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Chai—A Mexican Café

Chai—A Mexican Café

There are a lot of good restaurants in Mexico, from marketplace holes-in-the-wall to famous eateries in Mexico City.  We love going out–especially for breakfast–and trying something new and surprising.

April 17, 2008

Mely, Omar, and Tochi in Chai

Mely, Omar, and Tochi in Chai

There are many Mexicos.

Tijuana and Cancun and Cozumel are geared toward tourism.  Monterrey is business.  Small villages snooze in the midday sun, while millions of people rush for the subway in the capital.

Mexicans laugh at the popular image of a man in a sombrero asleep under a cactus, although they are the first to admit that in many places the slow paced, agricultural lifestyle still persists.  We have often met burros or long-horned bulls in the middle of the road in our travels.

I think the Mexico that most surprises our visitors is the modern, metropolitan one.  Culture is everywhere, especially in the big cities.  We have high speed internet, cable TV, and see the latest movies.  Here in Guadalajara we are visited by luminaries as diverse as Antonio Banderas, Bjork,  Liza Minelli, and John Waters.

And if you want to go out to be with friends, you’re in luck.  There are plenty of nightspots and bars and discos.

Omar and I are more morning people, though.  We love to go out for breakfast.  Sometimes we go out for menudo and quesadillas just down he road from our house.  But when we feel talkative and want to be with friends, we head to Avenida Chapultepec on Sunday morning, when they have the Via Recreativa, to one of our favorite restaurants—Mondo Café for chilaquilles and mocha coffee, Jarro for pancakes with apple compote, or Chai for the buffet.

All three are great because the Via Recreativa passes right in front, so you can watch all the lycra clad athletic sorts run, skate, and bike on miles of closed streets, then stroll through the antiques market and look for treasures.

It all makes us feel very cosmopolitan.

I had been in New York for seven months, and when I got back to Guadalajara and Omar asked “Where do you want to go for breakfast?” I knew right away—I missed Mexican food and wanted the breakfast buffet at Chai.

We’ve been going there for two or three years, and it is unfailingly wonderful.  Chai is in a huge colonial house, with 20-foot ceilings and an ample front porch.  They have magazines and art exhibits inside, and the clientele are the coolest folks in Guadalajara.

But even if Chai was a cave, we’d go for the food.   During the week they serve sandwiches and fruit juice and coffee and a salad bar.  But Sunday morning they go all out.

There is a short buffet with mole de pollo (chicken in mole sauce), tortas ahogadas (hard rolls filled with roast pork and ‘drowned’ in tomato and chile sauces), scrambled eggs with ham, rajas en crema (poblano pepper strips in cream), and chicharon en salsa verde (pig skin in tomatillo sauce).  There are refried beans with roasted chile de arbol peppers, and creole potatoes with peppers and ham, along with beef and tomatoes.  This is the classic Mexican breakfast—substantial, with meat and beans.  Omar always goes for the tureen of menudo, and the gals at the comal grill know I want fresh quesadillas with rajas or mushrooms or squash blossoms.  And there are salty squares of panela cheese—Tochi’s favorite.

But that’s not all.  Ample fruit—papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and muskmelon–is ladled with yogurt and granola.  And to finish, two bakers turn out a steady stream of tiny, excellent pastries.

The coffee is strong and limitless, the setting artsy and stimulating, and the people-watching some of the best in town.  All for $54 pesos a person—about $5 dollars.

There is now a second Chai downtown, on Juarez.  Omar says it is just as good for lunch, but we don’t know if they do the breakfast buffet there or not.

Chai really is a find.

Dan and Omar

Omar and Mely in front of Chai.  It's nice to get a table on the veranda, so you can watch the world go by.

Omar and Mely in front of Chai. It's nice to get a table on the veranda, so you can watch the world go by.

There's food in our future!

There's food in our future!

The veranda is a popular place.

The veranda is a popular place.

People run, ride, and skate by on the Via Recreativa while we dig in.

People run, ride, and skate by on the Via Recreativa while we dig in.

Tochi heads inside and to the buffet, ready for her menudo and panela.

Tochi heads inside and to the buffet, ready for her menudo and panela.

The quesadilla ladies.  Note the molcajete with sauce.  These gals make torillas by hand, then stuff them with cheese, poblano peppers, mushrooms, and squash blossoms.  Then they are either toasted on the grill or deep fried.

The quesadilla ladies. Note the molcajete with sauce. These gals make torillas by hand, then stuff them with cheese, poblano peppers, mushrooms, and squash blossoms. Then they are either toasted on the grill or deep fried.

 Fruit and yogurt and tiny pastries, in the central courtyard.

Fruit and yogurt and tiny pastries, in the central courtyard.

The pastries are delicious

The pastries are delicious

The breakfast buffet.  Everything is wonderful.

The breakfast buffet. Everything is wonderful.

A steaming pot of menudo--cow stomach soup.  I still don't like it.  Omar would take off his shoes and wade in it if I let him.

A steaming pot of menudo--cow stomach soup. I still don't like it. Omar would take off his shoes and wade in it if I let him.

Menudo.  Each different kind of stomach meat has it's own name--coralito, pedazo, libro, ranilla, cuajo, pata, trompa, labio....

Menudo. Each different kind of stomach meat has it's own name--coralito, pedazo, libro, ranilla, cuajo, pata, trompa, labio....

Omar remembers there is menudo.  He is so transparent sometimes.

Omar remembers there is menudo. He is so transparent sometimes.

Tochi serves it up.

Tochi serves it up.

Oregano, chopped onion, lime, and roasted chile de arbol garnish the menudo.

Oregano, chopped onion, lime, and roasted chile de arbol garnish the menudo.

A hearty Mexican breakfast.  We eat a good breakfast and a big lunch, and then a small meal late in the evening.

A hearty Mexican breakfast. We eat a good breakfast and a big lunch, and then a small meal late in the evening.

Iris and her mother Lupita often have breakfast with us.

Iris and her mother Lupita often have breakfast with us.

Good company makes the food taste better.

Good company makes the food taste better.

Lupita gets going with her stories, and we all end up in stitches.  In fine Mexican tradition, everyone speaks at the same time.

Lupita gets going with her stories, and we all end up in stitches. In fine Mexican tradition, everyone speaks at the same time.

Lupita talks a mile a minute.  Once she asked me if I understand her Spanish, and I told her "Yes, but I'm always about three pages behind."  Just recently everyone told me they thought that was funny, because I talk as fast as Lupita does.  I'm sure they are mistaken.

Lupita talks a mile a minute. Once she asked me if I understand her Spanish, and I told her "Yes, but I'm always about three pages behind." Just recently everyone told me they thought that was funny, because I talk as fast as Lupita does. I'm sure they are mistaken.

There is always art inside Chai.

There is always art inside Chai.

Colonial architecture

Colonial architecture

Content patrons.

Content patrons.

Come visit us in Guadalajara and we will take to to Chai!

Come visit us in Guadalajara and we will take to to Chai!

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A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.