant will be rocking – the house DJ spins tunes as innovative as the chef’s fusion cuisine.

Dining here on separate occasions, I devoured two dishes that rank at the top of what I’ve eaten in my lifetime

1) Red snapper sashimi with fava bean puree, crispy artichoke hearts and lemon conserve and,

2) Shrimp breaded with chicharrón (Mexican-style pork rinds).

The combo of textures and taste in Chef Vázquez’s sashimi has already influenced my home cooking — I whipped up a poached salmon with lemon butter and artichokes last night.

I can’t wait to play with the idea of pulverized chicharrón coating anything from chicken breasts to lobster tails or bay scallops.

WHAT TO DO

Puebla is home to hundreds of historic churches, excellent museums, Talavera pottery makers and unique sites like Barrio del Artista and the Ciudad Mural in Barrio Xanenetla.

If you’re food-obsessed, like me, however, you’ll be more excited about getting your hands dirty!

Intro Restaurant’s talented chef offers fun, hands-on classes in mole truffle making — and you can eat your coursework while sipping a glass of full-bodied, red Mexican wine.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, Chef Alonso Hernández Juárez of Mesón Sacristía de la Companía Cooking School (located in downtown Puebla) offers basic Mexican cooking classes where you can bone up on the classics including chiles en nogada.

WHERE TO DRINK

Hotel La Purificadora has an upper floor bar overlooking the convention center and parts of the Church of San Francisco (best seen at sunset).

One of the attendees at a recent conference nicknamed this trendy bar/hotel “La Snob-afidoria.”

If you can get past the off-putting reception and service, La Purificadora’s open-air bar serves killer cocktails including cucumber-jicama or Hyacinth margaritas.

If you’re staying at the hotel, don a bikini and swim a few strokes in the bar’s tiny lap pool (or veg out – for all to see — in the jacuzzi).

Although Hotel Puebla Antano’s ground floor lobby bar is sedate, the second floor open-air bar is party zone central at night. (Potential hotel guests should keep this in mind when looking for a quiet place to sleep.) Views of the city at sunset make the relaxed, couch-filled space a pleasant place to hook up with friends before heading out to dinner.

WHERE TO SHOP

Calle de los Dulces is the place to go if you have a weakness for candies, cookies and sweet liquor.

Only a few blocks long, this “Sweets Street” is home to at least a dozen sellers of Tortas de Santa Clara (tarts made with lard-based pastry topped with sugar glaze), piggy-shaped molasses cookies (cochinitos), sweet potato candy (camote) vendors and rompope distributors (with many offering free tastings).

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IF YOU GO

  1. All About Puebla (“…the best source for food, festivals, and everything else poblano.”The New York Times)
  2. Estrella Roja (comfortable and quick bus service to Puebla from Mexico City)
  3. Eat Mexico: Culinary Tours of Mexico City (offering tours of street food and markets)
  4. Mexico Soul And Essence: Cultural Culinary Tours of Mexico (immersing cultural travelers and cuisine lovers to the culture, gastronomy, art and history of Mexico)
  5. El Mural de los Poblanos (16 De Septiembre #506, Col. Centro)
  6.  Intro Restaurant (Calzada Zavaleta #5624, Col. Zavaleta, San Andrés Cholula)
  7. Mesón Sacristía de la Companía Cooking School (6 sur 304 Centro Puebla, Puebla)
  8. La Purificadora Hotel (Callej De La 10 Nte 802, Puebla)
  9. Puebla de Antano Hotel Boutique (Calle 3 Oriente No 206 Centro Historico, Puebla)
  10. Calle de los Dulces (Av. 6 Oriente, between Av. 5 de Mayo and Calle 4 Norte, Puebla)