News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
(MONTERREY) — It’s the home of Carta Blanca beer, the Sultanes baseball club, the highly-regarded Tec de Monterrey university, and Cemex, one of the world’s largest cement companies. And there’s always time for carne asada (grilled meat). The locals are known as Regios.
Monterrey may be the third largest city in Mexico by population, but it’s the clear number two — even to the point of rivaling — the much larger Mexico City in importance when it comes to business and industry in this country.
But there are a lot of differences between this desert city, the Sultana del Norte (Sultan of the North, as Monterrey is sometimes known) and the nation’s capital.
In no particular order, here are a few noteworthy facts about Monterrey:
Early Lunch. First of all, if you don’t care for the very late lunch time in the south of the country (3:30 pm), you’ll find Monterrey more to your liking. Mexico City restaurants may be empty at 1 pm, but in Monterrey, that’s lunchtime.
Air Conditioning. Everything in Monterrey is air-conditioned. Temperatures will hit 100 F (38 C) regularly, beginning as early as March. Fortunately, when the temps reach these levels, it’s usually a dry desert heat. If you need to escape the heat in the summer, head down to the H-E-B supermarket and set up camp in the frozen foods section until October.
H-E-B. Speaking of H-E-B, when it’s time to go grocery shopping, there’s a good chance that’s where you’ll be going. The San Antonio, Texas-based chain has 24 stores in the Monterrey metro area, competing with Soriana for the grocery market in this metropolis. Aside from the excellent quality of their stores, H-E-B is the place to get many products that Mexican stores don’t sell — like cold-brew iced tea, Texas toast size loaves of bread, root beer, biscuits (Pillsbury and Hill Country Fare), BBQ potato chips, etc.
Carl’s Jr. Rules. McDonalds may be top dog in the burger world elsewhere, but in the Monterrey area, the title goes to Carl’s Jr., with 35 restaurants for all your burger needs. (Yeah, McDonalds is here too, but let’s face it — there’s no comparison in terms of quality.)
El Pollo Loco. If you’re from Los Angeles, you’ll recognize another popular brand in Monterrey — El Pollo Loco. The grilled chicken chain began in Guasave, Sinaloa, and then became a landmark in Southern California. Most of their Mexican restaurants are in Monterrey. (They apparently have two restaurants somewhere around Mexico City, though we’ve never found them.)
We Eat Beef Here. In case you haven’t gathered this, Monterrey and the north is carnivore country. Vegetarian? Not so much, though the Super Salads restaurant chain is popular. Regios eat meat — and lots of it. Beef, particularly, but this is also the place where cabrito (kid goat) is a traditional thing. If you want to experience this tradition of the north, head to what is arguably the city’s most famous restaurant, El Rey de Cabrito (The King of Cabrito).
The Music. Speaking of all things traditional in Monterrey and the north, you won’t be able to escape Norteño music here. It’s everywhere. (As I write this, the famous band in the above video, Los Tigres del Norte, are playing in concert here in the city.)
You Need a Car. While Mexico City may get good marks for public transportation, Monterrey is very much a driving city. Buses exist, but it takes forever to get anywhere on them. (Plus they cost more than in Mexico City – 10 pesos per ride here.) There are two – and soon to be three – Metro (subway) lines in the city, but that only serves the north side of the city.
No Protests Here! Driving may indeed be the preferred method of getting around in Monterrey, but at least Regios can drive. Locals here do not have to put up with nonsense from law-breaking protest groups setting up blockades in the main streets, like they do in Mexico City all the time.
Beer. Speaking of needing a drink, there’s only one beer in Monterrey — Carta Blanca, as I referenced at the outset. It’s been brewed in Monterrey since 1890, but is relatively non-existent in Mexico City. (Note to literal-minded readers: Yes, of course you can buy other brands. But Carta Blanca is the clear market leader.)
Shopping in Texas. While Mexico City residents grumble about high prices on consumer electronics, the solution is simple in Monterrey — you just do your shopping in San Antonio, Laredo or McAllen on the weekends. Regios generally go there regularly anyway, to visit friends and family. (Texas roots run deep in this corner of Mexico.)
The Beach. And speaking of Texas, when it’s time for a long weekend, or any vacation period, Regios don’t go to Acapulco — or any Mexican beach for that matter. They go to South Padre Island, Texas, where, according to a local real estate agent (and good friend), a majority of the properties are in fact owned by residents of the Monterrey area.
Step Aside, Televisa. While most of Mexico spends their TV viewing time on Televisa and TV Azteca, in Monterrey, it’s Multimedios’ Canal 12 that rules the news ratings. Arquitecto Hector Benavides has been hosting the flagship newscast here since … well, forever. The man is an icon in the community. Everyone and their dog watches him.
Outstanding Weather Reports. Still in the world of local TV, Monterrey happens to be particularly renowned for its attractive weather forecasters, like the talented Gaby Lozoya of Televisa Monterrey (Canal 34), pictured below:
You’ll also notice that the weather map includes Texas. All weather reports in Monterrey include Texas as part of the local region.
Politics. Politically speaking, this is a city and state (Nuevo León) dominated by the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and the old Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Conversely, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), which has taken over Mexico City, has virtually no presence in Monterrey.
You must prove you can drive. Need a drivers’ license? Well, unlike Mexico City, in the state of Nuevo León, you must pass a test to get a license. Licenses are not just handed out to everyone who asks for one (provided they pay the fee). In Nuevo León — like many other Mexican states, but not the Federal District — you must prove that you know how to drive.
On the Waterfront? For a city that is surrounded by mountains and desert, Monterrey strangely enough has a statue honoring Neptune, God of the Seas. And then there’s the Paseo Santa Lucía, a spectacular riverwalk/canal through the center of the city. (And by the way, you can take a boat ride on the canal, cheap – just 50 pesos, and worth that and more.)
Finally, a historical note. Monterrey was the site of the first major battle of the Mexican-American War. In 1846, U.S. forces, led by General (and soon-to-be President) Zachary Taylor, marched on Monterrey, defeating Mexican troops during the Battle of Monterrey. The American forces occupied the city for nearly two years, until June of 1848. And then Taylor was elected President that November.
Yes, there’s a lot more that can be said about this fine city. But it will have to wait for another time.
Nevertheless, the point is to show how Monterrey is a unique city — or at the very least, how it is different from Mexico City and the south of Mexico.