What's not to like? Bayless' show and its companion cookbook, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, are a nonstop tour of the country and its food, a paean to the cuisine he considers among the world's greatest. It's as much about anthropology and history as cooking, and with a master's in Latin American studies, the host is qualified to explain why corn tortillas are to Mexican food what rice is to Chinese. But it's not his knowledge that makes his one of the highest-rated cooking shows on television. No, it's his infectious enthusiasm, sizzling on-screen like a gordita in hot fat, that draws people in. They understand that Bayless has made Mexico and its food his life's work. One can't ignore that kind of dedication.

Such dedication could be boring, however, if he wasn't so darned nice, so regular-guy fun. For Bayless, Mexican food is a wonderful means to an end: It brings people together. That's why market vendors smile when he approaches. That's why his visitors feel comfortable chowing down on red mole with him, even licking their fingers unashamedly. It's undoubtedly the reason he invited American Way to his favorite street market and, afterward, for a tour of his garden and kitchen. And, of course, for some Mexican food.

The Market
First, the market. The vendors are out in force here at the New Maxwell Street Market. In booths up and down Canal Street is a panoply of goods, from heavy-duty construction tools to Mexican kitchen gadgets. One booth displays shoelaces, nothing but shoelaces. Even the kitchen sink is here, several kitchen sinks to be exact, arranged on the asphalt for the shopper who, well, needs a kitchen sink.

But the array of offerings isn't sufficient to describe the feel of this market, which is more Guanajuato than Chicago. Little English is spoken here. Music in Spanish, from a cassette-tape vendor's boombox, adds rhythm to our stroll. One African-American shouts from his stall in slow, but game, Spanish, "Oh-lah. Coh-moh ay-stah oo-staid?" Otherwise, the language rolls off every tongue like melted chocolate. Booths offer Mexican street food, and the smell of fresh corn masa wafts through the air - the smell that, if you close your eyes, can take you to the doorstep of a Mexican tortilleria.