San Miguel de Allende has always been a great destination for food. This cobblestoned colonial town in the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico has long been known for its incredible carnitas vendors and rotisserie chicken shops. It was about 10 years ago that the town starting getting more serious about its fine dining. The upscale movement first took hold when California chef Donnie Masterton moved to town and opened The Restaurant in the early ’00s, ushering in a new wave of locavorism that has since catapulted San Miguel leaps and bounds ahead of Oaxaca as Mexico’s most serious farm-to-table destination.
Masterton’s The Restaurant has fluctuated through amazing highs and lazy lows, but for the past couple of years he’s been riding another high. Perhaps his seemingly refocused vision has been sharpened by the recent arrival of some of Mexico’s best and brightest chefs, including Mexico City’s Enrique Olvera, who is widely regarded as the most important chef in Mexico. Certainly, the competition now is tougher than when The Restaurant was the only game in town. Eating in San Miguel has never been more fun. Aside from Mexico City, this is easily the best town in Mexico for food, from street food to fine dining. And when it comes to local farmers and artisan products, chef Olvera tells me that San Miguel absolutely quashes the DF.
Here are my 10 favorite foodie stops in San Miguel right now — some new, some classic, all essential.
1. Moxi (Aldama 53)
This is the second restaurant of celebrity chef Enrique Olvera (of Mexico City’s Pujol). It’s a casual yet super-sexy indoor/outdoor restaurant at the Hotel Matilda, a low-key boutique hotel with an incredible art collection. Olvera and his crew push the limits of modern Mexican cuisine without ever crossing the line into fusion or molecular. The chef’s tasting menu is one of the greatest bargains of San Miguel.
2. Buenos Aires Bistro (Mesones 62)
One of the best chefs in town is Mariano Alvarez, an Argentinian transplanted from Canada. He took over El Tomato a few years ago and began slowly shifting it from an Italian vegetarian cafe to an Argentine steakhouse and wine bar. The transformation is finally complete. Outstanding steaks are cooked over a wood-fired grill; the best of the lot is the tira de asado, which is essentially a steak cut from the short rib, with several bones still attached. The wine list is one of the best in town; look for the Pago de Vega, a cabernet blend from Cuna de Tierra winery in nearby Dolores Hidalgo.
3. Patio Tres (Calle Correo 24)
What began as a scrappy backyard bar has moved to a new, bigger, fancier location in the indoor/outdoor courtyard of the El Meson hotel and become one of the hottest restaurants in town. Everyone who’s anyone in the local restaurant scene can found here on their days off or after work, sipping mezcal cocktails or drinking fine Mexican wines. The kitchen has come a long way since opening, too. This is now a serious foodie destination for gourmet tacos like octopus al pastor or smoked steak with fried leeks.
4. “Taco Corner”
There are dozens of great taco carts and even a few food trucks located throughout San Miguel. Some of the best vendors can always be found at the corner of Ancha de San Antonio (the old highway that runs through Centro) and Nemesio Diez (also called Paseo del Parque, the street that leads from the highway to Benito Juarez Park). Known among locals as “taco corner,” there are typically four to five vendors here at any given time (except during the mid-day siesta) selling tacos, gorditas, carnitas, tortas, and, sometimes, tamales into the wee hours.
5. Mi Vida (Hernandez Macias 97)
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t come to Mexico to eat Italian food. But San Miguel is a multi-culti hodgepodge of expatriates, and one of the best meals in town can be found at this elegant white-on-white restaurant and bakery opened by an Italian expat. The tasting menus are the way to go. Best Italian fish soup in Mexico. Period.
6. Cumpanio (Calle Correro 29)
It used to be that the only place in town to by bakery goods was the legendary Blue Door Mexican bakery (around the corner from here), which is still a worthy stop, particularly in the early morning hours. But in the past few years a dozen new bakeries have popped up with visions that extend beyond bolillos and donuts. Of this new breed, Cumpanio is the best. French baguettes. Rustic Italian loaves. Mexican sugar pastries. Cupcakes. Wedding cookies. They’ve got it covered.
7. The Restaurant (Sollano 16)
This was the original fine dining restaurant in San Miguel that changed the culture of locavorism and set the town on a new path. Donnie Masterton is still one of the area’s best chefs. The chic, somewhat Moorish, ultra-urban-hacienda décor is still among the prettiest in Mexico. The duck taquitos and the veal cheeks in adobo will have you thinking about Mexican cuisine in a new light.
8. Taqueria Gonzalez (Calzada de la Estacion)
There’s Taco Corner, and then there’s Taco Highway. The latter, aka Calzada de la Estacion, is the road to the bus station and the way toward Leon. For two or three blocks in either direction of the bus station, there are taquerias, one right after the other. My favorite is Taqueria Gonzalez, which I believe has the best tacos al pastor in San Miguel.
9. 1826 Restaurant (Nemezio Diez 11)
When 1826 opened at The Rosewood, this instantly became the best restaurant in town. There has since been a big shakeup in staff. Old chef out, new chef in. Sommelier out. New GM. The formerly savvy wine service has taken a serious hit (although the cellar still seems to be stocked very, very well). But thankfully the new chef is a force to be reckoned with. Victor Manuel Palma previously served as executive sous chef at Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos. His take on Mexican food is fresh and contemporary, using just enough molecular trickery to make you smile but never so much to make you roll your eyes.
10. Tortitlan (Juárez 19)
Tortitlan is a classic, a no-nonsense torta shop that caters to the town’s renegade teenagers, whose off-road motorbikes you’ll most likely see parked out front, covered in mud. The menu lists more than three dozen tortas, all served on the classic bolillo bun. I generally order the cemitas poblano with beef milanese or the San Miguel with carne asada.