From tacos to tequila, Mexico’s second city is best experienced through its food and drink.

Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, has all the advantages of the country’s capital, Mexico City -- awe-inspiring museums, cutting-edge restaurants, culture, history and well-priced shopping – without the capital’s traffic jams and dense population. In addition, Guadalajara has good public transport, shady tree-lined avenues, competitive prices for accommodation and food, and a long list of attractions to happily occupy any visitor. But to get a genuine feel of the place and its people, focus on Guadalajara’s food and drinks.

A tour should start at the huge food court in the city’s daily market, the Mercado San Juan de Dios (the corner of Avenida Javier Mina and Calzada Independencia). To help choose among the many food sellers, watch where the locals are and grab a stool at those stands. You can feast for days on torta ahogada (a “drowned sandwich” stuffed with fried pork, covered in a spicy tomato and chilli sauce and served with avocado, onions and radishes), birria (slow cooked joint of lamb or goat chopped and served in a tomato based broth with tortillas and salsa), pozole (a stew of either pork or chicken with  corn and assorted vegetables), fish ceviche (made from whatever is fresh that day, marinated in lime juice and served with tostadas (fried tortillas) and crackers, and the Mexican breakfast of eggs, frijoles (home cooked beans), queso (white, crumbling, slightly salty cheese) and tortillas. For those on a tight budget, look out for the filling comida corrida (meal of the day), usually a soup and main course including tortillas, rice, salad and a drink, which is served from about noon onwards.

For cheap street food, it is hard to beat tacos, which are served everywhere. They are usually made with warm, soft tortillas filled with beef, pork, chicken or fish (stands usually specialize in one), with various toppings and salsas. As the sun sets, even more street food appears, including desserts such as churros (deep fried dough covered in sugar) and fruit-filled empanadas (a small enclosed pastry). These genuine Mexican fast food stands stay open until the late hours. 

Available throughout the city are a range of traditional drinks worth sampling. Agua de jamaica is extracted from the hibiscus flower and tastes a little like cranberry juice. The creamier horchata is a sweet blend of rice, sugar, water and cinnamon, and agua de tamarindo, extracted from the tamarind nut, has a sweet but slightly zingy taste. There is also a wide range of fresh juices such as orange, papaya, beetroot and carrot. The ice that is added to many of the drinks is reliably made with filtered water.  

The Mercado San Juan de Dios also sells an array of fresh fruit at very low prices. Often the vendors have samples on offer of sweet and juicy mangos, grapefruit, pineapples and coconuts. Get the food to go and have a picnic in one of the city’s many parks.

Guadalajara, like an increasing number of Mexican towns and cities, also has a farmer’s market. It runs on Fridays and Saturdays in the plaza outside the Templo Expiatorio church (Avenida Diaz de Leon). Old and young Mexicans bring enthusiasm for their food and produce, including the famous mole tamales from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Tamales are made from ground-up corn, cooked in wrapped husks and filled with meat, vegetables or simply a sauce such as mole (made with a mix of chocolate and chillies). You can also fill up on fresh fennel juice, locally produced honey, Chiapas coffee, Oaxaca chocolate and organic produce. On the same plaza, the indigenous Huichol people sell bags, embroidered clothes and their distinctive jewellery made from minute colourful beads.

The city’s cool cafes and bars are great for freshly made coffee, margaritas, beer, glasses of Mexican red wine and tragos (shots) of tequila. Some are located in refurbished colonial houses and art galleries with inventive décor and they are a great place to watch the artier side of city life. There are a number of excellent spots not far from the city’s main drag, Avenue Chapultepec. La Teteria (Calle Libertad between Calles Robles Gil and Venezuela; 52-1-33-3632-6779) specializes in teas, has outdoor seating and has a great photo gallery at the back. Boccadirosa (Calle Pedro Moreno at the corner of Calle Gregorio Davila; no phone) is an Italian wine/tapas bar with photos, art and sculpture on the walls and free music most weeknights. La Cafeteria serves dinner and drinks in an old house with a wonderful outdoor patio under old, over-hanging trees. Darjeeling Tea Rooms (Calle Morelos between Calles Colonias and Progreso; 52-1-33-301512) is set in a modestly refurbished old house with art on display, located off a tree-filled courtyard. And Chai is a chain of tea and coffee shops with a few locations in the city. The branch on Avenida Vallarta at Chapultepec is housed in an all-white, sofa-filled former colonial house. Most cafes use Mexican coffee from Chiapas or Veracruz and also sell the beans, which vary by strength and are often organic.

The state of Jalisco is the only place in the world that can legally produce the world famous tequila, and the town of Tequila is an easy day trip from Guadalajara, Jalisco’s capital. The main distilleries in Tequila are Jose Cuervo  and Casa Herradura. Both offer tours, tastings and the chance to smell the sweet nectar of the blue agave plants -- the source of tequila -- as they are slowly cooked in huge ovens. Whether travel to Tequila is by local bus or the “tequila train” there is still a stunning view of miles of agave in various stages of harvest.

Tipple on any number of Mexican beers -- Pacifico, Tecate, Bohemia (dark or light), Indio or Corona -- but while in Guadalajara try its locally-brewed beer, Minerva, which produces a pale ale and a stout in addition to the more common lagers. Mexican wine is not widely known but there are a range of reds and whites, mainly grown in the north of Baja California. Its red wine, in particular, can stand up to any good equivalent from Chile or Argentina, and most of the big supermarkets (Soriana, Chedraui, Mega) carry a range. Drinking outdoors is allowed if you want to bring a bottle on your picnic.

Tlaquepaque, a prosperous, arty suburb, 30 minutes away by bus from Guadalajara sells pottery, silver, paintings and furniture on its cobbled streets. There are numerous restaurants to choose among, from high end Mexican cuisine to simple home-cooked tortas. The block-long El Parian (52-1-33-3858-0464), located just off the main plaza, professes to be the world’s biggest cantina, with one big courtyard and more than 10 bars all competing for business with nightly live mariachi music.

About 20 minutes down the road from Tlaquepaque, another suburb, Tonala, is an up and coming artistic neighbourhood known mainly for ceramics. The popular Sunday market takes over most of the town’s main streets and browsing is recommended with a refreshing michelada (beer with ice and a mix of hot sauce, lime, clam and tomato juice) in hand. Salud!