If you have always wondered what those small, "front room" restaurants are serving up at midday, and if you have wondered where the working people of Mérida eat, let us introduce you to the concept of "cocina económica," or the inexpensive kitchen. This is Latin America's version of the corner diner, the neighborhood café, or the local deli, with an emphasis on homemade food.
This economical lunch hour dining experience is a wonderfully inexpensive way to sample the range of Yucatecan specialty dishes the way the locals prepare and eat them. A cocina económica is usually run by one or two women from the neighborhood, sometimes in the front room of one of their houses. It is open only in the middle of the day for several hours and everything is fresh for that day. The cooks have shopped and prepared that morning to bring you a real home-cooked meal. So don't be shy… step in out of the glare of the day and see what's cooking.
Two or three different dishes are featured each day. On Mondays in Mérida, Frijoles con Puerco (a dish of beans and pork) is almost always on the menu. On Fridays you will usually find Pescado empanazado (breaded and fried fish). Other days you might find: Lomitos: steak sautéed in a tomato, onion, chipotle sauce. Potaje de lentejas: lentil stew with several different meats. Albondigas con fideos: meatballs with noodles in a savory broth. Pollo en Escabeche: chicken in another savory, slightly picante broth. Pollo en Mole: chicken in a dark, chocolate-based spicy sauce, served with rice. Chiles Rellenos: chiles stuffed with either meat or cheese. Pozole: a hominy soup with an array of condiments. All meals are served with tortillas and depending on the dish, with rice and beans. Prices vary but rarely go above $30 pesos. In some cases you can order a half portion.
If you feel like eating at your home or hotel room, you can usually ask for your meal "para llevar", or "take out." Many a Mérida housewife uses the cocina económica as an extended kitchen, bringing the dish of the day home, where her own special touches are added to the meal.
The cocina económica usually does not have a liquor license, although occasionally they are able to sell beer. The more usual fare includes the ubiquitous Coca Cola, horchata (rice-based drink), jamaica (a hibiscus drink), and sometimes fresh fruit juices.
Here are some of our personal favorites and several recommendations from other aficionados. We are always looking for more places to explore so please don't hesitate to tell us about your experiences.
Ivonne's - Calle 53 between 62 and 64 on the south side of the street.
Cocina Santiago - Calle 70 at 55. Daphne's - Calle 61 close to 54.
D'Al's - corner of Calle 53 and 54 -is open longer hours and serves beer with a full menu including breakfast.
Hotel San Jose - Calle 63 between 62 and 64 serves cocina económica dishes as well as a full menu.
Mary Soco's - Calle 47 at 66.