Aside from wandering around Guanajuato with my iPhone constantly in hand, taking photos, and holding us up, I spent the majority of our time in the city eating, drinking, planning our next meal destination, and sometimes even grabbing street food and walking while eating (whoa, getting crazy, I know)! If it looked good, we got it. Sometimes we shoved the food in our mouths too fast to snap a pic, but other times Charlie would reluctantly pause until I’d taken my fill of photos, asking in a stressed out voice if I was “done yet?”… and then we’d eat without talking for several minutes. We’re so romantic.
I was actually shocked at the number of food photos I had from our time in Guanajuato alone. This city is packed with so many places to eat and drink and so many foods to try. After browsing TripAdvisor for suggestions and asking Bertha’s family and friends for recommendations, we set out to eat all the food in Guanajuato.
I knew that Mercado Hidalgo was our first stop for a meal based on my Internet sleuthing. We headed out blindly into the city after a brief, rapid fire introduction to its streets by the owner of our B&B… which I’m positive we remembered none of except how to get a cab home if the funicular was closed. I didn’t bring a map and only knew the general direction in which we needed to head.
Luckily there were multiple signs pointing to Mercado Hidalgo. This is a place for cheap eats. Locals and tourists alike eat here at one of the many stands serving a particular specialty: birria, shellfish soup, several types of guisado (stew), hamburgers, tortas (sandwiches), and enchiladas.
We’d been told ahead of time by our new Mexican friends to try enchiladas in Guanajuato, so that’s the first thing we ordered at a stand where lots of locals eating. At this point, Charlie was becoming that kind of angry-hungry that doesn’t look good on anybody, so when he ordered enchiladas verdes and the cook asked if he wanted two, Charlie (as he did throughout most of the trip) just nodded and said sí. This caused us to end up with two huge plates of enchiladas – thus committing the ultimate food sin of ordering the same thing as each other.
Cocinas Económicos Gavira
Hang a left out of Mercado Hidalgo and if you’re not already stuffed like we were, stop by these cocinas económicos plastered with neon posters and signs advertising cheap prices for pollo con mole and pozole (ahh finally there’s posole and I’m SO full dammit!), soups, tacos, and more enchiladas. I put this on my list of priorities for Day 2 in Guanajuato and we headed there pretty much thirty minutes post-breakfast… okay, we did go to the Diego River Museum first, which was actually pretty cool and full of a ton of his original artwork, but I digress.
Women at these cocinas will eagerly wave you down, ask you to come sit, and hand you a menu to get your business. There are several closely situated open-air kitchens surrounded by benches, stools, and tiny tables. Competition is fierce. Each kitchen looks nearly identical and is named “Local 1,” “Local 2,” “Local 3,” and so on. We chose Local 4 for lunch because, again, it was the most crowded (and I know my street food rules). This was a delicious and cheap spot for a ton of super authentic food.
At the time, I’m certain we were the only kids from the United States at this cocina, but the waitresses were really sweet and decently attentive (one even snuck a few limes from our table to give to another customer, smiling, covering her mouth, and whispering perdón! as she passed, and replacing them later). Our table, per usual, was loaded with condiments we didn’t even know we needed but that I will now forever crave: hard and soft tortillas, the ubiquitous cilantro and raw onion, limes, serrano peppers, oregano, house salsa, and dried chili strands.
They had comida corrida advertised for 30 pesos (less than $3 USD) which is a multi-course mid-day meal, but we opted to try some real pozole. There was not an option, I was having it. Again, we accidentally got two bowls, but that ended up being a godsend as Charlie can’t really handle the spice that I like (one of his only flaws, you guys). The pozole was great, with roasted pork pieces, some crispy skin, and totally customizable with all of those condiments. We also had to try our first mole, with chicken, which was good but not great- a little cold and almost too, too sweet. All of this, plus two bottles of water ended up costing less than 150 pesos, or $10-11 USD.
There’s no shortage of snacks and street food in Guanajuato. You can get fresh cut fruit, a bag of spicy nuts, or a ton of hot dogs for a handful of pesos. The cart above is serving one of the coolest things (Charles called it “disgusting”) I saw while there: bags of potato chips topped with hot sauce and bags of Doritos cut in half and topped with everything you can imagine. I saw one vender adding cheese, cabbage, and seasoning salt. These particular snacks were everywhere! It really reminded me of the Frito Pie nonsense they serve in Midwestern states and Texas. At Bertha’s wedding, as a late night snack, the caterers served guests individual bags of chips covered in hot sauce. We saw them again in Oaxaca.
Jesus. I do love a churro. And this one was realllly good. Coated in sugar and crisp on the outside. Sadly, in Guanajuato churros weren’t as readily attainable as they had been in all of my Mexican food dreams leading up to our trip. We got two of these big guys from a lady selling her desserts from a tent on Benito Juárez. She was located next to several other tents selling Día de Muertos candies and anything else you could ever want… as long as it’s made out of sugar.
But we didn’t stop with churros. Right outside of Mercado Hidalgo, we found a young woman selling sweets and Charlie grabbed this cannoli-ish thing as his post-lunch dessert.
Oh, and there’s a ridiculous amount of baked foods in Guanajuato. Just a few steps away from Mercado Hidalgo, alongside Benito Juárez we found a bakery selling fresh pastries, cookies, doughnuts, desserts of all kinds, and actual bread bread. We got an assortment of treats for 20 pesos (less than $2 USD) and then sat out in the heat and stuffed our faces like fat tourists who take pictures of their food…
And then of course there were the average, everyday festival street treats like cotton candy being thrown in my face, asking me to play the “How much weight can you possibly gain on vacation?” super fun game!
And finally (I promise I’m not even really a dessert person!) I’m a sucker for anything that’s being cooked right in front of me and giving off good smells. Galletas de cajeta, I think these are. Crispy thin cookies made with cajeta that taste of burnt sugar. Cajeta is famous in the area (they sell jars of the stuff in the bus stations) and it’s actually the one thing that Celaya is known for. It tastes like a cross between caramel and dulce de leche.
Drinking in Plaza San Fernando
So obviously some drinking was going to happen. When you’re done sightseeing and eating, what do you want to do more than anything else? Sit and have a beer… or three… and maybe some mid-afternoon tequila (but don’t worry, you sip it). We found several convenient spots in the city to do this. And even if you, like us, haven’t finished your sightseeing or shopping, it’s really better to finish those after a couple drinks anyway… How do you think we ended up with such sweet fedoras?
Plaza San Fernando is a lovely area with a fountain and many restaurants with outdoor tables… and lots of pigeons and tourists. It’s great for people watching. We previously had drinks and empanadas at some not-that-great-I-think-it-was-a-chain-restaurant (La Oreja de Van Gogh) in Plaza San Fernando, but the next place we tried for drinks was way better and way cheaper with its non-fancy menus and a waiter who was quick to pop over and open your beers with a lighter. Look for giant posters with drink specials. I have a keen eye for that sort of thing.
Botanas are small snacks that accompany beers in Mexico. They are free. They are rare. But when they appear unexpectedly in the waiter’s hand, they are glorious. We were already stuffed (see aforementioned sweets) when we sat down to a 150 peso cubeta (or bucket) of Coronas, which by the way, is a great deal for six beers (less than $12 USD). However, our server still brought us these Funyun-ish snacks covered in crema and hot sauce.
Drinking at Clave Azul
I could write a post on this place alone. We went to Clave Azul both days we were in Guanajuato and I still wish we’d found it sooner.
If there’s a must-do in Guanajuato besides seeing that colorful, miraculous view of the city from above, it’s a drink at the almost-hidden Clave Azul. Thanks for nothing Lonely Planet, your directions were garbage, and if not for my persistence and walking down a tiny sketchy alley to find this place, I would have missed this gem of a bar.
This is how you get there: Don’t worry about the address, which is (supposedly) Segunda De Cantaritos 31. Believing this almost caused me to walk into an unmarked open wooden door that was undoubtedly someone’s home. Go to Plaza San Fernando and walk around its edges until you find Café Bossa Nova, a pretty busy crepe and coffee place, in the back. There is a really tiny alley (“callejón”) next to/behind the café. Despite the fact that it looks like it might lead to doom, head down there. Congrats, you have found the coolest place in town.
Intimidatingly cool, you walk up the steps into this dark, dank, and literally crumbling bar to see some old men drinking chatting. The wall behind the bar is decorated with old, broken cameras, and the shelf across from it is filled with broken radios, surrounded by faded photographs, instruments, and empty wine bottles. There are several small tables, half-filled with trendy young kids, more old men, or a couple that’s constantly making out. The waiters are relatively friendly for such a hip place, all dressed in Corona T-shirts. It didn’t feel like it’d been mentioned in Lonely Planet, despite my fears.
A skinny old man wearing a bolero and sunglasses stood behind the bar, took a shot of tequila, and grabbed his hat off a hook before heading out into the sunset. He was way too cool for words, but somehow Charlie found them: “That right there. That’s what you call O.G.” (I’ll let you Google what that means, mom.)
To me, the place kind of feels like Backstreet Pub in Beaufort, North Carolina. A place where you’re not sure if you know the rules, but do know that you like it there and don’t want to piss anybody off, lest you be banned for life. Mix that in with some dirty antique decor, vintage movie posters, and the requisite Spanish you better be speaking, and you’ve got yourself a really fucking cool bar.
So as not to look like a newbie, you should order beers (Corona or Victoria) and if you’d like, tequila. Don’t worry, it’s good here. They’ll ask if you want it with sangrita de la casa (the “blood of the house”) and you do. It’s a spicy tomato juice concoction to go with your tequila. They will also supply you with limes, thus completing what’s known as La Bandera, the Mexican Flag, with its colors of green, white, and red.
I apologize for the overuse of the word “cool” but it’s really the only way to describe this place. And don’t even get me started on the Clave Azul’s rooftop patio with its views of nighttime Guanajuato, plastic chairs, and tiles that are about to fall off the walls. The winding metal stairs were also a fun touch. Hey, no joke, they even had one of the best public bathrooms I used while out in Guanajuato.
But, of course, as I mentioned before, the real reason behind coming to Clave Azul before I knew about its intensely cool and old school Mexican atmosphere… was to try the botanas. Between 2:00 PM and 5:30 PM, the bar serves free botanas with each round of drinks you order. On our second day in Guanajuato, we made it there during the sweet spot.
Tipsily confident about not being rookies at this bar anymore, we ordered la bandera again and some beers. This time, a super cool Mexican Indiana Jones type (who definitely was not working there) took our order and spoke to us in English. He said, “Be careful with the food here. It’s really good.”
Yes. Yes it was. The chef came out and brought us Sopa Azteca made with zucchini, enchiladas drizzled with crema, and crispy tortillas with green salsa. All surprisingly excellent. Mariachis wandered in and out and this time one guitarist stopped to play… and then he stayed to play after we shoved some pesos toward him. Of course, when he asked what we wanted to hear, we could think of no famous Mexican songs and just shouted, “Algo popular!” I’m sure everybody in the bar really appreciated this. [There are no food pictures of these botanas due to the dark, moody bar lighting and the absolute uncoolness factor associated with taking pictures of your food… and by this point we may have been a little inebriated.]
Also pictured here are some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had and slices of cucumbers with daikon sprinkled with chili seasoning salt, along with me and the mariachi of course. Below is the alley you’re going to need to walk down from the plaza to find Clave Azul and some of the decor you’ll find upon your arrival.
Of course, you should also make time to have drinks or dinner at one of the many nice restaurants situated around the lovely Jardín de la Unión while you’re in Guanajuato. It’s a very beautiful, spacious, clean, tree-lined plaza, if a bit overpriced and crowded with people and mariachis. We enjoyed our dinner at Bar Luna (which was recommended to us by our Mexican friends), but after our experience at Clave Azul, I much prefer the smoky, badass bar with the surprisingly good food (and tequila). If I went back, I might try to hit one of these restaurants in Jardín de la Unión during lunch when they offer a cheaper multi-course menú del día. Also, the owner of our B&B recommended the restaurant Mestizo which is located on Pocitos. It was actually on my short list of places to eat after reading a ton of excellent Tripadvisor reviews.
In short, you will not starve in Guanajuato, nor will you die of thirst. Food is available on every block, but you really won’t know what you’re missing unless you head to Clave Azul and have a tequila and a botana!