Tuesday, June 25, 2024

French-Algerian brothers’ restaurants bring a dash of Europe to Ixtapa

Of the many reasons to visit Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, dining out is sure to top the list. You can find the incredible food at any number of restaurants that range from burger-selling street carts to mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall spots to fine dining establishments. When it comes to searching for good food in this part of Mexico, most people will agree it is nearly impossible to get a bad meal.

Although Ixtapa is quite different from Zihuatanejo — the former is more resort and hotels while the latter is a bustling community — there is an almost overwhelming choice of places to dine.

However, two standouts are Bistro Soleiado in Ixtapa, owned by Edmond Benloulou, and El Mediterraneo in Zihuatanejo, owned by his younger brother Julian. Both say that the restaurant business is in their blood, thanks to their family being in the business for a long time.

Born and raised in North Africa under the French government in Oran, Algeria, the family first moved to Marseille, France, in 1962. After 10 years there, they emigrated to Montreal and became Canadian citizens.

In 1980, Edmond, who trained as a chef in Montreal and Mexico City, grew tired of Canadian winters and decided to move to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. Once here, he worked at several restaurants before opening a few of his own, including his current venture, Bistro Soleiado. With over 40 years in the industry, it is safe to say that he is one of the oldest restaurateurs in the area.

Bistro Soleiado features live music in the evenings.
Bistro Soleiado features live music in the evenings.

Meanwhile, Julian followed his brother to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo in 1999 for much the same reason: to escape the cold.

He opened the first El Mediterraneo restaurant on the malecón, the waterfront walkway closest to the pier, but later moved to its current location next to the Catholic church on Cinco de Mayo.

Although the two brothers’ restaurants are similar in some ways — primarily in that both restaurants specialize in Mediterranean food — the differences in style and menu and décor offer patrons a unique experience at each.

Bistro Soleiado is mostly an open patio filled with plants, with tables under umbrellas or sheltered by a canopy. A large replica of the Eiffel Tower at its entrance lights up by night, and it is easy to imagine you’re at a sidewalk cafe in Europe for breakfast or a candlelit romantic dinner.

During the evenings, you will find local musicians playing on a small stage set to one side. The restaurant also boasts a small boutique that carries exquisite purses, clothing, jewelry and various gift items made by Mexican artists. The hallway walls are adorned with articles written about Edmond’s restaurant and photos with famous patrons such as Pierce Brosnan (of James Bond fame) and numerous Mexican actors and celebrities.

In contrast, El Mediterraneo, which also gives off a definite European vibe, consists of two dining areas and a bar. The first dining room closest to the street is the perfect place to people-watch, while the bar is an excellent spot for a quiet drink or as a place to wait until your table is ready. A stunning 3-D print takes up one wall depicting a famous street in Italy’s Lake Como area; it is easy to imagine stepping through it to another time and place.

A long dining table at El Mediterraneo.
A long dining table at El Mediterraneo.

The second dining area is breezy and expansive, open to the sky and featuring plenty of plants to allow the gentle air to flow through. Throughout the restaurant, you will find paintings for sale by local artists, including Julian’s wife, Gloria Hernandez, as well as artist Oscar Armenta and the late Kristy Alopaeus, a painter from Finland.

Julian supports the arts and local organizations in various ways, whether as host for a charity dinner, presenting a night of opera or showcasing dancers and local musicians throughout the dinner hours.

No matter your preference, you’ll want to try them both.

• For reservations:

Bistro Soleiado (in front of the Hotel Park Royal)

Blvd. Paseo Ixtapa, Zona Hotelera, Ixtapa

Call: 755 553 0420

El Mediterraneo

Av 5 de Mayo 4, Centro Zihuatanejo

Call: 755 554 1202

The writer divides her time between Canada and Zihuatanejo.

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