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.


  • BOB WAKS 11 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.

  • Brenda Thornton 11 years ago

    These sound wonderful, but are any of them legal for diabetics? Perhaps, if one only eats the fillings?

  • Israel Palomo Pasos 12 years ago

    wayane es lo mejor ke hay en el mundo!! no dejen de visitarlo!!!
    los quieroooo y que bueno ke lo publican!! :)

  • ingrith 12 years ago

    This place seems amazing! I'm a Yucatecan and I have never been there!
    Well here's a few more places I'm sure your'e gonna love!

    First: Santiago's mercado - It's a place where you can also order from tacos of "canasta" (they're set into a handmade basket or "palangana"-a big plastic plate-) and those go from "papa con chorizo" to "chicharrón" (smashed potatoes to ... well I don't know how to translate, but you gotta taste it!). Thera are also tortas of everything and delicious fresh fruit water. Usually Meridanos go mostly to church on Sunday, so they stop at Santiago's church and when the mass is over, people go next door to the mercado to have lunch (about 1:00 pm).

    Another "must go" place is "GALLITO". If you have gone there... you know what good service and LOTS of food per beer you can get there. There you find the best beers (ask for Pacifico beer, the best to drink while your'e eating). This is a small place in which usually only men go. It's not that it is a "cantina" because I have gone and there are couples and sometimes students from a school nearby, but it looks as if it was a cantina. Anyway, many couples go there after a day of working because the beers are inexpensive and suddenly your table is full of dishes (chicharrón, remolacha, papa, spaguetti, crema de ajo, tostadas, frijol, salchicha, X'nipec - a sauce made with pepita-, and later they offer pan de cazón, scrambled eggs with chorizo and frijol, relleno negro and much more). I go there every Saturday with my husband around 1:00pm. After working I know a fresh beer and plenty of snacks and food are waiting for me and my hungry stomach for only $40 pesos. We usually get two beers each and we eat to get really llenos (full of food), then we go for a walk on Paseo de Montejo, which is not far from there. Believe me, you have to visit GALLITO.

  • josselyn 13 years ago

    Hi working gringa, it is a pleasure to find people like you that promote our beatiful places whith out any other interest than loving what you experience was there, because not even me that I used to live next to yocdzonot know that place better than you do,thank you soo much ,there is another cenote just 2 pueblos next to yocdzonot in holca you may like it too .

  • Yucatan Living - Insurance for Expat Life in Yucatan 13 years ago

    [...] have had one car accident while living here in Mexico (right in front of our favorite taco stand!). At the time, we were insured by ING. After pulling the cars to the side of the road, both parties [...]

  • candy 13 years ago

    please tell me what you know about chuburna,sisal, progreso. thinking of moving if affordable. thanks. use email if you want

  • Joseph 14 years ago

    Hola María!

    Son deliciosos los tacos y las tortas de Wayan'e... por tu culpa tendré que romper la dieta uno de estos dias para ir :D

    El "Castacán con Queso" es uno de los platillos mas solicitados de Wayan'e, ya sea en taco o en torta. El Castacán es la capa de carne que se encuentra debajo de la grasa que tiene el cerdo bajo la piel. Es es de consistencia firme y alta en grasa termosoluble, por lo que literalmente se puede freír "en su propia grasa".

    Se que esta descripción en términos tan neutrales no suena muy apetitosa, pero si picas el castacán en cubitos, lo sazonas con especias "secretas", lo fríes para que suelte su grasa, luego le pones queso mancheco o chihuahua hasta fundirse y lo colocas todo en un francés o bolillo crujiente, embarrado con una capa de frijoles refritos, con un poco de pico de gallo o x'ni-pek*, tendrás uno de los suculentos platos de Wayan'e y te garantizo que no podrás comer solo uno.

    El Chili-Bull no lo he probado porque he sido poseído por el espíritu de las tortas de Castacán con Queso y es prácticamente lo unico que trago cuando voy, pero si no mal recuerdo es una mezcla de carne, frijoles y especias, ligeramente picante.

    *X'ni-Pek es una salsa picante Yucateca hecha con tomates, cilantro, habaneros, cebollas, jugo de naranja agria, jugo de limon y jugo de toronja. Su nombre en maya significa "Nariz de Perro" porque te hace moquear, ya ves que los perros siempre traen la nariz húmeda :D


    And I guess I should translate all that, since this is an english speaking publication...

    Hello María!

    The tacos and tortas at Wayan'e are delicious... because of you I'll have to forget about my diet one of these days and go stuff myself... :D

    "Castacan with Cheese" is one of the most popular dishes at Wayan'e, served inside a taco or a torta. The "Castacán" is a layer of meat under the pig's skin and layer of fat. It's usually firm and has plenty of butter-like fat that melts when cooked, so you basically fry the meat with it's own fat.

    I know this crude description doesn't sound really tasty, but if you chop the cascacán in small cubes, you spice it with some "secret" herbs, fry it so the fat will melt, then you add some manchego or chihuahua cheese untill it melts, then you place it all inside a crunchy bolillo where you have already applied a layer of fried beans, and a little pico de gallo or x'ni-pek*, you'll have one of the most delicious dishes of Wayan'e, and I guarantee you won't be able to eat just one.

    I haven't tried the Chili-Bull because I've been possesed by the spirit of the Castacán con Queso, so that's all I eat when I go there. But I believe it is beef with onions and spices, slightly hot.

    *X'ni-Pek is a Yucatecan salsa made with tomatoes, cilantro, habanero peppers, red onions, sour orange juice, lemon juice and grapefruit juice. It's name in maya means "Nose of Dog" because it will get your nose as wet as a dog's :D

  • Maria Alvarez 14 years ago


    Soy fanática de los tacos de Wayan'e, vivo en el DF y quiero ir a Mérida a comer, comer, comer! Trabajo en una revista de gastronomía y mis compañeros quieren que les describva el castacán y el chuli bul, pero preferiría que los expertos lo hagan... Me pueden ayudar para explicarles qué son estas delicias?

  • Mike 14 years ago

    Thank you very much for the wonderfully helpful information on your entire Website. We are heading down to Merida/Progreso in mid-November and do not know a word of Spanish. Your articles, explanations, directions, tips and suggestions are greatly appreciated. My mouth is watering as I write; I've GOT to visit Wayan'e. I assure you, I'll be clutching a reprint of this article to make sure we order the correct tacos and drinks. I just hope the mesera is patient with a Spanish-deficient gringo.

  • Ana 14 years ago

    I could shoot myself. I was THERE and I missed this place. All the more reason to go back!

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