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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Is Merida’s restaurant boom sustainable?

Are 866 restaurants too many for Merida? Or not enough?

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
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Merida, Yucatan —  When Mercado 60 opened in Santa Lucia, it was 2016 and the food court was occupying a dead zone in the Centro.

It brought restaurant names, from the wealthier north of the city, into the city center. On Calle 60, to be exact, amid an abundance of abandoned storefronts between Santa Lucia and Santa Ana parks.

Now, with this dead zone finding new life, Centro restauranteurs are staking claims in the north. Oliva, Apoala and the aforementioned Mercado 60 have opened polished and sophisticated establishments in the north.

Some Centro restaurants seem to be feeling the squeeze.

Sixteen months after a huge grand opening, Casa Dominga on Calle 47’s emerging restaurant row is one of several new Centro establishments that already face tough competition from all directions.

One of its former tenants moved up to the hotel zone. Paseo 60’s Casa de Maquinas features Taninos wine bar. Larger restaurants are on track to open there in mid-February.

Even further away from the Centro and closer to upscale neighborhoods, the food court at the Harbor Merida “lifestyle mall” is getting more action than the boutiques its customers pass. An offshoot of Mercado 60 in Santa Lucia, Mercado Norte has a huge balcony overlooking the Via Montejo lake and the high rises still under construction. Like a lot of the new restaurants, it has live music and a youthful energy.

Over at the other new mall, La Isla, the Santa Lucia restaurant Apoala has spun off a seafood-themed restaurant called Tatemar, which faces another artificial lake. On TripAdvisor, which counts 866 Merida restaurants, Tatemar is getting favorable reviews, and is giving middle-class diners in the north one less reason to drive into the crowded Centro.

Back from the dead

Back at the old “dead zone” on Calle 60, an abandoned travel agency is now a branch of Le Carre, a bar that specializes in Belgian beer. Across the street, the former Trinidad Hotel is Bikiak, an upscale restaurant featuring Basque cuisine.

Across its side entrance, an empty law office became a very attractive bar and grill called La Barrota. While not that flashy, it would have been considered a big step forward for the Centro just a few years ago.

Restaurants in Merida are generally more professional, and less mom–and-pop, than they were even five years ago.

They also appeal to a younger set. Esvedera Downtown, an offshoot of a tapas bar in San Ramon Norte, appeared to be an immediate success. Perhaps some of its 20-something clientele remembers meeting in the same building when it was a Boy Scout headquarters on Calle 55. (Update: We learned after publication that Esvedera Downtown closed.)

On Calle 62, perhaps the most ambitious restaurant has occupied an old casona since early December. The Museum of Yucatecan Gastronomy is just that — a museum with a restaurant possibly larger than its exhibit space.

It’s dizzying how much Merida’s restaurant scene has evolved and grown. Restauranteurs will soon learn if 866 restaurants is too many for the local market, or if there is room for even more.

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