Why Morelia is the place to be for Mexican cuisine.
Morelia is the best eating destination in Mexico. I’m prepared to defend this statement in a dark alley if I must. I’ve had the privilege of visiting 15 states in Mexico throughout my life, and out of my extensive eating and drinking, Morelia’s scene stopped me in my tracks. In its streets, northern Mexico’s cooking traditions meet the south: You can find mesquite-grilled carne asada that could rival Monterrey’s best, or al pastor that could hold its own against Mexico City’s finest. In fact, Michoacán’s traditional cuisine was added to UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In between bites, take in downtown Morelia’s pink stone buildings and the beautiful 253-arch aqueduct with plenty of benches and coffee shops along the way. The Morelia Cathedral is home to what was the biggest organ in the Western Hemisphere when it was installed in 1905. Try to go around Día de los Muertos, when thousands gather at cemeteries to celebrate and feast with their loved ones who have passed on, to feel the city’s magic at its fullest.
Where to Eat in Morelia
Michoacán accounts for over 92 percent of Mexico’s avocado production, and in Morelia you will encounter one-of-a-kind dishes like the glorious aguacataco at Taquería La Guelaguetza, a quarter pound of juicy spit-roasted pork glued together with melted cheese on the griddle and blanketed with an entire fanned-out avocado, and a barely sweet pie made from supremely fresh ripe avocado at Tata Mezcalería, Fermín Ambás’ chef-driven restaurant.
Tata is also the place to sample Michoacán’s locally made mezcal, distilled from a wild agave variety called cupreata, which is native to this region. It’s bold enough to enjoy it in a cocktail or to sip it straight. Or ask for another traditional spirit only made in Michoacán, the sugarcane-based charanda, which is the smoothest rum you will ever taste.
Thanks to the mingling of northern and southern influences, Morelia is home to the most diverse tamal scene in Mexico, including some unique styles. Try uchepos, pudding-like morsels made with freshly shaved sweet corn and butter, steamed in fresh corn husks and garnished with Mexican crema, crumbled Cotija cheese, and salsa verde; corundas, tri-corner masa tamales served with a savory guisado, or stew; tamales de ceniza—flat, smoky masa tamales that are flavored with a little bit of wood ash and drowned in salsa; and fluffy, sweet rice flour tamales canarios. (Or, learn how to make them yourself).
Michoacán-style enchiladas placeras aren’t cheesy, heavy, casserole-like gut bombs. Instead, velvety tortillas are dipped in a spiced red chile sauce and pan-fried until just crispy around the edges. In Morelia and other towns in Michoacán, you can find them as easily as a street taco. They are often served with pickled chiles and carrots, creamy pan-fried potatoes, and a piece of seared or grilled chicken. A great place to get them is La Cabaña del 47 (52-443-314-7672).
Carnitas are the fuel of Michoacán, and in Morelia there are carnitas specialists on every other block. At Carnitas Don Raul, the pro move is to order tacos de surtido, a dish that combines the braised meat with a little bit of the melt-in-your-mouth, gelatinous caramelized skin. Paired with a little guacamole and salsa, there is no better taco in town.
A network of lakes across Michoacán means Morelia has access to spanking-fresh fish. Try it alfresco as a green ceviche at Morelia’s LU Cocina Michoacana, a restaurant that prides itself on using local trout.
At Arandelas, airy doughnuts are stuffed with guava, sweet corn pudding, quince with cheese, and other local flavors. Don’t miss the rompope, or Mexican eggnog, variety.
Where to Stay in Morelia
For a pampered overnight in Morelia’s historic district, choose among rooms at the luxurious Cantera Diez Boutique Hotel, a 1622 historic mansion offering modern accomodations (rooms from $150). Or stay the night at the Hotel de la Soledad, a grandiose hacienda built in 1735 and magnificently restored (rooms from $120).