On a weekend jaunt to Jalisco’s state capital, I encountered vibrant food and design scenes propelled by an ambitious new guard putting modern spins on regional staples. By Adam Erace
Explore the vibrant cuisine at Guadalajara
There’s a forest in Guadalajara where the mud tastes like white chocolate and matcha. Crumbled pistachios climb over the mire like moss, making a bed for fuzzy sprouts of spearmint and peppermint and ripe blueberries as fat and glossy as sapphires. Red-capped meringue mushrooms shade the miniature woodland like beach umbrellas. They taste like pine.
El Bosque and the other bewitching desserts from Fernanda Covarrubias and Jesús Escalera, the pastry chefs at La Postrería, are among the many reasons to o to Guadalajara. The city is Mexico’s second-largest in population and in business traffic, thanks to the vital tech industry that has turned it into the nation’s answer to Silicon Valley. It’s also the capital of Jalisco, the state famous for mariachi and tequila and the coastal resorts of Puerto Vallarta.
Despite all those distinctions, Guadalajara hasn’t gotten its star turn with visitors yet. My wife and I wound up there, checking in to the chic Casa Habita in the leafy Lafayette neighbourhood, because of a cancelled flight.
“Can you believe you would have missed this?” asked my guide, Germán Salas, the next day as we walked through the neighbouring city of Tlaquepaque, 15 minutes away from downtown Guadalajara. Sweeping his arm, he gestured to the breezy rooftop terrace of 1910 Cocina de México, then to the other colourful restaurants and shops along cobblestoned Calle Independencia, a pedestrian-only arts haven.
The sense that some benevolent conspiracy between the universe and a low-cost Mexican airline had rerouted us to Guadalajara had me pinching myself on more than one occasion. Like when I snatched the last lime croissant at Antonia Panadería, an improbable truce-broker between tropical humidity and laminated pastry. Or when I had the extravagantly spired Guadalajara Cathedral, the city’s most iconic landmark, nearly all to myself. Or while I was watching abuelas in white smocks and chef hats flit like finches around the tiled open kitchen at Birriería Las 9 Esquinas, where the ancestral speciality is birria de chivo—succulent braised young goat served in crocks of smokey consommé. Delirious, I stumbled out of that place and onto a plazita where a man in a cream-coloured cowboy hat was flexing his marbled jade accordion.
But back to Salas, who shared his story over 1910s deceptively meaty hibiscus tacos. He’s Costa Rican, but married a Tapatío (a Guadalajara native) and followed her here. Formerly a journalist moonlighting as a tour guide, he started his Tlaquepaque art walk in 2018, and it has become so popular he’s now more of a tour guide who moonlights as a journalist. The man spoke in rapt metaphors, “Guadalajara is a pearl. Tlaquepaque is a fantasy.”
I found the latter statement to be especially true. The city is a member of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos, a national designation given to towns considered to have high cultural importance, as a way to help fund preservation efforts. The gorgeous old buildings of its Colonia Centro are inhabited by tamarind-taffy makers like Nuestros Dulces, craft merchants like Mona’s, and artists like Sergio Bustamante, whose surreal humanoid sculptures’ inverted-triangle heads represent the contours of Mexico. When Salas noticed my wife’s tooled-leather handbag—something she bought half a decade ago in Todos Santos—he arranged for her to meet its designer, David Luna, whose flagship shop is coincidentally on nearby Calle Independencia.
Many people making interesting things happen in the city are locals who lived abroad and then came back. “I was 18 when I left because there wasn’t anything I wanted to learn from what was going on here,” said Francisco Ruano, the chef behind Alcalde, widely regarded to be Guadalajara’s best restaurant. “I was offered a really good position in Spain, but I felt like I had to come back and do something of my own.”
Ruano, who opened Alcalde in the Vallarta Norte neighbourhood in 2013, calls his style cocina franca and uses simplicity and sincerity as his guiding principles. At dinner, that translated to dishes like burrata wreathed in purslane and peppermint leaves and a round, featherweight tamale in green-chile salsa, complemented by easygoing service and Baja reds.
Like Ruano, La Postrería’s Covarrubias left Guadalajara to cook in Spain, where she met Escalera, who’sfrom Utrera, near Seville. “We always had this dream to open a restaurant with just plated, Michelin-style desserts,” she says. “Just go straight to the sweet place.”
Housed in the old French restaurant where Covarrubias waited tables during college, their sweet place is a polished little laboratory with a rooftop garden, a demonstration classroom, and a coffee bar. Covarrubias, Escalera, and six pastry chefs work in tandem in the open kitchen, piping meringue kisses onto individual passion-fruit pies, molding mandarin cheesecakes into handheld trompe l’oeil oranges, and fussing over more than a dozen other complex desserts for either dine-in service or a takeout pastry case.
Covarrubias and Escalera started their venture in 2013, when they were just 24 and 26, respectively. They considered opening in Spain, but the pull to give something back to the city was greater. “In our circle of Mexican chefs, you always want to go work in another country because it feels like you made it,” she said. “But if no one comes back, then nothing changes.”
Air France offers flights from Delhi to Guadalajara via Paris and Mexico City.
Casa Habita is a splurge by Guadalajara standards (especially for such snug rooms), but those extra pesos pay for an address in the picturesque Colonia Americana neighbourhood and a relaxing little rooftop pool. Doubles from INR 12,936;
An ideal eating day in Guadalajara starts with choosing your favourites from the woven baskets of pastries at Antonia Panadería(instagram.com/antonia_panaderia). Get acquainted with braised goat, one of Jalisco’s regional specialities, during lunch at Birriería Las 9 Esquinas(entrées USD 4–USD 6), situated on the prettiest plazita in the Centro Histórico.
Several of Guadalajara’s cultural institutions, such as the Cathedral, Regional Museum, and Degollado Theater, are located around Plaza de Armas in the Centro Histórico. Spend an afternoon exploring one of the city’s most enchanting suburbs on Germán Salas’s walking tour ‘Fall in Love with Tlaquepaque’.Stops include 1910 Cocina de México(entrées INR 665–INR 1,257; ),sweet shop Nuestros Dulces, clothing-and-crafts shop Mona’s,Orígenes David Luna(fb.com/origenes david luna),the extraordinary gallery Sergio Bustamante, and many others. Bookings are open for June 2022 and beyond.