Friday, January 29, 2016

Chef Mariano Alvarez: Some Unfinished Business

I first met Chef Mariano Alvarez of Buenos Aires Bistro at Sabores San Miguel back in June, 2013.

His steak sandwich is one of the biggest sellers at the festival every year.

Last year, he cooked at the SMA Food Festival as well. The pork belly and sausage sandwiches were both crowd favorites. The good news is that you don’t have to wait another year to get one. They will be added to the menu at Buenos Aires Bistro on Wednesday nights.
Mariano loves cooking at Sabores San Miguel and SMA Food Festival because he gets to cook things he normally doesn’t make at the Bistro. “Some people have never heard of or tried traditional Argentine food in SMA, in spite of its popularity in other parts of Mexico” he said.

What most people don’t know about Mariano is that he owns not one but two successful restaurants; Buenos Aires Bistro in SMA and Patria Sur in Queretaro. Patria Sur’s menu is mainly pizza since the anchor there is the wood fired oven. At Buenos Aires Bistro, where they have a parrilla, it’s grilled meats. They also make magnificent pastas at both locations.
“Buenos Aires Bistro is a little bit of Buenos Aires in San Miguel, a true representation as I remember the Buenos Aires I grew up in…those flavors and traditions mixed with a touch of Mexico” he says.

Although his cooking is a reflection of his childhood, it’s Mexico that has played a major role in how both his cuisine and his restaurants have evolved…

Mariano was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, moved to Toronto, Canada at age 18 where food and cooking was always part of his family tradition. It was a ritual to have a feast at home every Sunday.
Coming from dual cultures, his parents were the perfect pair in the kitchen; his Mom, being Italian, would do the pastas, sauces and salads and his Dad, being Argentine, would grill different meats on the Parrilla. Mariano always helped so early on, he learned about cooking.
While he was attending Business School at the University, his mom owned a small Italian eatery. Mariano thought he knew more about running it than she did. She finally cornered him one day and said “dear, the day you have your own restaurant you can do things your way, in the meantime, we’re going to do things my way.” This was a milestone moment for him. He said that he hated the restaurant business but every time he would go out to eat, he was secretly scrutinizing how they did things, evaluating the dishes and wondering if he could do it better. There was definitely some unfinished business.
Many years later, he became friends with a formally trained Neapolitan chef Roberto Granata; Chef Granata was the first chef to bring authentically certified Neapolitan pizzas to Toronto for the high end chain Il Fornello. They would get together to cook, he helped out in his kitchen and they catered a few events together. That’s when he learned how to run a restaurant and started to fall in love with cooking for people again.

His first attempt at a restaurant fell through due to timing, and by the second attempt, he had already decided to leave Toronto for Argentina by way of Mexico. The plan was to stay in Mexico for two months then head south. Two months soon became nine. He decided he liked it in SMA and stayed. After a year sabbatical, he was ready to open a restaurant.

The restaurant in SMA was going to be a joint venture with Roberto because he had come to visit one summer and like Mariano, he fell in love with SMA. But Roberto got anxious about leaving everything he built in Toronto behind so he said to Mariano “Why don’t you do it… I’ll help you with the know-how.”

Mariano took the plunge. He learned the rest on his own, reading a mountain of books and leaving much to experimentation.

I enjoyed being on the receiving end of his research. Of the three new recipes he had me taste, two of them went on his menu. He lets the flavors speak for themselves. He doesn’t like to complicate things, keeping things simple and elegant.

When I asked him if he had a favorite childhood food, his food memory was long…

 “Well yes, and way too many to count. To this day, I keep asking my mom for this cabbage stew that she used to make us that was just delicious but she can’t remember it. Sunday BBQ is a given; my mom’s Veal’s Tongue and Shrimp alla Provençal; my argentine grandmother’s “Pastel de Fiambre” (loosely translated Cold Cuts Cake) which was made with 50 pancakes and we would have it as an appetizer for Christmas and New Year’s, my Nonna’s (Italian grandmother) polenta with chicken and tomato sauce” His Aunt’s homemade pizza that she always made for his birthday is also a given. Also, the little paninos that he made for the SMA Food Festival was inspired by one that his Dad would make on the BBQ. He then shared a curious story; his Mom, Aunt, and both of his Grandmothers are all excellent cooks but they’re all terrible at giving you recipes. They all cook from memory and instinct because that’s how they were taught. After reading many books, mostly Italian, he started to understand how to translate their dishes into recipes. In a way, it’s helped his understanding of them and their cooking. It also brought them closer together and has helped him to rescue family dishes.
He pays homage to them and where he came from by hanging their photographs on the walls of his restaurant.

His role models are Francis Mallman, the epitome of Argentine cuisine. “He represents simplicity and honors Argentine tradition but includes French discipline. He’s both bold and passionate” he said. He also admires Lele Cristobal from Quilmes, a city in Buenos Aires where he is from, who is a famous chef and TV personality.

He changed the name of the restaurant from El Tomato to Buenos Aires Bistro…

When he bought El Tomato, it was vegetarian for the first year. He started to introduce meats and non-vegetarian dishes, naturally gravitating towards his culinary origins, and by 2013, the name was not fitting with the concept that had evolved. After four months of planning and six months of redesigning and redecorating, they opened with a new name, a new menu and a new look. His customer mix is about 50% Mexican nationals and 50% Americans, Canadians, Europeans and other foreigners who come to San Miguel for vacations, holidays and weekends.

A signature dish? The jury is still out on that one. As far as popularity, Ricotta, Pecan and Prosciutto Sorrentinos are a big hit. Steaks? The Ribeyes and short rib are very popular. He only makes risotto for special occasions, but both friends and customer give him high praise for that dish.
He tries to keep his dishes as authentically Argentine as possible; however he likes to change it up a bit. For example his Pan Seared Salmon in a Ginger Garlic Soy Sauce is definitely not Argentine or Mexican. His Five Chile and Habanero sauces are Mexican inspired. He says that this beautiful country, Mexico, has positively influenced his cooking.
He met his wife Malula, who is from San Luis Potosí, in a moment of serendipity. A mutual friend introduced them while she was celebrating her birthday in his restaurant. She’s a life coach but still finds time to help Mariano out if he needs it.

His Sous-chef, Martin, has more than 13 years of experience working in different kitchens in the US. He’s been with Mariano for almost 2 years now. “He’s very committed and gets me as far as quality of products and service” he said. He also has Carolina who started as a dish washer. Two years ago, an opportunity came up which he offered to her and Caro took it so she’s been trained the way he likes things done. She’s very committed to her work and family which he highly values. She comes to SMA from Comonfort every single day. He really can’t say enough about his entire team, “they are all great people” he says. Every time he calls on them, they are more than ready to step up. He is very grateful for them. “In the end, we are like a family.”
Buenos Aires Bistro does not have a wine sommelier. The wine list is based on what Mariano likes, much like the regular menu, keeping in mind that people also want variety and allowing for different palates. He has sommeliers come to the restaurant and show him their wines and if he loves one, it goes on the wine list. He likes interesting wines with a history; a story to go along with the wine itself.

He’s always changing the menu, not drastically, but just enough to keep it fresh. Here are the things I tried during my visits:

NEW: Burrata con Manzana al Sartén, Arúgula Fresca y Reducción de Aceto Balsámico/ Fresh Burrata with Pan Seared Pear and Arugula with Balsamic Reduction

This was one of the best salads I’ve tasted lately. Nothing is quite as good as pairing a creamy Burrata with the mild and sweet flavor of a pear.

NEW: Filete de Res con Camarones Salteados en Salsa de Crema, servido con Espárrago en salsa de vino blanco/ Filet Mignon with Sautéed Shrimp in a Cream Sauce served with Asparagus in White Wine sauce

Mariano said he is not ready to put this dish on the daily menu yet; it needs a little work. I thought so too…but just a little.

Tira de Asado, con Camote y Zanahoria al horno con Ajo y Cebolla, y Col de Bruselas salteadas con Soya/ Short Ribs with Oven Roasted Carrot & Yam with Onions and Garlic, and Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Onions and Soy Sauce

It’s been a long time since I’ve had meat this good. The dish was cooked to absolute perfection and I got 2 other meals from the leftovers.

NEW: Banana Frita flambeado con Brandy y Helado de Mate/ Brandy Flambéed Fried Banana with Mate Ice cream

I call this dish an Argentinean version of Bananas Foster. The herb to make the ice cream is called Yerba Mate and it’s used for a traditional tea that is heavily consumed in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. The plant only grows in South America because of the soil and climate. In Argentina, people drink it without sugar, and since it’s already very bitter to begin with, many people get put off the first time they drink it. If you make it at home, you can add sugar. “It tastes really nice if you give it a chance” he says. “It is obviously something you need to acquire a taste for.”

All of Mariano’s beef is Certified Angus. The Mexican beef from Sonora is export quality, which makes it hard to source because producers obviously prefer to sell it abroad at US prices. Some of his beef is from the US because the quality is there. If he can, he always tries to support local or national businesses. “ It’s not always possible though because the quality has to be there” he said. He’s very committed to the quality of his products.

Buenos Aires Bistro has an entertainment factor that most people don’t know about: tango classes. It all started a few years back when the tango community in SMA (he didn’t know SMA had one at the time) needed a place to dance and practice so he stepped forward to help the cause. It’s his way of supporting the culture of his country that has crossed many international borders. Group classes are at 7:00 PM for beginners and 8:00 PM for more advanced lessons. It’s only $30 pesos per class. There are no registration fees, you just show up and dance.

Mariano’s second restaurant, Patria Sur, celebrated its’ first anniversary on the first of December and we were in Queretaro for the party…

He opened Patria Sur because he needed a new challenge and wanted to try another concept. He didn’t want two restaurants in the same city and Queretaro was the obvious choice. It’s an emergent city and the demographics are very different from SMA.

When I asked how he manages his schedule between the two restaurants, he said that it requires a lot of planning to juggle both. He’s learned which balls are rubber and which are glass however, effectively running Patria Sur in a lot less time than it took to get Buenos Aires Bistro down.

Patria Sur, located at 4100 Blvd. Bernardo Quintana , Plaza Boulevares in Queretaro, has already earned great ratings. We thought the food was outstanding, especially the Buenos Aires Pizza with fresh tomatoes, ham, and green olives, which is very typical in Argentina. The Surf and Turf Pizza and Pizza del Tata were a hit as well. Tata is old colloquial word for Grandpa. It has tomato sauce, mozzarella, sautéed spinach, sautéed onion, sautéed mushroom and goat cheese.
Not being a fan of inland seafood, I was surprised I also liked this squid dish for which Mariano has a special method of cooking.
Mariano’s partner in the restaurant is Uruguay born Nacho Avila. He started to work in a bakery at the age of 12. By 17 he was making pizzas. He came to Mexico on vacation with his girlfriend at the time. It was during that trip they broke up and heartbroken, he decided to stay in Mexico for awhile. From Acapulco he came to SMA because he had friends from Uruguay living here. He worked in sales but gained a reputation among friends for the Friday pizza nights he organized once a month; something he would do for fun and because he loves to make pizza. Nacho knew it was a matter of time before he'd go back to his passion. Around 2010 he wanted to do a pizza night Friday's at the old El Tomato but because of the size of Mariano’s kitchen, they couldn't make the project take off. In early 2014, they started to talk about what it would be like to have a pizza place with traditions from the Rio de la Plata, and that's how Patria Sur was formed. By September 2014, they were building their own wood fired oven with the help of his father, a hard working bricklayer in Canelones, who built dozens of ovens back home.

When he’s not at his own restaurants, he likes to go for sushi at Gami Sushi on the Ancha. He also likes brunch at the Rosewood. He enjoys the Milanesa Napolitana at Centi’Anni and the Indian food at Bhaji; things he normally doesn’t make for himself at his restaurants or at home.

He enjoys simple things when he cooks at home. He’ll make a nice frittata with whatever is in the fridge or make risotto on the spot for friends or family if they’re coming over. He enjoys a cup of coffee with some toast and good cheese in the morning; or a cheese platter and charcuterie with a cold beer in the evening.

Mariano says he goes through phases and stays creative on a day-to-day basis by reading a lot but most of his inspiration comes from traveling. He returns to Argentina once or twice a year to discover new things to bring back to SMA for his customers.

With Patria Sur comfortably under his belt, I asked him what he’s going to do next.
He smiled...

This is one chef who, in spite of everything, still has some unfinished business.
Stay tuned!

Bon Appetit!

Buenos Aires Bistro, Mesones #62, Centro, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Hours: Monday – Sunday 1:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Patria Sur, 4100 Blvd. Bernardo Quintana | Plaza Boulevares, Queretaro, Mexico

Hours: 2:00 PM – 12:00 AM

Friday, January 22, 2016

Taking a Bite Out of Mexico: 40 NEW Reasons to Eat Out in San Miguel

If you’ve come to San Miguel de Allende to eat, you picked the right place.

San Miguel is now on Mexico’s list of culinary hotspots and it’s about to move up a few places. A wealth of notable restaurant and food vendor openings, around 40 of them in the next few months, will go a long way to feed your food obsessions.

Many restaurants are new and others are satellite locations of existing restaurants. Some of the owners already have successful restaurants or food/beverage related ventures under their belt.
New, multifunctional marketplaces, Dôce-18 and Mercado Centro-San Miguel, will house multiple restaurants and vendors. That’s good news for day-trippers looking to sample a variety of culinary options in a matter of a few hours.

Food for thought that already has me headed to the gym.

Buen Apetito!
Pinch me. Am I dreaming? Call it SMA’s most famous restaurateurs, all under one roof:
                                             Photo: Angela Lewis Serrano
Tacolicious AND Birdie’s Burgers from Chef Donnie Masterton;
Daniel Estebaranz’s (B’ui cocina de campo) milpa, a farm to table concept;
                                                            Photo: Aperi
Chef Matteo Salas of Aperi has a new venture with Architect/Entrepreneur Alberto Laposse. It is yet to be named.
With these restaurants, another café from Laposse, and other food projects launching in the same space (the old Casa Cohen), it will definitely be one of city’s top culinary gems.
Get ready to line up. Dôce-18 is on track for a late winter opening.
Mercado Centro-San Miguel
San Miguel is finally getting its own version of Mercado Roma located in the old Espino’s market at Codo 36.
Mercado Centro –San Miguel will open January 29th with authentic, upscale gourmet and organic offerings.

Chef Marko Antoine Cruz Sanchez of B’ui cocina de campo is opening Porchetta, a stylish burger spot AND Nomada cocina de interpretacion, which will feature the span of his creative talents along with wife, pastry chef Sofia Antillon, who has been putting out some of the most amazing desserts at Bui cocina de campo lately.
Nomada’s hours are 9 AM – 10:00 PM on Friday and 9:00 AM – 11:00 PM on Saturday. The good news is that you will still be able to enjoy Marko’s cooking at B’ui cocina de campo in Otomi where he is the Executive Chef.
Manny Flores, pictured on the left, also of B’ui, will bring Mexican street food to this upscale market with masa offerings at Centli. Watch for innovative adaptations of Gorditas, Huaraches, Sopes, Tacos and Quesadillas.
Jorge Alarcon L, wine expert and one of the owners of Carnevino, partners with Private Chef Julian Garcia and Aana Goded to open Vino y Comino, featuring soups and salads along with wine and mezcal by the glass. Jorge will also be opening Carnevino Grill inside Carnevino at Ancha de San Antonio #22 in March, 2016.
Look for Sunday Marie Witte’s new restaurant called Soul Kitchen SMA which will offer soups, pot pies and braised meats; delicious home cooking to go.
Many other well-known vendors will be at this market as well including Casa Chiquita Pizza, Cent'anni, Cervecería Allende, Tapas SMA and Cumpanio. The market will also have a government tourist office to support out-of-town visitors.  
With 27 vendors, the official hours will be 10 AM – 10:00 PM, although most will set their own schedules. The rooftop space will feature weekly events with visiting guest chefs. The market will be closed on Tuesdays.
Also Opening…
Shifting San Miguel’s food scene into fast forward will also be the opening of a new rooftop, 15 (Quince), at Cuna de Allende 15 and El Vergel SMA Bistro and Market on the road to Dolores Hidalgo, 300 meters from Candelaria. Partners Daniel Hernandez and Houston Harte have joined forces with Chef/Partner Donnie Masterton to bring top-quality French food to San Miguel. Why is it I love French food? Grab a bottle of wine and give me an hour.

Funny how one trendy, pop up dinner back in 2012 transformed a quaint mountain town into one of Mexico’s hottest culinary destinations.
And the rest is history.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Taking A Bite Out Of San Miguel: The Best of 2015

San Miguel’s culinary base is growing. From street food to five-star dining, we found culinary treasures everywhere this year.

When naming our favorites for 2015, it was easy. We ate at every one of these restaurants at least a half a dozen times and kept pretty extensive tasting notes, ordering new dishes most of the time. There were times that we went back to ordering our favorite things simply because no other place in town made it better.

So what makes a restaurant stand above the rest besides who is doing the cooking? In-season, local ingredients, consistency, and service are important requirements for us.

A dining experience is very personal. It’s all about the people you’re with or even the mood that you’re in. A number of variables influence whether or not you’re going to have a fantastic meal. Make it one! A huge part of the entire experience is controlled by you and this is one of the many reasons that we did not have a bad meal this year, eating out multiple times a day. We’ll admit that some were better than others.

Passion breeds consistency and the restaurants listed below delivered every single time we ate there. Some of them are listed for the second year in a row.

Whether your experience brings you back to the same taco cart week after week or a remarkable burger every Thursday night, one thing’s for certain: Big budget or small budget, San Miguel provides plenty of dining options for anyone who savors the experience of great food.

Bon Appétit!

Best Restaurateur

                                           Photo: Angela Lewis Serrano
Chef Donnie Masterton
The Restaurant
Sollano #16

Blame the food revolution in San Miguel on Donnie Masterton, Chef-Owner of The Restaurant and one of the producers of the highly successful food festival, Sabores San Miguel. 

Having built his reputation slowly and steadily since The Restaurant opened in 2008, Chef Masterton always makes dining an interesting and delightful experience. His food has been creative and consistent since the start.

Masterton’s formula is simple: passion and fresh, local ingredients.
From training a legion of talented chefs to his latest ventures, Tacolicious and Birdie’s Burgers, opening in 2016, Chef Donnie Masterton has the Midas touch.

No chef has done more to influence a community and its’ food culture than Masterton. He has elevated the international profile of San Miguel cooking and has led the way to establishing SMA as a new culinary center in Mexico.

Best Restaurant

B’ui cocina de campo
Owner: Daniel Estebaranz
On the equestrian grounds at Otomi’s residential area outside of SMA Km 2 Camino a San Miguel el Viejo

I call it “The B’ui Experience” because I was captivated, not just by the setting - in stunningly beautiful Otomi, just outside of San Miguel de Allende - but by everything… from the outstanding food and wine, to the extraordinary service and the state of its’ simple, country elegance.

I ate there a dozen times in 2015 and each meal reached the same, consistent level of excellence.

Owner Daniel Estebaranz provides everything you dream about what a restaurant experience should be…and then some.

Best Dish

Beef shoulder, carrots and onions, burned cabbage, wine reduction and burnt bread infusion
Chef Matteo Salas
Dos Casas Boutique Hotel and Spa
Quebrada 101

The first time I had this meal, I wrote: “When did I ever like a main course more than the dessert? Yesterday, at Aperi, Chef Matteo Salas stunned me by a simple ingredient, a carrot, that completely altered my view of vegetables and how chefs cook them. It’s a day later and I can still taste the flavor.”
Why is this dish so good? Because it’s been delicious every time I’ve ordered it…and Chef Matteo Salas cooked it.
If I could pick my last supper, this would be it.

Best Chef
Chef Marko Antoine Cruz Sanchez
Bu’i – cocina de campo
On the equestrian grounds at Otomi’s residential area outside of SMA Km 2 Camino a San Miguel el Viejo

Executive Chef Marko Antoine Cruz Sanchez not only worked at Au Pied du Cochon, a highly rated restaurant in Mexico City’s Polanco district that is noted for its French food, but he managed Hotel Condesa DF, and was part of Chef Enrique Olvera’s team.

After a short stint with Chef Enrique Olvera at Pujol, he joined Daniel Estebaranz to open La Estacion. In the beginning, Olvera created the menu and Marko applied his recipes and techniques. Two and a half years ago, Marko took control of the kitchen and is the now Executive Chef at both B'ui - cocina de campo and La Estacion.  

After a dozen meals, Chef Marko Cruz has missed the high spot only once which is quite remarkable. Marko is shown here with his young son.

Be sure to order the tasting menu, which provides the best sampling of his high-quality cooking. Mind-blowing food is always served and expected.

Study his plating techniques and you’ll understand why no one comes close to his genius. We think this chef is missing a Michelin star or two.

Best Private Chef
Chef Michael Coon
Casa de Cocinas

Michael Coon is a chef who understands the flavors deeply rooted in other cultures. The world renowned food and travel expert is the former Travel Director and Co Creator of the Culinary Institute of America’s World's of Flavor tours.
Michael owns the Inside Route Tour Company. He’s a respected teacher, favorite guest chef, seasoned MC at the Napa Valley Film Fest, expert culinary leader and is currently working on his first book.
He makes food entertainment beyond the momentary experience of food. If you want to know the dishes and flavors that will find their way into mainstream dining in the next six months, just ask Michael. I often wonder where he hides his crystal ball.
Best Food Festival TIE: Sabores San Miguel and SMA Food Festival

It's hard to believe that San Miguel put two food shows, two weeks apart, into the record books this past year thanks to Sabores San Miguel producers Donnie Masterton and Angela Lewis Serrano and SMA Food Festival's principal trio: Ricardo Pare Trejo, Daniel Estebaranz and Jorge Alarcon L.  

Although some people made an effort to compare the two shows, they were both very different; Sabores highlighted San Miguel’s restaurants and the SMA Food Festival was a celebration of its chefs. 

Both shows did a remarkable job to further position San Miguel as an emerging culinary center in Mexico.

Look for the 2016 event dates at:

Best New Restaurant
Chefs Bricio Dominguez and Paco Roncero
La Canica
Pila Seca #2

Chef Bricio Dominguez is a driving force in the culinary landscape in San Miguel. Pair him with a 2 star Michelin chef from Spain and you have an instant recipe for success.

La Canica is beautiful, whimsical and distinctively different from any other restaurant in SMA. The converted old mansion makes an inconspicuous statement that other restaurants just don’t communicate.

With tapas, a bottle of wine and a seat in the window of the light-filled front room, you’ll wonder if you’ve been transported to Spain.

It’s a diversion that I could repeat daily.

Best Mixologist
Miguel Bastida
Orizaba 87-9

Stewart Haverlack’s ZUMO is a beautiful restaurant with a killer view. Pair it with a Mixologist like Miguel Bastida and you have a place to write home about.

Starting as a bar helper in Cuernavaca when he was just 14, he has risen through the ranks; did a stint at Rosewood, Patio 3 and Hotel El Palomar before landing at ZUMO.

What’s on Miguel’s cocktail menu changes daily and he adapts his drinks to the taste of the amuse bouche; the time at which the cocktails are first served to the guests as an introduction to the dinner. We think his cocktails are unmatched. Photo of Miguel: Cindy Buhle

Best $3 Lunch: El Tucan, Hernandez Macias #56

At SMA's favorite cheap eat, these rolled tacos are overstuffed with chicken and topped with so many healthy vegetables you'll forget they were ever fried in a pan of oil to begin with.

Bring a hearty appetite and leave your Spanish dictionary at home. Alex cooked for many years back in Chicago and speaks textbook English.

Don’t be put off by this little dive. Alex cooks everything fresh and made to order.

Best Asian: Aguamiel cocina rustica, Pipila 3A, Colonia San Antonio

The best Asian dishes should come from an Asian restaurant, right? Wrong.

Chef Gaby Green’s Asian creations are some of her best. Gaby has that innate feel for what pairs well together. She understands how to blend and balance flavors which is especially noticeable in Asian food.

We can’t think of one Asian dish we’ve tried here that we didn’t love.

Best Appetizers: The Restaurant Sollano #16

Give into temptation. At Donnie Masterson's restaurant, known for its anything but predictable offerings, you can order a bunch of really terrific appetizers and call it a meal.

From the BBQ ribs that are now back on the menu to dumplings and duck egg rolls, we guarantee this feast will be one of your best.

Consistently superior because they’re all made with locally sourced ingredients.

Best Bakery: El Petit Four, Mesones 99-1

San Miguel is filled with bakeries and restaurants serving desserts that are often just too beautiful to eat. Petit Four Bakery turns two of our favorite indulgences, chocolate and tequila, into desserts to write home about. This is the only bakery in town that makes authentic, French pastries.

Take a cooking class from Chef Paco Cardenas. He provides an inspired culinary introduction to the city.

Best Barbacoa: Rodriquez Family Barbacoa, Tianguis de Martes

Imagine barbacoa, lamb wrapped in maguey leaves and cooked in the ground overnight. It's on the breakfast menu and this stand is an early morning favorite at San Miguel's Tianguis de Martes.

Grab a half cup of caldo and an extra helping of Barbacoa, then load up with chopped cilantro, onions and a squeeze of lime. You wouldn't crave another thing all day.

How many times will you have to go in order to name every Rodriquez family member? I bet you can’t do it the first time around. That’s OK though; It’s well worth it to make this a weekly routine.

Best Beef Taco: Don Santos Tacos Clavel 8 off Refugio Sur

Don Santos earns its accolades with authentic Mexican food at this location and a satellite at the Tianguis on Tuesday. The thin strips of beef are cooked in a pile of intestines and chorizo. It’s so well flavored and tender you can’t stop eating them. Honestly, I could pull them right off the grill they are that good.

Heap on a mound of onions, cilantro and some of their remarkable salsas. There is a reason Aprei chef Chef Matteo Salas wants to stage here.

Best Beer: Diablos, Cerveceria Dos Aves

We recently attended the 3rd Anniversary of the Gold Metal Brewery Cerveceria Dos Aves for the release of Diablos, a Belgian Golden Strong Ale.

Hands down, it’s my new favorite beer…a pretty bold statement for someone who’s not even a beer drinker.

Best Birria: Birria Xalisco, Salida a Celaya #81

Birria Xalisco, a restaurant in Celaya, just opened a location in San Miguel.
Birria, a spicy stew from the state of Jalisco, is made with goat meat that is marinated in adobo spices. It’s another reputed hangover remedy that apparently works according to my amigo at the neighboring table. It brought him back to life after just two helpings.
Get a double on the meat and you’ll be full and happy when you hit the bottom of the bowl. There’s an array of salsas on the table to spice it up to the level of heat that you can’t resist.
Best Breakfast: Huevos Mexicanas, Café Oso Azul, Zacateros 17

The cafe looks typically Scandinavian with its white walls and blue-washed wooden tables and chairs; you might even think for a moment you're in Denmark.

Denmark's diet is among the healthiest in the world, so it is no surprise that Jens, the Danish owner of this Mexican restaurant, is trying to create a healthy menu with simple food.

This little cast-iron skillet, sizzling to the touch, is filled with a combination of eggs, tomatoes, onion, cilantro and cheese. Add on a side order of delicious, homemade Italian sausage.

The dish will delight even the hard-to-please breakfast buff looking for a solid meal after a high-spirited celebration the night before.

Best Cajun (Gumbo): Hanks New Orleans Café and Oyster Bar Hidalgo #12

It's not my Gumbo but hey, 1219 miles from New Orleans it's the closest thing you're going to get this side of the border.

This Creole in a cup is made with chicken, sausage and shrimp and just like New Orleans, it's a warm-up before you go dancing in the parade.

Do I think I’m in New Orleans when I eat it? Only during Happy Hour.

Best Caldo: Andy’s Tacos, Insurgentes y Hidalgo

Now I have two good reasons to go to SMA’s most celebrated street food cart.
The latest delight to come out of Andy’s portable kitchen is caldo made with the scraps, bones and drippings of the meat.
Comfort food pleasurably simple, it wowed everyone who was eager to get an instant cup of warmth on a cold December night. With no exception, everyone who tried it loved it.
Like the old proverb goes, “I now believe that good broth will resurrect the dead.” Just don’t wait for Day of the Dead to try it. It’s as delicious and intense as it looks.
Best Carnitas: Bautista Brothers, Guadiana #2

If you saw carnitas being cooked in large vats of fat, I’m sure you wouldn’t make a steady diet of this street treat…or would you? The flavor is unmatched so you will be tempted.

Bautista Brothers is an institution in San Miguel. I recently was reunited with the original at Guadiana #2.

Guadiana #2 is the heart of the Bautista Brothers operation. The carnitas are cooked here, along with a house down the alley and up the stairs where you can also buy bones to make soup.
The tortas made here are so much better than the ones at Tianguis de Martes. They come straight out of the fryer into your sandwich. The bread is also made by a commercial baker and is like no other torta I’ve had in San Miguel.

Bautista Brothers has pop up stands all over SMA that serve late night and two stands at Tianguis de Martes that are serving when I get there at 9:00 AM.

In a torta or on a fresh tortilla, carnitas is at the top of my list of the best street food in SMA. Now, let’s see if you can resist going back for seconds. I never can.

Best Cheese: La Cava, Los Frailes, Real de La Canada #3 also try their bacon

Sometimes, you’ve got to go a long way to get the best. This place is one of them.

It’s in Los Frailes now so it’s not as accessible as it use to be but their Blue Cheese is still one of my favorite addictions. You’ll be enthusiastic about every other selection too.
When it comes to Blue Cheese, this cheese store has no competition in town.

Best Churros: San Agustín Chocolates & Churros, San Francisco 21

San Agustin’s is an institution with cult status. The dueña, Margarita Gralia, is a beloved telenovela star and the walls in this restaurant are a shrine to her career.

The deep-fried pastries, a relative of the doughnut, come in a variety of flavors; chocolate, strawberry, dulce de leche and cajeta. They are usually served plain or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar when they come out of the fryer.

Order a side of Mexican hot chocolate for dunking. Trying to sink every, tiny multi-colored marshmallow that floats on the top of your cup will make you question whether you ever want to grow up; I didn't think so. Life's too much fun as a big kid.

Best Cocktails: ZUMO, Orizaba 87-9

ZUMO has the best cocktail menu in town. Amen.

Mixologist Miguel Bastida is the imagination behind the infamous Flaming Zumo, a combination of Mezcal, apple liquor, fresh pear, orange and chili ancho. It’s a drink I call the upscale version of a perfect margarita.

Best Cocktails - National: La Mezcaleria Correo #47-A

This Pepino y Cilantro Margarita, made with cucumbers and cilantro, will make you wonder why you ever drank Margaritas made with anything but fresh fruits and vegetables.

In the traditional style, you’re served fresh orange slices and chapulines on the side. The combination of the salty, sweet and tart highlights the smoky flavor of the mezcal. You might need another shot just to wash down the idea of eating small grasshoppers that are toasted with garlic and lime, and seasoned with powdered chili, salt and gusano, the caterpillar that lives off the agave plant.

A delight for the adventurous traveler whose taste buds are looking for something typically Mexican.

If you’re a die-hard, skip the mix and go straight to the Mezcal.

Best Coffee: Lavanda Café, Hernandez Macias #87
Do people come here for the coffee or the breakfast?

Lavanda was created by Chef Karla Becerra Martinez and her partner Victor, who is the head barista and will be representing Lavanda in a major coffee competition this coming February.

Lavanda buys two coffees from Oaxaca and surprisingly, one from Guerrero. The state coffee association asked Guerrero farmers to adopt a natural process for their coffees in order to distinguish them from other Mexican coffees. The result is a full bodied coffee with a surprising finish.

Those who like it claim it’s some of the best coffee in Mexico. I am one of them.

Best Consistent Cuisine: Hecho en Mexico Ancho de San Antonio #8

Hecho en Mexico has one great thing going for it: a level of performance which does not vary greatly in quality over time. When you order the Cobb Salad, you get the same Cobb salad that you ordered last week.

This is the main reason that Hecho en Mexico is one of San Miguel’s favorite restaurants. It’s consistent and that’s saying something in a town where consistency is not always a priority.

Best Croissant: Cumpanio Correo 29

Butter, Butter and more butter. The better-than-Paris croissants at Cumpanio are no longer. Cumpanio changed their recipe and we’re beyond disappointed.

We are on the hunt for a standout in this category. Stay tuned.

Best Desserts: Laura Buccheri, La Cucina di Afrodita

From Bianco e Nero, individual lemon pies and dazzling Panna Cotta, Laura Buccheri is the master of great desserts.

The first time I went to La Cucina di Afrodita, Laura served 6 desserts. I ate every one of them. Yesterday, she served five. I did it again.

Give into the delicious homemade Limoncello but don’t blame it on me when you end up taking a few dozen bottles home.

Best Doughnut: Panaderia La Buena Vida Hernandez Macias #72

This doughnut on steroids tempts me every Saturday morning. I’m not exactly sure what Melissa does but they’re the best and biggest doughnuts in town. The texture is just different and nothing like anything I’ve eaten before.

I love the orange but the sugar and chocolate have become cravings as well.

Best English Muffins: La Mesa Grande, # 49 Zacateros

Why fight it. This is an infatuation I can’t seem to get past. Once you’ve tasted these English muffins, you’ll never want to buy them at a supermarket again.

Eat them the day you buy them. They’re fresh and do not keep.

Best Enchiladas: Tacos Don Felix En La Casa, 15th Fray Juan de San Miguel

For someone who never liked enchiladas, the Enchiladas Gloria transformed me. These

Tortillas, stuffed with chicken AND pork, covered in red and green sauce and swimming in melted cheese are my new favorite craving. Now this is how you make an enchilada!

Best French Fries: Moxi at Hotel Matilda, Aldama 53
Pure indulgence; truffled and covered in parmesan cheese.
Close your eyes because this is what heaven tastes like.

Best German: Berlin Bar Umaran #19

We love this restaurant for its German comfort food; try the Oven roasted pork shank, served with spinach and herbed mashed potatoes.

A fun happy hour with a Cheers-like atmosphere, this bar just might become a habit after going just once.

Best Gordita: Gorditas de Migajas at Bautista Brothers, Guadiana #2

Gorditas de Migajas y Queso are typically made in Queretaro but the last time I was in Bautista Brothers at Guadiana #2, they were making them there without the cheese.
Crumbs or migajas are what’s left in the bottom of the pan after cooking the carnitas. They are tucked into a pocket of masa and hand-formed into a neatly stuffed gordita. Watch them being pulled off the hot comal without even burning a finger and you’ll understand that this is a skill that takes plenty of practice to master.
I’ve always favored costillas but migajas are the real jewel of the mix. Full of magnificent pork flavor, it’s now one of my favorite street eats in San Miguel.
Best Hamburger: The Restaurant, Sabores San Miguel

Every Thursday night, you get to select from a long list of delicious, gourmet burgers. This simple In and Out Burger with a secret sauce is one of my favorites. The fried potatoes are a superb substitution for french fries.

Burger night has become so popular, a new burger restaurant, Birdie’s Burgers, is in the mix of Masterton’s openings in 2016.

Best Happy Hour: TIE: Aguamiel cocina rustica, Pipila 3A, Colonia San Antonio and Hanks New Orleans Café and Oyster Bar Hidalgo #12

Aguamiel offer a different special from 3-5pm. Sometimes it’s a drink and botanas and other months it is an early-bird dinner special. No matter the offering, it’s always a great buy.

Hanks? Not only 2x1 drinks but some of the best people watching in SMA.

Best Huevos Rancheros: Lavanda Café, Hernandez Marcias # 87

How does this popular restaurant make perfect poached eggs look like little balls of Oaxaca cheese? Chef Karla's drop-dead gorgeous presentation comes from her training as a graphic artist. She's armed with a portfolio of her mother's classic recipes including this picture-perfect version of the dish.

The taste will astonish even the most die-hard Eggs Benedict lover who has never given a second look at this Mexican standard.

Best Huarache: Huarache Rancheros, El Huarache Veloz, San Juan de Dios 27

This popular Mexican breakfast stop may convince you to give up that bowl of Zucaritas once and for all. Since 1986, this stand in the Mercado San Juan de Dios makes fresh huaraches; an oblong, masa base that is dressed with selected toppings such as salsa, potatoes, onions, or meat then covered with a pile of ranchero cheese. Spice it up with a dose of peppery salsa.

                                                     Photo: Valen Dawson
Best Ice Cream: Cherry-wood Balinese Vanilla Ice Cream with Apple Wood Smoked Sea Salt and Lapsang Souchong Caramel Swirl

Travel and Food Blogger Valen Dawson’s homemade ice cream is not just the best ice cream I’ve eaten all year, it’s the best ice cream I’ve eaten ever… and I eat a lot of ice cream.

Best Japanese: Delica Mitsu San Miguel de Allende, Calzada de Luz #49, Guadalupe

If the Asian Salad doesn’t get you, the Fried Curried Rice Ball will. Go early. They frequently have a line and always run out of food. This is the freshest, simple food in San Miguel.

Best Italian: La Cucina di Afrodita

Italian food isn't just nourishment, its life and everything at La Cucina di Afrodita is Italian at its best.

Chef Laura Buccheri has the wonderful ability to create beautiful and inspiring dishes such as this homemade cocoa tagliolini with walnuts, gorgonzola sauce and mesquite smoked bacon. It was an unusual combination of ingredients but the flavors worked so well together. 

This hike to the country is so worth it for both the food and the vistas.

Best Liquiado: Osvaldo's, Independencia #47

Call this place unpretentious. At this dog friendly restaurant, 90% of the customers are Mexican. Mix that with good food, cheap prices - everything on the menu is about 50 pesos- and a charming owner with 6 beautiful kids and you get a place where you want to go as often as you can hike up the hill. 

Go for the tasty liquiado which on a split 15 pesos. I'm trying to remember the last time I got anything this good for $1.

Best Local Spirit: Casa Dragones
It’s no secret I like tequila. Good tequila. Casa Dragones is a handcrafted, small batch, luxury tequila and was rated by Wine Enthusiast at 96/100 – the magazine's highest tequila rating. Its’ spiritual home is in San Miguel.

It’s one indulgence that’s worth the price tag. It’s available for purchase at La Europea or sip it on the rooftop at La Azotea.

Best Margarita: Aguamiel cocina rustica, Pipila 3A, Colonia San Antonio
I was not a fan of tamarind or flavored margaritas for that matter until I tasted Aguamiel’s Tamarind Margarita. It tastes like a margarita and that’s what I liked about it. Most tamarind margaritas in SMA do not.
According to Aguamiel, their secret starts with good tequila because it changes the flavor and the hangover factor. They use only fresh ingredients in all of their margaritas and that is the difference.

Their mango margarita takes the number two spot.
Best Market Cook: Fonda Dona Reyes at Mercado Ignacio Ramirez

Dona Reyes is your beloved grandmother reincarnated. She’s owned this stand for over 46 years and she’ll fuss over you until you cry uncle and can’t eat another bite. Such is the case with the Caldo de Pollo con Arroz with a whole chicken leg and a bouquet of fresh cooked vegetables. Smother with chilies and condiments to ramp up the heat. You’ll get a jolt you’ve never experienced at breakfast before.

Better than a sweater on a cold December morning, you get extra hugs for eating everything in the bowl. It’s mandatory; it’s your grandmother.

Who said you can’t get an adopted family and a warm meal in SMA for 50 pesos?

Best Menudo: Dona Bola, On the corner of Calle Calzada de La Luz and Calle Amado Nervo

Menudo; Mexico's cure for a hangover. With 50 kilos of tripe each week, Doña Bola's starts the cooking process every Thursday morning with both tripe and pork trotters (pigs’ feet).
This SMA institution, located on the Calzada de La Luz, began as an unpretentious street stand. It's now a thriving restaurant that's packed every Sunday with Mexican families savoring a 'home cooked' meal.
You wouldn't find this one in the guidebooks. It's all word of mouth.
Best Mixiotes: El Pato Barbacoa y Mixiotes, Calzada de la Estacion #112

The next best thing to your mother's pot roast, Mixiotes is a traditional, pit-barbecued meat dish made of lamb that is cut with the bone and seasoned with pasilla, guajillo and spices like cumin, thyme, marjoram, bay leaves, cloves and garlic. It's then wrapped in small bundles and cooked in the ground overnight.
At this thatched-roof palapa at the end of Canal Street, Pilar and Jose Luis will convince you there is no better comfort food anywhere in Mexico. If it weren't for the location, this spot would have a line around the block every day.

Take a doggy bag because it's even better the next day. I said it was in 2014 and I’m saying it again this year: It’s one of the best dishes around.

Best Mushrooms: Simbiosis, Saturday Organic Market, Ancha de San Antonio and Cardo on the grounds of the Rosewood

I never use to be a mushroom lover until these exotics showed up at the Saturday Organic Market. They have a wide variety of options so ask them to give you a visual tour.

Just how good are they? You’ll always end up buying more than you planned on.

Best Newcomer Chef:

Who is she? You’ll find out soon enough. Look for a post soon. This East Coast transplant will surprise you in 2016. You can count on it.
Best Onion Rings: Hanks New Orleans Café and Oyster Bar Hidalgo #12

Crispy and light, that’s our only criteria. We haven’t found any better than Hanks.

Sorry, I don’t split an order. Just ask my lunch partner who always gets his hand slapped if he even thinks about it. Too good to eat with Ketchup. Hold the salt!

Best Parrillada: Don Lupe Grill, Pila Seca 34-B

The Parrillada proves that there is nothing like a combination of steak, chicken, and chorizo with a smidgen of shrimp, to get you excited about BBQ. Don’t forget to request an extra order of tortillas because this mixed grill is large enough for a three-way split.

An addiction worth giving up almost everything for including the ice-cold cerveza you wash it down with.

Best Pasta: Bacco at Hotel Sautto, Hernandez Macias #59

The chefs at Bacco Restaurant in the Hotel Sautto have a talent for creating authentic Italian food with seasonal produce. Richard Sautto plays the perfect host at this beautiful, old world patio that is lit up like Christmas nearly every evening.

Amatriciana, the southern Italian favorite, is made with fresh tomatoes, smoked pancetta, garlic, onion and Italian basil. Pair it with the house wine and have a second glass to celebrate the fact that in your next life, you’re coming back as an Italian.

Best Peruvian: Ceviche, La Parada Recreo #94

With the beach a seven-hour drive from San Miguel, the most sought-after dish in town is seafood. At La Parada, the ceviches are legendary. Ceviche is raw fish or seafood that is “cooked” by marinating in citrus juice. La Parada does a novel take on conventional ceviche by using salmon in the citrus, then topping it with snow pods, seaweed and cucumber. Wash it down with a cool Pisco Sour and you’ve just taken a quick trip to Lima, compliments of Chef Alexandra Gutt, who is responsible for heightening the profile of mouth-watering, Peruvian flavors in San Miguel.

Best Pie: Claudia’s, Phone 415-151-0146

I've taken high altitude baking classes but I’ve yet to make a respectable pan of popovers, cornbread, pie or anything for that matter. I’ve added flour, decreased sugar, cut my butter and still haven’t figured out the formula. So last year, I bought rather than made a lemon meringue pie. I never liked lemon meringue but this one was exquisite and like every other American in San Miguel, I was going through lemon withdrawal. This pie was so artistic, especially the layer of light and almost fluffy meringue on top.
You’ve probably eaten one of Claudia’s pies at some of the better restaurants around town or at La Pulga. Sweet or savory, they are the best around and I’ve devoured enough of them to validate that statement.

Best Pizza: Casa Chiquita Pizza, Correo #45
The Cipriani, a perfect pairing of Cheese, Beef Carpaccio, Arugula and Parmesan. It’s my favorite and can be ordered as an individual pizza with four slices.
Head to the rooftop. The view is almost as good as the pizza.
Best Pozole: Pozole Verde, La Pozoleria, Calzada de Luz 51
In a tiny pozoleria with an open kitchen, cooks creates this beloved Mexican dish with hominy, chicken, pepitas, tomatillos, epazote and a handful of fresh jalapenos. A cure-all, the medicinal brew once had ritual significance and is so good you'll want to skip dinner and have a second helping. A medley of toppings adds to the experience.
Best Produce: Saturday Organic Market, Ancha de San Antonio and Cardo on the grounds of the Rosewood
A market or a meeting place? Hands down, the best produce and people watching in town.
Best Rooftop La Azotea, Umaran #6
Food: The Jicama Taco…the shell is a thin slice of Jicama that is topped with lightly breaded shrimp, fried leeks, chipotle mayo and a tamarind sauce. It’s one of the most delicious and creative tacos in SMA.
Service: The best in town, compliments of Ram, Eduardo and the remarkable staff.
Drinks: Biggest wine pours; best house wine.
View: When was the last time you saw a pink sky?
People-Watching: The list of personalities who frequent this high-style eatery goes on and on.
Best Salad: Shaved Brussels Sprout and Kale Salad,The Restaurant Solano #16
You haven’t tasted a salad this good ever…even if you don’t like Brussels sprouts.
I’ve tried to recreate it at home but somehow it always tastes better at The Restaurant.
Best Service: TIE: La Azotea, Umaran #6 and B’ui cocina de campo, on the equestrian grounds at Otomi’s residential area outside of SMA Km 2 Camino a San Miguel el Viejo
It takes a team and in both cases, it’s a duo that leads them…
Ram and Eduardo at La Azotea
Gabriel and Angel at B’ui
How can anybody this young know so much about good service.?

Best SMA Food Enthusiast: Carol Jackson
Who you share your table with is just as important as what is on it.
Not because she’s got enviable taste buds, is a great cook or happens to send me everything I possibly want to know about in the world of food.
She was a foodie before the word was ever invented.
Best Soup: Muro Loreto 10B
As advertised, this Azteca soup IS the best and biggest bowl in town. Also try their chicken…and, the list goes on and on.
Best Steak: Buenos Aires Bistro Mesones #62
All of Chef Mariano’s beef is Certified Angus Beef. Most is Mexican beef from Sonora, export quality, which makes it hard to source because producers obviously prefer to sell it abroad at US prices but some of his beef is from the US because the quality is there. If he can, he always tries to support local or national businesses, but it’s not always possible because the quality has to be there.

One thing for sure: Chef Mariano is committed to the quality of his products and it shows. Watch for a post on Chef Mariano next week.
Best Street Food: Andy’s Tacos, Esq Insurgentes y Hidalgo
Andy is easily the King of SMA Street and anyone who has indulged there agrees. Every evening at 7pm, there’s a long line at his taco cart in Centro. The mere aroma attracts aficionados who jockey for one of the few seats and a small plate of savory Tacos Al Pastor. The pork is marinated in dried chilies, spices and pineapple and is slow-cooked on a vertical rotisserie then covered with a spicy, red chipotle salsa. Andy's is a favorite of partygoers looking for an after-hours feast and still intoxicated by the magic of the fiesta.
This is the place I want to stage, especially at around 3 AM.
Best Sushi: 1826 Tequila Bar Rosewood Hotel
The Rosewood sent their sushi chefs to train in Japan. You can tell. Sushi is served every Friday and Saturday night in the 1826 Tequila Bar. The freshest raw fish in San Miguel and the only place I will eat inland seafood.
Best Sweets: Artesana Boutique, Rosewood Hotel
Open for over a month, this new little shop, tucked away inside the Rosewood Hotel, sells Salvador’s baked goods including the most decadent chocolate that looks like a taco topped with fruits and nuts.
Designed by Tables and More out of Guadalajara, the shop is drop-dead gorgeous and has outdoor seating. You’ll likely find the coffee crowd here as they also serve Starbucks for the same price as the Starbucks in town.
Best Tacos al Pastor:  Andy’s Tacos, Esq Insurgentes y Hidalgo
Unlike the other pastor vendors in town, Andy will caramelize his meat to an almost-crunchy texture. That process makes it picture-perfect when he shaves it off the vertical spit, fries it, splashes it with a somewhat fiery salsa, kisses it with thin slices of pineapple and hands it over with a grin.
If you blink twice from the sweet-smelling smoke in your eyes, you'll swear that Elvis is alive and well and living in San Miguel. That's part of the reason you come here.
Call it a religious experience that happens as it moves toward the midnight hour. I’ve looked for his equal at nearly every taco place in town. There isn’t one.
Best Tamales: Tamales La Chappis, Insurgentes by Templo del Oratorio
I hate tamales. That was until I discovered street cooks Maria de la Luz Tovar Hernandez and Educardo Alonzo Zarate Cruz making fiery tamales laced with spicy, green chilies. The tamales are offered several different ways and always sell out early so get there when the sun comes up.
The blissful part of this breakfast is watching San Miguel come alive in the morning as you savor every spicy bite.
Sunrise isn’t suppose to taste this good. An 8 pesos experience that’s pretty darn hard to beat.
Best Tequila Tasting: 1826 Tequila Bar Rosewood Hotel Calle Nemesio Diez #11
There are plenty of tourist attractions in San Miguel, but none of them are as enjoyable as the tequila class at the 1826 Tequila Bar in the Rosewood Hotel. Grab at least two friends and you get a private class with the resident Tequilier (tequila sommelier). The bar has 120 varieties of tequila and 20 brands of Mezcal to choose from, including Casa Dragones. 
One of my favorite Extra Anejos, a tequila aged for at least three years, is the Atelier Del Maestro. I love the hand-painted bottles. At 1826 Tequila Bar, the person to take the last shot gets to keep the empty bottle.
Another perfectly good reason to drink up.
Best Up-and-Coming Chef: Gabriel Ordonez, 58, Mesones #58
It’s rare to find a bar with imaginative food but Chef Ordonez is creating small plates that are worthy of a cult following.
A gifted chef with a talent for integrating flavors, Gabriel trained in the acclaimed Peruvian kitchens at both Malabar and Central Restaurante. Both restaurants earned spots on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants this past year. Malabar captured the number twenty position, while Central Restaurante took the top spot for the second year in a row.
We’re currently headed back to search his kitchen. We know where his spoon is…we’re looking for his magic wand.
Best View: Luna Rooftop Bar, Rosewood Hotel
A feast for the eyes, devouring the beauty of San Miguel is on the top of my list of things to do. Travelers maintain it’s their favorite activity, especially while enjoying the tapas and tequilas at their favorite rooftop bar. 
The Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at the Rosewood Hotel shows off the best views; a 360-degree spectacle certain to take your breath away, especially at sunset.
Best Wine Cellar: Cava Sautto, Hotel Sautto, Hernandez Macias #59
This wine store, hidden behind the registration desk in Hotel Sautto, has a remarkable cellar that is stocked with well-known labels, including Casa Madero and other fine wines from Mexico, South America and Europe.
You could spend hours hanging out in the cellar studying labels but you’ll have more fun taking them home and tasting them.
Don't miss the Cava Sautto Wine Festival on February 6th.
Best Wine Expert: Arael Gómez Tello, Arggot del Vino
Arael Gómez Tello is a sommelier from the University of Tourism and Administrative Sciences by the Mexican Association of Sommeliers. Graduated from the Turquois Mónaco-México Foundation in Restaurant and Bar Operations and Customer Service in 2003.  Founder and proprietor of Arggot del Vino, a wine distributor serving the market in San Miguel de Allende, Querétaro, and the Bajío region. Gastronomy instructor at the Instituto de Artes y Oficios de Querétaro for seven years.
He is currently teaching a six week course, MASTERING WINE: A Practical Wine Course.
Arael distributes over 300 labels.
Best Wine Store: Carnevino, Ancha de San Antonio #22
If you can’t find a wine at one of the most interesting and well stocked wine store in town, owner Jorge Alarcon L can get it for you. Expect to see a restaurant in the store this year.
We love the variety of wine, liquor and gourmet food that he sells.
Jorge Alarcon L is another one of the most knowledgeable wine resources in town. 
Photo of Susan York by Melissa Perry Barnett