San Miguel de Allende has always been a great destination for food. (Scroll down for the photographic evidence.) 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. I’ve been vacationing here more or less every year for the past 15 years. 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 at the moment he seems to be 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 a heck of a lot 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 city in Mexico for food, from street food to fine dining. And when it comes to local farmers and artisan products, San Miguel 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)
Mexico City celebrity chef Enrique Olvera (of Pujol) took over the kitchen of Moxi in June. Moxi is the casual yet super-sexy indoor/outdoor restaurant at the Hotel Matilda, a low-key boutique hotel with an incredible art collection. Olvera pushes the limits of modern Mexican cuisine but never crosses the line into fusion or full-molecular.
2. 1826 Restaurant (Nemezio Diez 11)
When 1826 opened at The Rosewood resort last year, this instantly became the best restaurant in town. There’s 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.
3. Patio Tres (Calle Correo 24)
Opened in June, this has quickly become the hottest new bar in town. Everyone who’s anyone in the local restaurant scene can found here on their days off. Tree-covered patio. Beautiful young crowd. Expert mixology. Great Mexican wines.
4. “Taco Corner”
There are dozens of great taco carts and even a few food trucks located throughout San Miguel. And some of the best vendors can always be found at the corner of Ancha de San Antonio and Nueva, across the street from the bus stop. 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. El Tomato (Mesones 62)
One of the best chefs in town is an Argentinian from Canada. He took over El Tomato a few years ago and turned it from a vegetarian restaurant to an Italian/Argentine steakhouse. When you’re craving a classic steak and a big red Mexican wine, this is the place to go.
8. 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, ultra-urban-hacienda décor is still among the prettiest in Mexico. I’ve dined here many times over the years. Sometimes it feels like the chef doesn’t give a shit and just doesn’t show up. Other times (and currently, I believe), this place will blow your mind.
9. La Ventana (Sollano 11)
This is a coffee bar that roasts its own beans every morning. So if you’re renting a villa within two blocks from here, you can smell the aromas wafting in through your windows at dawn. San Miguel has seen an explosion of great local coffee roasters in recent years, and this one is still my favorite (with beans from Chiapas).
10. Tortitlan (Ancha de San Antonio 17)
Tortitlan is a classic, a no-nonsense torta shop that caters to the town’s wealthier teenagers, whose off-road motorbikes you’ll most likely see parked out front. 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.