A Weekend in Guadalajara
Inspired by the New York Times' "36 Hours" video series, I decided to spend a weekend in Guadalajara on a whim considering it's only a three-hour flight from Los Angeles. I bought my tickets two weeks ahead of time and crammed as much research from watching YouTube videos and reading blogs.
I knew that I had to incorporate one fine dining tasting menu restaurant into my agenda considering the prices hover around $100 US Dollars for a 10-course meal. I originally planned my weekend around dining at "World's Best" Alcalde and having a torta ahogada, but that all changed as I did research and spoke to locals.
Safety concerns while in this part of Mexico was also an issue so I did some reading on how to stay safe while in Guadalajara. There was a shooting in Guadalajara just last year, but (sadly) we also had a shooting just recently in LA -- nowhere is "safe." Researching safety is a must before booking your flight in any city so you know what to expect and how you can mentally prepare for the trip to stay safe.
See my tips at the very end of this post.
Hotel Dali Plaza
I stayed at the Dali hotel for the city view. The room was only $30 USD a night and I had an awesome view of Guadalajara Cathedral. This was the reason why I booked it to be close to the sights. The beds are rock hard and most uncomfortable hotel bed I've slept on. You'll need to head to 7-11 or Supermarket to buy purified as the water is filthy. It's gross that I showered in it. Use the large bottle of water to drink out of and to brush your teeth. I read that most, if not all, restaurants use filtered water for their agua frescas and ice. The area is a ghost town at night. I would recommened you staying in Colonia Americana, Providencia, or Lafayette neighborhods when booking your AirBnB or hotel.
A Walk through the Historic Center
Tacos Los Altos
I walked into a random taco spot and was disappointed in these tacos. Even the agua fresca was watered down. So yes, you can have mediocre tacos in Mexico. There is a lonches place around the corner called, Lonches Amparito, that highly recommended by some bloggers. I couldn't locate it so I settled for these tacos because I had my reservation at Xokol and wanted a quick snack since I didn't have lunch.
Out of all the fine dining or tasting menu restaurants in Guadalajara, Xokol stood out to me as the must try restaurant if one had only a short time in Guadalajara. Originally, my goal of coming to Guadalajara was to eat all the unique foods invented in Guadalajara and to eat at Alcalde, which is on the World's Best list for top restaurants in Latin America. One blogger mentioned the must eat dish at Alcalde was the bean dish in the appetizer menu. I looked at photos of the "pretty tweezer food with flowers" and it just didn't look appealing to me.
Enter Xokol. A restaurant where all the top chefs in Mexico seem to rave about, including Enrique Olvera of Pujol and Paco Ruano of Alcalde, two restaurants rated the best in Mexico. The chefs at Xokol are an ambitious young chef couple, Óscar Segundo and Xrysw Ruelas Díaz.
Chef Xrysw Ruelas Díaz came over to me introduce some of her dishes in English. While she was there I asked her about her background and it looks like she worked at some local restaurants in Guadalajara including Hueso and also as a chef on a cruise ship. Her husband/partner Óscar Segundo who is of Mazahua ethnic background, an indigenous people of Mexico with their own language and culture. The restaurant places importance on pre-Hispanic preparation/recipes and the use of Mexican heirloom corn and supporting those heirloom corn farmers. During the day, I read that Xokol is a torilleria and might be supplying tortillas to other restaurants.
I went with their tasting menu so I can try different items. They didn't have a printed menu for the tasting. Each dish was brought over to me like omakase at a sushi restaurant. Some servers explained some of the items in English and some in Spanish. The service was attentive, but not perfect. I thought for standards I have while in Mexico it was fine considering that not many people in Mexico are fluent in English and I have to adjust my expectation because I wasn't in United States.
Xokol should definitely be on your list to eat at Guadalajara. I noticed that mostly Americans dining around 7 pm. Around 8 pm, the locals came and most of the seats were filled with what it looked like Mexicans. I am not sure if they culturally eat later like in Italy or they reserved the 7 pm dining time for Americans.
Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento
Air BnB Experience: Street Art of Colonia Americana
I booked a street art tour with Karen on AirBnB experiences. I was the only one on her tour so it gave me one-on-one time to pick her brain about the local art scene and her favorite places to eat. I found that our conversation during our walk was more interesting than the talk about the art on the walls to be honest. She told me to skip out on the El Profe tortas ahogadas and eat them at her friends restaurant, Tortas Mutantes. She told me that it is a tastier and modern take on the dish while El Profe is more traditional. I didn't have time to try it, so I guess that's my excuse to revist Guadalajara.
Air BnB Experience: Luis Barragán Architecure Walking Tour
I met two Americans and had lunch with them at PalReal. One of them is from Los Angeles (Elizabeth) and the other (Andrew) was from Brooklyn. I met Andrew at Xokol and the Elizabeth while on the architecture tour. Andrew surprised me when he showed up for the architecture tour I mentioned to him at dinner. They both have been to Guadalajara before and loved it so much, they came back.
Most famous dish at PalReal is the lonche de pancita. This was actually Elizabeth's order, but I misunderstood what I was getting from our server. I told to pick for me. Sorry Elizabeth! Elizabeth did say she enjoyed the plate that was supposed to me order. (Oopsies, my bad.) The difficulty one encounters not being fluent in the language.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hospicio Cabañas and José Clemente Orozco's masterpiece "Man of Fire"
There's other pieces of art to see so if you have time, you can roam around and check them all out. I spoke to someone who went in to see "Man of Fire" and left.
Mezonte for a mezcal tasting -- the mezcal of Jalisco
I don't usually drink tequila, so I skipped the day trip to Tequila and opted to a mezcal tasting at Mezonte for $300 MXN.
Tikuun Comedor Local
Somone at Mezonte, might be the owner, recommended that a visit to Tikuun was a must for dinner and so I dropped in without a reservation. He called it "Alcalde's little brother."
Pare de Sufrir Mezcaleria
The "World's Best Restaurants" website recommended Para de Sufrir so I made sure to visit on this trip. I ordered a tasting of Cascahuin which is the favored tequila of bartenders in Guadalajara.
I have enjoyed sipping on sotol in the past that I ordered a tasting of this sotol from Durango.
This is supposedly the favorite taco spot of locals. I was very disappointed and have tasted better tacos in Los Angeles and Tijuana. I need to spend more time in Guadalajara eating tacos as I'm sure there are tacos better than this.
The streets are very quiet in the morning that I wanted to take a stroll to take in the city on the way to breakfast instead of taking an Uber.
Yunaites • Menjurjes Pueblerinos
Already a huge fan of chef Fabian Degado from dining at his other restaurant, PalReal, I decided to visit his other restaurant, Yunaites, located inside MARKET IV CENTENARY. The concept of the restaurant is Mexican country cooking.
Birrieria Tlaquepaque “Don Javi”
I originally planned on tasting birria at a different market, but decided to try this spot instead because it was crowded. The tortillas were freshly made and the people were all so very nice, welcoming and very friendly. They didn't speak any English here as well so it can be a struggle for someone who doesn't speak or understand Spanish. The owner spoke so fast I couldn't understand the times when he explaining things to me. I just ended up laughing at the situation. The service was slow, but I enjoyed watching the locals eat birria with gusto.
My server at Yunaites recommended this coffee shop within walking distance to pickup a bag of local coffee beans.
Vía RecreActiva - Every Sunday in Guadalajara
If I had more time, I would have spent part of my Sunday riding a bike through the city.
I wanted to try the famous "bosque" for dessert. I heard that this was an essential visit in Guadalajara. It's located in Colonia Americana and I loved the vibe of the restaurant. Unfortunately, the service was very slow and the people who worked there were not friendly (to me, the American). The chef/owner Fernanda Covarrubias worked under with world renowned Ferran Adria.
My tourist guide to told me that "pueblo magico" Tlaquepaque was a must visit, but I hated it. It was a tourist trap and I didn't like the vibe of it. I walked through it with my tejuino in hand and took some photos, then called an Uber.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Zapopan
At the recommendation of my tour guide, I took an Uber to Zapopan to see the contemporary art museum where LA's very own Mark Bradford held a talk the day before my visit. I was disappointed that they had only one small room open. I decided to check out the famous basilica and get something to eat after taking photos of the basilica.
Don Vergas Mariscos
A big YES to this restaurant. This is essential eats in Guadalajara if you like seafood. This place was packed with locals and I loved the vibe. The servers did not speak English, but were so friendly and helpful when I spoke my imperfect Spanish when placing my order. The service is one of the most excellent I've experienced Mexico. The chef is a "protege" of Enrique Olveras of Pujol in CDMX.
If you must taste carne en su jugo, this is the best spot for it. If you don't need to taste it, skip it. I found the entire experience to be mediocre from the food served room temperature to the spotty service. The jericalla was overcooked and I was not impressed. Next door is Karne Garibaldi and is more touristy as they hold the Guiness World Book of Records for fastest service. I heard the locals prefer Kamilos 333.
Tips and other things:
Don't get money at the foreign currency exchange booth at the airport. Use the ATM machines close to the exit of the airport.
Go to the official Taxi stand at the airport and get a taxi there and pay your set fee of 350 MXN then show your ticket to the driver. You can take Uber, but you'll have to walk outside of the airport. I was too lazy to walk outside the airport or you can figure out how to take the bus, if you really want to save money.
Taxis rip off foreigners. If you can't find an Uber, have the restaurant or hotel call you a driver. Negotiate the price before getting into the taxi or ask hotel/restaurant cost. DO NOT get into a random taxi that might kidnap you or take you to an ATM machine to get cash. I heard that the train is very efficient or rent a city bike (check YouTube video how to do this). You might have to get a card to rent a bike at the train station.
No need to tip taxis or Uber, but I did tip mostly everyone if they had a kind demeanor. I tipped 20% at restaurants, but I don't think Mexicans tip that much. Maybe 10%-15% is standard.
Take Uber -- Uber will be your best friend. Check license plate and car description in app or ask "para quien?"
Try not vlog in public places in Guadalajara or you will call attention to yourself
Hide your electronics and do not hold your phone in your hands. Take your picture and put the phone away.
Place your valuables in your hotel room safe and take only what you need for the day and place your bag/zipper in front of you where you can see it. I hid my waste pack in my light sweater.
Do not go out alone at night or if you do go out, go to busy places as I did and stay extra vigilant. Don't go into dark alleys or neighborhoods alone. I walked in large crowded areas at night and avoided quiet neighborhood streets.
Make sure your cell phone works overseas. I use T-Mobile and heard AT&T is OK. I wouldn't risk Verizon. Buy extra data before you leave because I ran out of data (heavy Uber and maps usage) and was stuck in a dark neighborhood without access to calling an Uber after several attempts calling T-Mobile. Luckily I was able to hook up to a restaurant's public Wi-Fi late at night to call an Uber and get back to the hotel. Lesson: Don't go out at night in Guadalajara unless you are in crowded neighborhood and you have enough data or Wi-Fi to call an Uber. If you are a parent, I wouldn't travel to Guadalajara as a tourist. Safety is questionable here, especially with kids. It's best to go at it alone remaining super vigilant during your stay or with some friends. Stick to the Colonia Americana area and watch your belongings. Don't go out at night or make sure you're at a place where you can call for help if you need it.
Do not drink the tap water or put it in your mouth. In Mexico, always buy a large bottle of purified water to brush your teeth and for drinking water. If in doubt, ask a local.
Learn Spanish. Most people don't speak English in Guadalajara or don't want to speak English to you. Speaking a little Spanish goes a long way.
The locals are called "Tapatios."
I loved Guadalajara. It's smaller than Mexico City and felt less chaotic. I can see why the two Americans I met from Brooklyn and LA, came back to Guadalajara to work (and play). I loved Colonia Americana and the coffee and food scene. I definitely would like to return one day to Guadalajara and visit at a slower pace enjoying the local culture, people and food. Safety is an issue in Mexico right now and the US Government recently sent a warning of refraining from travel into Mexico. The drug cartels are supposedly running the resorts as a cover so it's risky to stay in tourist areas as violence is happening at tourist resorts as well.
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Hello, I'm Anne.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling in another country. I live to eat (good food) and travel!