Thursday, August 10, 2023

Six of the Best Restaurants in SMA Under $200 Peso

SMA Clothing Designer, Laura Reyes, EATS THE SAME THING AT THE SAME PLACE for breakfast every morning; an Empanada from the Blue Door Bakery and has for 35 years.

Do you eat at the same place all the time? Here are SIX restaurants where the prices are as good as the food and you can easily become a creature of habit at in under a month. Prices are all under $200 pesos.


After a ten year absence, the official sandwich of Vietnam, the Banh Mi, is here to stay - brought to SMA by Jorge Villarreal of Frioella Art Cuisine. 

Jorge is a gift to SMA. Jorge recently moved here from Mexico City where he owned a bakery for 44 years and has a new one in the works. All of his cakes and pastries are remarkable. He also owns a Vietnamese street food restaurant located in Mexico City. His friend, the former chef of El Verge and owner of Kuni, A Culinary Experience, Magda Pablos, is helping Jorge get the new restaurant off the ground. Magda and Jorge grew up together in Reynosa, a border city in northern Mexico.

The Banh Mi sandwich is built on a crusty baguette made by Melissa Sumner’s La Buena Vida Bakery and is first smeared with one of four homemade mayos. Piled on top are thin slices of Ho Chi Minh pork, Hanoi lemon grass chicken or five-spice beef along with pickled vegetables: crispy cucumbers, crunchy carrots, delicious daikon radishes, spicy jalapenos and a bit of fresh cilantro. There’s a Vegan Banh Mi with grilled vegetables, a delightful Asian salad, spring rolls and desserts 

Everything is under $160 pesos. The devil is in the details: both a delivery service and the table and chairs are coming soon. 

Stirling Dickinson #8/San Miguel de Allende

Monday – Saturday 11 AM – 6:00 PM


Coffee, Breakfast and Brunch come in a lot of different packages these days, especially when it comes to price. Gigi’s Café has found its niche with great food at an even better value. The quality is nearly perfect.

Located in the residential neighborhood of Independencia, come prepared to love everything: the owners, the prices and the ingenious food and presentations prepared by Chef Jarome Smith - a Kiwi chef from New Zealand who got a culinary degree at AUT in 2000 and has over 20 years of restaurant experience, notably cooking at SPQR, an iconic Italian restaurant in Aucklands vibrant Ponsonby.  Jarome opened a seafood restaurant on Aucklands viaduct harbor in collaboration with Ngaitahu fisheries where he served daily fresh caught seafood. In 2014, he moved to the Gold Coast, Australia to open Burgster, a casual restaurant with a focus on high quality burgers and specialty cocktails. In 2022, he opened FLOR, a wine shop and delicatessen specializing in natural and minimal wines. He recently moved his family to Mexico to open Gigi’s Café.

My breakfast was an easy choice after looking at all the online pictures: the French toast with seasonal fruit, including cherries from Chinaberry Farms, maple, brown butter, a berry compote and clotted cream with fried chicken. Even a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon looks awfully tasty.

I’m coming back for breakfast and staying for lunch just to savor the Eggs Benedict and the Chicken and Brekky Burgers. All of their prices run under $200 pesos.

Francisco Marques 23//Independencia, San Miguel de Allende

Monday – Friday: 8:30 AM – 1:30 PM

Chef: Jarome Smith


At this cozy restaurant inside Hotel Petra, the food is so good and one of the best deals in town. Most dishes run 120 pesos; a bargain considering the presentations are all remarkable and the chef, Alvaro Alvarez, won first and second place in Taco challenges sponsored by the state of Guanajuato.

Chef Irving Cano of Tene take note; another chef for your Taco Challende.


Chef Alvaro Alvarez’s specialty is both Rabbit Tacos and Camarones Zarandeados, a wonderful shrimp dish from the beaches of Nayarit. It’s one of our favorite, new restaurants with outdoor garden seating. And now for the big surprise! The Mimosas are just 70 pesos.


Hernandez Macias 47

Centro, San Miguel de Allende

Chef: Alvaro Alvarez

Monday – Saturday 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM

Sunday 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Chef: Alvaro Alvarez


This welcome-home drink for Chef Michael Coon was the best way to start out a morning in SMA but don’t even think about skipping the whipped cream. A gallon of it was perfect and only $75 pesos.

It took just one sip to become a creature of habit so next time, you’d better make it a double! The best Mango creation we’ve tasted all year.

Nemesio Diez 2

Monday, Wednesday – Saturday 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM

Tuesday 1:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Sunday 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM


Chef Pablo Nicacio’s resume is short and sweet. A former sous-chef for Chef Marco Cruz at La Estacion in Mexico City, B'ui cocina de campo in Otomi and Nómada Cocina de Interpretación, Pablo left to open his own restaurants - Nicasio comedor mexicano and now Merken SMA at 20 de Enero Sur #4 in San Antonio. This past Saturday morning, he opened a stand for breakfast at the Organic Market at Mercado Sano with a simple menu: Chilaquiles. My bowl included chicken and black mole.

It’s been five years since the pleasure of black mole (at the Catedral Restaurant in Oaxaca) hit my lips. I was seduced back then and I’m seduced again right now. This is another dish by Chef Pablo Nicacio that you simply don’t want to miss. $100 pesos.

Ancha de San Antonio 123/Centro, San Miguel de Allende

Opens Saturday 9:00 AM

Chef Pablo Nicacio


Eugenio Alvarez worked at Casa Dragones and Tequila Sauza, spending time in Dubai with different brands before coming back to SMA. The former General Manager of Hotel Amparo decided to take a break from both tequila and hotels to do something he knows really well: slow cooking chickens. His family has been cooking them in Celaya and Irapuato this way since 1960.

The Chicken serves three people; eight pieces or order it uncut. You can also order a salad, a seasonal mix that was another delicious surprise of green and purple lettuce, with mango and strawberries, cranberries, pecans and nuts with homemade honey and mustard dressing. $80 pesos.

The secret: these chickens are slow cooked over wood and fire, making the intoxicating flavors just what the food doctor ordered. $180 pesos.

Salida a Celaya 47/Centro, San Miguel de Allende

12:00 Noon – 6:00 PM Daily except closed Tuesday

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

A New Adventure…

This is something I’ve always wanted to do so here we go, now or never, ready or not, jump right in and don't look back…

After 252 days of a major health scare, 5 separate hospitalizations in less than 5 months and a very long year and a half of recovery, I’m finally DONE with the medical nightmare that turned my world upside down and I’m reclaiming my life. 

AND after more than a decade of documenting the gastronomy of SMA, it’s time for a new adventure!

I’m going on the road to 12 different parts of Mexico in order to get a 360 degree view of culinary Mexico. The project will take two years. Over the course of the next six months, I'll be spending a lot of time planning these trips, talking with chefs and food writers, upgrading technology to make life easier on the road, improving my Spanish after doing no immersion trips during COVID like I used to and savoring every ounce of SMA before I take off. 

I’ve been thinking about this trip for well over 5 years now and although Eva Longoria lived the dream in a 6 episode version, I’ll be hitting up 12 regions in Mexico and sometimes traveling solo, without the benefit of a crew. I’m giving up a lot to do this project but it’s what I need to do right now. I’ll also be gathering things along the way for my grandchildren, Olivia and Parker, so they will come to know the Mexico that I love, too.

I’ll be looking at all things Mexico as it relates to food and spirits so unique, one-of-a-kind experiences are on our radar. We also intend to support local chefs, wherever we are, just like we’ve done in San Miguel de Allende for over a decade. Down to the basics, one of the many challenges will be living out of a suitcase for at least a month at a time. I’ll be back in SMA, my home base, off and on during my time on the road. A new website will be activated before we take off and we’ll advise you when it’s up.

In all the years I’ve been in Mexico, I’ve traveled to more than 54 cities. Here are the stops I’ll make along the way, subject to some minor changes and not necessarily in this order. We’ve been to all the cities but one - San Cristobal de Las Casas - but this time around, were going a whole lot deeper:


Yucatan and Quintana Roo including Merida and Cancun

Tabasco and Chiapas including San Cristobal De Las Casas


Veracruz , Puebla and Cuernavaca

Mexico City


Guadalajara and Colima

Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Barra Navidad, Nayarit

San Luis Potosi, Saltillo and Durango


Todos Santos, Cabo San Lucas, Valle De Guadalupe, Tijuana and Ensenada.

Someone recently asked me if Mexico was safe for the solo, female traveler? I’ve been traveling in Mexico for over 50 years now and I credit 30 years of Chicago street smarts for getting me by. 

To the SMA community that sustains me, thank you for the continued support over the past decade and for following the food trail from 2013 to 2023. We’ve been fortunate to see SMA through some of the best (becoming a major food city) and worst (COVID) chapters in the past 10 years and we respect, honor and appreciate the many chefs and restaurateurs who were with us on this journey.

And to my delicious, beautiful, mysterious, chaotic and colorful Mexico, you always leave me wanting more so I am coming to find you.