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Guadalajara City: Much more than tequila and mariachi

Guadalajara Urban Scene

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Some Mexicans deride Guadalajara as El Rancho Grande, or the Big Ranch, a reference to its provincial feel, conservative tastes and social mores and fondness for tradition.

A Tapatios - as Guadalajara natives are known - hardly shy away from these stereotypes or its traditions and take a special pride in being the cradle of two of the country's most iconic exports: tequila and mariachi. They also take an odd pride in a fiery lunch staple and reputed hangover remedy known as "tortas ahogadas" (drowned sandwiches) - baguettes stuffed with chunks of pork and drowned in tomato and chili sauce.

Mexico's second-largest city offers more than locally distilled firewater, boisterous music played by bands dressed in garish cowboy costumes and soggy sandwiches, however. The artisan markets of neighbouring Tonala and Tlaquepaque draw hoards of tourists, along with the Jose Clemente Orozco murals downtown in the Palacio de Gobierno and Instituto Cultural Cabanas. Guadalajara also hosts the world's second-biggest book fair and one of the most important film festivals in Latin America.

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But Guadalajara visitors frequently overlook the emerging Colonia Americana (also known as the Zona Rosa), where a more cosmopolitan side of the city of five-million residents has emerged. Originally developed with the construction of mansions late in the 1800s to the west of downtown, it fell into disrepair as the upper crust moved toward the fast-growing Guadalajara suburbs.

Recovery came slowly, but has accelerated over the past two years as developers seized on remarkably preserved buildings, cyclists began peddling down leafy streets and hipsters invaded new boutiques, bars and cafes.

Now the area offers a bit of everything - ranging from up-market to low-brow: from a bar specializing in sparkling wines to candlelit taco dinners outside - along with cheap thrills such as browsing the blocks of bridal boutiques along Vallarta Avenue to taking in photo exhibitions on Chapultepec Avenue.

It also offers its share of carts hawking "tortas ahogadas," cantinas pouring tequila and perhaps even mariachi, too - for those craving something a little more "tapatio."

Art and murals

975 Juarez Ave.; 52 (33) 3134-1664;

The University of Guadalajara promotes some of the region's best cultural offerings such as the book and film festivals. The Mueso de las Artes, with its frequently changing exhibitions, is no different. The Orozco murals in the adjacent rectory building are a must see. Open until 6 p.m., except Mondays.

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Mexico Avenue between Chapultepec and Union avenues.

The biggest antique market in Guadalajara unfolds Sundays along Mexico Avenue. The ambiance is jovial, while the merchandise ranges from rusty hatchets to silver coins to old-school Corona serving trays.

Bubbles galore

1825-4 Lopez Cotilla Ave; 52 (33) 1197-1147;

La Campaneria pours sparkling wines by the glass in a narrow establishment full of plush furniture, a comfortable patio out front and difficult-to-spot signage. An expatriate friend recently said of the place, "This wouldn't have opened in Guadalajara two years ago."

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Speakeasy feel

2166 Lerdo de Tejada; 52 (33) 3630-2294.

With no signage and patrons required to knock to gain entrance, the Rusty Trombone exudes a speakeasy vibe. After enjoying drinks and live music, cap off the night next door at Gaspar with a gourmet burger and Guinness milkshake.

Un Cafecito

Libertad Ave.; 52 (33) 3825-7936

Of the cafés and coffee shops now lining Libertad Avenue, La Cafeteria stands out - and its shady patio fills quickly with fashionable "tapatios." The Amor Apache boutique upstairs is an extra attraction with its selection of Mexican-designed jewellery, handbags, shoes and women's apparel.

Coastal flavour

77 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; 52 (33) 1136-0893

Baja native Cesar Diaz runs one of the busiest taco joints in the city. Taco Fish La Paz serves up battered and fried shrimp or fish in handmade tortillas and topped with coleslaw - and other condiments - for just $1.25 each. Open daily until 4 p.m. expect Sunday.

Unpretentious French

1171 Prisciliano Sanchez; 52 (33) 3825-2182.

The sign for Brasserie is a bit hidden, the hours are eclectic - Wednesday to Friday only for lunch and dinner - and waiters bring chalk-written menus to tables spread throughout the ground floor and back and front patios of the British-expatriate chef's home. But the French-Mediterranean cuisine at Brasserie is top notch.

Slow food

1498 Lopez Cotilla; 52 (33) 3616-5358

Run by an Italian expat, Osteria 10 promotes a slow food approach and pleasing menu featuring octopus carpaccio, wild mushroom ravioli and wood-oven pizzas. The "vino de barril" (barrel wine) is excellent.

Going Gothic

935 Lopez Cotilla Ave.

In a city full of churches - and known for its Catholic influences - the neo-gothic Templo Expiatorio stands out with its stained glass mosaics, towering spire and 12 apostles appearing from the clock tower at the stroke of noon. Open daily until 9 p.m.

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