A relative who used to work on the east side of town has long encouraged me to visit Merida, an establishment I've driven past many a Friday night while on my way to Ninfa's, its neighbor on Navigation. The fact that Merida's parking lot was usually full boded well, I thought, so on a recent Tuesday evening, I stepped into the restaurant's bright, wide open main room. The mural of Mayan ruins and bougainvillea that welcomed me made me itch to call my travel agent and book a flight south. Sipping my margarita -- which was excellent, salty and sharp instead of syrupy and sweet -- I contemplated Merida's menu, which offers cuisine from several different regions of Mexico but specializes in food from the Yucatan. (No surprise there, given that Merida is one of the few major cities on the Yucatan Peninsula.)
The Merida Special (platter number 0, I kid you not) presents a good sampling of their specialty meat dishes: the empanada, golden brown, deep fried -- but not greasy! -- filled with dry, finely ground beef; the panucho, a thin, almost membrane-like corn tortilla stuffed with black beans and topped with pork; the taco de cochinita, a soft corn tortilla wrapped around fibrous, flavorful, marinated roast pork; and the salbut, a flat fried corn tortilla topped with, you guessed it, marinated roast pork. Somehow, even under the cascade of chopped iceberg lettuce rained down on top of everything, these pork and tortilla dishes managed to stay nicely differentiated. The accompanying scoop of black beans was heavy on the lard, but the plain brown rice was nicely nutty, a simple and interesting departure from Spanish rice.
The camaron a la Veracruzana, said to come in a wine sauce with olives and capers, read on the menu like a Mediterranean dish. But what I was handed by the waiter was more like a shrimp Creole with large pieces of green pepper and onions in a tomato-based stock generous with hefty shrimp.
I never did unearth the promised olives and capers, but it didn't matter. I liked it, just as I liked Merida itself. One can never have too many authentic Mexican hangouts, and now, I was happy to note, I'd found one more.
-- Kelley Blewster
Merida, 2509 Navigation, 227-0260.
Merida: Merida special, $7.50; Camaron a la Veracruzana, $8.95.
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