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A Chef’s Travels Through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Food and Faces

Quincy
Posted by Quincy on May 28, 2019

 

If you read my blogs, you know I love to write about my travels to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  

I’ve been traveling to San Miguel de Allende for 11 years now, and usually for at least a month each time. In all those years, I’ve always referred to San Miguel as “the city that makes my heart smile.”  And even after 11 years, I’m not ashamed to admit that I still feel exactly the same way now as I did the very first time.  

Although the city is getting bigger, busier and a bit noisier, that noise is one of its biggest draws for me. It’s the fireworks adding to a festival’s celebration or the church bells that ring out or its the music that plays from the competing Mariachis that gather in the Jardin. Whatever the occasion, the city’s charm and magic are still present, which I’m sure is the reason that San Miguel has been given the distinction from Travel and Leisure magazine in 2017, and once again in 2018, as being the number one city in the world to travel to.  

The moment your feet hit the cobblestone streets in the city, you know that you’ve discovered some place really special. In all the years that I’ve traveled to San Miguel, it still hasn’t lost any of its colonial charm. The traditional colonial homes still dot the entire landscape of the city, some with unassuming doors that lead you into beautiful and tranquil patios and courtyards. 

unassuming doors of san miguel

One of San Miguel's doors

San Miguel has a population of about 140,000 with 10-15% of those residents being American and Canadian expats. It has an elevation of nearly 6,400 feet above sea level. Several hills dot the city scape, inviting you to challenge yourself so you can discover what lies up ahead. But the most beautiful and impressive thing about the city is the center of town, El Centro Historico.  In El Centro you’ll find one of the city’s most famous sites, it’s the parish church, La Parroquia (the parish church), which lies directly across from the park, or the Jardin (garden). 

parroquia at night

La Parroquia at night

New restaurants and chefs are flourishing and bringing inventive new ideas and techniques to the city. But there’s also the tried and true local restaurants, usually frequented by the locals, that usually seem to call out my name.    

My blogs are always focused on the restaurants, food, chefs and places to visit in San Miguel. But with this post, I wanted to focus on a few of the friendly faces of San Miguel old and new, those in the front of the restaurant, a few in the back and a couple that are part of the fabric of the city.  

Right after arriving into San Miguel, we drop off our bags at the same house that we’ve rented for 10 years now.  We then head out to one of the small grocery stores there to pick up a few staples to have at the house. Next, it’s off to Panaderia (bakery) Maple for some Mexican bread (pan dulce), to have with our morning coffee and then back home to change for dinner. The first night’s dinner is always at the same restaurant, La Posadita.  The restaurant is located in El Centro and right off the Jardin. It’s a rooftop restaurant which has a great view of the Parroquia to gaze at while enjoying dinner, plus it has some of the best margaritas in the city.

margarita at la posadita

Margarita at La Posadita  

On this visit, we decided to mostly enjoy the ‘tried and true’ restaurants in San Miguel. One of those is located just a few blocks from our house. After our long walks during the day, sometimes it's convenient to go home, shower, change clothes and just head over to Francesco’s for a nice plate of pasta. There are two waiters that stand out there, Crispin and Alan. It’s always such a thrill and something that makes you feel pretty special when the staff of a restaurant remembers you and are generally happy to see you when you walk into the door. 

francescos crispin with fernando and alan

My partner Fernando with Crispin (left)

crispin

Alan

A new restaurant that was in the process of opening on our last visit was Rustica. We were happy to discover on this trip that this breakfast and lunch place was now open and doing quite well. If you want to meet someone who has the most welcoming smile in all of San Miguel, then head to Rustica and meet the chef/owner Eduardo. 

avocado toast and breakfast tacos at rustica eduardo chef owner

Chef/owner Eduardo of Rustica

Their avocado toast is served on a couple of slices of rustic, crusty bread, topped with perfectly grilled asparagus spears, flecks of sea salt and topped with a generous amount of arugula. We also had their breakfast tacos which were also delicious. Each dish was perfect in its simplicity. I’ve always said that making a dish that seems to be extremely simple is sometimes is one of the most difficult thing to do. With just only a few ingredients, the dish has to be truly special in order to succeed, and Rustica succeeds with every dish, fruit water or juice that they serve. 

avocado toast

Avocado Toast at Rustica

breakfast tacos

Breakfast tacos at Rustica

When it comes to breakfast, I always have two favorite restaurants that I can count on: Café Contento and Café Lavanda. It was a huge shock to discover that Café Contento had closed, which leaves me now with only one favorite for breakfast. The breakfast and lunch food at Café Lavanda are reason enough to frequent the restaurant over and over again, but the waitress Teresa also brings me back.  

teresa

Teresa at Café Lavanda

Teresa always greets us by name with a beautiful smile and actually remembers the last time she saw us at the restaurant. She also knows my favorite meal is the “benedictinos” - poached eggs topped with a rich silky hollandaise sauce served alongside a couple of perfectly toasted pieces of buttery brioche, slices of avocado, some steamed spinach and some perfectly crispy strips of bacon. 

Benedictinos Lavanda latte at Lavanda Cafe

Benedictinos at Café Lavanda

They also serve one of the best lattes that I’ve ever had. It’s called the Latte Lavanda made with milk infused with lavender and topped with a sprig of lavender. 

latte

Latte Lavanda at Café Lavanda

One of the things I love most about my travels in San Miguel is the many times that something unexpected occurs. It usually always involves meeting new people in the most unexpected and special ways. It sometimes will occur in a restaurant, or with someone asking for directions, seeing someone in passing several times throughout the city, or helping a couple who’s locked out of the home that they’re renting. These instances have happened to us and with each and every one, some wonderful and long-lasting friendships have occurred.  

On this recent trip, I was lucky to have the opportunity of having my good friend Michael, who I haven’t seen in over 30 years, join us for a week. It was his first time in San Miguel, and I was so excited to show him around.  

On one of the days that we were exploring the town, we took him to Instituto Allende, an art gallery, school and event space, located in one the most stunning buildings in San Miguel. We happened to walk past an art gallery, and there was a man outside who invited us in. We took a look around and met the artist David Leonardo. 

David Leonardo at Instituto Allende

David Leonardo of Instituto Allende

Meeting him, seeing his artwork and discovering that he was the artist of the mural that graced one of the walls of the Instituto Allende and that he had other murals in other buildings around town was thrill enough. But when we each decided to purchase one of his art books, he offered to autograph the inside flap of each book and also do a sketch of each of us. We couldn’t resist! We ended up spending the entire afternoon with this fascinating man, who turned out to be a huge talent in not just art, but music as well. This was one of the best afternoons that I’ve ever spent in San Miguel, and it all happened with just a chance walk to take a look at the magnificent view of the city. 

One of the faces I enjoy seeing and running into every time I’m in San Miguel is Greta, the chef/owner of Mi Vida, an Italian restaurant with a European flair.

Greta from Mi Vida Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu Pizza with Prosciutto and Mushrooms

Greta of Mi Vida

Greta has installed a wood burning pizza oven on the patio in the back of the restaurant. On this visit, I got to experience one of the pizzas on the menu as well as the Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu. Both were excellent.

pizza-13

Pizza with prosciutto and medley of roasted mushrooms at Mi Vida

papparedelle

Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu at Mi Vida 

The new restaurant Le Mexicain Bistro was perfect for a casual lunch with delicious food. One of my favorites was their roasted red pepper soup, with a generous piece of grilled crostini placed on top of the bowl. 

roasted red pepper soup

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Grilled Crostini at Mexicain Bistro

The waiter Carlos served us several times. When I mentioned that I wanted to take his photo to include in my blog, he decided that he would prefer if that attention went to the chef of the restaurant, Ana. She rightly deserves to be featured, because her food was excellent! 

Mexicain Bistro Chef Ana and roasted red pepper soupChef Ana of Mexicain Bistro

One of my favorite things to do after a night out dining is to walk around the Jardin before heading back home.  On this one night we were heading back home and we happened to notice this young boy on the street selling these very fragrant gardenias. We bought several bouquets and asked if he wouldn’t mind if we took his photo.  He agreed, and we ended up buying several more of the bouquets he was selling. His photo is one of my favorites! 

kid selling gardenias

We heard on this trip that one of our favorite restaurants had moved a little further out of town. We had just rediscovered Dila's on our last visit, so we decided to make the trek to the restaurant and turn it into a challenging walk. The chef/owner Dila is Sri Lankan and serves some of the most delicious, spicy and fresh Sri Lankan food. He is definitely one of my favorite people in San Miguel and one of the coolest. One of my favorite dishes is the fish in a spicy tamarind sauce and the fresh mango and ginger margaritas is my go-to drink. 

fresh mango ginger margarita fish in tamarind sauce and Dila at Dila's

It’s always a pleasure seeing Dila's face!  Because when I do, I know that I’m in for a memorable meal.  

dila

Dila

The restaurant face that we get to see more than anyone else’s in San Miguel is Caesar from the restaurant El Pegaso. He’s been our waiter since the very first day we walked into the restaurant.

chiles en nogada at el pegaso

Ceasar from El Pegaso

It’s the Chiles en Nogada, or Stuffed Poblano Pepper in a Walnut Sauce, that always keeps us going back, as well as the margaritas. You’ll notice that I mention margaritas a lot in this blog. That’s because practically every restaurant in San Miguel has a great margarita. And if you’re a fan of margaritas like me, that can be a wonderful thing, or deadly as well, because I cannot resist them.  

chiles en nogada

Chiles en Nogada from El Pegaso

There’s not a face to go along with this next dish because there are so many faces involved. On Sunday afternoons after mass, you can get some of the best enchiladas I’ve ever eaten outside of the Parroquia. To the left of the church, you’ll notice two huge steel comals, where there are several women churning out several plates of enchiladas. They do this every Sunday afternoon as a fundraiser for the church. Tortillas are dipped into a red sauce, dropped into a hot comal or griddle that is filled with vegetable oil, fried for a few seconds, toasting the sauce and softening the tortilla. Next the tortillas are filled with queso añejo or aged cheese, then rolled, put on a paper plate, topped with sautéed diced potatoes and carrots, fresh lettuce and a drizzle of Mexican crema or cream. These are the simplest yet some of the best enchiladas I’ve ever eaten. I look forward to what I now refer to as “church enchiladas” practically every Sunday.  

church enchiladas

Church enchiladas

I must give a few mentions to several other restaurants, some new and some tried and true.  

One of the new ones that we got to experience with friends is Marios Mariscos Estilo Mazatlan, a funky, wild and fun restaurant run by the owner Mario, who brings tons of fun to your dining experience. We learned that the smart thing to do when eating there is to ask Mario for his recommendation of what to eat that night. You’ll never go wrong doing so.  

I cannot imagine a trip to San Miguel without dropping into San Agustin for churros and hot chocolate.  The same goes for La Alborada for their ‘pozole rojo de Puerco’, served with a variety of garnishes to add to the soup with. I’ve probably eaten every one of Via Organica’s salads on their menu, each made with organic greens and vegetables, shipped in straight from their organic farm. 

The grilled vegetable plate at El Riconcito is another of my favorite dishes and restaurants to dine at. The husband and wife who own and run the place are one of the nicest couples. 

Then there’s Tortilan, which I guess would be considered a fast food restaurant chain, but not the fast food we think of in America. You walk in, head to the counter, glance at the menu, and order one of the several varieties of tortas.  A torta is a Mexican sandwich served on an oblong, firm, crusty white sandwich roll, called a “telera”.  The roll is filled with anything you could possibly imagine: meats, beans, cheese, avocado, spicy peppers, and then grilled or toasted on a press.  

tora from tortilan

Torta from Tortilan

Lastly, I must include my favorite restaurant in San Miguel, Mare Nostrum.  Not only are the pastas and pizzas the best, but so is the couple that runs and owns the restaurant, Brenda and Chef Giulio. From the moment we met, we’ve developed this long-lasting friendship, revolving around food and for Giulio and I, pure mutual chef admiration.  

pizza capri and chef giulio at mare nostrum

Pizza Capri at Mare Nostrum

mare nostrom chef

Chef Giulio (center) and friends

The ultimate treat, and what I enjoy the most about my trips to San Miguel, is seeing old friends. On this trip I finally got the opportunity to have several of them over for a dinner party at our house. It was a special night: good food, wonderful wine, great company, lively discussion, all capped off with a decadent dessert. It took me 10 years to finally have a dinner party at the house, and it was definitely worth the wait. I’m really looking forward to doing it again, but next time, without that wait.  

san miguel family dinner party 2

Dinner party guests

san miguel family dinner party

More dinner party guests

It is seeing the faces of friends we’ve made over the years at our favorite San Miguel restaurants or the new ones we seem to make on each trip complete the culinary experience that is San Miguel de Allende. 

If you want to learn how to make Mexican fare at home, The Chopping Block has some fun upcoming classes:

 

Topics: Mexico, Travel, San Miguel, San Miguel de Allende

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