Thursday, January 19, 2017

Taking a Bite out of San Miguel de Allende: The Best of 2016

Things have changed since I came to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) back in June, 2013 and started writing about food. Time flies when you’re busy eating and what seems like a long time ago has done a 180 in the blink of an eye. The food scene back then was owned by a few chefs and a handful of restaurants. 2016 changed all that with restaurants opening almost every week. Much to our disappointment, not all of them survived.

SMA is now one of the top destinations in Mexico for food. Every day, someone is discovering what we already know: SMA is a great place to eat.

The city of SMA continued to receive awards in 2016: The best city of Mexico, Central and South America and third in the world byTravel and Leisure magazine and fifth in the world at Conde Nast Traveler. Chefs and restaurants acquired them as well; Chef Matteo Salas winning Best Chef during the Food and Travel Readers Awards, along with other major awards.
The opening of the year was unquestionably Sally and Roy Azar’s stylish food and shopping complex, Doce 18, which added notable restaurants like Chef Matteo Salas’s Jacinto 1930 and Daniel Estebaranz’s farm-to-table restaurant ,Milpa. Redefining fast food was Chef Donnie Masterton. His restaurants in the complex, Birdies Burgers and Taco Lab, put us back in touch with reality; finally, a good hamburger, fries and a shake along with a trio of hard shell tacos overstuffed with carnitas, short rib and fish. I’ll confess now that I tried them both in one seating the first day they opened. Chef Masterton is currently building another restaurant, scheduled to open this year.

In 2016, our appetite for new restaurants was insatiable. Rooftops like Quince emerged, where Chef Gonzalo Martinez surprises us every time we go there. Antonia’s Bistro also provided a new look at SMA’s magnificent panorama, along with a flavorful food selection and a not-so-usual assortment of agave drinks.

Café Muro moved into an incredible new space, showcased by a curved, floor-to-ceiling glass wall, old-time favorite Ole Ole reopened, Luna de Queso kicked off a much welcomed eatery and grocery in the center of town, along with Vino + Tapas, Ba-Bite, La Crepe du Chef, Pork Belly, Fat Boys, CARNEVINOGrill, and the latest opening, Marsala, cocina con acentos and Yaya’s by Marsala take out, who are currently collecting five star ratings from their ravenous fans.
Outside of Centro, El Vergel Bistro and Market and Trattoria da Laura a Los Mezquites launched sanctuaries to escape our daily routine. The Los Frailes neighborhood also got a restaurant; Chef Armando Pratt’s OMA, where you can find salt crusted prime rib on Wednesday nights. So it goes with restaurants and private chefs traveling to the campo for the drop-dead gorgeous views.
One of our favorite cheap eats, El Pato Barbacoa and Mixiotes, keeps climbing the list on Trip Advisor, currently #26 and our favorite SMA dive, El Tucan, created a salsa from a single chili that we think is one of the best in town, along with their flautas.
Some of the greatest things to eat are close to home. We found the best bread in SMA at tiny La Crepe du Chef. Max bakes a cheese and bacon variety that never seems to make it home in one piece, despite the fact that we live just 2 blocks away.
Taking us to new heights, we foraged for mushrooms in the mountains of Santa Rosa de Lima and filled our bottles with a terrific orange-flavored mezcal at the only bar in town for under 100 pesos. It’s one of our favorite day trips with mushroom specialist, Arif Towns Alonso.
One of our best finds last year was the pizza at MiVida. Celebrating their 7th anniversary, it WAS one of the best kept secrets in SMA, along with their garden out back. We also delighted in finding the Mexican version of Bananas Foster at Buenos Aires Bistro, where Chef Mariano Alverez masters grilled meats.
Many of the market openings in 2016 offered high-quality ingredients. Mercado Sano continues to grow with the Saturday Organic market (TOSMA) moving there this past fall. The market is also home base for a new chapter of the International Slow Food Movement.
Food festivals also filled our year with some of the bests: we discovered the best tequila we’ve ever had, Chula Parranda Tequila, the cuisine of Tabasco, Mexico in the cooking of Nelly Cordova Morillo and Lupita Vidal Aguilar and enjoyed some of the best oysters in Mexico at the SMA Food Festival.
Another SMA favorite, Sabores San Miguel, gave us the chance to sample foods from many of SMA’s best restaurants. Half of SMA showed up for the feast and to sample the best dish of any festival this past year, Chef Donnie Masterton’s Lamb Shawarma.

A few other highlights this past year to put on your list for 2017: the San Lucas Fiesta de la Vendimia for the grape crush, the Lamb and Mezcal Festival, where  we were a judge, and the National Wine and Cheese Festival in the colorful little town of Tequisquiapan.
In 2016, ingredients continue to be powerful, giving us plenty of food for thought. Chef Marco Cruz turned just-picked Lactarius indigo into perfection by topping them with a miso and mescal sauce; further distinguishing great food from good. Fennel, coriander and arugula flowers are ingredients that Chef Matteo Salas turns into magical morsels to feed the soul. We also had a braised Oxtail Ravioli at Aperi that I dream about to this day. Both chefs set the bar a lot higher in 2016.
Restaurants and chefs also raised their own game, getting just right shots that did justice to their food. Mouth-watering photos surfaced everywhere on social media; so much so that the group over at Cumpanio, Dos Casas and Jacinto 1930 hired a digital media person this past month.
Cupcakes and Crablegs also had a great year. Extended trips to Oaxaca and Lima taught us a lot about foods, including that there are some foods SMA just does better than anywhere else.

Eating over 600 meals out last year, we uncovered many restaurants that surprised and delighted us. We also attended the largest food festival in Latin America, MISTURA. Last year, we were privileged to finally meet the “Julia Child of Mexico”, Diana Kennedy, fulfill the lifelong goal of cooking with Susana Trilling at Seasons of My Heart in Oaxaca and met many other celebrated chefs from this part of the world including Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz of Central, Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino of Malabar, Chef Micha Tsumura of Maido and Top Chef Mexico Rodolfo Castellano of Origen Oaxaca.

The best meal we ate outside of SMA last year was at Maido, a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant in Lima owned by Chef Micha Tsumura. In fact, it was the best lunch we’ve ever eaten anywhere; all 10 courses.

We also loved the food at Origen Oaxaca from Chef Rodolfo Castellano. Food is the reason we travel.

We were featured in the Atencion’s article on Bloggers in San Miguel ( registered over one million hits back in July, thanks to our loyal readers.

On our annual detox last year, we had one of the best chefs in town cook for us; 3 week of healthy eating at Nomada cocina de Interpretacion. We were grateful when many food lovers in town jumped onboard for the detox and discovered just how great Nomada’s food is. Nomada is celebrating their first anniversary on January 30th.
We spent the better part of 2016 working on two in-depth articles: The Female Chefs of San Miguel de Allende and The Maestras: San Miguel de Allende’s Culinary Pioneers and salute all fifty beautiful, passionate, strong, confident, educated, articulate, doubly committed, and accomplished women we interviewed. They defined our year.

We take pleasure in providing a lot of useful information for both locals and tourists. We gave tips on eating out and two things stand out: Always call to find out if the chef is in the kitchen and rely on food bloggers for the most current information when traveling. We regularly contact them before we hit the road in search of the next best meal.

Our 3-part review will begin next week with the Best Chefs, Best Restaurants and Best Food in San Miguel de Allende from 2016. Come hungry; we'll provide the visuals.

¡Buen provecho!