Monday, March 30, 2020

Where We Ate in 2019: A Tribute


2019 was a year of surprises in the kitchens of SMA, with chefs offering up exciting, new dishes that went far beyond what we expected. More often than not, we loved the food so consequently, many new restaurants were added to our list of regulars last year. 

SMA’s remarkable group of mixologists did a modern day take on old school cocktails all year and came up with some new creations of their own. Much to our delight, a 50 year long passion, the Brandy Alexander with Ice Cream, was recreated by Juan Manuel Mata at Marsala cocina con acentos just for the asking.

Our most memorable food and drink moments from last year are listed below.

Chef Donnie Masterton remains the most influential chef in SMA. His culinary domain and community contributions have supported and influenced many so remember to support him now, along with all the other restaurants in SMA.  

Chef JJ Castañeda of Fatima7 and Café Casa Blanca7 received a lot of positive press this past year and rightfully so. Our pick for the best new chef, his menus spans the Mediterranean. The food is so good, Fatima7 and Casa Blanca7 are both go-to spots when people ask us where to eat.

Celebrating her 3rd Anniversary this past year, Chef Marcela Bolano is our pick for the 2019 Chef of the Year; dine there once and you’ll know why.

Our 2019 list is different from the previous years - the best new restaurant is not one but two: La Dona and Fatima7 and our favorite restaurant? Well, let’s just say we wanted you to eat out for two weeks straight without going to the same place twice. 

Often, when we recommend a restaurant, we suggest specific dishes. Everyone has their favorites and although we’ve tried most everything on the menus, we seldom stray from ordering the best of their best and last year, you read about them all. 


This past year, the best restaurant manager and host come from the same family of owners and speaking of family, it’s all in the family when it comes to Atrio, La Azotea and Rustica; three of the best spots in the city that made the list again last year. 

Our favorite rooftop? We picked seven; one for every day of the week. 

Want to waste away an afternoon Hemmingway style? We’ve grown fond of Bella Italia in the Jardin for drinks; the perfect spot to people watch for hours. We know; we do it a couple of times a month. 
Two of our new restaurant owners got an extra dose of love last year - Lizette Angel,who just took over Lolita Cocina Mexicana and Bar and POLP S.M.A. owners, Chef Patricio Fuentes Alvarez, Jose Pablo Diez Agundis, and Bruno Betancourt Gonzales. 


Ruby Joy’s, one of the healthiest excuses to order take-out got our attention last year as did the best ethnic restaurants in SMA, Lima 502 and Chikatana,  both in Mercado del Carmen.

Delicious concepts pepper the roll, with many favorites, including six French fry dishes. The best dish – there are two: the fiery Red Snapper by Chef Arturo Sandoval at Atrio and the Pork Chamorro, at La Dona, created by Chef Juan Arroyo Pineda and his team, which includes Chef Juan Manuel Galvan Lopez.

The Lamb and Mezcal was our favorite festival again last year, adding a round table discussion featuring some of Mexico’s top Mezcal experts. 


Favorite desserts? We’ve listed nine; that’s what we do when it comes to our favorite course. Best dessert? Of course, it had to be chocolate; was there ever any doubt?

The best comfort food last year was a bowl of Carbonara topped with an egg, from Marsala cocina con acentos; one of our favorite places to go when we need a dose of home sweet home. We’ve also added the most interesting people we ate with, favorite weekly specials and how we do visitors to SMA; you know, the ones that have been to over 62 countries already.

The Best Mixologists number four; they’re the masters who created liquid libations to soothe the soul. We also loved it when our favorite local brand, Casa Dragones, loved us back and hired spirit expert, Adrian Garcia Evans, as their new GM. The Susan was one of our favorite new drinks; a late January, 2020 addition by Mixologist, Mike Espinosa, that was so good, we couldn’t wait another year to list it.

With so much bad news out there lately, we figured you needed a positive take on things and a whole lot of pictures to drool over. Call them Mexico moments; it's a love letter to the many chefs and restaurants who fed us in 2019.

As we’re filled with more questions than answers about what our food scene will look like next year, savor each and every bite of this tribute. We went long on the list; we figured you had plenty of time to read right now. So, shut off your phone, pour yourself a glass of Bacanora and dig in. 

Here's the best of 2019.

Buen Provecho and Salud!

Most Influential Chef: Chef Donnie Masterton
No other chef has done more to shape the culinary profile of SMA than Chef Donnie Masterton. The expansion of his culinary reach since 2016 is astonishing: Birdie’s Burgers, Taco Lab, El Vergel Bistro and Market, Cafe Casa Blanca7, Fatima7 and The Bar at the R. The Restaurant, in its 12th year, raised the bar to set a standard that did not exist before it opened. But first and foremost, when he’s in the kitchen, his cooking is virtually impossible to beat.

2019 Best Chef: Marsala Bolano, Marsala, cocina con acentos
SMA loves Chef Marcela Bolaño and her partner, Ximena, as much as we do the food at Marsala, cocina con acentos.

Chef Marcela Bolaño is probably most famous for being a chef contestant on the television series, Top Chef Mexico – 2nd Season, but here in SMA, she’s renowned for bringing great, Mediterranean flavors with world accents to the table. She’s highly sought after as a guest chef for food festivals and other culinary events. In November, she cooked at Millesime in Mexico City. A chef who travels often, she brings home new flavors for you to try. Marsala, cocina con acentos, celebrated its third anniversary this past December. 



2019 Best New Chef: JJ Castañeda, Fatima7 and Café Casa Blanca7
Chef JJ Castañeda has received a lot of press this year and rightfully so. He’s our pick for SMA’s best new chef this year. His menus span the Mediterranean and the food is so authentic and good, these two restaurants are our go-to spots when we have guests come into town.


Best Pastry Chef: Chef Sofia Antillon, Nomada Cocina de Interpretacion
Chef Sofia Antillon does it best when it comes to creating new dishes for our favorite course: Dessert. The Pavlova with fruit is her signature dessert.; a standout recipe we could eat everyday. 

Favorite SMA Chefs:

Chefs Marco Cruz, Nomada Cocina de Interpretacion and 3 Tonala, Mexico City
All of the dishes we’ve eaten since we first started photographing, devouring and celebrating Chef Marco Cruz's remarkable food back in December, 2015, incorporate something special; pushing boundaries to the point that you can almost taste the risks he took when he created them. 

Chef Arturo Sandoval, Atrio
Chef Arturo Sandoval has risen to a level that many can only aspire to; he’s one of the best chefs in SMA. Many of our favorite dishes are found on his menus, starting with his fiery Red Snapper - our pick for one of the best dishes in 2019.

Chefs Paul Bentley and Gerardo Contreras Michela, Bovine
These are the chefs that leave you with a feeling that you’ve just had a real dining experience. Chef Paul Bentley always has a few surprises up his sleeve so we’re excited to see what he’s doing now that he's taken over the kitchen at Moxi. Stay tuned.

Chef Paco Gonzalez, Trazo 1810
The most under rated chef in SMA finally got his due when Trazo 1810 made the prestigious list of the best 120 restaurants in Mexico. A big high five  to Chef Paco Gonzalez and Alonso Barragan for kicking this always fabulous restaurant and its chef into the record books. 

Chef Mariano Alvarez, Buenos Aires Bistro
Chef Mariano Alvarez is an inspiration; creating brilliant dishes that stand the test of time. Who else can make grilling look this easy and taste so good? We love his cooking, both indoors and out.

Chef Juan Arroyo Pineda, La Dona
Whenever I’m asked what gives a new restaurant staying power, it’s always about the food and in this case, Chef Juan Arroyo Pineda delivers a high-quality collection of dishes that are both original and exciting.

Chef Kenten Marin, Bar Margaret@Hotel Amparo
Chef Kenten Marin has crafted some of the best Southern comfort food in SMA including his fabulous, honey fried chicken dinner that’s only served on Sunday. 


     Photo: Food and Wine Mexico

Chef Vincente Torres@Oli Tapas
It's always great to welcome a Michelin star chef to town and Chef Vincente Torres got his at La Sucursal, in the Valencian Institute of Modern Art.Chef Torres also owns one of Mexico City's best restaurants, Garum, in Polanco, where we dined for the first time this month. 
10+ Years and still going strong:
Chef Donnie Masterton, The Restaurant
Chef Greta Ortega Casañas, MiVida
Chef Mariano Alvarez, Buenos Aires Bistro
Thanks a million times over to this trio of chefs, whose passion and talent outweighed the statistical odds. 

Favorite Restaurant Owners: Jose Maria Calvo and Jesus Manuel Calvo
Owners, Jose Maria Calvo (Chema) and Jesus Manuel Calvo (Chus), have gifted SMA with four of the city’s most popular restaurants: Atrio, La Azotea; Pueblo Viejo and Aquila. 

When you’ve got that golden touch, nothing else needs to be said.


Chef David Jahnke,Chef David Jahnke Cooking Class Lab
Chef David Jahnke’s cooking school rose to the #1 spot on Trip Advisor in less than a year. Recently, he landed on the top again - he’s now listed as one of the best cooking schools in Mexico.

Chef Linnea Rufo, Linnea Rufo Events
Private chef Linnea Rufo’s dinners are legendary. From every small detail - butter roses to Moet moments- not only does she create delicious menus, she could write a book on the art of elegance and good taste… and she is. She's good at creating wild adventures for the asking; here in the cave at El Coyote Flaco.

Chef Kirsten West, La Piña Azul Escuela de Cocina
The culinary Maestra of SMA, Kirsten West has been devoted to food her entire life. Her most rewarding period was the eight years she spent as Director of the test kitchen for Chef Rick Bayless in Chicago. Give her an avocado and she'll come up with hundreds of ways to prepare it. 

Chef Gilda Carbonaro, Culinarian Expeditions
There's always adventurous eating in the kitchens of Culinarian Expeditions; a tour company that leads small groups to Mexico and Italy for a hands-on culinary experience. If you want to make aNeapolitan style pizza,Pasta e Fagioli, Spaghetti-allo-scoglio or Peposo, Culinarian Expeditions is the place to go. After taking her class on simple methods to make pasta sauce, like this one with cherry tomatoes, I feel like I can survive in my own kitchen right now.

Chef Patsy Dubois, Patsy’s Place
If you’re missing family this holiday, Patsy’s Place is just the place to make you feel at home. The atmosphere, the cooking and especially the host makes this SMA home-away-from-home all the more sweeter. 

Chef MIA: Pablo Nicacio
This chef, who was MIA for a few months after closing his restaurant, Nicasio Comedor Mexicano, has just opened a new restaurant in Casa Carley.



Chef Marco Cruz of Nomada recently told me that Pablo Nicascio was his best student. That's a given because if there's one chef who can instantly please us with a really good meal, Pablo Nicacio is it. Welcome back chef.

Chef to Share an Adventure With: Chef Magda Elisa Pablos
It’s always fun to discover new places in SMA, especially with a chef who knows all the hidden gems you’d never find on your own.

Here at Marulier; one of our favorite bakeries this year.

Chefs Greta Ortega Casañas and Ana Cecilia Alvarez, MiVida
Happiness is finding Chef Cecy Alvarez back in the kitchen at MiVida cooking with Chef Greta Ortega Casañas. Who says you can’t have a baby and still be a full time chef?

Chef Juan Manuel Galvan Lopez and Pastry Chef, Vichenza Salinas
Chef Juan Manuel Galvan Lopez is no stranger to the limelight; he was named the Chef of the Year of the Cultural Destination of Mexico at a national competition in 2018. Paired with young, talented pastry chef, Vichenza Salinas, this is the new team to watch.

Favorite pre-Hispanic Cook: Jose Yanez
This passionate, pre-Hispanic and home cook is also a Paris-trained fashion designer, an opera singer and the historian who named every President of Mexico, along with his term in office, in the order that they served. 

Favorite Home Cook: Franklin Terry
American-born home cook, Franklin Terry, has that magic touch for elevating anything he makes into a sublime experience.Sorry folks, he’s already taken.

Best Restaurant Team: Eduardo Perez Calvo and Ram Ramirez
Nobody gives more genuine attention to their customers than these two: Eduardo Perez Calvo and Ram Ramirez. They did it before at La Azotea and now they're doing it again at Rustica.

Best Restaurant Manager: Luis Vela, Atrio
Luis Vela gets the best from every one of his people and has earned the respect of a legion of loyal customers and there are many. Always on top of his game, we can’t think of a better person to take this spot again.

Best Restaurant Host: Eduardo Perez Calvo
Trained by his uncles, Jose Maria Calvo and Jesus Manuel Calvo, at La Azotea, Eduardo Perez Calvo has learned the tricks of the trade from the ground up. The popularity of his restaurant, Rustica, speaks for itself. If we’ve seen one restaurateur grow this past year, Eduardo is it. And, like everyone else, we stand in line for his hugs.

     Photo: Trazo  1810
     Photo: Bovine
Best Staff:
If you read our blog, you’ll know that all the restaurants we frequent have a remarkable staff, in addition to great food. The waiters know what you want even before you know you need it yourself.  

Right now, Kara Oh is working to get many of the restaurants up on the website www.tipjarsma.com to help the wait staff get through this difficult time. Be overly generous; take care of the staff like they took care of you last year.
Best Waiter: Laura Camillo Ariza, Atrio
There’s never anything you’ll have to ask for twice with this waiter; her attention to even the smallest detail is impressive. A mind reader, she always has our drinks on the table before we have to ask. She’s also manages to hold her own with Atrio’s nearly all male staff.  

Always: Eat in the Bar
Some people swear they eat at the bar just so they can look at the bartender. Well, that too! Bartenders and Mixologists, more often than not, turn a customer into a regular after a single visit. Not only do you get your drinks faster - and sometimes we need liquid therapy sooner rather than later - you often get better service. 

Our Favorite Restaurants in 2019:

Atrio
Chef Arturo Sandoval is one of the best chefs in SMA and consistently delivers food to write home about. When anyone asks us for a restaurant recommendation, this is one of the first places we mention. Eat Well Travel Often is our motto and we love table #2; request it and you’ll get an in-your-face view of the Parroquia - the iconic symbol of SMA. The menu at Atrio is always a work in progress and the best dish on the menu is likely to be the one that Chef Arturo Sandoval recently created; like this sushi made with Soft-shell crab or this new appetizer, made of yogurt with mascarpone, foie gras, fig sauce, strawberry and a hard, sweet caramel disc.

Café Casa Blanca7
This restaurant is high on our list of the best restaurants in SMA; typical of all the outstanding eating places that Chef Donnie Masterton has opened since he first introduced The Restaurant years ago.You’ll want to order everything on the menu; it’s all good! One of the best outdoor spaces in SMA, they've also got an indoor fireplace for winter dining.

La Parada
Year after year, La Prada consistently delivers some of the best Peruvian food in SMA. There are many things to choose from; all of them outstanding like the smashed potatoes; the best in town. We seem to be stuck on the chicken livers; the only place in town that has them. This restaurant has been full since they opened their doors back in 2012 so play it safe and make a reservation.

San Mezcal, their terrific, little Mezcal bar is just a few doors down the street. They boasts a menu of ,mas o menos, 12-15 different specialties; the BLT and Tacos al Pastor French fries being some of our favorites. 

Fatima7
Fatima 7’s food is remarkable; some of the best we’ve had in San Miguel de Allende all year. There isn’t anything that Chef JJ Castañeda cooks that not surprising, different and well-defined. The flavors are totally characteristic of his cooking, incorporating dishes from Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Italy, Southern France, and Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. And then there’s the view. Where else can you go and take in ten historic churches?

Marsala cocina con acentos
We first met and photographed Marcela Bolaño back in 2016, when she had pink hair and was moving to SMA to open a restaurant. Little did we know back then that Marcela Bolaño and her partner, Ximena De Leon Campomanes, would go on to create one of the best and most popular restaurants in San Miguel de Allende, serving Mediterranean flavors with world accents.You’ll always get a signature welcome from Marcela when she’s in her kitchen and if she’s not, chances are she’s wandering the world, dreaming up new dishes to bring back to SMA to cook for you. This was one of the many reasons why she’s our pick for SMA’s best chef last year.

Trazo 1810
We are constantly amazed at how the quality of seafood in inland Mexico improves, especially at Trazo 1810. They are so conscious about the quality of their fish that they joined La Buena Pesca as an option to meet their goal of promoting sustainability of marine life in Mexico.Trazo 1810 is one of SMA's best, all-around restaurants. It’s also one of the healthiest.

Nomada cocina de interpretacion
Chefs Marco Cruz and Sofia Antillon were on the ground floor of the emerging food scene just four years ago; forever altering the profile of dining in SMA. Nomada has been in our top three favorites since they opened.

To rave reviews last year, the chefs opened TR3s Tonalá at Tonalá 171 in Roma Norte, Mexico City where we ate this past month.    

The Restaurant
With global comfort dishes on the menu, The Restaurant always turns out great food. Set in one of SMA’s most stylish, colonial settings, its located just steps away from the main square. Celebrate Burger night on Thursday. The all beef burgers are the best in town, using the chefs’ special blends of meats from Canada de la Virgen. We also love holiday meals at The Restaurant, where you can always get a big taste of home. Appetizers; we share - all of them the best in town. 

The Restaurant is also home to The Bar at the R, one of our favorite spots with a solid offering of Asian small plates and appetizers. Don’t blame us if you want to eat here every day. We do, too!

Bar Margaret
Bar Margaret’s chef, Kenten Marin, is one of the best and only Southern chefs in the city. His renowned Chicken with White BBQ sauce was one of our favorite dishes. His Sunday Fried Chicken dinner with all the sides? Don’t forget to put our name on that doggie bag of leftovers you're taking home.

Bovine

If food is spiritual, Bovine is the place to go for the divine experience. Bovine is a one-of-a-kind addition to SMA, especially when it comes to the perfect steak. There are many amazing dishes on the menu that are as delicious as they are well priced. Bovine celebrated its 2ndanniversary last year.

Buenos Aires Bistro
There’s a reason why this restaurant hit the 10 year mark; we’ve never had anything but fabulous food here every time we go. A recent discovery was this pasta, combined with tender, beer-braised pork.

OCRE
We’ve always loved the fresh salad and pizza but now Chef Xavier Pinero Moreno’s take on sweetbreads and oxtail puts OCRE’s offerings at the top of our list; a new menu that just came out.

After sticking close to home to get OCRE off the ground (they celebrate their first anniversary this month) this chef has started traveling - doing guest chef spots all over Mexico including La Cocineria in Chihuahua with Chef Oscar Cortazar; in Guadalajara, cooking at Teté with the Papa brothers, Mario and Karla; at the Thompson Hotel in Zihuatanejo at Ceniza Restaurant; in Morelia in Nuríte at the Cantera Diez Hotel and now in Monterrey at Koli, created by the young trio of Rivera Rio brothers: Rodrigo, Patricio and Daniel. 

We know how good his food is. Do you? 

Rustica
Eduardo Perez Calvo has created one of the best restaurants in SMA in just a year and a half. What’s his secret? It starts with good,healthy food. Add a great staff and you garner some of your best food experiences in SMA; it’s that simple… or at least Eduardo makes it look that way.

Querencia + Pura Vida Kitchen  + deliQ
Chefs Esmeralda Brinn Bolaños and Alicia Wilson Rivero are on a mission to enrich the Guadalupe neighborhood with their food. With a larger space for Chef Esmeralda Brinn’s restaurant, Querencia, a take-out deli and Chef Alicia Wilson Rivero’s cooking school, that has 10 chef instructors and counting, they’ve jumped into their commitment to Guadalupe and SMA head on. 


We love their straightforward approach to healthy eating.

Best New Restaurants: La Dona and Fatima7
How is it possible that SMA got not one but two great new restaurants last year? We think La Dona and Fatima7 are typical of what a dining experience looks like in SMA with high-quality food and excellent service, not to mention an ambiance that makes every trip more special than the last. You may also get a few bugs to try.



Waste Away The Afternoon, Hemmingway Style: Bella Italia 

For liquid libations, a virtual hug from owner, Paolo Vizzotto, the President of CANIRAC and a super-quick cure: Mexican music, people watching from the corner table facing the Parroquia is our favorite pastime in SMA besides eating.

Eating Out - Hometown Style:

Hai Hai, Minneapolis
HAI HAI is a Southeast Asian street food restaurant and bar in our hometown of Minneapolis, featuring award winning chef, Christina Nguyen.Our favorite restaurant in Minneapolis, the mixture of great ingredients with a variety of influences is what makes Hai Hai’s food taste so good. Our only regret -we're never there long enough to eat the entire menu. 
Walleye Sandwich@Maynards, Lake Minnetonka, Minneapolis
Yes, in Minnesota, we even eat Walleye for breakfast!

Frozen Custard@Adele's Frozen Custard
A generous dose of REAL cookie dough is the perfect excuse to go back and do it all over again tomorrow. 

Favorite Rooftop Views:

Luna Rooftop @ The Rosewood Hotel
Clear or cloudy, there's a 360 degree view that just doesn’t get any better than this. Check - reservations are sometimes required, especially on the weekends.

Atrio
Because an in-your-face view of the Parroquia is always better with a colorful, cocktail. The best view of the Parroquia in SMA, don’t forget to bring your camera.

Fatima7
A panoramic view of ten of the most magnificent churches in SMA; it takes our breath away each and every time we see it. 

Trazo 1810
A beautiful, multi-level showing of some of the best landmarks in SMA can be had for the price of a drink. Salud!

La Unica
Our favorite view of the “other side” of the Parroquia as seen though our glass of wine… PRICELESS!

Zumo
One can’t possibly be in a bad mood at Zumo. Everything is dressed in yellow; the color of sunshine, hope, and happiness and if the color doesn’t instantly put you in good spirits, the views of San Miguel de Allende will.

La Azotea
Watching the flight of birds is worth every ounce of sunset. We love these enchanted, SMA moments, even when it’s cloudy. Grab a 2X1 Margarita during the week, starting at 5:00 PM.

Favorite Take Out: Ruby Joy’s
So how does this sound when you’re too lazy to cook: a restaurant that delivers good, healthy food at a reasonable price using locally grown, organic, sustainably farmed, high quality, responsibly raised and hormone free products? Ruby Joy’s was one of the first delivery only restaurant in SMA that also made its dishes Gluten-free, Vegan, or Vegetarian.

Best Places to Hang Your Hat: La Sacristia Café, Café Zenteno at Bellas Artes and Starbucks
Oh the places we work! Not only does the staff give you an extra dose of love every day, half the town parades though the door and keeps you in the loop of what’s going on.

The food  at these three spots is also good; another one of the many reasons to go and a $100 peso note will usually cover it. 

Starbucks chocolate cake was one of our runner-ups for the best dessert in town. Have you looked at the ripples of chocolate running through it? Best eaten for breakfast and after your morning coffee.


Best Ethnic Restaurant: Lima 502 and Chikatana
We can’t get enough of the food at these two restaurants - inexpensive, authentic and a welcomed addition to the growing list of casual, ethnic restaurants in SMA.

We just heard a rumor that another one of our favorite restaurants may end up at Mercado del Carmen. If so, you can knock three days off your week for eating delicious and reasonably priced food all in the same place.

Something New: There’s also the new Cal’eh House and if you like a cross between an American and Mexican burger with a multitude of toppings, including jalapeños and avocado slices, you're in luck. It’s even got their logo on top. Also try their boneless chicken with parmesan.

Mercado del Carmen is growing on us. 

Most Creative Dish: Chocolate Carrot Cake French Toast by Chef Linnea Rufo
Who else but Chef Linnea Rufo would use homemade Chocolate Carrot Cake stuffed with cream cheese to make French toast? This was possibly the best French toast we’ve eaten but then, everything she cooks for us is pretty fabulous. No syrup needed.

Best Weekly Pleasures:

Sunday:
Brunch with Stone Crab at Marsala cocina con acentos
Fried Chicken Dinner at Bar Margaret
Brunch at Zumo, including bottomless Mimosas

Monday:
Two for one Happy Hour starting at 5:00 PM at La Azotea.
The Charcuterie board at Fatima7, 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Monday – Friday.

Tuesday: If it's Tuesday, it must be Margarita night at Mama Mia; made by one of our favorite Mixologists, Adal Garcia. There’s no discount but the Margaritas are so inexpensive ($110 pesos) and potent, some of us just have one. 

Wednesday:
Triple T day@ La Dona: A menu of Tacos, Tostadas and Tortas - all day and night.
Kebob night and belly dancers at Café Casa Blanca7 and Fatima7 Rooftop

Thursday: Burger night at The Restaurant

Friday: Two for one breakfast at Birdies Burgers

Saturday Use your 15% Zumo discount card; good any day of the week for locals, including Saturday.

Best Fast Food Specials: Birdies Burgers and Taco Lab
Great weekly specials put us into their fan club in 2019, starting with the Pastrami and Sauerkraut burger. In fact, this is where we ate our last supper on Friday afternoon. 

Street Foods We Can’t Live Without:

El Pato Barbacoa y Mixiotes
Mixiotes - the Mexican version of your mother’s Sunday Pot Roast; one of our favorite dishes in SMA. The owners are a favorite, too.

Carnita Tortas@Bautista Brothers
Bautista Brothers is a SMA institution and the pork is insanely tasty; ask for the rib (Costilla) when you place your order. It's also delicious with a pile of cabbage on top. We often order two and take one home.

Best Bakery: 

ABSOLUTELYEVERYTHING@Petit Four

Maula bread@ Panio

Cruffin de Limon@ Panio

Canelés, Bread and Bagels@ Marulier

Tarts and Cakes@Patrisserie Pasteleria Francesa
Guava and Chocolate@Patrisserie Pasteleria Francesa

Almond Croissant@Buonforno (also available at Rustica and Mercado Sano)

Bread@Bar Margaret

Breton Cake@ Panio
Don't forget the load on the homemade, vanilla ice cream.


Caramel Chocolate Tart by Isabelle Ortega@Madame la lune
This is one of my favorite weekly indulgences on Saturday night. The trick is to put it in the refrigerator and get it ice cold before you eat it. 

Best Pasta:

Buenos Aires Bistro
We seldom think about this famous, SMA steak house for pasta they make some of the best in SMA. The Ricotta Gnocchi with beer-braised pork was our latest surprise. Always a favorite: the Sorrentinos with ricotta, walnut and prosciutto.

Marsala cocina con acentos
There’s always a divine, seasonal menu of pastas; the ravioli filled with chestnuts was a recent favorite and our favorite comfort food this year: a bowl of Carbonara topped with an egg. As long as there’s Marcela’s pasta in our world, we’re good.

MiVida
MiVida is well known for their pastas. An all time favorite is the lasagna, with layers and layers of quality beef and pork, béchamel made with real butter, and high-end parmigiano cheese. We love their high- quality ingredients; selectively hand-picked from sources all over Mexico, with many imported from Italy. Or try their specials, like Tortellini pasta stuffed with beef stew, pancetta, Oporto Sauce, green beans, corn and purple radish micro-greens, tatemado olive oil, and parmesan.

Best Pizza:

Culinarian Expeditions
With the most, authentic pizza napoletana you’ll find, ask for the mixed olive topping when you take their class from certified pizza maker, Fulvio CarbonaroFulvio says the key to making good pizza is simplicity; if it’s got more than 5 ingredients on the top, it’s too many.

Ocre
With an extra thin crust, Ocre’s Margarita pizza comes with an optional sauce made of olive oil, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chili de arbol, pine nuts, peanuts and salt. Go for it; the taste is so different but one of the best pizzas we’ve had. 

The recipe for their new Margarita pizza has changed a little, with more cheese and chunky tomatoes, but we love it as much as the old recipe and it's still served with the same delicious sauce.

MiVida
Still one of the best in town, MiVida’s delicious pizza is only available on Sunday. You’re in luck; you can order different toppings on either side of the pizza. We also like the cheese-lovers pizza: the Bianca with mozzarella, parmesan, gorgonzola, goat and camembert cheese and this Margarita pizza.

Best Seafood: Trazo 1810
Trazo 1810 is committed to serving great seafood to its customers; 70% of which are locals. Joining the Buena Pesca program was proof of that commitment; setting the guidelines to promote responsible consumption of marine species in Mexico. As part of the packageTrazo 1810 now been assigned their own fisherman, Juan Sanchez. A recent delivery included this giant red snapper.Trazo 1810 picks up their seafood from the Queretaro airport every Thursday morning.

Bovine
A mixture of a brasserie and steakhouse, some of the best dishes on their menu are made with fresh seafood, flown in fresh from Ensenada. Craving fresh oysters? Bovine is the place to go. The last time we were there, we ate all of them before we took a picture. And yes, they are that good!

Best Pozole:

Chef Ari Vasquez @The Restaurant
Chef Ari Vazquez of El Vergel Bistro and Market made a fabulous green Pozole for one of the biggest crowds of the season – Chef Donnie Masterton’s annual Posada for staff and friends at The Restaurant. Ari makes her pozole with chicken or pork and uses anything green she can find for the sauce; loading it up with Spinach, Coriander, Parsley, Epazote Poblano chile, Oreagno and Laurel.

Red Pozole@ La Alborada
Because a red pozole that’s peppery,spicy,loaded with chicken, pork or beef needs no holiday to be appreciated. This little hole-in-the-wall is right around the corner from La Parroquia on Calle Solano.

Nothing like the smell of: Chickens on the spit at Fatima7. Yep, just remembering!

Favorite Sandwich: Some of SMA’s best eats this year we’re found between two slices of bread:

Pork Cheek Sandwich@Buenos Aires de Campo
People always ask me if this sandwich is really that good. The answer is always yes, no matter how many times we eat it. We're hoping the chef will add it to the menu when he reopens.

Pork Sandwich@Oktoberfest 2019
Chef Armando Prats created a most delicious, one-of-a-kind sandwich from the whole pig he cooked at Oktoberfest 2019. Hope we don’t have to wait a whole year to eat it again because it was one of the best sandwiches we ate last year. Here's Chef Prats with one of SMA's favorite visiting chefs, the Spice Chica.

Shrimp Po Boy@La Prada
It’s the next best thing to eating a Po Boy in New Orleans without the cost of the trip. 


Pastrami with Sauerkraut on Rye
Chef J.J. Castenada brines the pastrami for a week, then uses an herbal rub for another five days, cooks it on a smoker then puts the meat in a sous vide until it’s textbook perfect. The sauerkraut is also delicious and homemade. Select breads, like this rye, are now baked in-house at The Restaurant.

Rib Eye Torta@La Dona
This is our favorite dish on the special, Triple T menu offered on Wednesday. A sandwich just doesn’t get any better than this, especially when it’s crafted in the kitchen at La Dona.

French Dip@ Marsala cocina con acentos
The best French Dip in SMA is made the classic way: a crusty roll, thin shavings of rare, slow-cooked beef and a small cup of drippings for dunking. It’s the best beef sandwich in town.

BLT@ San Mezcal
When you’re craving a BLT, this chef has got you covered. Summer can’t come soon enough with these paper-thin slices of red and green tomatoes topped off with lettuce and a smoky smear of chipotle mayo. Wrap it in bacon and we’ll take a dozen to go.


Sauerkraut and Bacon Sandwich@Querencia
This made-from-scratch, fermented open-face is our pick for the best breakfast sandwich in SMA. With homemade sauerkraut, a blanket of Chihiahua Menonita and a generous sprinkling of bacon, we never get an argument on our #1 pick, especially when you see the price.  

Best French Fries: One of our favorite foods get’s dressed up in all sorts of delicious and interesting extras:

Tacos Al Pastor@ San Mezcal: Cheddar cheese, Pico de Gallo with pineapple and guacamole - all the makings of our favorite Mexican dish, Tacos al Pastor, on a petit platter of fries. 

One of the best dishes we ate last year, this was fun food from the get go.

Sea Salt Fries @ Birdies Burgers:The only thing that these crispy, hot fries will ever need is salt; sea salt. We eat them at least once a week and always  order them extra crispy - it's a ritual.

Papas fritas@Bovine: These thick cut fries with sea salt and cheese are exceptional; one of our guiltiest pleasures in SMA.

Loaded Baked Potato Fries@ Birides Burgers: Don’t ask; just eat. One of the best piles around, these fries includes every topping you’ve ever wanted on French fries except the ketchup.

Kamikaze fries@Chikatana: These are a fiery introduction to Korean food, topped with bulgogi Korean Beef, kimchi, siracha, Lebanese garlic sauce, Vietnamese mayonnaise and green onions.

Chili Cheese Fries@Birdies Burgers: Baby it’s cold outside and this gets our vote for the most delicious warm-me-up in town.

Best Chilaquiles:

Querencia
Chef Esmeralda Brinn owned a stand in a street bazaar in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City where she sold Cochinita Pibil Tortas. It shows - these are some of the best Chilaquiles with Cochinita Pibil we’ve eaten all year. They’re available every Sunday.

Rustica
We’re very particular about how Chilaquiles are fixed and there’s only one way we’ll eat them - NOT SOGGY! Rustica’s Chilaquiles are textbook, served on a plate and not in a bowl, made with the right amount of salsa verde, whole, black beans and heat. They’re topped with radishes, red onion, avocados and a fried egg. This is one of our favorite breakfast dishes at Rustica.

Best Bacon@Nicasio
Quit eating bacon? NEVER! Our sixth food group, there was no better place than at Nicasio. This bacon is now served in Casa Carley.

Favorite Tacos:

Jicama Tacos@ La Azotea
 A texturally adventurous bite, La Azotea’s Jicama Tacos are famous. The shell is a thin slice of Jicama that’s topped with lightly breaded shrimp, chipotle mayo and a tamarind sauce. The fried leek finish puts this taco in a class by itself. We take ours with a sunset view; one of the best pairings in town.

Tacos al Pastor @ Andy’s
These Tacos al Pastor are heavenly. We didn’t find any we liked better in Mexico City all last year or even just a few weeks ago, when we did a taco tour. It’s always an after-hours feast at Andy’s so eat up; you’re likely to meet more people here than you did all day.

Favorite Enchiladas: Enchiladas Gloria@ Tacos Don Felix
Again this year, Chef Gloria Espinosa Briseno wins the top spot with these enchiladas,made with chicken and pork, topped in both red and green sauce
You’ll need a fishbowl Margarita to wash them down. Go for a double; Don Felix always gives you permission to drink at least two.

Breakfast: Our Favorite Meal of the Day

Brunch@ Marsala cocina con acentos
Chef Marcela Bolaño was one of the first chefs in SMA to do a real Sunday brunch, complete with music, Mimosas and stone crab. No impersonal buffet tables for this chef; just one small mesa filled with homemade offerings: beautiful scones, pates and Greek yogurt, along with a personal choice for your entrée. Her waffle with duck is legendary; her Eggs Benedict a lesson in how to eat more food than you possibly can in a single sitting. Don't forget a bib.

Spinach Frittata @Rustica
Our new favorite dish at Rustica is the spinach frittata - one of the few dishes that have no regionality; it's a true Italian classic with Mexican toppings. 
I'm really particular about how my frittata is cooked. I like it thin, just like it's made at Rustica. It's one of the best things to eat when you're craving healthy with plenty of high-quality protein, incorporating mushrooms and then topping it off with a pile of fresh arugula. This breakfast dish is one of the best around; it’s also one of the healthiest.

Lavanda
When breakfast gets down to great Mexican or healthy eats, Lavanda does it best. Why do you think there’s a long line down the block every day, both in and out of season?Yes, and sometimes we eat BLT's for breakfast; our favorite meal of the day. Ask for a rooftop seat.

Café Muro
Owners Gerardo Arteaga and Carlos Muro know how to make their customers feel at home; their long list of regulars pays tribute to the terrific food and service. Just a short walk from Fabrica Aurora, you'll always feel like your going out of town when you walk up the hill to eat; it's a treat worth repeating every Sunday. Mexican or American; take your pick. You'll get generous portions no matter what you order. Pastries from Marulier.

The Best Eggs Benedict@Querenica
With a toasted Hoja Santa leaf and pesto, hands down, these are the best Eggs Benedict in town. We know; we eat them practically every week. And when it comes to Querencia's benny’s baby, we're a solo act. We never split an order no matter how many times you ask.

Best American Breakfast: Enamora-te
Mexico’s version of Denny's Super Slam is at Enamora-te, minus the coupons. Made fresh when you order it, your tab is just $5.26. The hash browns are the closest thing to making your own. Ask for them extra crispy. 

Best Soup: French Onion Soup@ Bovine
More like a cheese sandwich than a soup, there’s no discussion on this category; it was never a contest to begin with for the second year in a row.

Favorite Salads:

The Fresh Salad@ Ocre
Appropriately called a Fresh Salad, the endive is grilled and the caramelized peaches and peach dressing add some interesting flavors, along with mustard seeds, goat cheese and nasturtium.You’re in luck; it’s still on the new menu that just came out this month.

Shaved Broccoli and Kale Salad@The Restaurant
When Chef Donnie Masterton took this dish off the menu, there was a full- fledged revolution. Eat up because we're guessing he’s never taking it off the menu again. Now a classic, this one goes into the record book as well.

Grilled Romaine Salad@Buenos Aires Bistro
With the smoky flavor of the grill, this salad is dressed in parmesan cheese and has a Balsamic reduction and is one of the most flavorful salads in SMA. It’s become a weekly favorite.

Vietnamese Salad@Marsala
Chef Marcela Bolaño put her own spin on this Vietnamese noodle salad with a perfect balance of tastes, textures, and temperatures. Made with caramelized smoked pork and crunchy shallots, the flavors are as authentic as the chef.

Marina Girl Salad@ Taco Lab
Always fresh, this Marina Girl Salad is served in an oversized bowl loaded with super fresh, extra crispy romaine lettuce, avocado, cucumber, radishes, pumpkin seeds, jicima, cotija cheese and a light, honey jalapeno dressing. One of our weekly pleasures, it’s good when we’re looking for something healthy.

Appetizers and Small Plates We LOVE:

Roasted Cauliflower@ La Dona
This roasted cauliflower is made in a wood fire oven and marinated in dehydrated, tomato chimichurri with a seasoned Gorgonzola cheese dressing. One of the best appetizers in SMA, share it with people who appreciate good food.

Stone Crab@Marsala cocina con acentos
Not the only reason to go to Sunday Brunch at Marsala’s but it’s certainly first on the long list of reasons why we love this brunch more than any other one in town. Better get there early because we know at least one person who will probably order them all.

Stix @ The Bar at the R
These Asian skewers are made with Salmon, Chicken, Teriyaki Beef, Veggie, Chicken Liver Takitori or Korean Pork Belly and are served with jasmine rice and Asian slaw. Our favorite quick bites also include the best sushi rolls in town.

Cabbage Roll@ Fatima7 Rooftop
What a sweet surprise when we dove into the menu at Fatima 7 Rooftop and pulled out these cabbage rolls from the dozens of small plates that are on the menu. Chef J.J. Castaneda put his own spin on this dish: ground Lamb, Basmati Rice, Serrano Chili and Sumac stewed tomatoes.

Terrina de Cerdo@Marsala
Because some of the best things in life come with pickles and mustard.

Hard Boiled Egg @ Bar Margaret
One of the most imaginative appetizers in town is Bar Margaret’ panko-coated, fried deviled egg; best taken with a side of beer.

Favorite Splurges:

Ice Cream@Vinedos San Lucas
The best Ice Cream we’ve ever tasted was served with the sweetest side show: a playful, ice cream flight by two of our favorite food lovers, Rose Ruiz and Alberto Cinta Laborde, that ended in a kiss. 

Soft Serve Ice Cream@Birdies Burgers
You can eat your broccoli tomorrow. Today is reserved for high spirited fun so it’s soft serve ice cream for everyone. Remember, you are what you eat and this dish will make you extra sweet; the perfect excuse for a second helping.

Churros
I like to think of myself as the Churro expert, I’ve eaten so many. Sometimes with caramel but more often just plain, we love churros because we can eat,walk and talk all at the same time.

Best Dish of 2019:

Red Snapper @ Atrio
One of the single best meals in SMA is Atrio’s caramelized Red Snapper that's marinated with spicy oriental red chilies, chipotle and a citric sauce. It’s one of the many exceptional creations from Chef Arturo Sandoval, who always takes his cuisine to the next level. 

Pork Chamorro@ La Dona
This Pork Chamorro is cooked for four hours over low heat, barbecue style, accompanied with rustic mashed potatoes and fresh purslane. What makes the dish is the sauce: the juices to which dark beer, honey of piloncillo and chili peppers with tatemades onions are added.We think La Dona’s Chamorro is the best and we’ve tried them all.

Favorite Dishes of 2019:

Chicken with White BBQ Sauce @ Bar Margaret
Chef Kenten Marin has a way with chicken; from his Fried Chicken dinners on Sunday to this smoked chicken with a white, BBQ sauce, which we first had at Bar Margaret’s Fourth of July party. We’ve been celebrating ever since.

Chamorro@ La Unica
On the advice of Chef Lucy Noriega, we went to La Unica to try the
Chamorro. Superb, it’s a split for two that’s mixed with an Adobo chili mole sauce. We like it best at sunset with an ice cold glass of wine.

Prime Rib@Cafe Casa Blanca7
We’re eating our holiday meals at Café Casa Blanca7 if this is what they’re serving. We haven’t had Prime Rib like this since we lived back in Chicago.

Best Dessert of 2019: Budino of Chocolate with Hazelnut Praline, Chef JJ Castenada, Cafe Casa Blanca 7
With the addition of a crunchy layer of praline, this chocolate cake wins as the best dessert in SMA last year and we know plenty of people who will second that.


Favorite Desserts of 2019:

Burnt Caramel Sundae@ Chef Donnie Masterton, The Restaurant
Another classic at The Restaurant, this balance of Ambrosia custom-made, burnt caramel ice cream and toppings only comes with one spoon. Sorry. 

Caramel pot de creame@Chef JJ Castenada, Café Casa Blanca7 and Fatima7
Now on the dessert menu at these restaurants, this delicious, rich dessert was served at the Outstanding in the Field dinner last year. Trust me; it’s worth every calorie and then some; one of our favorite indulgences in 2019.

Carrot Cake@Chef Marcela Bolano,Marsala cocina con acentos
No wonder this cream cheese sensation is one of the best in town. It’s the only recipe Chef Marcela Bolano wouldn’t share with her staff.

Caramel Flan with Hoja Santa and Cactus Sorbet@ Chef Sofia Antillon, Nomada Cocina de Interpretacion
The best Pastry Chef in SMA is always changing her menu. That’s why we love her daily offerings, like this special with a delicious, handmade sorbet.

Bunuelos @ Pastry Chef, Vichenza Salinas, La Dona
La Dona’s Bunuelos are fabulous; made with guava “ate”, fresh cheese, piloncillo honey and orange with café de olla ice cream. This dish makes an excellent case for dessert only dining.

Peanut Butter and Sea Salt Cookie by Denise Rosenfeld@Postres Artesanales - Rustica
The cookie is so full of peanut butter, we now have the perfect excuse to eat it for breakfast. This is our favorite breakfast treat, served with Rustica’s iced latte.


Molcajete of Chocolate Semi-Amargo with pistachio ice cream@ Chef Eduardo Palazuelos, Live Aqua
We love this Molcajete filled with Chocolate Semi-Amargo but what really makes the dessert is the homemade, pistachio ice cream. We could eat it by the gallon and we have.

Corn bread with Glorias de Linares sauce and ice cream@ Pastry Chef, Vichenza Salinas,La Dona
Our definition of down home dessert: Corn bread with Glorias de Linares sauce and ice cream of burnt milk and marzipan. Better than good, we've eaten it four weeks in a row.


Pastel de Chocolate by Chef Vincente Torres@Oli Tapas
Who said the brownie bits were the star of this show? Pastel de Chocolate is made with a mix of the best Mexican chocolates; not too bitter and not too sweet.This dessert is thick, creamy and the perfect texture for savoring what’s always one of my favorite ingredients: Chocolate; delicious, sweet, gooey and sinfully rich chocolate - my chocolate!

Best Comfort Food: Carbonara@ Marsala cocina con acentos
The best comfort food in SMA needs no introduction and comes with an egg on top. And for dessert, you get an oversized hug from the chef. How’s that for the sweet taste of home? 

We have at least a dozen pictures of this dish; a true perspective for just how many times we ate it.

The Briefest Burger: Chef Gabriel Ordonez@Mercado Sano
This was one of our favorite burgers, made of Short Rib, Chuck and Top Sirloin, even though it was short-lived; a couple of weeks at Mercado Sano. 
My advice: try it when you see it. 

Best Cake: Pinata Cake
When the sparklers went off and we cut into the cake, it was overflowing with MandM’s. We think that there’s no better way to celebrate a birthday in Mexico than with a festive, Pinata Cake. This one you can make at home.

Favorite SMA Events:

Outstanding in the Field
They came from remarkable food cities like San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca to celebrate the farmer, the vinter and the chefs who passionately created the feast: Chef Donnie Masterton and Chef JJ Castenada. They were young and forever young; among them restaurateurs, cheese makers, food lovers, bloggers, marketers of Mezcal and Tequila, pâtissiers, apprentices, bread makers, aficionados, urban farmers and kitchen magicians. A food adventure of another kind for this group of exploratory eaters, this was a meal that fed the soul.

Vinedos San Lucas
Situated among the flourishing vineyards, olive groves and lavender fields, this property gets more beautiful as each wine season passes. The photographs of the grapes are from an earlier trip when we visited San Lucas just before the harvest. With abundant wines and spirits, never-ending food, incredible international music and horse drawn carriage rides through the vineyards, this event was stunning expression of just how far this vineyard has come in organizing what we thought was SMA’s event of the year in 2019. Don’t miss it next year.

Our Favorite SMA Celebrations are always followed by a feast...

Voladores de Papantl : La Alborada and Festival of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of SMA
I was totally mesmerized when I was photographing the Voladores, not taking my eyes off their faces for a second. I wondered what was going through their heads when they were anticipating the ritual and what crossed their minds as they threw themselves into the abyss with wide open arms in their chilling descent back to the ground. Now I know. Every picture tells a story; this is theirs.

Dia de los Muertos
If I get to pick just one Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead is it. There is joy in death; just ask any Mexican. Plan early; it's spiritual, colorful and one of the best memories you'll ever have of Mexico.


And then, the Mojigangas show up for the after party.

Favorite Food Festival: Lamb and Mezcal
With plenty of remarkable preparations of lamb and Mezcal tastings to go around, SMA Entrepreneur, Billy Mervin, shown above tackling an oversized lamb chop a few years back, enjoys the top spot again this year. One of the highlights of the festival was the addition of a round table discussion featuring Mezcal experts. 

Mark your calendar for July 25, 2020; sure to be a city-wide celebration.

Favorite Charity: Banco de Alimentos San Miguel de Allende - Food Bank of SMA BASMA


It’s hard to believe that every day, some parents in SMA are wondering how they’re going to feed their children; especially these days. While many of us have dollars to spend on things we can do without, these parents are struggling for a few pesos just to feed their family. Many of the restaurants and hotels in SMA have stepped in and now donate their leftover food to Banco de Alimentos San Miguel de Allende (Food Bank of San Miguel de Allende) or BASMA, a non-profit that champions the cause of food for those who need it the very most. We're hoping that the list of generous donors grows. On January 15 th last year, a dinner was held to raise money for BASMA. Famous, Top Chef personality, Katsuji Tanabe, was in the kitchen to prepare a four course dinner with pairings from the SMA winery, Tres Raices.

Chef Katsuji Tanabe always supports those who need the most. He came back later in the year with Chicago chef, Jose Sosa of Gibsons Italia, to do a benefit for the Mexican Red Cross, another great charity organization in SMA. 


Also a generous supporter, Belmond Casa Sierra Nevada put on both events. We respect the love that comes from Casa Sierra Nevada and their kitchen.

2019: The Most Interesting People We Ate With Last Year

Ana JB:
Why drink more Mezcal, besides the fact that it’s a cure all for just about everything? Just ask Ana J.B., one of the driving forces of Mezcal in Oaxaca who could also be a stand-in for beautiful Roma star, Yalitza Aparicio. A marketer and educator of Mezcal culture, she works with many of the producers in and around Oaxaca and with blogger-advocate, Susan Cross, of Mezcalistas.

Diane Leeds
Attending 60+ Outstanding in the Field Dinners last year and embracing her own individuality, this happy world traveler, Diane Leeds, slipped on a signature hat – this one with an oversized, red rose - to attend the Outstanding in the Field dinner at Vinedo San Miguel. Diane also attended the Outstanding in the Field dinner in Oaxaca the week before and was headed to Key West next.Follow her on Instagram at happyworldtraveler to see where the food trail leads her next. We embraced her style, her spirit and forever her sense of adventure.

Joe Haegrave, Owner, Taco Lab
A sweet surprise, who can bring so many great taco ideas to SMA and gets away with slipping in and out of town before anybody knows it? Next time, we’re going to keep him here for awhile.


Rose Ruiz and Alberto Cinta Laborde
In charge of the PR for San Miguel, one of our favorite things to do with this couple is to eat.The one thing they banter about is who takes the best food pictures. It’s a toss up and a true testament of their devotion to one another. 

Andrea Cargill and Vivian Sosa and Chef Sosa
Time flew in a lively exchange about food and who knows better than Andrea Cargill, who manages Chef Katsuji Tanabe and Vivian Sosa, wife of one of Chicago’s best chefs, Jose Sosa of Gibsons. Nobody knows where to eat , get their fingers in the food or have more fun than these two.

They’re coming back this fall so we'd better get the party started right now.

Danielle and Kennedy:
My old friend from Chicago, Danielle Nelson, picked SMA to celebrate her birthday with her partner Kennedy. Danielle and Kennedy are world travelers, having been to 62 countries so far. Eat Well Travel Often is our motto, with a fabulous lunch at Atrio with Chef Arturo Sandoval. In addition, Danielle and Kennedy had a fantastic dinner at Fatima with Chefs J.j.Castaneda and Donnie Masterton the night before, and the following night took a sunset horseback ride through downtown San Miguel de Allende from Viator.com.Thanks to Belmond Casa Sierra Nevada, who made sure that Danielle and Kennedy had a great stay and to Chef Ruben Yanez Hernandez for a cooking class and Market Tour at Sazon.

And that’s how we do visitors to SMA. We’re about to mark our eighth year here so write and ask if you’re looking for the best recommendations; the email address is on the contact page of this blog. You’ll also find two resources, A Self-Guided Food Tour of SMA and A Quick Guide to the Number One City in the World, on the blog as well.

2019 Favorite Book: 101 Caras de SMA
Two years in the making, one of SMA’s most beloved authors, Daniela Doig, celebrates the city by delivering a literary and artistic project about the people who have given SMA its heart and soul. Many different sectors are represented, including some of SMA's best chefs.

Erik Zavala Kugler is the extraordinary photographer of the book; well-known for his timeless black and white images. Group Photo: Pepe Baez.

Art in Unknown Places: The Tree@ Atrio
The tree on the street level of Atrio is always decked out with exquisite, hand-painted ornaments; this past Christmas from Guerrero. They change them up every holiday season so don’t forget to stop in for a look. I'm always taken back by the ornamentation; some of them from Camino Silvestre.

Favorite Place to Celebrate the Holidays: The Jardin
Doesn’t everyone who lives, loves or visits SMA sit in the Jardin at least once?

Favorite Hide Out:

Cerveceria Hechicera + Mama Mia Campestre
Meet Juan Francisco Fuentes, the Brewmaster at Cerveceria Hechicera; home to Habanero, Sortilege, Pale Ale, IPA, Porter and Miel beers.

Mama Mia Campestre is also on the property, where we visited with the chef, Chef Cecilia Sanchez. She prepared a delightful meal; much of it grown at Rancho Luna, their organic farm, which also has a retail store..

Best Foodie Day Trip: Leon
Day trips from SMA? We’ve accomplished Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, Mineral de Pozos, Santa Rosa de Lima, Atotonilco, Tequisquiapan, Bernal and Queretaro just for starters. We’ve even done Mexico City and Guadalajara in 48 hours. SMA is just a few hours away from these neighboring cities where you’ll get a different view and taste of the Mexico we fell in love with.

Last year, we did Leon, where some of the best eats can be found, both on the street. On your way out of town, stop in to see Chef Juan Emilio Villasenor at La Cocineteca for a most memorable feast right off the grill.

Favorite Press: Karla Fernández of Living and Travel 
SMA always sparkles when this food lover and writer, Karla Fernandez, comes to town. Put the fun factor into food and Karla Fernandez pops up every time.

Favorite Spice:
Za'atar is a popular Middle Eastern spice mix consisting of oregano, thyme, sumac, ground sesame seeds, and salt. Café Casa Blanca 7 first introduced us to this spice on what is perhaps our favorite breakfast pizza in SMA: Mana’esh – Za’atar flatbread with labneh cheese, tomato and mint and a fried egg. Now we’re obsessed with it, especially on baked chicken.

Best Chocolate: Cacao Nativa
Our Mexican friend, designer Claudia Bo, has introduced us to many things Mexican and recently to Cacao Nativa, a delightful chocolate that’s handmade in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chipas.This 100% organic chocolate is sold throughout Mexico but we’re now so interested in the actual process of chocolate making, we’ve got to take a trip to San Cristobal to learn more about it. No sharing here; we loved every flavor in this adorable, little box. We treasure the gift of chocolate but we can never resist eating them all ourselves…and we did!

Favorite Store: Luna de Queso
It’s a dream come true every time we go in to Luna de Queso and find exactly what we’re looking for...and more. Since 2006, Luna de Queso has been the go-to store for gourmets. We also like their in-house restaurants for lunch.

Join a Cookbook Club: We Did Two in 2019
Cookbook Clubs are a great way to learn more about food and fall in love with cooking. Last Christmas, I sat in on a meeting of the Midtown Cookbook Club when I was in Tulsa. The cookbook that meeting: Half Baked Harvest, which I follow on Instagram. These women were fun and a bit more than wild about their food, wine and cooking.

We love people who enjoy eating great food together; this was one of those clubs. 
  
Cookbook Club #2 was at Patsy’s Place; the first time that Patsy Dubois entertained in her new home so we felt honored to be there with cookbook club chatter, therapy self-help, laughter and the best baked beans we’ve ever tasted.We appreciated the fact that all of these women were great cooks, especially when we went home and ate all their leftovers.

Those Faraway Places called 2nd Home:
The cooking from the Delta Cafe and BurnCo’s plate of BBQ everything was the best fix of home cooking we got last year (Tulsa, OK).

We LOVE good food; especially when its homegrown.

Hello…Goodbye to: Sebastian Acosta Quiroz, Levain and Co (Aperi, Cumpanio and Panio) and Ana Luisa Torres Gastelum, Grupo Modelo
It was the happiest of wedding festivities for these two food lovers, who tied the knot last year and just a few months later, headed out for a new adventure in Valle de Guadalupe.You will be missed; por siempre amor y felicidades!.

Best Vinter: Cava El Garambullo
Know for their Orange wine - white wine that is made like red wine where the juice is fermented with the grape skins on - this vineyard produces 4,500 bottles a year using all natural fermentation and should be on everyone’s list to visit. If you thought you knew a lot about wine, think again. Natalia Lopez Mota is probably one of the most knowledgeable wine experts in SMA. 

Best Bars for Scoring A Standout Meal:

La Azotea
Since we came to SMA almost eight years ago, La Azotea has been on our list of the best bars in SMA. With 2x1 drinks Monday – Friday, a fabulous view and so many favorite waiters on staff, this bar never disappoints, especially when Manager, Tero, is on duty.

One of the few female bartenders in town, Fatima, always shines. Ask for the Alborada: tequila resposado, aperol, miel and orange juice in an elevated jicara; a hollowed shell of the fruit from a calabash treeIn addition to the infamous Jicama taco on the bar menu, we also love the steak sandwich with French fries, especially when we get that gringo craving. Split it; thier portions are huge.
Bar at the R
Looking for the best bar food in SMA? Look no further. Chef Donnie Masterton has created a fabulous menu of appetizers and little bites at some of the best prices around. Many of them are Asian; something you don’t find everyday in SMA. Name anything off the menu and we’ve tried it. What’s our favorite dish? Can’t help you there; we like them all. Look for renowned DJ’s on the late night track. This is one of our favorite bars in the city. 
Best sushi in SMA? Hands down; it was a unanimous vote. 

San Mezcal
Get your Winter Beach on with a bottle of Cerveza Dos Equis and while you’re at it, order three of our favorite bar foods - the 2019 stand outs of Al Pastor French Fries, BLT sandwich made with both red and green tomatoes and brushed with a smear of chipotle mayo and the Chicken Sandwich with mole and apple salad. The menu is packed with unusual and delicious dishes. Try any of the 100+ brands of Mezcal.


Bar Margaret:
A mule and a plate of homemade empanadas; need we say more?


Mama Mia
The regular spot for our weekly, Tuesday night family reunion, the reason we meet here in the first place is because of the bartender, Adal Garcia. With his wide eyed grin and the strongest Margarita in town, this outing is the highlight of our week. And guess who just got adopted by the entire group? Adal wrote the guide on saving your sanity, even if it is only once a week.

Best Mixologists:
The most inventive mix masters in town, this group can create your new, favorite cocktail in a matter of minutes, featuring layer upon layer of complex flavor profiles. Have you tried butterfly pea lately? They also use unique and unusual ingredients. Give them a challenge and they’re always up to it.

The best Mixologists in SMA deserve a constant round of applause., especially right now. We always give them one, every time we visit. And at Mama Mia, Adal rings the bell.

Mike Esponisa@Bovary

Gabrile Avila @ Bar Margaret

Adal Garcia@Mama Mia


Uriel Jonathan Frausto Tabares @ Bovine

Favorite Local Spirit: Casa Dragones
One of the reasons we love Casa Dragones is its spiritual connection to SMA. The other is that Adrian Garcia-Evans, one of the most knowledgeable spirit experts in SMA, became their General Manager in 2019. 

Congrats to Adrian: the perfect match with Casa Dragones.

Favorite Spirit: Santo Cuviso Bacanora
Designed for sipping neat, we love the clean yet complex taste of Santo Cuviso Bacanora; made from a wild agave, Agave Angustifolia, grown in the state of Sonora.Of course, we love anything that’s agave based, especially when one of the owners, Gunther Maier, lives is SMA. 

Santo Cuviso Bacanora Blanco won Best of Class for Agave spirits from the American Distilling Institute in 2019.

Favorite Beers:

Ceveceria Dos Aves
Visit the Dos Aves tap room for a glass of your favorite beer; open every Friday from 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM. Try a flight of six: Pale Ale, IPA, Rye, Triple Belgian, Saison and Stout. Once a month, on Saturday, Dos Aves brings in a restaurant to do a food and beer pairings. Mark Taylor and Francisco Kameko have established Dos Aves as one of the premier craft beers in the world; taking it international and winning a gold medal for their Stout Imperial at the 2018 International Beer Cup in Yokohama Japan. 

Cerveceria Hechicera
Meet Juan Francisco Fuentes, a Brewmaster at Cerveceria Hechicera, where we went to do a beer tasting, specifically the Habanero, which is the only beer not available at Mama Mia in town. Enjoy all of their other brews: Sortilege, Pale Ale, IPA, Porter and Miel.

You can also grab a glass of this much-loved beer from one of our favorite bartenders, Adal Garcia, at Mama Mia in Centro.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drinks:

Iced Latte@Rustica
Always a favorite, my daily addiction is the perfect blend of espresso and milk, creamed with vapor.

Beet Smoothie@Rustica
Beets are one of those ingredients that most people either love or hate. When we can get beets without them actually tasting like beets, we’re an instant fan.
The best beet smoothie we had last year and we didn’t taste a single one.

Turkish Coffee@Querencia
Ground to the consistency of powdered sugar, it’s made in a Turkish pot over fire and mixed with a little sugar for sweetness. Drink a glass of water first to clean your palate, then grab a piece of candy to accompany the strong, intense flavor. Shipped in from Turkey, it’s not always available so check.

Kombucha’s a healthy, second choice.


Best Cocktail: Vesper Martini by Mixologist Gabrile Avila
The Perfect Martini:

Expert bartender.
Tito’s handmade craft Vodka.
Bombay Gin.
Dolin Blanc French Vermouth.
Basil Smash.
Iced.
Shaken not stirred.
3 Olives.
Straight up.
Beautiful glass.

It's Friday.  Life is good.

Best New Cocktail: Brandy Alexander with Ice Cream by Mixologist Juan Manuel Mata, Marsala cocina con acentos
What do you say when one of your favorite restaurants jumps on the fact that you’ve been dying for a Brandy Alexander with Ice Cream, a drink you haven’t had in like 50 years, and nobody in town knows how to make one?

Created in the 50’s, the cocktail speaks to your playful side but don’t blame Juan when you decide to order another; they’re addictive and on the after- dinner cocktail menu at Marsala’s.

Favorite Cocktails:

Green Snapper by Mixologist Gabrile Avila
Made with tomatillos and gin instead of the traditional tomato juice and vodka, this drink is one of our Sunday morning favorites; a prelude to Chef Kenten Marin’s famous chicken dinner.

Susan by Mixologist Mike Espinosa, Bovary
A January, 2020 discovery, we loved the Susan so much, we couldn’t wait a whole year to put it on this list. The Susan is made with Armonico Gin, Huana Liquor, confited blueberries, Amarena syrup, Lemon and a dried rose petal crusta from someone’s secret garden. It’s one of the 50 new cocktails at Bovary; all priced under $150 pesos.

Death in the Afternoon by Mixologist Andres Galvan@ The Bar at Doce 18 Concept House
This beautiful champagne cocktail is a reminder that we can savor the Mexican tradition of Death in the Afternoon in a glass and you don’t have to buy a ticket, kill the Toro or flash a red cape to get one.

Favorite Wine: Wente at Atrio
It only takes one cold glass of Wente Chardonnay to make things in my life perfect.Wente Vineyards is the USA’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery; available now at Atrio...unless I drank it all. 

Best Liquor Store: El Liquor Store
El Liquor Store sells unusual brands; its labels emphasizing Mexican products including spirits, beers and wines. There are plenty of good bar guides on the shelves that will teach you the science behind the art of Mixology and cocktail paraphernalia: bar tools, fashion bitters, different types of tonic, salts, spices and fruits. A totally hands-on store, there’s a tasting room downstairs for classes and special events as new brands are introduced. Headquartered in the Roma district of Mexico City, they are a principal resource for SMA mixologists.

NEW: The latest brand to hit their shelf is Pacto Navio. It’s the only Cuban rum with a Sauternes finish; an exquisite encounter between Cuban rum and fine wine. A blend of carefully selected aged Cuban rum bases, born from sugar cane molasses, the rum is distilled and aged in San Jose de Las Lajas near Havana.

Cava Sautto
We like the wine selection at Cava Sautto. For an everyday bottle of Chardonnay, we pick XA Domeco, a Vino Blanco from Valle de Guadalupe, priced at just $99 pesos. I always feel lucky if I get change from a $100 pesos note, especially when the wine is this good.   

A Memorial: Chef Santi Pirsch
Chef Santi Aleck Pirsch touched so many people in his short life and taught us all about life, love and the joy of cooking. We'll always remember your curiosity for cooking and the many SMA chefs you worked with and admired: Chefs Matteo Salas at Aperi; Alonso Dominguez and Chef Juan Manuel Galvan Lopez at neXtia; Chef Marcela Bolano and Ximena de Leon Campomanes at Marsala cocina con acentos; Chef Alan Carias and Alonso Barragan of Trazo 1810, and Chef Alan Williams at Food Factory. And, like most young chefs in SMA, he wanted to grow up and be just like Chef Matteo Salas and Donnie Masterton. Now you know all of their secrets, even Marcela’s carrot cake recipe. 

Lead among the angels my sweet friend. You are so missed.

The Cake: 10 Years of Cupcakes and Crablegs
Ten years ago, on September 6, 2009, I started a food blog, Cupcakes and Crablegs, and it changed my life. Over these past ten years, I have connected with chefs, restaurant owners, pastry chefs, sommeliers, bakers, farmers, cookbook authors, food providers, wineries, travelers, food critics, bloggers and every day people like you who simply love to eat.

In 2009 I did 100 blog posts; in 2010, I posted 628. In 2011, after two years of blogging, I was invited to the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago and suddenly, I was on every agency list in the city, getting invitations to restaurant and bar openings; all of this while juggling a full time job and traveling.

By the time 2013 came, I moved to San Miguel de Allende, where I went from 8128 restaurants in Chicago down to just 225. It was a year of change for me. In our first year here, we missed the Chicago food scene, Martini Monday's, a perfectly aged-steak, fried chicken, a buttery Chardonnay, Saigon Sister’s banh mi sandwiches and a lot more.

Then, something magical happened early that next year when I traveled to Oaxaca. One plate of dark, rich, wonderfully sweet and spicy mole negro convinced me to never look back. From 2016 on, a food revolution was taking place in SMA. Suddenly, SMA was the place to eat in Mexico and I was lucky enough to be here writing about it.

Funny thing about the posts I’ve done over the past ten years; all 1542 of them: I remember every one like it was yesterday - every restaurant and every dish. I do massive amounts of research before I select a restaurant to write about, devouring everything on both the restaurant and the chef. I think because of this, I can name my disappointments over the past 10 years on one hand. Which is my favorite post? The one I’m going to write tomorrow.

Thank you for sharing a decade of food with me. It’s been a delicious and joyful ride.