Muslims flock to Mecca, hipsters swarm Coachella and Elvis fans go to Graceland. Chef Jeff Smedstad of Sedona's prized Elote Café heads sur for his annual pilgrimage to the western Mexican state of Jalisco, particularly its capital Guadalajara and its blue agave-ensconced town of Tequila. Smedstad and Elote manager Juan Rojas venture here each year to "look for unique barrels of tequila, to spend time with the different tequila makers... kind of researching the product, the same way people would [with] wine country," Smedstad says. He shares a few of his Jalisco hot spots.
"For a long time, it was just one of those things that people kind of guzzled. Now people are treating it like a fine Scotch or anything like that," Smedstad says of Mexico's signature liquor. He and Rojas became certified by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila in 2016, making them the equivalent of sommeliers in the tequila world. He recommends taking a few distillery tours, from the small, "boutique-y" Tequila Fortaleza (tequilafortaleza.com) to the larger, "Willy Wonka-ish" Hacienda Patrón (tequilafortaleza.com). "We always come back with barrels of tequila. We want to find something that nobody else has."
"Guadalajara has a burgeoning scene as far as the food goes," Smedstad says. "You can go to family-style restaurants like La Chata (lachata.com.mx). It'll give you a rundown of all the typical dishes in the area in one fell swoop." He recommends the torta ahogada, a sandwich drenched in chile sauce. For fine dining, he likes Hueso, a Mexican take on molecular gastronomy (huesorestaurant.com). Don't forget street food, Smedstad says. He's partial to gorditas (like Mexican Hot Pockets) and birria (goat or lamb stew) after a night of revelry.
Smedstad recommends hiring an interpreter/guide to explore Guadalajara's Centro Histórico (visitguadalajara.com), where he was awed by the architecture and art of the government buildings. "They're covered in murals by [Mexican painter José Clemente] Orozco... You're going to see some of the best art in the world for free," he says. His favorite is an Orozco mural in the governor's palace. "It's showing the call to independence with Father Hidalgo," Smedstad says. "When they explain it, I swear to god it opens up. It goes from being a painting to being a movie."
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