Sandunga: A Oaxaqueña chef in Yucatán keeps family close

Sandunga’s chef/owner, Araceli Perez Quiroz, learned to cook from her mother in Oaxaca. Photo: Courtesy

Oaxaca is known to foodies for its unique flavors, great street food, and mole. A flight of moles instead of beer is not unusual

Sandunga Cocina Tradicional Oaxaqueña has been bringing Oaxaca’s techniques and flavors to Mérida’s Centro for about a year.

Sandunga’s tamale is prepared with Oaxacan yellow mole with shrimp and fish, accompanied by a fresh salad. Photo: Courtesy

However, between COVID and the road construction on Calle 47, one might not know about this restaurant.

Coming from a humble family in Oaxaca, Chef/Owner Araceli Perez Quiroz learned to cook from her mother, later moving to Merida to attend culinary school and started working in restaurants such as Nectar and Oliva. The dream of opening her own restaurant was fulfilled a year ago. At Sandunga — named for the traditional Mexican waltz and the unofficial anthem of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca — Chef Moises Lopez Lopez assists with the main plates and creating new dishes.

It takes a lot of planning with her family as they ship her spices, special blends of chocolate and other local Oaxacan items every Monday. Then, each morning, Araceli rides her bicycle to local markets to purchase her produce for the day. 

The day we visited Sandunga, the daily special was sea bass over cheesy rice, topped with mushrooms and asparagus. Photo: Courtesy

One evening, the special of the day was sea bass over cheesy rice, topped with mushrooms and asparagus (360 pesos). The fish was cooked to perfection, fresh and flaky. They get fresh fish daily from Celestún or another Yucatan fisherman.

The second dish was tetelas, a green mole made from parsley, seeds, and pork broth. Then, triangle-shaped corn masa dough is filled with pork and Oaxacan cheese, fried, and topped with fresh vegetables (265 pesos).

Creme brulé de poleo at Sandunga in Mérida has charcoal-roasted pineapple marinated in mezcal, along with red fruit toppings and a cookie crumble. Photo: Courtesy

Sandunga’s desserts included creme brulee with roasted pineapple, mescal and poleo, an aromatic herb from Oaxaca. 

Another was a tiramisu made with Oaxacan chocolate, goat cheese and Oaxacan coffee beans. There was also a chocolate sphere filled with a chocolate mousse over a jamaica-and-strawberry reduction sauce and a milk cookie crumble. All were beautifully presented and had unique flavors.

The dining experience was educational because the waiter, Gabriel Hernon Balam Segura, was knowledgeable about each dish and explained them to perfection. He even shared a taste of a particular herb they use. We saw their garden in the courtyard. He tastes every new dish they create so he can explain each flavor at your table. 

Like many restaurants in Mérida’s Centro, Sandunga occupies what appears to be a former private home. Photo: Courtesy

Araceli plans to one day sponsor new chefs from Oaxaca, giving them the same opportunities she has had. She wants to continue to create new dishes with the flavors she remembers as a child to honor her family. She also wants to sell spices, cheeses and chocolate blends at the restaurant. She also plans to eventually offer a class in Oaxacan cooking. 

Sandunga is on Calle 47, 453A, between 50 and 52, on the future “gastronomic corridor” between the Remate and La Plancha. Due to the construction, parking is found on Calle 50 or Calle 48. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 1 to 10 p.m. Once the road construction is finished, they will open for breakfast. Facebook/sandungarestaurante 

Maggie Cale
Maggie Cale
Maggie Cale was born in the United States and has lived most of her life in Pennsylvania. She has a social work degree from Penn State University and finished her career in Washington, D.C. working with families. She moved to Yucatán in 2017 and has worked part-time ghostwriting for bloggers. She lives in Itzimná with her two dogs.
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