Back in September, I decided that it was time to get more into the local food scene here in Santiago de Querétaro. There seem to be so many great eateries that choosing which ones to explore can be a challenge. Particularly along the narrow streets of the historic downtown, the choices are as varied as your imagination. Every block has countless cafes and restaurants, each with its own charm and tempting menu.
Besides the number of options making decisions difficult, the potential risk of food-borne bacteria in less than tidy kitchens makes just ‘guessing’ as to the cleanliness of a restaurant a high risk decision. The high daytime temperatures in the city mean that food prep surfaces need to be kept sterile, with food turnaround times kept very short. How, exactly, should a newcomer to the city figure out which places are clean and safe?
I do not subscribe to the ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ philosophy. As far as I am concerned, what doesn’t necessarily kill you CAN still leave you weak, nauseated and diarrhetic. Better to know the place is safe before throwing caution to the wind.
In deciding how best to safely try out some new options in the city, I came across a really useful service. A local couple (David and Annamaria) operate a special ‘taco experience’ walking tour in the city’s historic downtown core. They run the tour for locals and visitors alike, operating tours on Saturdays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays every week.
For a set fee, they meet you at a downtown location and take you on a gastronomic romp through the history-rich downtown of Querétaro. Their mix of history lesson and eating tour is a unique experience of a type not commonly found elsewhere! Think ‘fun history lesson with great food’.
Their tour is called “Tacos, Tequila and More”, which describes their offering very accurately!
What really makes the tour work is the complementary capabilities of the hosts. David is a native Mexican, who has a deep appreciation for great food and an enthusiastic twinkle for teaching the history of this country. His wife, Annamaria, is an American who has lots of experience with exploring her adoptive country and understanding that visitors to this state capital want good food at clean, safe venues. She knows what appeals to visitors, which with David’s help they are able to consistently deliver.
The tour got rolling at about 6 PM when the participants met up at a pre-arranged plaza in the downtown, where we met our hosts. After a quick roll call to make sure all guests were accounted for, we headed into the city.
David provided a brief history of Querétaro, which was both entertaining and informative. Previously, I had no idea that the Mexican revolution was basically planned and executed right from the buildings we were standing in front of! As it turns out, this city is full of historical significance for Mexico, with evidence of these events visible all over the city. David has a clear and sometimes comical approach to the history lesson, leaving you feeling enthused about the city you are exploring.
David and Annamaria lead the way through the narrow, stone-paved streets of the historic downtown, often highlighting significant points about the buildings, cathedrals and cafes as we walked. Every corner is rich with living history that can still be seen in the architectural styles and felt as echos in the old plazas.
The sidewalks in much of the historic downtown are very narrow, as you’d expect with a city that was established in 1531. The historical activity in this city during the Spanish colonial period is pretty amazing when you consider that at about the same time, Jacques Cartier was just exploring the St. Lawrence region in what would later become Canada. Quebec City (the oldest city in Canada) wouldn’t be established as a fledgling French colony for another 77 years!
The foods we encountered on the tour were as exceptional as they were varied.
One of the first tastes we enjoyed was a common local snack consisting of fire-roasted corn mixed with mayonnaise, butter and chili powder. I admit that
the idea of this combination didn’t immediately pique my interest, but this treat (called elotes) turned out to be delicious. The food is served either as corn-on-the-cob with the condiments applied directly to the corn (not a comfortable experience for the overly tidy) or as kernels of corn served in a cup with the toppings. Either way, the combination is a rich and filling snack that fairly screams Mexico.
After the sun had slid up the cathedral spires and disappeared for the day, our hosts directed us to a little hole-in-the-wall tavern located on a narrow pedestrian street, lit only by 17th century carriage lanterns. The tavern (called Chelétaro State) is the only place in the city that serves a local artisanal beer that bears the unlikely name “MoreBiker”. This draught is a microbrewery beer with a tequila infusion. Considering that I don’t even like tequila, the refreshing, crisp taste came as a complete and welcomed surprise to me, especially as the evening was quite warm. We’d covered a lot of ground on the tour and I was thirsty! The tavern stop came as a welcomed break amidst all the eating.
The tour wasn’t without its hiccups. Two of the locations my hosts were planning on sharing with our group ended up being closed unexpectedly. Unfortunately, this situation isn’t unusual in Mexico. Small business owners here don’t always follow a strict business-hours approach to operating their cafe or restaurant. If they decide not to open one day, they just don’t open! As a testament to Mexican flexibility and patience, their customers don’t seem to hold this against them.
Fortunately, David and Annamaria were on top of the situation, having backup locations already scouted and pre-approved for filling the gap in such situations. The tour went on!
I think our final tour stop for the evening was perhaps the most memorable. Our group ascended a narrow staircase from inside a rustic hotel lobby to emerge on a wonderful rooftop terraza that looked out over the old downtown area with its numerous cathedral steeples and historical building facades. Our group was accommodated in a cozy seating circle with comfortable sofas and low tables adorned with flickering candles. As night settled over the city and a full moon climbed into the indigo sky, we enjoyed a variety of tapas and beverages as we watched a distant electrical storm chase itself across the hills. It was a relaxing finish to a wonderful afternoon in the city.
David and Annamaria played the perfect hosts. They know exactly what makes for a great gastronomy tour, delivering precisely what they promise: an authentic Mexican food experience in what must be one of the most historic cities in the entire country.
If you plan on spending any time in Santiago de Querétaro and want a fun way to experience the heartbeat of Mexico, book a tour and bring your appetite!
You can book your tour here: www.explorequeretaro.com