Mayor Alfaro (center) holding forth during COME's inauguration in October
Upon completion of an examination of Guadalajara’s newly minted “COME, Gastronomic Corridor” on two separate occasions, that sobriquet - applied by Mayor Alfaro and a consortium of local business owners to a somewhat drab stretch of Avenida Mexico sandwiched between two giant roundabouts - seemed like a linguistic swindle, a coat of paint perfunctorily applied to a brothel outhouse.
However, this dubiously christened, lonely and wind-swept expressway has at least one very bright feather amongst its faded plumage: Restaurant Alcalde, recently named the 36th best restaurant in Latin America by the same San Pellegrino cabal that drafts the yearly top 100 best-in-the-world list. The seven-course tasting menu created by chef/owner Francisco “Paco” Ruado bursts like a backyard piñata with surprise, a strobe of lashing acidity, luxurious umami and stimulating textural combinations.
But one especially bright star like Alcalde is rarely enough to illuminate the whole night sky (a fact most basketball teams or ant colonies would readily corroborate), although Ruano, when asked for his favorites among the avenue’s stable of restaurants, gave a shout out to his neighbors on either side, Matera (Argentinian) and The Butchery (classic steakhouse), as well as praising La Tequila across the street, the area’s oldest restaurant.
After taking stock of the strip’s surprisingly small inventory of restaurants, many of which are small local or national chains, the remainder of the corridor’s businesses have as little claim to the gastronomic as gristle does to steak. They include a tattoo parlor, pharmacy, dry cleaners, a smattering of generic, beige 10-odd story office buildings, and a clutch of hotels whose titles sport ego-pleasing adjectives like “royal” and “executive.”
Preceding Alfaro’s formal re-naming was a program of infrastructural upgrades much touted in official press releases, concentrated mainly on the center divider. They include several metal benches, a beige concrete foot path and handicap ramps lining both sides.
Those last additions (one of which is pictured to the left), while welcome, seems of little practical use to the handicapped, since there are no crosswalks painted on the asphalt road linking them with the sidewalk, and no speed bumps to curb the dangerous, careening enthusiasm that characterizes the driving style on the four-lane Avenida Mexico.
Three valets idling in front of their charge, Mediterranean seafood-centric restaurant Polanco, revealed similar misgivings about the recent renovations upon being asked for their opinions on the subject one chilly Monday afternoon.
“After they installed some benches, put in some bike lanes and wheelchair accessible ramps, they started calling in a ‘gastronomic corridor,’” said one skeptic in a tight knit cap. “But nobody bikes on this road, and when they do, they don’t even use the bike lanes.”
“One time,” chimed in another, “we had to help this guy in a wheelchair get across the street and up one the ramps,” he recalled, describing a mad, jack rabbit dash across two treacherous lanes of traffic.
These men’s opinions, together with this writer’s own observations of what looked like serious gaps in pedestrian/handicap friendly infrastructure, didn’t jibe with the sunny outlook evinced by Federico Diaz de Leon, owner of La Tequila and the COME project’s chief booster/representative among the local businesspeople. According to Leon, “work is pretty much done, just some wiring overground and subterranean wiring and the installation of a few more benches.”
A cursory glance at a length of Avenida Mexico immediately to the east, extending from the Lopez Mateos roundabout - itself the righthand terminus of Alfaro’s pet project - to Avenida Chapultepec, makes the target of the COME campaign even more puzzling; restaurants along this segment of the avenue are more affordable and inviting and, taken together, boast a much wider range of culinary offerings, from the Korean BBQ of Gui Gui - promisingly frequented by actual Koreans - and the upscale, pork-minded Chancho (pictured right), to a string of cheap, no-nonsense neighborhood taquerias, including the reputed Taqueria Mexico.
This stretch of road, passed over by the flashbulbs of hype and publicity, also features a much larger, more hospitable and easily accessed center pedestrian divider than the one to the west, which was described in the press by a giddy Alfaro as if it were a diamond-strewn path to a magical utopia.
Its omission by de Leon and Alfaro, et al, may be a commentary on Guadalajara’s contemporary food scene: the city’s well-off residents may be under the misapprehension that the city is in possession of a world-class high-end dining scene - like that of their neighbor to the southeast, Mexico City - and are easily hood-winked by dazzling displays of faux bourgeois elegance and nose-bleed-expensive Ferrari ingredients, a tawdry veneer which often promises more than it delivers.
However, Chef Ruano’s Restaurante Alcalde goes a long way in making the moniker of “gastronomic corridor” stick, something that Alfaro and de Leon are probably banking on. Perhaps they’re hoping that, like parents who name their boy Frank Lloyd Wright in the hopes he’ll grow up to be a famous architect, a sterling gastronomic scene to put Guadalajara and Jalisco on the international food map will rise up around Alcalde in years to come as the fulfilling of a prophecy foretold by its new moniker. For the sake of Guadalajara’s cadre of gourmands, we hope their dreams come true, however feverish.
.Alfaro’s gastronomic corridor runs along Avenida Mexico from the Golfo de Cortes roundabout in the west to Lopez Mateos roundabout in the east. It is home to, among others, La Tequila, Matera, The Butchery, Alcalde, Polanco, Cabanna and Corazon de Alcachofa. The region outside the bounds of Alfaro’s designation runs east of Lopez Mateos to Chapultepec and includes restaurants Arugula, Gui Gui, Chinese restaurant Luo Lim, Chancho, El Polo Norte, Tea Recs, Japanese restaurant Toyo, Momotaki Ice Cream Atelier, and Taquerias Mexico and Fonseca. Information for the majority of these restaurants is available online.
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