Thanks to the swine flu crisis the Mexican travel industry is in the basement. (Some might point to even lower regions, or to plumbing apparatus.) A shame, because this is such a wonderful country in which to be a tourist -- and it turns out that the flu wasn't much of a flu anyway. Sharp travelers will note that Mexico has become a bargain.


My friends Basri Emini and Lynne Bairstow rent and sell condominiums at Ayía, which overlooks the verdant golf course in the alarmingly exclusive compound Punta Mita (which also includes the Four Seasons and St. Regis hotels). The apartments at Ayía are a bargain compared to those hotels, and due to the tourism crisis are being offered at steep discounts -- such a deal that even the New York Times mentioned it in a recent article. Take a look at their website.


They recently invited me to spend a few days with them in Punta Mita. Here are some photographs of the luxury with which I was lavished.




Staying at Ayía includes all the services of the Punta Mita beach club -- restaurant, bar, beach chairs and umbrellas, etc. There, one of the few tourists hearty enough to brave a Mexican vacation, lost a sand-colored earring in the sand just after sunset. This is what her earrings looked like. I tried to find the missing one but after a while gave it up as a lost cause.


Yet Fray, one of the beach club's waiters, found it after five minutes or so of diligent searching -- in the dark, without a flashlight.


This sort of service is one of the many reasons that I encourage all of you to think about Mexico for your next vacations.

Anthony Bourdain and the Mexican dream

Last October I mentioned on this blog that I worked as a consultant for Anthony Bourdain and the crew of his show No Reservations while they filmed part of an episode in Mexico City. Various readers wrote and asked when it would be broadcast. U.S. readers take note: It airs Monday, January 5th. It will be shown in Mexico considerably later; I'll let you know when I have more information.






The two photos below were taken at a cantina called La Mascota on the corner of Calle Mesones and Calle Bolívar in the centro histórico. It was one of my recommendations for the shoot. La Mascota is a traditional place, that has luckily not been remodeled with stucco ceilings or canteloupe-colored walls. The botanas – free food served in the afternoon, so long as you pay for your drinks – are first-rate.





The fellow on the extreme right in the green T-shirt is Carlos Llaguno, from Puebla, who made his way to New York, where he found work as a dishwasher at Bourdain’s restaurant Les Halles. Little by little, he worked his way up in the kitchen, and not long after Bourdain threw in the apron to become a full-time media personality, Carlos was promoted to chef. Nearly all the kitchens of New York restaurants employ Mexicans, but Bourdain told me that Les Halles is the only one where a Mexican has actually risen to become #1, el jefe.





So three cheers for Carlos, who is living the Mexican dream, along with his girlfriend Emily Cummings, who happens to be a Ford model. Immigration foes are cordially invited to eat their hearts out.

Mexican soul food, part two


This photo was taken the other night at about three in the morning at a hole-in-the-wall taco stand on calle Bolivar, a street known for its myriad cantinas. Various different meats had been swirling in that deep fat since approximately one in the afternoon. For the uninitiated, they include slabs of suadero (a cut of beef from the lower part of the rib), extensive tubes of longaniza sausage, festively curling tripes and chunks of pork marinated in chile – all sizzling in the same deep grease. After you place your order, the murderous-looking taquero daintily dips the tortillas in the fat before heating them in the center of the grill, chops the corresponding meats with which to fill them, and voila. Before serving, he’ll ask if you want the tacos garnished with “vegetables.” (He’s referring to chopped onion and cilantro.) The traditional accompaniment is a water-based soft drink known as Boing, which comes in various fruit flavors. The one in the photo is mango.

Mexico City soul food, part one


If there is such thing as a Mexico City municipal dish, it would have to be tacos al pastor. A variation on Middle Eastern shawarma, it is made from pork (don’t tell Allah), marinated with various spices, including a heavy dose of annato, which gives it a shrill orange color. The slices of pork are mounted atop each other to form a huge orb, and impaled on a metal stick, which revolves around a vertical charcoal grill. The fire from the grill is turned up as orders are placed, and the taquero slices from the most fully cooked part to fashion the taco, which is adorned with cilantro, onion and a slice of pineapple.

Although this version of events is not universally accepted, supposedly the taco al pastor is the invention of a woman named Concepción Cervantes, who discovered shawarma on a trip to Lebanon, and debuted her version at a taco stand called El Tizoncito in 1966. That taco stand – now a well-appointed little restaurant – is still on the same street corner of Tamaulpas and Campeche in the fashionable Condesa neighborhood. (There are twenty franchises of El Tizoncito in Mexico City and around the country.)

My favorite tacos al pastor are located not at El Tizoncito but at Tacos Álvaro O., on calle Álvaro Obregón, nearly at the corner of Tonalá, in the Colonia Roma. The ones pictured are at Tacos Frontera, further down Calle Álvaro Obregón.