We spent the second half of 2021 away from SMA so you can call this the half year in review – the better half. We covered a lot of ground in six months and thanks to friends in SMA for posting on the other half because we were blessed with another sizeable round of restaurant openings that we’ll finally get to try when we return the seventh of January. One thing we did do this year – we put up 30 posts; a record number that we haven’t done since 2015, when SMA was getting ready for a food revolution with the opening of over 40 new restaurants.
As we continue to mourn the loss of Bella Italia’s beloved Paolo Vizzotto, a restaurant owner we had the pleasure of knowing and loving since we first came to SMA back in 2013, we posted two major pieces this past year:
SMA restaurants that opened or relocated during COVID and
SMA’s Mixologists in The Magic of the All Night Fiesta: Late Night San Miguel de Allende
This past January, we did a photo tribute to one of SMA’s best and most beloved chefs, Marcela Bolano, who's restaurant, Marsala, cocina con acentos, just celebrated its fifth anniversary.
Try her well-known Carrot cake while you’re there; it’s still in our dessert top 3 after all these years. Chef Bolano also opened a popular Asian restaurant and rooftop, Kôuyīn Asian Eatery, near Parque Juárez.
Try the Corean Popcorn Chicken. We think it’s the best dish of 2021.
Hotel Matilda had successful, back-to-back openings with the Mui Ramen Bar, one of the best bars and menus in the city (try the Shoyu Ramen and a delicious Lazy Mango) and The Monkey Bar; the smallest bar in the city with the biggest line up of new and exciting Mixologists. That makes two successful openings for Managing Partner, Bruce James, who also created the concept, Cena Erotica for Valentine’s Day and took it to NYC under Cena Negra, led Hotel Matilda to the #1 hotel spot for Conde Nast Reader’s Choice Awards and came up with the Grant a Wish program to help Casa Hogar and other community organizations. All of these accomplishments made Bruce James our Restaurateur of The Year in 2021.
Trazo 1810 got a new Executive Chef, Irving Canto - a gift from the gods at Riviera Maya. Try his Pear Risotto with Prosciutto; our second favorite dish of the year. We can’t wait to see what he has in store for 2022.
Café Umaran topped our list of the best new cafe in SMA with an unbeatable location and pastry, the Envueltos Guayaba;
Just when I was certain that Birdies flew the coop and I’d be missing our favorite Burger and Fries forever, I discovered that you can actually eat Birdies in at The Restaurant when the crowds are not too crazy instead of taking it to go. The best news is: same burger/same menu/same Cañada de La Virgen beef/same gooey onions dripping down the side/same slice of super-crispy lettuce/same extra crispy fries/same price.
When sharing a third round of all the usual favorites at a restaurant is still not enough, you know it’s time for a standing reservation. Some things are best repeated every week. Chef Arturo Sandoval of Aquila is one of them;
We’ve known Chef Vanessa Romero since she came to SMA eight years ago and was on the food festival fast track. She’s opened Raices and we’re crazy about her food! Try the famous stuffed Chilaquiles: fresh corn dough with pressed pork rinds, morita sauce, local cheese, sour cream, pickled onions and black chili ash. It’s an original recipe; you wouldn’t find them cooked like this any place else in SMA.
Chef of the year is David Jahnke, who transformed his cooking school to an online facility during the lockdown so people could continue to learn to cook; something crucial during the pandemic. A YouTube channel supplements Chef Jahnke’s learning program with additional free education for all of his students. Chef David Jahnke developed over 500 recipes during the Covid pandemic; more than enough to fill a cookbook and there are plenty of people in SMA who wish that he would. Restaurant chef of the year? We’re bowing down to all the chefs in SMA who kept the SMA’s food scene going despite another year of Covid.
SMA’s favorite food lovers: Scott Allison and Evan Bernstein. These two are vegans at home but if they need to be, they become pescatarians (Salmon and whitefish) when they dine out. They’ve been a good influence on my eating, along with Chef Michael Coon, who fixed an all vegetarian meal for me that I couldn’t get enough of. This year, I’ll be featuring a lot more healthy eating around SMA.
Speaking of healthy food, the Amaze Bowl by Chef Ruby Joy takes the top spot for the healthiest dish this past year. Made with Cucumber, Carrots, Cabbage, Avocado, Mango, Edamame Beans, Scallions, Cilantro, Lime and Sesame Seeds, it comes with your choice of protein covered in a Soy Honey and Ginger Glaze. Choose Rice or Quinoa as the base. You can add extra protein: Grilled Salmon, Pulled Chicken, Chickpeas, Tofu, Vegan Burger Patty, or grilled Wild Salmon. We also loved many of the desserts created in Ruby Joy’s kitchen this year, especially the cheesecakes.
In 2016, my friend, Preston Engebretson and I went foraging for mushrooms and hooked up with local expert, Arif Towns Alonso, who was selling mushrooms to most of the major chefs in SMA. It was the first mushroom tour that Arif did. In 2021, Arif partnered with Chef David Jahnke and they created new mushroom tours; some of the most sought after food tours in SMA.
Other 2021 favorites:
Chef Donnie Masterton. When Chef Masterton is in the kitchen, his food is unbeatable. Ranchito El Garbanzo will be the site of the January 25 Outstanding in the Field dinner at 2:00 PM, where Donnie is the host farmer. Click on the Outstanding in the Field website for more information. http://outstandinginthefield.com/events/
One business that’s survived all the changes at the Tuesday Market is Don Santos Tacos. Don Santos earned its accolades with authentic Mexican food and you’ll get a bonus these days because it seems like the Tacos de Costillo are double stuffed with an overly generous amount of rib. The market is also open on Sunday. Located in an unmarked, cobblestone alley in Centro, the other Don Santos is in San Antonio, at Clavel #8 off Refugio Sur. It opens at 6:00 PM – mas o menos and features the best beef tacos in town.
Congrats to La Dona and Chef Juan Manuel Galvan Lopez, who hit the #1 restaurant spot on Trip Advisor in SMA this year out of 514+ restaurants; a bold prediction from Hotel Nena owner, Billy Mervin, back in 2018. You’ll also love the addition of their terrace where you can catch live music by Lady Zen and other well known artists.
The chef with the freshest flavors? Chef Linnea Rufo.
Here her appetizer is made of duck, mint and fresh peas.
And who could argue with the chef who’s boldest on taste, Chef Michael Coon, who created Butternut crispy tortilla short rib tacos;
the best taco in SMA right now.
The best food buy of 2021 was the $100 peso pizza special from MiVida, where Chef Greta Ortega Casanas turned the finest Italian ingredients into SMA’s best pizza.
Our favorite bartender: Congrats to new college graduate, Adal Garcia, of Restaurante Bar MAMA MIA.
My favorite homemade appetizer: A Mini-Cheese Pizza
• Take a 12” flour tortilla and crisp it well in a fry pan on both sides. Don’t step this step; it’s the key to the recipe.
• Put shredded Cheddar and Jack cheese on top, put it on a cookie sheet and place it under the broiler until the cheese melts and it’s a little brown around the edges.
• Top with Salsa Verde and a dash of salt.
We love Luna Rooftop, where Executive Chef, Vincent Wallez, joins some pretty amazing flavors on a pizza - Speck Ham, Roasted Tomato, Burrata and Basil; delicious, affordable and large enough to split. Look for more surprises in the coming year at The Rosewood;
Andy’s is a magnet for taco aficionados who jockey for one of the few seats at his taco cart on Insurgentes and Hidalgo just to get a plate of savory Tacos Al Pastor; it's one of the best tacos in town. Come around 7:00 PM; a great time to watch him caramelize the pork to the stage of almost-burnt perfection. On his day off, we talked Andy into sitting for SMA photographer, Gunther Maier, for his portfolio of SMA Chefs. Andy was the only street chef in the collection and a total show-off in front of the camera. Andy has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal. His recipe for tacos al pastor is posted on my blog; a difficult recipe but well worth the effort.
The Senora cuts the edge of a tortilla at the Guadalupe market the first Sunday of every month; the market we missed the most during Covid. Is it ever coming back?
We support those businesses that heavily supported the community of SMA during the pandemic. Panio was one of them. I gave up a few things during the lockdown because I wasn’t able to get them delivered but bread wasn’t one of them. Panio was always quick on their delivery service; often sending bread to you right out of the oven.
When someone asks us for a restaurant recommendation, Atrio is one of the first places we send them to. Eat Well Travel Often is our motto and we love table #2, where you’ll get an in-your-face view of the Parroquia - the iconic symbol of SMA. Atrio was our pick for the best, new restaurant opening and chef in 2017 and it still reigns as one of our favorites four years later; always in the top three. The other two: Kôuyīn Asian Eatery and La Dona.
Just ask anyone who frequents the bars where Adrian Garcia-Evans, Uriel Jonathan Frausto Tabares, Mike Espinoza, Adal García or Gabriel Avila are mixing; the cocktail scene in SMA is going strong and the city enjoys some of the best Mixologist in Mexico. Barra Mexico, the most important bar and spirits show in Latin America, held its 6th edition for the first time in San Miguel de Allende. Featured brands include award winning local producers, Casa Dragones and Santa Cuviso Bacanora from Gunther Maier. From August 26 to 30, events took place in more than 30 locations in San Miguel de Allende, including bars, restaurants and other beautiful spots around the city. August 27 to 29, the Villa Barra Mexico, the main event, was based at the San Lucas Vineyard and feature more than 100 brands and 12 seminars and tastings. The show offered a comprehensive educational program along with interactive tastings.
Out of town favorites: Juan Carlos Escalante’s Nirvana; Chef Jorge Avendano’s Bastardo; the wineries of La Santisima Trinidad; Fran Fisher’s La Playa at Los Senderos and Sal y Canto featuring Juan Pablo Ballesteros and Chef Atzin Santos of Limosneros; Mama Mia Campestre and Chef Paco Gonzalez’s Tarragon in Hacienda San Jose Lavista. Thanks to all the chefs and restaurant owners who provided “The Great Escape” for all of the food lovers in SMA during the pandemic.
One of our favorite new rooftops in town is Chef Abel Hernandez’s Anonimo Rooftop in Hotel Selina. The hotel also has an outdoor cinema where movies are shown every night under the stars at 7:30 PM; a SMA first.
SALUD to Chef Paco Cardenas and Norma Guerrero’s Petit Four, NOW at Jesus 2-B in Centro. Celebrating their 23rd anniversary, Petit Four is the oldest and obviously one of the best Restaurant/Patisserie in SMA.
Other favorite eats in 2021:
Chef Erick Medina’s Pork Belly Mac and Cheese; it starts with the massive pile of bacon and cheese on top;
Chorizo from Aquila and Chef Arturo Sandoval; the best we’ve ever eaten;
Eduardo Perez Calvo’s Red Snapper at Rustica. The photo was part of a tribute to over a dozen reasons why we think Rustica is one of the best restaurants in the city and the #1 breakfast restaurant in SMA;
Pie de Lemon at A.15- Animas Quince; the most refreshing, non alcoholic drink in the city that got us through the summer;
Vodka Martini at Oliva’s Bar at Casa No Name, Here, Chef Linnea Rufo savors one at sunset;
Eggs Benedict with Short Rib at Andanza, Casa de Sierra Nevada; my new favorite breakfast.
We’ve heard raves about a lot of new restaurants and renovated spaces; 21 to be exact including Ryoko. They’ll be the first group of spots we hit up when we get back. We’re looking forward to spending the year in SMA in 2022 and then in 2023, a big turn of events will take us on the road for an extended food adventure. Stay tuned for all the details.
It’s been a long six months and we missed you all like crazy. Stay hungry, Happy Holidays and see you in Home Sweet Home SMA on January 7th.