Travel Diary: Tuna Tostada by the Beach

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El Merkadito

The temperature may be dropping (seemingly rapidly) here in Halifax, but in my mind, I’m back in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, sipping on iced coffee, watching people and stray dogs. On our almost shamefully lazy trip to the Mayan Riviera last month, we managed to roll off our beach chairs a couple of times, and make the 20-minute walk into nearby Puerto Morelos. This teeny beach town has a unexpectedly large selection of reputable eating establishments.

We were given a recommendation for our first visit, El Merkadito, a beachside seafood restaurant. We wandered in from the street side, walked straight through the kitchen, and took a seat in the touristy-looking beach hut-themed seating area. Thatched roof, kitschy, mismatched signs all over the walls (one might have even said something about Margaritaville). It didn’t look promising… until we saw what the couple next to us, who turned out to be fellow Canadians, were munching on. Amazing-looking sea bass on top of risotto. El Merkadito turned out to be a great find. They may cater to tourists with the image, but the place was very clean, service was pretty good, and their seafood was fresh and cooked with expertise. The presentation was vibrant and playful on blue ceramic dishes, the kind you’d usually find on a camping trip. It wasn’t classic Mexican either, it’s what I would call fusion. There were several Mexican dishes on the menu (tacos, tostada, etc), complemented by items like risotto or condiments like aioli. It worked. Here’s what we ate:

Tuna "carpaccio" tostada.

Tuna “carpaccio” tostada. (There’s aioli underneath the tuna.) My favourite.

Masa tortilla chips with house made aioli + hot sauces.

Masa tortilla chips with house made aioli + hot sauces.

Fried fish tacos.

Fried fish tacos.

Sea bass "Merkadito style", on a bed of creamy risotto, grilled veg.

Sea bass “Merkadito style”, on a bed of creamy risotto, grilled veg.

Mojito.

Mojito.

On our second trip to Puerto Morelos, we wanted to, first, go back to Cafe D’Amancia, where we had a post-lunch coffee and flan after El Merkadito, and second, try some more traditional Mexican food. After some good people-watching and phenomenal iced coffee at the cafe, we headed just two doors down to Dona Triny’s, a small owner-run restaurant offering traditional dishes. The service was fantastic and we enjoyed the food, trying several items: tacos, torta, burrito and enchiladas. Highlight of this meal was the cactus-mushroom taco, and the mole sauce on the enchilada.

Taco trio. Marinated pork, chicken and sauteed cactus and mushroom.

Taco trio. Marinated pork taco, chicken taco and sauteed cactus and mushroom taco.

Three enchilada, three sauces. The mole was GREAT.

Three enchiladas, three sauces. The mole sauce was GREAT.

Torta. A Mexican sandwich with refried beans, pulled chicken, and crunchy lettuce slaw.

Torta. A Mexican sandwich with refried beans, pulled chicken, and crunchy lettuce slaw.

The GIANT burrito. Pulled chicken inside with refried beans.

The GIANT burrito. Pulled chicken inside with refried beans.

Check out the scenery in Puerto Morelos in the gallery below. The food at our all-inclusive (Marina El Cid Resort) was a giant leap from last year (if you remember our bland buffet food challenge). The Mexican dishes were authentic and flavourful (and the salsas had real, mouth-burning heat).

Food Highlights: California

IMG_0047In California I was overwhelmed by the eating possibilities. Not having an unlimited budget immediately removed several iconic and high-end dining options, and, this wasn’t exactly a trip just for the food. (We were going to a wedding. We had to be places.) But I did manage to stumble upon some great spots, including food trucks.

Walking from Santa Monica into Venice Beach, we discovered a gathering of about seven food trucks on the boardwalk. We had already eaten and weren’t particularly hungry, but I just needed to try something. I ended up going to Tokyo Doggie Style for one of their Japanese fusion hot dogs. What you see at the top of this post is their homemade veggie dog, with yuzu citrus coleslaw, wasabi mayo, pickled daikon and homemade teriyaki sauce on a traditional hot dog bun. The veggie dog, being homemade, isn’t actually tube-shaped but is more of a long skinny patty. This was delicious. I had mine with their lychee lemonade. So refreshing.

IMG_0019We completely lucked out with the timing of our short stay in Santa Monica, as the Main Street edition of their farmers’ market was going to be held the morning after we arrived, and right across the street from our motel, in Heritage Square. There was live music, a petting zoo, beautiful produce and many booths making food to order. I found one called Bean & Thyme, serving healthy dishes made only from ingredients found at that market. The roasted cauliflower sandwich with cheese, egg and greens (pictured above) was surprisingly hearty, and not-so-surprisingly luscious in flavour, with just enough crunch on the grilled bread. A very memorable breakfast.

IMG_5025Another delicious breakfast experience was in San Luis Obispo at a diner called Louisa’s Place. Now, while there is a banner in the window saying they were voted best breakfast in SLO, according to our friend who lives there, many other restaurants also claim to have been voted the best breakfast. I believe Louisa’s. First of all, we walked in, and it was absolutely packed with locals. And it’s mostly a breakfast counter. We grabbed a couple stools and the ladies in the centre served up some of the the biggest portions I’ve ever seen. I had huevos rancheros (pictured above), which comes with two homemade salsas, and their hash — which is french fries, onions and peppers. The service was fantastic; they comped our beverages without us having even complained, because they thought our food came out slow. My sister had a bacon and guacamole omelet, which was three times the size of what I consider a reasonably-sized breakfast.

There were many more satisfying dining moments; scroll through the gallery to take a look.