Guadalajara and the surrounding area are known for some pretty spectacular regional cuisine. To begin with, their famous birria, a spiced goat dish served either in a thin broth or as tacos. The meat is fall-apart tender and laced with oregano, bay leaf, ginger, garlic, and a handful of other secret ingredients that vary from chef to chef. It's some of the city's most popular “fast” food and can be found at the Mercado San Juan de Dios, the city's monster two-level market where you can also sample tortas ahogadas, a fried pork sandwich on a hard roll called a birote, drowned in a mildly fragrant tomato sauce that can be made hot or hotter to your specifications. Ask at Tortas Mario on the ground floor for one of these hard-to-handle but worth-the-mess masterpieces. The birria stands are mostly on the upper level, with Birrieria Palenque and el Chivo de Oro, both excellent choices. Also at the market are the locally popular giant tortas filled with chopped pork (this time lomo and pierna), tomato, and lettuce and grilled to perfection with a coating of mayo on the outside (Try Super Tortas Lokas y Kalientes).
Other must-tries are carne en su jugo, a kind of thick meat soup eaten with the region's thick, white corn tortillas, and local dairy products – in particular the extra-fresh requesón cheese that made an appearance in some form at almost every meal during a recent trip to Guadalajara.
While the traditional stand-bys are necessary for culinary context, the biggest draw to Guadalajara these days are its posse of young chefs and their inventive fusion of endemic flavors with complicated production and top-shelf ingredients. Chef Poncho Cadena of Hueso creates an eight-course bonanza of bold flavors that remind you that you could only be fine dining in Mexico – foie gras smothered in guayaba and mango, blue fin tuna in hibiscus aguachile, crispy leg of duck in chile mole – and does it with such laid-back style that you forget to sit up straight and proper. Francisco “Paco” Ruano is turning heads at his restaurant Alcalde, named after his childhood market at home in Guadalajara, with a cooking style he describes as cocina franca or honest cooking. Each dish is so artfully arranged it almost feels a shame to eat – like the roast duck with cauliflower puree and slivers of dehydrated portobello and algae.
Long a local favorite and owned by the same crew that runs I Latina and Loló, Anita Li is inspired by beach life not only in its kitschy decor but its long list of ceviches, sashimis and fish variations. A certain Asian vibe infuses the menu with subtle marriages of great ethnic cuisines – like the beef tongue with chile poblano and curry or tuna tartare with nogi seaweed and Asian pear.