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September, 2010:

This year’s Christmas Card photo…

…may be sourced from any of these pics from our despedida this past Saturday.  (Despedida = going-away party in Spanish).

Any votes on the winner??

Of course, this would imply that we are motivated enough to actually send out Christmas cards for the first time in our lives.  Hmmm…  Maybe I meant Christmas email…. 😉

P.S. Many thanks to our unpaid photographers for the evening, Jenny & Brian and Aryani & Scott!! You guys rock!

A Visit to the Corona Brewery (aka Cervecería Modelo)

Have you ever thought to yourself, “What could I do today to support a giant, soul-crushing monopoly?”  If you happen to be in Mexico City, I have just the ticket: a visit to Cervecería Modelo, just north of Polanco!

The iconic Corona sign hovering over the large brewery in Mexico City.

The name Grupo Modelo may not immediately ring any bells for non-Mexico residents, but it is the company responsible for many well-known Mexican beers– Corona, Pacifico, Negro Modelo/Modelo, Leon, Victoria, Estrella, Montejo, and Barrilito. It also holds 63% of the Mexican beer market, with nearly all the remainder covered by Heineken/FEMSA; between the two of them, they make life difficult for any young upstarts in the Mexican beer world who are going after that last 3% market share.

That said, I am a fan of both Pacifico and Negro Modelo, and I imagine there may be other readers who have been swayed by Corona’s impressive marketing efforts, so I decided to go check things out this afternoon. I took some guidance from my husband, who went on a Modelo brewery tour a few months ago– he felt the tour was interesting if you’ve never seen the brewing process before, but if you’ve been to other breweries, this tour likely won’t knock your socks off. Needless to say, this girl has seen one or two breweries in her day, so I decided to skip straight to the good stuff: the gift shop.

WHERE: Finding the brewery was easy, and the appropriate entrance was fairly obvious. The map on Grupo Modelo’s website shows roughly where the door is located at Lago Alberto 156 in Colonia Anahuac, Mexico City. You can actually walk there quite easily from the Polanco metro station– once you exit the station, just walk up Arquimedes going north. After carefully crossing a busy street (Ejercito Nacional), you will cross under an overpass (Rio San Joaquin) and then take a right onto Lago Alberto.

You will see these large beer vats as you approach the brewery... Walk forward along the left side of these and then turn right (walking along the far side of this fenced-in area); this will put you on Lago Alberto

The view as you walk towards the entrance of the Cervecería Modelo. Your entrance will be under the flag/seal, just past where all the beer trucks are turning in.

Cross Lago Alberto & enter beneath the seal:

This was taken seconds before I got yelled/whistled at by the security guard in the middle of the photo, who obviously sensed that I was snapping highly-sensitive pics FROM A PUBLIC STREET as part of my plan to infiltrate the brewery.

Once you enter, tell the security guard at the desk that you are there to visit the “Tienda de Propaganda”. You’ll be asked for an ID (so bring some sort of ID with you), signed in & given a badge. Then someone will lead you to the gift shop. The gift shop is open Monday – Friday from 8AM to 5PM.

WHAT: The amusingly-named Tienda de Propaganda is wisely hidden inside the factory, rather than being easily accessible from the street for tourists. 😉  A Modelo employee will lead you along a roped-off sidewalk, while large trucks & carts zip along nearby. Eventually you’ll be dropped off at the uninspiringly-signed hallway leading to the store.

Just look for the Propaganda sign, and take care not to get mowed down by a rapidly-moving forklift.

I think I was hoping for a more over-the-top gift shop (and maybe the chance for a beer sample, let’s be honest), but Modelo’s Tienda de Propaganda nonetheless fulfilled its reason for being: there was no shortage of Corona-covered kitsch to be purchased!! If you are a big beer drinker and/or Modelo-brand beer fan, you should at least find some products here that will help you outpace the Jones’s in the “beer accoutrements” department. :) A lot of the stuff there, neither John nor I have seen elsewhere (though admittedly we may not have been looking that hard).

In the event that you’re on the fence about whether the Corona (and friends) Gift Shop merits a visit, here’s the smattering of its offerings that I was able to surreptitiously photograph:

Oversized 2L plastic beer bottle with screw-on plastic top? Check! ($34 pesos)

A whole bunch of shirts with beer logos/commentary on them in a mixture of English & Spanish? Yes! (prices unclear on my grainy photo, but I believe <$100 pesos)

Old-timey beer trays with old-timey ad images + a tacky surface to prevent glasses from sliding all over the place? Yep! ($42 pesos)

German-looking beer steins that would probably crack in shame if beer this light gets poured into them? Check! And Corona-branded dominos to show up the locals during your next cantina visit. (Dominos ~$140-150 pesos)

Miniature coolers with handles, a magnetic top & a built-in bottle opener? Absolutely! These are one of my favorite items-- John got us the red/blue Corona one a few months back. Prices seem to range from $350 to $600 ish. John estimates ours might hold about 18 beers, so a fun item to have on your counter for a party.

The inflatable section! I succumbed to buying a 1.5m-tall inflatable Pacifico beer bottle. And if we weren't moving back to a pool-less townhouse, I would have definitely bought the sand + palm tree floating bottle holder. I mean, your beer can float next to you in the pool AND be covered in shade at the same time. Brilliant. ($40 pesos for tall bottle)

MY 2-CENT BREWERY TOUR: As previously mentioned, I didn’t do the official brewery tour, but I did snap a couple photos on my way back to the entrance (for which I also got yelled at by a concerned man in a suit).  You’ll quickly be able to decode all the secret details I captured & perhaps start your own competitive brewery, or create an elaborate scheme for breaking into this one.

Apparently Corona & friends come from the cleanest, purest, mountain-fresh water known to man.

To keep morale high, there is colorful old-timey truck & fake beer barrels inside the main entrance. Que preciosa, eh?

The best part is that no one yelled at me for taking a photo of the Modelo cerveza-making process:

OMG! It's all out in the open now, people. I trust you will have no problem replicating these beer-making and packaging processes to create your own brewery intent on world domination!!

If you’re interested in a more elaborate tour of the Cervecería Modelo than what my photos can provide, drop an email to visitas@gmodelo.com.mx. I even received a same-day response to my inquiry! Their tours seem to skew more towards large groups, but the email I received indicated that if I was alone, I could be attached on to an existing group. Lic. Flor Santillana is the woman from the PR dept who coordinates tours, and tours are available Monday through Friday, seemingly at 9AM, 11AM and 3PM, but I would definitely call/email first, as I’m not sure they’ll accommodate you if you just show up. Additional questions, you can call 55.5262.1200 ext 2336.

Tours are available at Modelo’s other breweries as well, so if you’re in Zacatecas, Guadalajara, Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, Mazatlan, Tuxtepec in Oaxaca, or Torreon in Coahuila, check here to get the contact info & set one up!

I hope this satisfies anyone who was curious about where Coronas come from before they end up in a million photos of people’s feet on a sunny beach…. or where you should go once you convince your wife that this should be your new dining room table:

Ahhh if only we had a proper Man Cave for John back in our townhouse in Arlington, VA...

As we say in Mexico before slurping down a cold beer, ¡Salud!


Questionable Ladder Usage…

Now, I’m not saying that this guy isn’t a highly-trained professional…

As seen in Polanco this weekend

….I’m just not saying that he is….

"...just...a little...farther...I can...almost....reach it..."

Anyone in Mexico City offering review courses on ladder operation? Perhaps something like, “Slanted Ladders: Which Side is Your Friend?”

P.S. Bicentenario pics coming soon to a blog near you!! Honest!!

What to eat at the Tacos & Mariachi Fest in Mexico City

We visited the aforementioned First [Annual??] Tacos & Mariachi Festival after work today in Plaza Garibaldi, as I was curious to see what kind of festival could be organized in two weeks. I really should not be surprised to discover one does not need that much time to bring together numerous tasty taco vendors in Mexico City!

While business was a bit slow at 5:30PM on a Tuesday, there was a very respectable turnout of taco vendors (maybe 20-30 stands? I am unable to estimate things…). One of the workers told us there had been a great turnout over the past weekend and they had high hopes for this coming weekend (the festival ends this Sunday, September 12), but activity during the week was looking a tick sluggish. (Which means YOU, Chilangos, should go support these diligent taco vendors, since it’s not like there are taco stands on every block in Mexico City…  Err… well, maybe there are… but I digress.)

If anyone reading this has the fortune to be in DF this week, here were our highlights…

First Stop: We were drawn into the Molcalli stand by smell alone. When we realized it was only mole, we almost reconsidered (as John & I are not huge mole fans)… but luckily the pointman for this stand was an excellent salesperson and seduced us in for some samples.

Molcalli had probably the best moles I've had in Mexico. Fair enough, I've not tried *a zillion* moles in Mexico, but these were really good. :)

Here are Susan, Luis, Margaret & John sampling our blue corn tortillas + meat in mole sauce + rice. Note the witty pointman dancing in the background.

These moles (which covered various types of meat– pork, turkey, etc.) were fantastic– my top three in order were the almendrado one, the adobo, and the verde.  There was also a pipian option & some romeritos that were both underwhelming.  If you don’t make it to the Festival, Productos Molcalli is located at Mariano Escobedo #22, San Pedro Atocpan, Milpa Alta D.F., molcalli@yahoo.com.mx, phone 55.5844.2350.

Second Stop: we got thirsty. Since Luis & Margaret are new in town, we felt it was ok to deviate from the festival stands briefly to stop by La Hermosa Hortencia pulqueria to ensure they sampled some pulque.

John & I display the mango and fresa (strawberry) pulque options available today at the pulqueria in Plaza Garibaldi.

I have to say, I was fairly impressed with both pulque flavor choices. I now realize the mistake I made by first trying pulque in its “au natural” state (i.e. natural flavor) when I moved to Mexico City– that stuff tastes/feels like snot. Flavored pulque = quite tasty, once you get over the texture. :)

Third Stop: Ayluardo’s, where I was drawn in by their display of “Tacos en Nogada.” This struck me as a brilliant way to cheat on the true Mexican Independence Day dish, Chiles en Nogada. Genius!

How tasty do these tacos en nogada look?? They were great, AND they were served warm-- to me an added bonus vs. the traditional way of serving chiles en nogada cold.

Ayluardo's also offered a nice, spicy cochinita pibil + pickled onions.

Good job Ayluardo's on your cohesive marketing plan-- easily visible prices/menu AND sample food offerings displayed along with their variety of salsas.

I don't cover this a lot on the blog, but here's a little snapshot into my life-- constant height comparison opportunities. I mean, truly, if I had a nickel for every time...

The tacos en nogada are definitely worth a try. In real life, Ayluardo’s is located at Aldama #72, Colonia Bo. de San Pablo, Iztapalapa, Mexico D.F.  Phone #55.5685.3288. We really felt like we formed a bond with these guys when, after we’d already moved on to stop #4, one of the workers ran over with the following note:

This note informed us of an upcoming "Fair of the Enchilada" that will be celebrated October 7-17 somewhere in the Delegacion of Iztapalapa... I think in La Explanada of Iztapalapa, if I read that correctly.

We were flattered to be invited to the Enchilada Fair next month in Iztapalapa. I could not find any further details online regarding the 8th annual event in 2010, but I did find proof that it happened last year. Keep an eye out for further Enchilada Fair details!!

Our last stop was two stalls to the left, though I forget the name. This place lured us in with a charcoal grill heating up two wee little vats of queso fundido (as well as some bistec).

Hello, individual-sized pots of queso fundido.

Here we are with a bounty of salsas & accoutrements.

This spot offered your more traditional Tacos al Carbon fare, and a variety of salsas to match… but I would have to nonetheless rank it at the bottom of the 3 taco stands we visited. Still very good, but the wee pots of queso were not novel enough to top tacos en nogada and dancing mole vendors.

We paused briefly to watch the action on the festival stage:

The stage is set up just in front of the soon-to-be Tequila Museum.

During our visit, it featured age-mis-matched couples (i.e. 55 year old woman + 15 year old boy) dancing to music that seemed to be sourced from Looney Toons cartoons (probably one where Sylvester is chasing Tweety Bird). BUT it was full of life & entertaining, and surely the mariachis were going to perform next. 😉  As you may have gathered, our experience at the festival was a bit light on mariachis & heavy on tacos, but I’m certain you can suss out more mariachi action if you see fit. If you’re looking for bustling activity, go on Friday or Saturday night, but if you’re just looking for tasty tacos, go tomorrow!

Enjoy! :)

Zihuatanejo: our last beach trip in Mexico

I sense your sympathy may be limited when I tell you that today is the last day of our LAST Mexican beach vacation, and it’s raining. We’ve truly been spoiled with all the amazing travel opportunities during our 2.25 years here in Mexico, but nonetheless we wanted to jam in one last trip to a beach.  The selection process of “which beach” was helpfully facilitated by the implosion of Mexicana Airlines (which had the only flights out of Benito Juarez Airport to places like Puerto Escondido and Huatulco), and the near infinite number of times I have seen The Shawshank Redemption on TBS while growing up.

For the possibly 5 people who have seen fewer movies than I have, I will try not to unduly spoil the plot by disclosing that at the end of the movie, someone ends up going to Zihuatanejo. Although I now understand that scene was actually filmed in the US Virgin Islands (liars), the seductive call of the name Zihuatanejo was enough to sway us– particularly when combined with a reasonably-priced plane ticket + generally positive reviews on the innerwebs.

Here is my underbelly skin contrasted against a white piece of paper, white fabric, and a white tile floor. Can you tell where my arm ends and the white objects begin??

Traveling to a Mexican beach in the month of September puts you firmly entrenched in the rainy season. I wasn’t overly worried about this, because God knows it’s not like my skin is destined to spend a lot of time in the sun. (see evidence at right) But I did sell John on the idea of spending a bit more money to stay somewhere nice, since odds were good that we would be spending a lot of time indoors. 😛 We settled on Casa Cuitlateca.

I wasn’t sure if Casa Cuitlateca could possibly live up to all the rave reviews on Trip Advisor, but it did. :) We were especially appreciative given the constant weather forecast of:

...and by "chance of rain", we mean "rain."

We arrived on Friday to a beautiful sunny day, but it poured that evening & has basically continued raining with ~2-3 momentary pauses over the subsequent three days. Casa Cuitlateca gets bonus points because despite only having five rooms, they have a number of open-air common areas so you’re not trapped in your room all the time during the downpours. We lucked out being the only guests during our three nights here, but I think even if the other four rooms were full, there’s enough space that you wouldn’t all be on top of each other.

This place was probably the best-designed B&B that we’ve stayed at, combining innovative design, traditional decor, novel water features, excellent food, great service, and very well thought-out rooms. If you were willing to pay a lot more, I’m sure there are more luxe options available, but for us Casa Cuitlateca struck a good balance with their boutique hotel feel + their off-season pricing ($150/nite + tax for the nicer rooms, apparently a 60% discount off high-season prices). Check out more pics below:

After you arrive via taxi, you're dropped off in the parking lot & get to cross a sweet suspension bridge over the driveway.

As you head up to the main level of the property, you pass this lovely pond (located below the infinity pool). Those stairs take you down to the road below.

A view towards the centro of Zihuatanejo from Casa Cuitlateca's pool. All the greenery you see around the pool-- that area is filled with little fish + a few big orange koi, so you have free entertainment while swimming.

I am a sucker for an infinity pool. One of the employees, Alfredo, told us a great story about how some dude showed up for a drink in the bar one night along with his dog. The guy sat down, and the dog promptly jumped in the pool & began vigorously paddling across. Alfredo tried repeatedly to get the guy's attention but was ignored. The dog, meanwhile, reached the infinity edge and jumped over it, down a ~30-foot drop off. FINALLY the guy takes notice, but by the time he heads down the stairs, the dog is already on his way back up- though now sporting a limp in his front right paw. The guy left his drink & departed in a huff, idiot dog in tow.

Facing the pool on the main level is the bar/breakfast nook when it's raining out. It has a great view and is a good spot to sit & wonder, "How long can it rain for, anyway?" with a drink in your hand.

This area had two strategic fans mounted on the walls, which we found to be great for taking "fan showers" when you returned all sweaty after your hike uphill from the centro. (note glistening body)

On the 2nd floor there's a spacious TV room/dining table...

...along with a computer for checking the intertubes.

I believe we were in the Puebla room, which offered an excellent direct view of the ocean.

It did not have as large of a terraza as the Guerrero room, but it had more indoor seating, which we decided was more valuable due to the everpresent mosquitos waiting to attack.

And if you tire of your room's bed, there is always this cute bed under the palapa by the pool.

Casa Cuitlateca also had a jacuzzi on the 3rd floor that we didn’t test out. They serve a small lunch menu of things like sopes, quesadillas, guac, sandwiches, burgers, etc. at *extremely* reasonable prices (i.e $75 pesos for a cheeseburger, $50 pesos for 4 sopes with the best tinga I have had in Mexico, etc.). Everything we had was excellent. Dinner you have to request in advance, and it is a set menu priced at $65/$75 USD per person, depending on entree (and includes an hour of open bar + a bottle of wine). I have read numerous rave reviews, but we didn’t try it as the pricing seemed a little high to us for a set menu that included several traditional Mexican dishes (that we eat often).

The last two highlights are the breakfast and the staff. For desayuno (which is included), you’re handed a menu listing juices, fruits, eggs, meats, side orders & drinks, and you basically order as much as you want off of it. Our first morning, we had 4 cups of coffee, a glass of fresh OJ, a glass of fresh grapefruit juice, a plate of mixed fruit accompanied by a bowl of yogurt for dipping, huevos rancheros, a ham-n-cheese omelet, and two orders of waffles. Um, yeah. Let’s just say we didn’t go hungry. 😉  Finally, the staff were all extremely friendly, helpful and attentive– we enjoyed chatting with Alfredo & Amador, and Sylvia did a great job in the kitchen. I believe there are 10 employees in total, and they do fantastic work maintaining a property that is certainly no small task!

As for Zihuatanejo in general, it is definitely a very laid-back spot that skews towards smaller hotels and houses vs. the massive, high-rise, chain hotels that are found in Ixtapa. The water/beaches were not the best I’ve seen in Mexico, but I think some of that is a function of rainy season + a really heavy rainstorm on our first night in town. I’m sure the beaches look more like this during the dry season, whereas I would not rush to go swimming in the ocean or walk along the sand barefoot in the rainy season.

Employees of a restaurant along Playa La Ropa work to clean up garbage after a stormy night.

Zihua’s centro is cute, with a good mix of touristy + local restaurant options and plenty of shops to buy all the Mexican artesanias that your little heart desires. Be aware that in the rainy season, the centro definitely has some drainage problems, so no need to wear your fancy high-heels here! Apparently water management has been a consistent problem in Zihua due to small, old pipes & the massive elevated area that is draining into the centro. We saw a number of “storm drains” that were actually functioning as fountains…

This drain may not be that effective... In other news, I didn't know I would be in this photo wearing my all-shades-of-green outfit. John told me the fashion police probably wouldn't be out in Zihua on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but now my fashion faux pas has been exposed to all just to bring you the news of Zihua's crap storm drains. What sacrifices I make for you people...

Many of the fancier restaurants are located along Playa La Madera/Playa La Ropa, mostly in hotels. We visited Kau-Kan Restaurant on Saturday night, and had a fantastic meal. To be fair, it didn’t end up being *that much* less expensive than the dinner pricing I mentioned above, but we had some novel dishes like an Asparagus & Cranberry Tart, Smoked Sailfish Salad, Seared Tuna w/Creamed Spinach & Mushrooms, Sea Bass w/Herbs, and an amazing Passion Fruit Sorbet.  Service was very good; highly recommended.

The other spot that everyone & their pet dog has recommended on Trip Advisor is Lety’s Seafood Restaurant. I will admit to being slightly skeptical as to how good these coconut shrimp could possibly be. FYI: they’re great. Big shrimp, not greasy, filled with a bit of cream cheese & accompanied by a coconut milk dipping sauce.

Yummm. Camarones de coco at Restaurant Lety's in Zihuatanejo.

Notes to self for when we try to make this at home: the shrimp seemed to be butterflied & filled w/some cream cheese. We hypothesized that then they are dipped in egg, then flour, then egg again, then shredded coconut.

Lety’s is located just across a footbridge from the centro, so have a taxi drop you off in the parking lot by the pier. Cross the bridge & turn left, and look for the below sign. Lety’s is on the 2nd floor.

Sign & stairway up to Lety's in Zihuatanejo

In summary, we’ve enjoyed our time here in Zihuatanejo despite being impressed by just how consistently it can rain for for 3 days. :) (We do have rainy season in DF as well, but it tends to consist of sunny mornings & temporarily rainy afternoons/evenings.) If you visit here, I recommend staying somewhere with a pool (as I’ve heard mixed reviews of the cleanliness of the bay). Zihua is a nice, traditional Mexican town/fishing village, vs. vacationing somewhere like the Zona Hotelera in Cancun where you could be on any beach in the world, trapped on a strip of chain hotels. For dining, there are plenty of fancy, high-end options that are priced accordingly, but you can also easily access <$1 USD tacos & traditional Mexican fare. And for drinking, there are numerous liquor stores in the centro if you’re looking for a better bargain than hotel bar prices. (May we recommend the Havana Club Siete Años rum?)

Now I am off for our Last Meal on a Beach in Mexico. :) See you back in DF!!

****Quick Update (Sept 7, 2010)****

For those interested in prices for getting from the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo airport (airport code ZIH) to town, here is a photo of one of the signs listing taxi prices:

This gives you an idea of the taxi prices at the Zihuatanejo airport (aka the Ixtapa airport).

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