I recently had the pleasure of spending the day in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Culiacán gets a bad rap and I don’t know if that’s fair. I am not going to dwell on the negative but talk about what I loved about my time in one of Mexico’s least understood cities.
If you have been following along you know that I am looking for a truck. I am looking to buy an old 4×4 that is in good condition. I saw one in Monterrey that I loved but by the time I called, it had already sold. I lost another one in Mexico City because I didn’t move quickly enough.
I was a little nervous about traveling to Culiacán to purchase a big 4×4 but my uncle has some friends there and set me up. I got the royal treatment and I can not stop raving about how beautiful that city is and how well they eat there.
The plan was to fly to Culiacán early in the morning, check out the truck, and make a decision quickly. If I decided to buy the truck I would stay the night and drive back to Guadalajara the following day. If I decided to pass, I would catch an evening flight back to Guadalajara.
It is really enjoyable to travel without much luggage. All I brought was a backpack with a change of clothes and my camera. I strolled through security, got a coffee and found my seat did not have someone sitting next to me. It was shaping up to be an easy flight.
It takes barely an hour to fly from Guadalajara to Culiacán. I woke up as we were landing. My first thought was that this place is beautiful. Culiacán airport is in the agricultural fields. I knew that Sinaloa is an agricultural state but looking at the geometry of the fields you realize that they do not waste one square meter. Everything is planted and manicured. It looks more like the gardens of a 19th-century monarch rather than vegetable fields.
The Culiacán airport is small. There are only 5 gates. We landed and exited the airplane onto the tarmac and proceeded to walk to the airport building. The gift shops in the Culiacán airport are amazing. They are selling exotic frozen and canned seafood. Abalone at a hundred dollars a can. Frozen giant shrimp, sea snails (caracol), and scallops. There is a ton of artisanal food in Sinaloa and seafood is just the beginning.
My uncle’s buddy picked me up and was going to take me to the dealer. We had almost two hours to kill before the dealer opened and he recommended a birria. I looked at him like, “Dude how did you know?”
The birria in Sinaloa is very different from the birria in Guadalajara. They are both goat meat but in Sinaloa the tatemado searing process is different from the tatemado oven in Guadalajara. It reminds me more of the lamb breakfast at Doña Esthela’s place in Valle de Guadalupe. It feels like it has been fried crispy but I think it has just been seared in the oven. It is shredded finely and the goat meat is fatty so it ends up delicately crispy when warmed up before serving.
Birriería Palazuelos is an absolute classic that any birria lover is going to go crazy over. From the Coca-Cola tables to the trio playing music, this is classic Mexico. If you are a birria lover, this birriería might just be enough of a draw to bring you to Culican for a day.
We took the long way driving through downtown, saw the cathedral and boardwalk along the river. It is evident that there is a lot of money in the community because of the nice houses and big mature trees.
When we arrived at the car dealership they were just setting up for the day and taking the cars out. Everybody was super cool and it turns out that everyone was acquainted through local groups that go off-roading together.
I had a 50 point checklist and proceeded to look at stuff just seeing what worked and what didn’t. They got me a bottle of water and a big mat so I could crawl underneath the truck. I spent about an hour going through the used car checklist thinking about making a decision.
I ended up not buying the truck because it looked like it had done a little too much rough four-wheeling and I don’t want a big project. I want something that is ready to drive now. One of the biggest concerns about buying an old 4×4 is ascertaining if it is in good enough condition to drive back to Guadalajara without getting stuck on the side of the freeway.
My first reaction was that I was a little bummed because I really want a Land Cruiser and I had come all this way. I got another cheap flight home and decided I was going to make the best of my day in Culiacán.
Jardín Botánico Culiacán
The Botanical Garden in Culiacán is spectacular! I walked right in because it is free Tuesdays. Culiacán is tropical and hotter than hell in the summer. In January the weather was absolutely delightful, warm in the sun, and perfect in the shade of some big trees.
I really enjoy visiting botanical gardens and the one in Culiacan is one of the finest I have ever seen. From the library, to the gift shop and community spaces, this botanical garden is amazing. There are a ton of places to kick back in comfortable chairs with big shade umbrellas or bamboo gardens for shade. There are huge iguanas climbing around the bamboo jumping from one branch to another. I spent more than two hours exploring that park and kicking back in the raddest gardens I have seen in a long time. Watching the iguanas play in the canopy was a highlight.
Mariscos Don Jacobo
I met back up with my new friend Jorge with just enough time to get some seafood before flying home. He took me to his favorite seafood place: Mariscos Don Jacobo. Culiacan is famous for seafood and it is easy to see why. There is a plethora of high-quality agriculture and seafood, and good chefs that like to experiment.
We didn’t order anything off of the menu. I asked for scallops but they were out. Scallops were delivered just as we were leaving and they looked good. We told the chef what we liked and he sent us course after course. Most of it wasn’t on the menu.
We started with a little shrimp aguachile appetizer that was heavy on the spicy thai chiles. One thing that I found interesting but enjoyed was putting mayonnaise on a tostada and then shrimp aguachile. Mayonnaise is used like a condiment and combines with chile very well.
Because we asked for scallops they served us robalo (snook) in big sushi-like chunks of delicate raw whitefish. It is served with a bunch of lemon juice, cayenne pepper dust, and raw red onion.
Jacabo made us a fish ceviche with apple cubes and a mango-habanero salsa. I have been eating ceviche for decades and I have never tasted anything like it. The green apple cubes really pop with a bright acidity that complements raw fish.
We finished with a zarandeado fish filet. Again, it was robalo (snook) but a huge piece. Jacabo makes the zarandeado sauce out of mustard and shallots. The fish filet is garnished with strips of nopal cactus and served on a big plate with lots of salad and vegetables. It is unlike any other zarandeado I have ever tasted. I am going to be thinking about this meal for a long time.
Jacobo is a very talented chef. I was pretty stoked to get to meet him and try his recipes. He has access to some of the best seafood and agriculture on the planet. We had four chiles sauces made with different types of unique chiles ranging from hot to extremely hot. There was a homemade Thai chile sriracha sauce, chile de arbol sauce, a sweet Vietnamese chile sauce with ginger, and orange habanero that will light you up.
Each table has a ‘champagne’ bucket that is used to keep your family sized beer (caguama) cold. The experience of eating in the restaurant was incredible. A popular seafood restaurant in a working class neighborhood in a town famous for seafood. I felt privileged to get to try seafood that good.
I can’t believe how beautiful Culiacan is. I was nervous to get on a plane to go buy a car in Culiacan but the dealer selling it was a friend of a friend, and that reassured me. And even though I didn’t buy the car I made an excellent trip out of it. I have a completely different impression of Culiacan than I did the day before. While I am well aware of what happened in October, the first thing that I associate with Culiacan is food and then baseball.
If you liked this article then you will probably like my article on the Best Restaurants in Guadalajara too. Have a look 🙂