Although it claims a few local dishes as its own, Querétaro has never been known a food destination. That said, you can find some truly good eats here. Modern Mexican restaurants and traditional eateries are abundant in the centro. In some of the best places, the atmosphere surpasses the food: Querétaro, unlike most modern cities, has managed to hang on to a number of its old-fashioned cafeterias and fondas, which maintain a loyal clientele within the local crowd. You’ll also find plenty of cheap eats and tacos, though street stands aren’t as abundant here as in other parts of the country.
Quick Bites and Tacos
For a quick but tasty bite, there are dozens of mouthwatering taco stands and casual eateries in the extensive Mercado de la Cruz (Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera s/n, 8am-9pm daily, hours vary by shop). A rule of thumb in any market is to follow the crowds: popular food stalls tend to be the freshest and tastiest. For a sure thing, try the delicious (and award-winning!) Barbacoa Lucia (Mercado de la Cruz, Local 98, 8am-2pm daily, US$1-3), which serves flavorful barbacoa (lamb steamed in an earthen pit) tacos and fragrant broth soup. Order a few tacos and do like the locals by adding cilantro, chopped onions, and salsa to the meat. The small metal stools that surround this informal stand are almost always filled, but turnover is quick, so you’ll likely snag a seat as you wait for your tacos to be prepared.
Tamales are a classic Mexican breakfast or dinner food, traditionally accompanied by atole, a sweet corn-based drink. In Querétaro, there are numerous small storefronts specializing in tamales and atole along Arteaga, a few blocks east of Santa Rosa de Viterbo. Most are open, as is traditional, in the early morning and late night. Try Super Tamales y Atoles de Querétaro (Arteaga 41 Pte., tel. 442/212-4298 or 442/212-7816, 8am-noon and 6pm-11pm Mon., 7:30am-noon and 5pm-11pm Tues.-Sun., US$2), where you can order delicious tamales stuffed with chicken, cheese, red salsa, green salsa, chile peppers, or pork. In addition to traditional tamales steamed in corn husks, Super Tamales prepares Oaxacan-style tamales, which are steamed in banana leaves and generally denser and moister. Whether you go in the morning or in the evening, get there well before closing, as many of the options sell out.
While there are only a few flavors on the menu, all the ice cream at friendly Nevería Galy (Andador Cinco de Mayo 8, tel. 442/219-6781, noon-10pm daily, US$1-2) is made with all-natural ingredients, a fact they proudly display on many jovial posters tacked along the shop’s walls. The delicious and icy lime nieve is the perfect salve to a hot afternoon. Take it to go or enjoy your ice cream at a Formica table inside the authentically retro shop. They also serve ice cream with a shot of wine on top, an unusual yet popular option.
There are only stools to sit on at Las Tortugas (Andador Cinco de Mayo 27A, no tel., 9am-9pm daily, US$4), but truth be told, that’s the best way to eat a torta (a Mexican-style sandwich served on a soft roll called a telera). In fact, the old-fashioned atmosphere at this hole-in-the-wall tortería, with its funky bullfighting theme, makes everything taste better—though, after more than half a century in business, it’s evident that Las Tortugas knows how to make a good lunch. Order a torta stuffed with carnitas, chorizo, or milanesa (breaded steak) and topped with pickled chiles and the shop’s proprietary salsa, accompanied by a fresh horchata.
The enchantingly preserved and perennially popular La Mariposa (Ángela Peralta 7, tel. 442/212-1166, 8am-9:30pm daily, US$4) is a casual and inexpensive place to enjoy a Mexican breakfast or lunch in a genuinely retro atmosphere. Although there are takeout counters for La Mariposa’s bakery in the entryway, it’s better to have a seat in the old-timey dining room, a throwback to mid-century Mexico with tan vinyl chairs, Formica tabletops, and wallpaper covered in delicate roses. The vintage espresso machine is still in use and aglow with pink neon lights, from which tasty coffees are served by an efficient yet affable wait staff. La Mariposa offers a simple and traditional menu containing many Mexican classics like tamales, pozole (hominy soup), and egg dishes, though you can just stop in for a coffee and a piece of pay de queso (cheesecake).
A Querétaro classic, Cafetería Bisquets (Pino Suárez 7, tel. 442/214-1481, 7:30am-11pm daily, US$4) is always bustling with a local crowd. Savory chilaquiles with a fried egg or spicy huevos a la cazuela (eggs and salsa cooked in a clay pot) are two of the many delicious options on the breakfast menu. Café con leche (coffee with milk) is served in the traditional style; waitstaff bring hot pitchers of milk and strong coffee to the table, and you indicate how much you’d like of each served in your mug. In the afternoons, enchiladas verdes and enchiladas queretanas are two solid choices, though there is also a daily comida corrida, which is cheap and filling. The atmosphere could not be more casual, with a small courtyard dining room as well as a larger dining room overlooking the street below. Service is efficient and professional, if not particularly verbose.
Inspired by the cuisine of Southern Mexico, Tikua Sur-Este (Allende Sur 13, tel. 442/455-3333, 9am-midnight Mon.-Sat., 9am-9pm Sun., US$12) is the perfect place for a leisurely lunch during a tour of Querétaro’s centro histórico. It’s hard to decide what to order on the restaurant’s expansive menu, which covers Atlantic to Pacific, Oaxaca to Yucatán. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the chapulines (grasshoppers) with cheese, then fill up on a nicely served plate of enchiladas in mole. Don’t be turned away by the fact that Tikua promotes its food as being served without spice. While they do keep main dishes mild, one of the best parts about eating here is the array of salsas they bring to the table when you sit down—from a delightful roasted habanero variety to a spicy peanut salsa—some of which have quite a kick. Located in a large colonial-era mansion, there are two pretty indoor dining rooms and an outdoor patio dressed up with big, colorful murals; the attractive atmosphere is further complemented by frequent live music performances. Friendly, attentive service and a drink menu that includes artisanal beer and mezcal complete the experience.
There is nothing nicer than watching the crowd mill through the Plaza de Armas while relaxing in one of the restaurants along the picturesque plaza. A popular choice with visitors to the city, El Mesón de Chucho el Roto (Pasteur 16, Plaza de Armas, tel. 442/212-4295, 8am-11pm Sun.-Thurs., 8am-midnight Fri.-Sat., US$12) serves classic Mexican food in a pleasant garden setting. With a gated patio beneath the trees of the Plaza de Armas, this restaurant is a perfect place for a leisurely meal and excellent people-watching. On Sundays, El Mesón de Chucho el Roto often draws a crowd of chic locals; expect to share the dining room with ladies in heels and sunglasses or men in sport coats and shiny watches. Start the meal with a sopa azteca or tacos with prickly pear and shrimp, or choose from a wide selection of big meat dishes, enchiladas, and other regional specialties.
Right next door to Chucho el Roto, the restaurant 1810 (Andador Libertad 62, Plaza de Armas, tel. 442/214-3324, 8am-11pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-midnight Fri.-Sat., 8am-10pm Sun., US$12) offers a very similar menu and atmosphere, though it is perhaps a touch more casual. Street performers often gather in front of these two restaurants on the weekends, adding a bit more color to the scenery.
What started out as little more than a hole in the wall has now expanded to two additional locations in the centro histórico, and it’s easy to see why: Maria y Su Bici (Cinco de Mayo 91, tel. 442/214-3212, Cinco de Mayo 80, Corregidora Sur s/n, at Andador Libertad, tel. 442/214-1403, 9am-midnight Mon.-Sat., 9am-7pm Sun., US$9) achieves the Mexican gold standard of bueno, bonito, y barrato (good, pretty, and cheap) with delicious, Oaxacan-inspired dishes in a colorful and casual setting. Here, you can sample well-made renditions of Oaxacan regional cuisine, including stuffed chile pasilla, quesadillas with yellow mole, and crunchy tlayudas made with or without meat. In addition to beer (national and artisanal) and wine, the restaurant offers a lovely selection of Oaxacan mezcal as well as various mezcal cocktails, which are served in a gourd and garnished with salt and chile powder. No matter which location you visit (for nostalgics, the original little spot still operates at Cinco de Mayo 80), the food is good, the atmosphere undeniably jovial, and the service friendly and unhurried.
A Querétaro classic, Cenaduria Blas (Cinco de Mayo 106, tel. 442/212-3126, 6pm-11:30pm Mon.-Sat., 6pm-11pm Sun., US$3-5) has been in operation in the centro histórico since 1940. As a cenaduria (a dinner spot), it only opens during the evening hours and serves typical Mexican suppers. Try a version of local specialty enchiladas queretanas (folded tortillas bathed in a mild chile sauce and topped with potato and cheese), or order a few of their delicious gorditas de maiz quebrado, chewy corn flatbreads toasted till crispy and stuffed with potato, chorizo, and other fillings. It’s a popular spot with families (there is a tiny playroom for kids), and the feeling here is homey and casual; plaid tablecloths, soft lighting, and a pleasant bustle make it a relaxing place to wrap up a day.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon San Miguel de Allende.