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This Guadalajara restaurant has raised Mexico’s burger and craft beer game

August 24, 2016
The maple burger is the jewel in the Pig's Pearls' crown. All photos by Ulises Ruíz Basurto.

The maple burger is the jewel in the Pig’s Pearls’ crown. All photos by Ulises Ruíz Basurto.

Like most visitors, when I first moved to Mexico in 2009 I was endlessly fascinated by the diversity, the complexity, and the incredibly bold flavors of the local cuisine. But after a few months away from home, you sometimes just want a nice meaty burger and a crisp pint of ale. That proved hard to find, with most places merely offering thin, tasteless patties with plastic cheese squares in overly sweet or crumbly buns, alongside bottles of commercial lager. Mexico’s burger game was lacking.

Two years later I found salvation in a former bookshop on a quiet street corner in Guadalajara’s trendy Americana neighborhood. Sensing an opportunity to broaden the city’s culinary horizons, Carlos Barba and his cousin Oscar “Iguano” Martín had just opened their own burger joint and crammed six or seven tables into this tiny space. It was called Pig’s Pearls and they served the best burgers I’d ever tried. They were also among the city’s first advocates of Mexico’s nascent craft beer scene.

The restaurant was so popular it soon expanded to a converted warehouse.

The restaurant was so popular it soon expanded to a converted warehouse.

Now celebrating it’s fifth anniversary, Pig’s Pearls has established itself as a local institution and helped usher in a gourmet burger boom. It constantly flits between first and fifth in TripAdvisor’s ranking of the top 816 restaurants in Guadalajara and was recently named the city’s best burger joint in a survey of 21 chefs, critics, and food bloggers…

Click here to read this piece in full at Munchies. 

Authorities confirm one of El Chapo’s sons has been kidnapped

August 16, 2016
Leaked CCTV footage shows the moment cartel gunmen burst into the restaurant.

Leaked CCTV footage shows the moment cartel gunmen burst into the restaurant.

Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, a son of the jailed Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, is among a group of men abducted at gunpoint from a swanky restaurant in the Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarta early on Monday.

Eduardo Almaguer, the attorney general for the western state of Jalisco, named the 29-year-old Guzmán among the four victims he said the authorities have been able to identify so far with the help of footage from cameras around La Leche restaurant, testimony from witnesses, and evidence found in the luxury cars left behind.

Almaguer did not give any information about the other two men also missing after around seven gunmen went into the restaurant and broke up a birthday celebration that also included nine women who, he said, were not harmed…

Click here to read this article in full at VICE News.

Cartel gunmen abducted 12 people from a high-end restaurant in Puerto Vallarta

August 15, 2016
The men were dining in La Leche restaurant when they were abducted.

The men were dining in Puerto Vallarta’s La Leche restaurant when they were abducted.

Mexican authorities say gunmen abducted between 10 and 12 people from a high-end restaurant in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, with initial investigations suggesting they belonged to a rival drug cartel.

Eduardo Almaguer, the attorney general in the western state of Jalisco, said about five armed men entered the gourmet La Leche restaurant in the resort’s hotel zone at about 1am on Monday morning.

He said they rounded up the men who appeared to belong to a criminal gang and drove them away in a Toyota Tacoma and a Chevrolet Suburban, leaving four female witnesses behind unharmed…

Click here to read this story in full at VICE News. 

Pollution turned this Mexican river into a toxic hell

August 2, 2016
The pollution at El Salto. Photo by IMCINE-Tecolote Films-PIANO.

Industrial pollution creates clouds of toxic waste at El Salto. Photo by IMCINE-Tecolote Films-PIANO.

El Salto de Juanacatlán was once a majestic waterfall where locals would fish, bathe, and play. Today the air stinks of sulphur, yellow-tinged water cascades over the rocks, and clouds of bright white foam collect at the foot of the falls before drifting downstream.

After years of watching the authorities fail to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, desperate locals are now intensifying their calls for action. They claim it is already too late for 628 locals who they say the pollution has killed in the last eight years. That includes 72 deaths in 2015, the worst year to date.

“My mother and two sisters died of cancer,” said Samuel Álvarez, a pensioner with white stubble and few teeth, as he ambled down the town’s uneven streets on his morning walk. “We used to live right next to the river and I think it was caused by them inhaling the industrial fumes every night.”

Environmental activists from El Salto demand solutions.

Environmental activists from El Salto demand that the government find a solution.

The devastation of El Salto began in the 1970s as industries began to congregate in the now decrepit town located on the southeastern outskirts of Guadalajara, the second-largest city in Mexico and the capital of the state of Jalisco…

Click here to read this feature in full at VICE News.

How a six-month spell in Mexico set Pep Guardiola on the road to coaching greatness

July 30, 2016
Guardiola used to eat at José Luis Bracamontes' restaurant  La Cocinita del Medio after training everyday.

Guardiola used to eat at José Luis Bracamontes’ restaurant La Cocinita del Medio after training everyday.

The city of Culiacán in north-west Mexico, best known as the bastion of the notorious Sinaloa cartel fronted by the billionaire drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was an unlikely place for Manchester City’s new manager, Pep Guardiola, to begin the process that would culminate in him becoming the world’s most sought-after coach.

Baseball, not football, has long been the most popular sport here and the newly founded local side Dorados de Sinaloa were minnows locked in a desperate relegation struggle when Guardiola, who turned 35 that month, arrived in January 2006.

It was hardly the typical destination for a veteran footballer looking for one last pay cheque but, having won more than a dozen trophies at Barcelona and made a fortune playing in the Qatar Stars League, the Olympic gold medallist and European Cup winner did not make the move in search of further financial reward or another trophy to add to his collection.

Instead it was here, under the tutelage of his old friend Juan Manuel Lillo, who had taken over at Dorados the previous summer, that Guardiola began to prepare for what has proved one of the most spectacular managerial careers in modern football history.

“We were in our second year in the top division and we’d just brought in Juan Manuel Lillo as our coach,” recalls the Dorados founder and former president, Juan Antonio García. “He told me there was a real possibility that we could sign Pep, who’d just reached the end of his contract in Qatar. Pep was already taking his coaching badges and the objective of playing in Mexico was above all to be close to Juan Manuel.”

Click here to read this feature in full at The Guardian.

Confronting corruption: can Guadalajara become a model for transparency?

July 27, 2016
Guadalajara Mayor Enrique Alfaro says his administration refuses to communicate with criminal gangs.

Guadalajara Mayor Enrique Alfaro says his administration refuses to communicate with criminal gangs.

When María Guadalupe Aguilar reported the disappearance of her 34-year-old son José Luis Araña on the outskirts of Guadalajara, she was surprised that the police asked her to fund the investigation.

“They told me they needed money to search for him, to cover their petrol costs and to pay for intelligence reports,” she says. “Stupidly, I believed everything at first.”

Aguilar, a retired nurse, eventually paid almost 70,000 pesos (£2,860) to several different police officers in the hope they would help locate her son. They made no progress and she eventually had to sell her house to fund her own ongoing investigation.

“This kind of corruption has become very normal,” Aguilar reflects, five years on from her son’s disappearance. “Unfortunately I now have no house, no money and, mostly importantly, I still don’t have my son.”

The government recently shut down a firm contracted to run Guadalajara's parking meters for cheating the city out of 100 million pesos.

The municipal government recently shut down a firm contracted to run Guadalajara’s parking meters for cheating the city out of 100 million pesos.

But having grown all too accustomed to paying the price for corruption, residents of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest metropolis, have begun to push back against this pervasive culture, with political newcomers, civil society and even local technology firms putting forward fresh ideas to create a more transparently run city.

It is hard to overestimate the impact of corruption in Mexico. It affects almost every aspect of governance and development, from policing and political appointments to public works and private construction projects. Global economics experts estimate that corruption accounts for between 2% and 10% of Mexico’s GDP, while Transparency International ranked Mexico a lowly 95th on the list of the world’s least corrupt countries in 2015, alongside the Philippines and Mali…

Click here to read this feature in full at The Guardian.

Armed vigilantes are taking the law into their own hands in Mexico’s second city

July 13, 2016

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The environmental activists and former guerrilla Raul Muñoz leads El Salto’s biggest vigilante group.

Jesús Morones, the owner of a candy shop in El Salto, a rugged industrial area on the southeastern fringe of the Guadalajara metropolitan area, says he’s been robbed at gunpoint eight times.

“Last time they beat me and locked me and my family in here for 10 minutes while they took what they wanted. They were looking for money but they even took a box of chocolates to snack on afterwards,” he says. “My son was crying and one of the bastards even grabbed my wife’s buttocks.”

With the police providing little or no protection against this kind of violent crime, inhabitants of Guadalajara’s forgotten outskirts have begun forming vigilante groups known as autodefensas, or self-defense squads. Vigilantes have famously fought drug gangs in the nearby states of Michoacán and Guerrero in recent years, but their emergence in the major city of Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, is more recent and hardly reported.

Gazing out over El Salto’s scorched scrubland as he patrols the dirt roads of his rundown neighborhood, Raúl Muñoz, a 59-year-old former guerrilla, says he leads the largest of 27 autodefensa cells scattered across the town.

Constantly wary of halcones, or hawks, as cartel lookouts are known, Muñoz points out several black pickup trucks with tinted windows. He says they probably belong to members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG in Spanish. He adds that the cartel has “complete control” of El Salto and the neighboring municipality of Tlajomulco…

Click here to read this feature in full at VICE News.

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