24 May 2006 Destinations, Regional Cuisine, Reviews 35

The quintessential Yucatan eating experience is attained somewhere outdoors. The view isn't great. The tablecloth (if there is one) is oilcloth atop a cheap plastic or metal table donated to the restaurant by Coca Cola. The food is dripping with sauce, hot and tasty. Your fingers and hands are covered with it and your mouth is on fire with chili de habanero. You reach for a napkin to wipe your hands and all you get is a tiny, wafer-thin servieta. But you have to do it so you can hold that cold glass of Coca Cola or agua-de-whatever long enough to quench the fire inside for just a moment. You glance up briefly from your plate and everyone is pretty much doing the same thing, concentrating on their own ecstatic experience.

We've just described a typical meal at Wayan'e, arguably the best taco stand in Merida (well, actually, there are two of them). When we first arrived in Merida, we were introduced by friends and now that's what we do, too. We take our friends who are new to Merida to lunch at Wayan'e. We make sure they remember how to get there. We tell them what they need to know to get the most out of the Wayan'e experience. And then they are on their own. It's like an initiation.

First of all, the name: Wayan'e is pronounced "why-en-AY". When we first saw the name, we thought it was Balinese, but no... it's Mayan and it means, "here we are". Great name for a taco stand, don't you think? So what *is* here, exactly? It's a family-owned place, of course. The older couple who own it are always behind the counter. They don't cook, they supervise, platicando (chatting) with the customers, many of whom have apparently been coming here for years. They supervise about ten workers, most of whom are chopping, cutting and squeezing. Everything is cooked fresh every morning. When the food is gone, the place closes down for the day, usually by 2:00 pm.

Most Yucatecos eat a big breakfast, which is a tradition around here. In fact, one of our friends who grew up here says her abuela (grandmother) used to say, "eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper". It's not unusual to see locals sitting down to big breakfasts of poc-chuc or pavo en relleno negro at the local mercados. So if you go to Wayan'e at about 9:00 am or so, you'll find a crowd. If you're like us and used to eating heavier foods later in the day, you might think of going to Wayan'e for lunch. We used to show up about 1:00 pm until we realized that we were only seeing the xix (pronounced "sheesh"...it's a Mayan word for the very last little bits) by that time. So we started getting there about 11:30 am at least, advice we always pass on to our friends.

Often, it's standing room only. And then you have to lean over someone eating at the counter, order directly from the cook and get your plate handed to you over that poor someone's head. Sometimes, there are little plastic tables with plastic chairs and someone who actually serves the food. This is a mixed blessing. It's nice to sit down on the sidewalk next to the parked cars (such ambiance!), but when the mesera (waitress) comes and starts rattling off the different choices for that day, a normal gringo begins to wish for a printed menu. The only menu is up on the wall inside the taco stand... and it's never comprehensive. So you have to listen carefully and catch what you can. Here are some things to listen for: poc-chuc, pollo poblano, pollo con chorizo verde, fajitas de pollo, huevos con chaya, huevos con longaniza, castacan and carne asado.

We usually order cuatro tacos (four tacos) with some assortment of those different fillings listed above. ("Cuatro tacos. Dos con pollo poblano, un huevo con chaya y un castacan, por favor, con frijoles y cebolla.") (Translation: Four tacos. Two with chicken with poblano chiles, one with scrambled eggs with chaya, and one with grilled pork, please, with beans and onion.) You can also order these as tortas, or sandwiches served on a french roll with cheese. We keep saying we are going to try something new, but those tacos are so good, we can't get past them.

Before the mesera leaves, we always order a drink. If we aren't too late, there is still a selection of three or four fresh aguas de frutas (fruit juices): Agua de sandia (watermelon), agua de piña (pineapple), agua de mamey, or guayabana or guaya (they're local tropical fruits), agua de cebada (barley with cinnamon)... they're all delicious! If there are no more aguas left, we'll settle for horchata, iced tea or even una coca. But we'll be sad about it.

In less than five minutes, all the tacos arrive. They're like little round drink coasters made of corn and filled with heaps of tasty bits. On the table are three choices of salsa: roasted chile salsa, it's flavorful but not very hot. Avocado salsa, it's light green and a little spicier. And lastly, the ambrosia called salsa de habanero... it's hot. Oh, it's hot. Wonderfully, blessedly, ecstatically hot. Our favorite strategy is to go straight to the habanero, spoon it (don't sprinkle!) all over the tacos, and then proceed. Usually, after the first taco we don't talk much anymore. Our mouths are burning, our noses are watering and we're starting to see colors more brightly. The aguas come in handy to momentarily douse the flame, but the only thing that really works is to eat more tacos with more habanero.

You can find this little slice of taco heaven by going north to the Burger King circle on Paseo de Montejo, turning right and driving past the Chapur department store to the stoplight next to the big pink house. Turn right and continue todo derecho (straight) for about three blocks. This is how a Yucateco gives directions, and since you are going to eat like a Yucateco, you might as well drive like one, too.


  • Working Gringos 8 years ago

    Paola, there is a new Wayan'e in the Mejorada district of downtown on Calle 57 #536, which is probably between Calle 62 y 64. Enjoy!

    • Theresa Diaz Gray 8 years ago

      It's in the other direction, C 59 x Cinco de Mayo, (calle 46) can't remember if it's exactly on the corner on C 59 side, but really close. The food is really good, but you have to get there early!


  • Paolo 8 years ago

    I’d love to give Wayan’e a try, but with no map and arriving in Merida just yesterday I’ll need some help getting there. Can you get me there from the Cinemex at Calle 57 and 72? Thank you. Paolo

  • Paolo 8 years ago

    I'd love to give Wayan'e a try, but with no map and arriving in Merida just yesterday I'll need some help getting there. Can you get me there from the Cinemex at Calle 57 and 72? Thank you. Paolo

  • Working Gringos 8 years ago

    Glad to hear it, Roberto! It is definitely one of our favorite places to eat in Merida!

  • Roberto 8 years ago

    I'm visiting Merida for the first time from Australia and I just took a cab from Centro out to Wayan'e for breakfast. Oh man, it was wonderful. A couple of tacos de pollo con chorizo verde doused in that delicious blackened habanero salsa followed up by what seems to be their most popular item, the torta de castakan con queso. Really one of the best ways I can imagine to start the day. Very much worth a visit.

  • Hope Golden 11 years ago

    Wayane's sounds like a place we look for when traveling in Mexico. We are visiting Merida for the first time and are looking for good places to eat. Where is Wayanes? Thanks for all the information.

  • Steve F 12 years ago

    Great article about one of our favorite places to eat like a Meridadano!

    One small caution though. If you want a roast pork taco, then order "un taco de carne asado" (really tasty with melted cheese) with or without eggs. If you like deep fried pork fat, then order the castacan, since castacan is deep fried pig belly fat, with just a tiny amount of meat = an ingrediet that sticks to your ribs (or sits in your gut) for hours. Thick "chilin's" or "chitterlin's" or "cracklin's" or "chicharron" with a tiny bit of carne. Kind of like the tamal colado (white "meat" that is actually pure beef fat), either really rich or a potential gut-grinding, repeating, burbling day long event?

  • Brenda Thornton 12 years ago

    The freshness of all the ingredients sounds wonderful, but I can't help but believe that my nutritionist, since I have Type II diabetes would have a fainting spell over these tacos.

    Apparently, from your wonderful description Working Gringa, they are small, but they must be corn ( a no-no for diabetes, as are the flour ones as well ) and I wonder if the ingredients would need the snuff, as well. Your description was so wonderful, however, that I began to salivate like Pavlov;s dogs.

    When we traveled, before my diabetes hit, we would always ask the locals where they ate, to avoid the touristy spots. In the Bahamas, we walked four blocks from where the tourists stayed and found a wonderful diner (it resembled me of a larger version of the ones found in the states in the 50's) which served Bahamian fish and barbeque. It was wonderful. We were the only tourists in the whole thing, and there were thirty four toppers in the place.

    We were concerned about crime in Mexico, but I found an article on safety in Mexico yesterday written by a "crime and terrorism" expert which rated Merida as a 1 on violence scale. Many U. S. cities were a 3. He did suggest the obvious, as avoiding the border cities, Acapulco, and the Michachoan? areas. San Miguel Allende was rated well, Mazatlan not so good. Puerta Vallarta good but 50 miles morth of it not so good.

    One has to take into consideration a lot of things, but the availability of health care, safety, things which would be interesting and vital to remaining happy and healthy and having people with whom one is comfortable is a big thing for life, and Merida has many advantages. Chalk up one for the good side with these tacos.

  • Working Gringos 12 years ago

    Hola, Bob! The rainy season seems to be over, so don't bother with waders (not that you ever needed them, frankly). You probably won't get much use out of the umbrella either. Yes, it's true... Jeremiah Towers lives in Merida.

  • BOB WAKS 12 years ago

    I'm getting ready to leave on Sat from San Francisco to be in Merida from Oct. 19th-21st. How is the weather lately? I just bought an umbrella..do i need waders? I can't wait to try the Tacos! We have some pretty goods ones in East Oakland...especially lengua tacos. I am enjoying all the tips. By the way, do you know Jeremiah Tower? I was one of his sous chefs in Berkeley in the late 70's... I hear he's been living in Merida for a while.

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