Lunch at Xanat Bistro and Terrace in Mexico City

Xanat Bistro and Terrace is the upscale contemporary Mexican restaurant in the recently renovated five-star JW Marriott Hotel Mexico City.

The hotel, located in the Polanco neighborhood, is steps from Paseo de la Reforma, the Auditorio Nacional, Chapultepec and the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Xanat opened in October 2014.


On our recent visit to Mexico in December 2014, I had a chance to dine there for lunch with my cuñada. The hotel’s executive chef, Ciro Mejia, came up with the concept for Xanat (pronounced “shah-naht”). The restaurant’s name is an ancient Totonaca word that means “vanilla flower.” In Totonaca mythology, the vanilla orchid was born when the princess Xanat, who had an affair with a mortal man, ran away to the forest with her lover. The two were captured and beheaded for their offense to the gods, and in the place where their blood seeped into the soil, the first vanilla orchid grew.

The Totonacas were the first to cultivate the vanilla orchid, and Mexico is considered the birthplace of vanilla. Xanat is still used today as a girl’s name in Papantla, Veracruz, where most of Mexico’s vanilla is cultivated. Mexican vanilla beans have a signature creamy flavor and a unique woody spice profile different from other kinds of vanilla.

RELATED RECIPE: Atole de vainilla

At Xanat Bistro and Terrace, many items on the menu have a touch of vanilla incorporated, both in sweet and savory dishes, paying unique homage to this truly Mexican ingredient. I liked that they also focus on using local and national Mexican ingredients to elevate traditional Mexican dishes with a modern spin.

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Mexico City in watercolors

There is so much to love about Mexico City.

I’ve been traveling to Mexico City—affectionately known as Chilangolandia—several times a year for the better part of a decade to visit my husband’s family, and it never ceases to amaze me. From the world-class museums and interesting historic landmarks to the variety of culinary experiences, ranging from street food to haute cuisine, I have a serious love affair with this city that is home to more than 21 million people (including the metro area). You can see and experience everything from fancy, modern skyscrapers to old-school open air markets. At times it can feel like a major metropolis, but at the drop of a hat, you may find yourself in a neighborhood that feels less like the city and more like a pueblo. It’s a diverse city with so much culture and history to explore.

Everything about the place calls my name, and each snapshot I take while visiting is a permanent memory embedded in my mind and heart. It’s strange, but when I’m away, I sometimes feel homesick for this magical place although it’s not where I was born and raised. Having spent so much time there, though, it has become like my second hometown. Recently, I discovered an app called Waterlogue that blew me away with its ability to turn my photos into stunning watercolor painted images. I started sorting through some of my favorite travel photos from Mexico City as well as other places in Mexico that I’ve visited, and have become addicted to turning my photos into works of art. Here are 10 photos I’ve taken in Mexico City over the years that I’ve turned into watercolor images.

A chicharrón vendor on the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) campus, Cuidad Universitaria

A chicharrón vendor on the UNAM campus in Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City | More watercolor images of Mexico City on… 

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Carnitas at El Venadito in Mexico City

Basically every carnitas joint in Mexico claims they have the best carnitas. Who can blame them? To somebody, each place DOES have the best carnitas. One of my favorite places in Mexico City, El Venadito, is no exception. This restaurant, which is a neighborhood staple and has no other locations, has been open since 1950. Like many other places, they have a sign that says “super carnitas, las mejores de México.” I will say: They are pretty spectacular, and among my top choices when I’m craving carnitas in Mexico City. After all, what place could stay open for more than six decades with signs saying they have the best carnitas if they didn’t?

Although there’s a restaurant where you can actually sit down in the back, I prefer the charming, tiny curbside taco stand. The only thing separating me from Tomás—the taquero who has been there as long as anyone I know can remember—is a window that’s about five feet high with a counter on top, so I can watch my carnitas go from being chopped to tortilla, salivating while I watch.

I always order them the same way: Surtido, which is a mix of white meat, dark meat, other parts, skin and some crunchy bits of chicharron. Top it with fresh, raw salsa verde and it’s truly a heavenly taco. If you’re squeamish about eating certain parts of the pig, you can always ask for maciza, which is white meat only.

Mexico City eats: El Venadito carnitas, Av. Universidad 1701, Col.Agrícola Chimalistac (Coyoacán) | More recommendations on… 

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Wordless Wednesday: Docking in Puerto Morelos

Over the holidays we spent time with our family at a resort in the Riviera Maya, just south of Puerto Morelos, Mexico. We love to explore when we travel together, so we rented a car and headed to the sea port town to find a place to snorkel. I took this photo as we were returning from snorkeling, pulling the little boat back up to the dock.

A dock in Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico | More travel stories and photos from Mexico at… 

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Visiting Yucatán: Dzibilchaltún

Dzibilchaltún is one of the oldest Mayan cities and is located near the Northern coast of the state of Yucatán, about 10 miles North of Mérida. The name Dzibilchaltún (pronounced Tsee-beel-chahl-toon) means “the place where there is writing on flat stones” in the Mayan language. In September, I traveled to Mérida, Yucatán for four days to explore and Dzibilchaltún was one of my favorite discoveries on the trip.

If you love ruins, archaeology and Mayan history, this site is a must-see during a visit to the state of Yucatán. We had a wonderful guide during our visit who spoke Spanish, English and Maya and was very knowledgable not only about the history of the site, but also explained the language roots and word evolution, which I found particularly interesting.

The archaeological site at Dzibilchaltún is less well-known to international tourists in comparison to sites such as Chichen Itzá, but is well worth the visit thanks to the knowledgable guides, the swimming area in the cenote and the fact that it’s less crowded than some of the larger sites. It’s also not too far from Mérida, making this site a great place to visit if you don’t want to take an entire day to travel to see an archaeological site in Mexico. There’s plenty to learn and appreciate here and I hope to be able to return again with my family.

Dzibilchaltún: El Templo de las Siete Muñecas… 

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Wordless Wednesday: Puebleando en Chelem, Yucatán

A few weeks ago, I visited the state of Yucatán on a press trip for a few days to get to know the city of Mérida and the surrounding area, which was incredibly charming. Though my visit was short, it was jam-packed with activities—including things I didn’t think that I’d ever do on my own, but that I had a lot of fun doing—such as kayaking in a mangrove and bicycling several miles on a path through an estuary, where I spotted wild flamingos. One afternoon, we had a little bit of down time before the bicycle ride, so we hung out in a tiny little beach town called Chelem near Progreso. Here are a few photos from the time I spent there.

A day in Chelem, Yucatan, Mexico

I loved the quiet beach and the water was like a warm bath, very calm with hardly any waves. I hunted for sea shells—a favorite pastime since I was a kid—and also walked around the town square, checking out the little neighborhood bodegas to see what kind of local produce they had available. More about this trip soon! In the meantime, if you’d like to find more of my photos from the trip, check out my Instagram feed (@MauraHernandez) and also search the hashtag #yodescubriyucatan on Instagram for photos from other travelers.

  • Have you been to any of the little beach towns near Progreso in the state of Yucatán?