The master of finding affordable meals in obscure places is back, this time traveling south of the border to find a filling meal in the city of Queretaro, Mexico.
However, it does not go without saying that Queretaro is not fully modernized. While in its most industrious areas one can find the amenities of modern living like shopping malls and hyper markets (think of them similar to Walmart supercenters but equipped with a selection of restaurants inside and some even sell motor vehicles), Queretaro still remains proud of its earliest architecture and strong Catholic values.
To experience true cultural submersion, I set out to find the heart of old Queretaro. And just by simply asking a few locals as well as the front desk staff of the hotel I was staying, I received resounding commendations for an area called Plaza de Armas.
Situated in the heart of the city, Plaza de Armas offers the happy traveler a mecca of cultural opportunity, literally everything from World Heritage Sites, restaurants, buildings that fully embrace an old (yet strangely welcoming) architectural style, parks, and even a large portion of a still functioning aqueduct all within 20 minutes of walking time from the plaza.
It should also be mentioned that Plaza de Armas hosts one of the largest celebrations of Mexican independence every year on September 15th and while I unfortunately missed it this year, I will be sure to keep my calendar clear for the festivities next year. With so much to see and so little time to see everything, I explored Plaza de Armas with one very important thing on my mind: the necessity of finding a restaurant that serves a truly unforgettable Mexican meal.
My expectations were lofty but on a casual stroll through the old city center, the options are limitless. Queretaro, like many European cities, offers restaurant patrons the opportunity to glance at menu offerings with many restaurants nestling a podium with a full menu just outside the business's doors. However, it’s the interactions with the wait staff that will ultimately influence your decision.
There is a lot of passion that goes into the work they do; many of which will herald their restaurant's food as the crème de le crème and will even offer free appetizers just for the opportunity of your business. While it might sound overbearing, this level of service is pretty much the norm in Mexico. I let such an interaction end with a meal at a very small restaurant serving only traditional Mexican food called Restaurante Fin De Siglo.
While at the heart of it, Mexican-American cuisine embraces the bedrock of traditional Mexican cuisine: simple dishes full of flavor with simple ingredients served in a no frills environment. Fin De Siglo embraces this approach in all their dishes which range from chicken, steak, fish, and shrimp served with a variety of sauces with rice and beans and vegetables for some dishes.
My perusal of the menu eventually led me to settle with camarones a la diabla con arroz y veduras.
That’s shrimp in spicy sauce with rice and vegetables. While many Tex Mex places serve a variation of the dish, many opt for it to have an astronomical spice level. Fin de Siglo instead builds their sauce with a base of chipotles in adobo.
While it does provide a subtle kick of spice, it also adds a smoky undertone to the taste that I never experienced at any Tex Mex restaurant in the USA. The dish was not only phenomenally presented but the portion size was more than filling.
The burning question that is more than likely racing in your mind now: “That sounds wonderful but also expensive. How much was it?”
You will probably be surprised when I tell you that my drink, appetizer of chips and salsa and entrée was only $9.75. While that may sound absurd, for those who have not been to Mexico before, bear this mind: everything is very cheap when comparing it to the inflated price points of America and that holds true on everything from clothes to food.
The pot is even sweeter at Fin De Siglo.
For those who do not like seafood or have a shellfish allergy, the chicken and steak dishes are even cheaper averaging between $6-8 for an equally flavorful meal. For those who wish to experience traditional Mexican food at a price you will be hard pressed to beat, Fin de Siglo is the place I cannot recommend more highly.
While my time in Queretaro was very limited, I feel just based on local recommendation alone that Plaza de Armas offers limitless opportunities to truly appreciate traditional Mexican culture, architecture, and food.
It is such a shame that many media outlets paint the area in such a bad light when all of the locals I interacted with were genuinely hospitable and were fascinated that I wished to give Queretaro the recognition it rightfully deserves.
However, I do need to point out something very important. Many of the residents of the city speak minimal if any English at all. It would be to your benefit to either already know how to speak Spanish either fluently or conversationally before going or taking the time to learn most of the basics of the language. While smartphones offer the ability to translate between English and Spanish, the locals are much more appreciative in being able to hold a conversation with you and not your phone.
For those who are adventurous and wish to branch out and explore a city with a rich offering of architecture and food, Queretaro should be within the list, if not first then somewhere down the line!