Isla Mujeres is Where Smart People Land.


I don't care what anyone says about Isla Mujeres - it is absolutely an island full of magic moments.  I'm not sure any place in the world flips my insides like Mexico does.  Well, maybe S. Africa.  And, of course Indo.  But, Mex - I can go back and back and back again.  In my mind every day, in my life - a few times a year.

And, there's no place that jolts me quite like the marinas in Isla do.  Probably cause they're the bouncing point to lands further south. It's where I met Captain MADD - a funny gent who spends time on his boat down in Belize, the Rio Dulce and then back to Isla for months on end.  He tells the best yarns I've ever heard, including tales about my own adventures that he literally pulls from the sky.  He's always up for the last minute invite.  He said to me - I always wonder, why the hell did I wait so long?  He just skitters along, making pals along the way and living in the exact moment of NOW.

I hope I run into people like him for the rest of my days.  People who thrive on loco adventures, folks who delight in a mess of tangled lines, power cords, rub rails, solar panels, wind generators, rickety wooden piers, and old bimini's - all just peeps trying to make a go at this crazy thing called life. 

And, to do it smiling all the way.  Beyond that, there is truly nada.



I Could Do With a Giant Bowl of Sopa de Limon


On the last day of the PURE retreat on Isla Mujeres, we had my favorite local family come over to Casa Ixchel to teach a ocean-sdie cooking workshop.  With Daisy at the helm, they turned out octopus and shrimp ceviche, sopa de limon, onion-infused rice, and rich guacamole for the masses.  It was done my favorite way of cooking - all hands on deck.  Everyone fromt he retreat was kept busy chopping, cutting, slicing, drinking (rum punch, of course), and nibbling all afternoon and it was all incredibly delicious.  Mine and Lisa's hotel room which was the make-shift kitchen, on the other hand, was a straight disaster when it was all over...

But now looking at the photos, this sopa de limon just looks so clean (here in the aftermath) - with potatoes, squash (could have been pumpkin), carrots, chicken, tasty broth and a fat dollop of creamy spaghetti (and rice for me of course, cause I can never shove down too many carbs).  The ceviche was perfect (again) with generous squirts of lime all the way around.  And, Alexandria (who just got married at the tender age of 15) whipped up the BEST guac ever. 

I woke up this AM thinking about this very dish and the sunshine of Mexico, and thinking about just how much I want to hop in my truck and head down to Baja this weekend.  Not gonna happen, but it's good to know that I am just a few hours drive from the border - which means, tamales, fish tacos, coconut shrimp and frosty cold cerveza. 







Mmmm....Be My Guinea Pig on Isla Mujeres


So, just off the main plaza in downtown Isla Mujeres is a narrow alleyway.  In that said alleyway is a rickety-ass grill.  Charring up on that said grill is some downright sultry smelling meat.  Sometimes it's slung up; sometimes not.  The day I happened upon it, I'd already downed something at Manana, and I could not even think about another morsel of food.  But, I regret that right about now.  I left the dang island without trying it.   The horror.

 IF you happen to be strolling near the grocery store and plaza, please glance over to the far southwest corner near the basketball courts and go try what this lady is making.  And, then send me photos.  I beg of you.  As you can see I hit her up from every angle.  Just like being in Barcelona, kids.






Mango Cafe - Coffee of the Kings


The best cup of coffee on Isla Mujeres has to be at Mango Cafe.  It's piping hot, it's organic and it's incredibly potent.  Lorrie is the sweetest gal and she opened this place a few months back, with her adorable man, Polo.  They've pretty much nailed it when it comes to grub.  Let's just say the food is spot on.  I mean, what can you say about french toast that is soaked overnight and comes out like a flash of lightening to satisfy all the grumbling's a stomach craving loads of SUGAR at 9 am elicits (not to mention the goblet of steaming maple syrup that rolls out with it).  And, the scent of frying bacon wafting out of the open door is enough to drive an early bird walker straight-up MAD.   So much for exercise.  They also do a really nice Monday night BBQ every week--changing up what's on the grill each and every time.  I had some of the tenderest chicken of my life there and the ginger beer she whips up is especially good with a little tipple of Nicaraguan rum--Flor de Cana (which I found downtown for $13 per bottle, to my delight).  They will also host special events for ya, on the days they are closed.  And, I can't even talk about how good the homemade strawberry shortcake is.  It hurts just thinking about it.

But, it's the addictive black gold that keeps me coming back.  Thankfully, I've found some almost as good out here in LA, at this little joint near my place called Mermaids.  Rocket fuel for the workaholic in me.

You can find Mango Cafe across from the pozole place I wrote about last week, in the center of mid-island on the East side.  Very cool place to go, I promise.  (*cowgirl, you will LOVE it and PS, I am back in my little trailer in San Miguel de Allende on April 22 for a spell, so I will be thinkin' of ya)...








Tamales From the Orange Building -- Best on Isla Mujeres


My first day back on Isla, I went for a nice walk in the rain.  Along the way, I found a little place that sold tamales.  I had one, while standing up and shooting the shizz with an old friend, Penny.  A week later I went back and the tamale place was gone.  As I stood staring into the void that was the old Concina Economica, a local noticed my awestruck face and pointed a half block down.  Ah, the tamale place had moved, seemingly overnight.  I went in and ordered 25 tamales for breakfast for the PURE folks the next morning.   I spoke combat Spanish and took some photos.  I inhaled the amazing smells of fresh tamales being made.  Later that night, I went to pick them up.  25 incredibly hot, steaming tamales ready for immediate consumption.  But, since breakfast was 12 hours away, I had to suffice with sneaking one.  The next morning, everyone plowed through that pan of tamales like it was nobodies business.  I saved a few for later.  I ate them all in one fell swoop.  I worship tamales.  These are not to be missed, if you've got any sense about-cha!

This homegrown tamale joint is on the Southeast side of the island (more toward mid-island), just when you pass Casa Ixchel, instead of making the curve like you are heading toward Mango Cafe, just keep going straight.  They are about 1/2 mile down on the right.





Casa O's + Ceviche = Isla Mujeres Perfection


I hit up Casa O's every single time I'm on Isla for one reason only.  The ceviche.  I guess you could call me  a ceviche (mixto for me) nut.  And, no matter what you hear from anybody on the entire island, the best ceviche is at Casa O's.  Peeps try to convince me otherwise, but then I ask there where to get the best huaraches and if they don't way El Huarache, well then...I know they are not to be trusted*

Not too many  people know this, but Casa O's inherited its name due to the fact that that all the workers who spent many months building the palapa-style structure years ago were all charmed enough to have their last names start with the letter O, so the sweet owners decided to pay tribute to them and name the place Casa O's.  Very cool thing to do.

Now, the proper thing to order up at this tucked away gem is mixed ceviche, creamy-like-pudding guacamole, and a freezing cold Sol.  They open around 1pm and if you want, you can bring your snorkel gear and dive off the long pier that sits directly in front of the place.  It's fair game for anyone to take advantage of, but I rarely (never, ever) see peeps out there in the middle of the day (which is when I like to go).  The views are drop dead gorg...and you could literally wile away an afternoon staring at birds, boats, and clouds.  Cut to hammered by 4pm on Sol after Sol, but who cares, that is nap time anyway.

Ask anybody on the island and they can direct you to the best ceviche on Isla.  Ok, I digress...there was one day I was wandering on the North side of the island, right on the beach, and some locals had just come in from a barracuda fishing contest...they were whipping up barracuda ceviche on a rickety old wooden table in the same and when it was done, they shoved a big, spicy bowl of it my way (I guess curiosity is a grand thing).  That was some pretty killer stuff, all topped off with hefty squirts of fresh lime....con frosty Sol of course!  But, when the heck is that gonna happen to anyone?  I just got lucky that day...when you need the fix, hit up Casa's!








Manana Still Has the Goods {Even If They Don't Have a Liq License}


I've said it once, I'll say it again.  Manana, the super-fly used bookstore/cafe/coffee house on Isla Mujeres is just the numero uno when it comes go food, chill atmosphere and a place to wile away the day.  Yes...entire days...til they kick you out at closing time. 

Imagine my horror when I rolled back in (after a full year away) to find out that their liquor license had been yanked.  Christ in heaven, what a travesty.  Thankfully, we were able to BYOB a bit.  Then, imagine my delight to find out they extended their hours and instead of closing at 3pm, they locked up 'round about 8pm.  Nice.  I have heard they are getting the liq. license back this month, so we shall see next time I'm in town (if they do, and you are down on Isla, have a strawberry daquiri--just the best ever).

Manana is downtown--ask anyone and they should know.  And please, please, please if you go...get some hummus (skip the pita and go with chips) and a Greek salad.  Those two together will make you swoon*



That Carnita's Joint: Isla Mujeres


Speaking of pork, there is a total dive of a carnitas taco stand over by Lolo Lorena's (the little coffee shop/cafe) that ya gotta hit up if you are ever on Isla.  It's tucked down a short dirt road on the west side of the road and has just a few tables + a couple of stools for campers who like to watch the meat action. 

It's a pretty simple process.  You order taco.  They chop meat to oblivion with giant cleaver.  You squeeze juicy lime on taco.  They ignore your groans of delight.  You order another taco.  And, so it goes...

Last time I was there, a dude was taking huge lengths of pig skin (long as my arm) and dunking them into a scalding cauldron of oil.  Then, with each taco covered in onions, cilantro and lime...out came a crispy and very freshly fried pig skin.  Dude, WTF?   Ya ain't never seen it done like least I haven't.  This is just straight up good stuff.  It's enough to make one whimper.








And Then There Was Pork...


My favorite family of all time on Isla Mujeres is made up of four names:  Daisy, Lupita, Alexandria and Jorge.  They help out with our PURE retreat by whipping up all the amazing food for our cooking workshop at Casa Ixchel, they welcome me into their home day and night (they supply entertainment, food and laughs...and I supply juice, beer and more laughs), I cruise them around the island whether I have my truck there or have a rented a golf cart, we send them to English school at La Gloria, and Daisy (the mom) is frankly the best Mexican chef I have ever met.  Nothing in any restaurant anywhere has ever come close to the goods she whips out on her little stove-top only contraption in the kitchen. 

Me and Lis ate there every other day while on Isla and our last day there, she surprised us with giant platters of pork--it has the name of some famous Yucatecan dish that starts with an L, and I cannot remember if for the life of me--but let me just tell you something, I barely eat meat, but when this doozie was whisked under my nose, it lured me in and there was going back.  Never, ever had I had that much rich, delicious meat enter my belly at once...and then stay there.  For days.  OMG--the death of my belly, but the absolute soul-satisfying joy of my tastebuds.

This family, this sweet, beautiful family.  I love them to bits...and I swear to God, I could make millions off Daisy and her cooking genius.  Hmmm...interesting idea.


La Lomita: The Chile Relleno God


Since I'm on the subject of food, I might as well get a little deeper into the best chile relleno ever.  I don't know what La Lomita does differently than the mess we usually call a chile relleno in the US, but whatever it is, I hope it never changes.

Now, La Lomita is located on the windy (East) side of the island--if you're heading north past the airport, you keep going straight til you either have to curve around...or GO STRAIGHT into town.  Keep going straight (do not take the curve) and La Lomita is on the right side of the road--sometimes open, sometimes not.  Which is cool with me.  I always hit this place up when I'm down (my local pal Jorge's sis, or aunt, or grandmother, or cousin, runs the joint, and if he vouches, then I know it's rock solid).  This time, I took my mom (who was down for her birthday) and my bud Lisa there for just the relleno (though they do have great octopus), some guacamole and a few Sol's...which they literally jam out to get the minute you order them.  The guac is perfect of course, but the relleno...well that is something that is so damn good, it bears further investigating.

Let me dissect this particular chile relleo and the differences between it and the kind you might find in your typical Mexican restaurant back home.  This chile pepper is lightly fried and oddly tall, not eggy and flat--and packed with sopping cheese, but good cheese.  Delicious Mexican cheese, NOT cheap-o mozzarella.  There is a brief squirt of rich tomato sauce on top and a drizzle of crema...NOT a full bath of red sauce and your normal bold, ungodly white sour cream.  True sour cream would kill the lightness of the relleno, unlike the crema which just enhances the flavor.  It's topped with a nice little crumble of queso and a side of rice.  And, when you mix in the rice in with the tomato sauce and the crema, you have true/blue gold on your hands. 

We devoured the entire chile down to it's lonely core before heading downtown for some heavy-on-the-rum drinks...but that's a whole 'nother story.  Man, just look at that can you not want to swallow that thing whole?