Decided to break out my wife's travel journal and put in my trip to Guadalajara earlier this year. Didn't go for very long, just a few days. The trip was split between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara. I'm about to head to Mazatlan, so expect that report in a few weeks. I hope others will report their experiences.
I'd been to Mexico City the year before and been overwhelmed with the street foods. Guadalajara seems to lack the infinite number of street vendors that Mexico City has -- or that places like Puerto Vallarta have. That was a bit of a disappointment. But I had some good food regardless. We ended up using our Lonely Planet guide a lot and asking for local recommendations, which often pointed to the Lonely Planet recs. We weren't looking for any high end places, just good regional Mexican food.
We arrived late in the afternoon and just tried to get oriented. We grabbed a couple snacks at some street vendors, nothing interesting. We looked around and found a place that was in our guide that had a Mexican dance, music, and song show. It's called La Feria. The show was decent and free, with mariachis, rope tricks, etc. The food was inconsistent. My wife's tortilla soup was decent, but her chicken in huitlacoche sauce had little flavor. I had the molcajete de arrachera and it was very good. Molcajetes seem to be a common dish in Jalisco, and a good one. And arrachera (skirt steak, I believe), is a popular ingredient. A molcajete is a large stone mortar normally used for making guacamole and salsas. In these dishes it comes sizzling to your table filled with a tomatoey sauce and various ingredients, like chiles, meat, and so on. If I remember correctly, as a nod to tourists, I think, they gave you chips and salsa and beans, but they weren't very good. The entrees were pretty cheap, though, under 100 pesos for most. We left before the show was over, sort of. At the end of the show, they put out a large bottle and asked women to come up from the audience and dance around it. It got a bit nasty. Seemed really out of place.
The next day we went to breakfast at La Chata. It was very close to where we were staying and we'd walked by it and then noticed it was recommended in our Lonely Planet. It ended up being a breakfast stand-by for us. In our several visits, we had the chilaquiles con huevo, malletas mexicanas con chorizo, pan dulces, and a few other items. I really enjoyed the malletas mexicanas there, two rolls grilled and covered in melted cheese with salsa and chorizo. Very tasty.
We moved to the Hotel Frances which I would highly recommend. The rooms are mediocre, but the hotel itself is pretty nice with a large open area with a stage, chandeliers, and old staircases. There are also open air patios inside the hotel. The hotel is very old, the oldest in the city, and very close to the main plaza and all the cultural attractions of the city. Guadalajara is a great city for cultural attractions. It's nice how close they are to each other, too.
We took a bus to Tlaquepaque, a nice little high end arts district. Lots of cool shops, a nice plaza with a couple interesting churches and a gazebo with lots of kids sliding down its rails. We had a snack at El Patio, lemonade and chongos, a cool custary, puddingy thing with a cinnamon flavor and a light sauce, like many Middle-Eastern desserts. It was a nice little place and there was a huge troop of clowns eating there at the time. We ended up seeing them all over town through our trip. Very weird.
Later that day we went to the Mercado Libertad, a very large market not far from the Plaza de los Mariachis. The produce and other food stalls weren't as extensive as those at the Mercado Merced in Mexico City, but still there was a lot to look at. There were a lot of fondas, too, with cheap eats. We tried a few things, but it wasn't a very busy part of the day and you have to be careful when you have an American intestine.
For dinner we tried to find a restaurant that came recommended. However, after failing to find it in a taxi and talking to a concierge at a very upscale hotel, we learned it was gone and he recommended La Paloma. It's definitely a taxi ride from el centro. It's an interesting restaurant outside under the trees with the grill visible to the patrons. They also have nice live music. We shared a plate of antojitos with 2 tacos, sopes, and quesadillas. Everything was good. For dinner, my wife had the tres quesadillas con champinones, flor de calabaza, and huitlacoche. She enjoyed all of them. I had the fajitas arrancheras since they seemed to specialize in grilled skirt steak. It was more itneresting than what you get here with fresh tortillas and watermelon and jicama included with the beef.
After we took a taxi back to our hotel we set off to find the plaza de los mariachis. Our Lonely Planet map was wrong (they've since updated it) and we walked through some relatively scary parts of town, getting offers from $5 (50 peso) hookers over by the Mercado Libertad. I have to say, though, this was the worst area I saw and still wasn't as bad as you'd find in most large American cities and much less scary than the Mercado Merced area of Mexico City at night, which may be the worst area I've ever been in in any city at night. The plaza was a bit lame. The food stalls looked mediocre and it was mostly just a bunch of all-too-eager mariachis sitting around hoping someone would buy their services. On our way back we stopped and watched the kids playing in the plaza and watched the colored lights changing on the teatro. I went and bought us a couple wonderful nievas, essentially a really good shave ice with fresh fruit purees poured over the top. I can't remember exactly which ones we got, but I'm sure I ordered some regional choices that you wouldn't find in the US. They had a lot of those -- tamarind, passionfruit, cherimoya, mamey, and guava. Very refreshing.
Another breakfast at La Chata the next morning. After walking around the cultural sites, we stopped at La Rinconada for snacks. We had a variety of tacos, some soup, and lemonade. We were disappointed.
For dinner we tried to find a place that was close to a couple churches south of the main part of town. The place were were looking for was closed, apparently lunch only, so we walked down a little towards a plaza. There was a restaurant getting close to closing called Las 9 Esquinas. It was cute little place with an open tiled kitchen like you might find in a Mexican family's home. I asked for recs and had their birria de chivo, mole verde, and a couple appetizers I can't remember now, but I'm sure they were good, as was everything. The mole verde was excellent. Much better than the one I had at El Bajio in Mexico City and they're supposedly known for theirs. This is a great find and I was happy to see that tne new Lonely Planet guide has it (I have the 2000 guide). I wish I had a picture. Later we had dessert at La Chata -- flan, chocolate, and jericalla.
La Chata for breakfast the next morning again. We did some more site-seeing and then checked out and took a cab to the bus station for our trip back to PV. A boxed-lunch (yucky white bread with cheese slices and ham) was included in the trip, but I knew from the first trip that it was crap so I bought some tacos and a quesadilla for my wife at a little stand near the buses. Not bad.
Since that trip, I've noticed several places I would have liked to try. I would love to go back, though I think Oaxaca and Puebla will have to come first. Splitting the trip between PV and Guadalajara was a great way to get two very different experiences. I'd love to hear other people's experiences and suggestions.