Thursday, November 16, 2023

Mayan Train Scheduled to Open in December


Executive Chef, Jonathan Navarrete, of Our Habitas San Miguel, gives us a taste of a Marquesita at Sunday brunch.

I messaged VIAJES VERTIZ, S.A. de C.V (American Express Travel) today to see if I could come to their office to book tickets on the Mayan Train. They replied to me as follows: “Hello, good morning. The issue here is that there is no official information about this train so we could not help you in this case to resolve your doubts. All the information that has been generated does not have official support, so we cannot validate that the information is correct.”

I am keeping an eye on this as I figure the train will substantially cut time off many sections of my culinary trip through Mexico starting in March. I will gladly update anyone who is interested as I expect there will be a run on tickets once they’re released.

The first phase of the Mayan Train is scheduled to open in less than a month, which will be the section that connects Campeche with Cancún. On December 31, 2023, the section that links Cancún with Palenque will be enabled. Finally, the project will be fully operational by February 29, 2024.

If you haven’t been following the progress, here is a summary of what I know so far:

The Mayan Train, or “Tren Maya”, is a railway project that will connect five states in Mexico’s southeast, covering a distance of approximately 1500 kilometers/932 miles: Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo.

The railway begins in Palenque in Chiapas and travels northeast towards Cancun in Quintana Roo via two routes that encircle the peninsula. The stations will be strategically located near a variety of attractions, activities and experiences in 14 Pueblos Magicos6 World Heritage Sites and 50 archaeological sites as well as 28 rural communities and 18 indigenous areas.

The route of the Mayan Train has been divided into three main regions: Selva (Jungle), Caribe (Caribbean) and Golfo (Gulf). Traversing these three sections there are seven distinct stretches of track with 20 main stations and 14 stops (paraderos).

The Mayan Train will offer three categories of service:

Xiinbal (Standard): The basic passenger service. It will have panoramic windows to admire the scenery, business class seats, standard seats, and a cafeteria.

Janal (Eat): Service with different seating configurations and restaurant with typical food and beverages from the regions through which the Tren Maya passes. Tables are for two or four people. 

P'atal (Stay): Designed for long distances and to enjoy the tourist and cultural sites along the route. It has reclining seats and sleeping cabins with a private bathroom with shower and intercom.

The train’s menu will feature more than thirty dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, showcasing the regional Mayan cuisine such as chipilín tamales, motuleño eggs, panuchos, cochinita pibil, venison tzic, lime soup, papadzules, among others. The train’s dessert menu will offer traditional Marquesitas, artisanal chocolates, cocada and dulce de nance. The train will also serve regional drinks such as coffee, Pozol, water and Chaya tea, Pitahaya and Lime waters, Xtabentún, Tequila, Mezcal, Wine, Pulque and craft beers from Mexico.

The Mayan Train can reach a speed of 160 km/h (99mph). It will also feature high-performance heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, as well as wide windows offering scenic views of the Maya region. It’s expected to cut current transit times in half.

Mayan Train sleeper car, courtesy of Alstom

There are no official prices yet, but the projected fare for passenger tra

nsportation will be contingent on the length of the journey undertaken, distinguishing between regional commuters, national travelers, and international tourists, with local residents enjoying the most economical rates – estimated at 50 pesos. For tourists, the fare will be higher, as it is expected to be between $800 and 1,000 pesos per leg.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Birdie's Burgers is Back!


There's a lot of great burgers around town and after a brief absence, Birdie's Burgers is back looking to rule as the best burger in SMA.

Life is complicated this time around when there are so many really great burgers in town so what does this one have that the others don't? Well, let's start with Canada de la Virgen grass fed beef along with all the ultra fresh trimmings. Biting into this burger is the ultimate pleasure. You don't really need much of anything else, exceptperhaps another one to go for the road.

Am I dreaming or is the menu just short of perfect? We love that there's some of dishes on the menu from The Restaurant's Burger night, the old Birdies Burgers menu, like the towering Chicken sandwich, and our favorite tacos from Taco Lab. You'll find the perfect balance of fast food and heaven, which means you can eat at Birdie's every day they're open and still not eat the same thing twice.

We really love the original Birdies Burger single but when it comes to the fries, we're all over the place - the loaded baked potato fries, the cheesy fries and the truffle fries with Parmesan cheese are all on the top of our list. Order them extra crispy. 

Chef Donnie Masterton landed the perfect spot between Centro and San Antonio and while you're there, stroll through the restaurant to look at all the fun pieces that Donnie brought from his personal collection to decorate the place. That, too, is a total work of art.

Birdies Burgers

Departure to Celaya #6 Local 1

Downtown, San Miguel de Allende

Daily 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM except closed Tuesday

Top New Chef in SMA: Andrea Rivera


There’s nothing better than getting a great deal in SMA these days and MAEH Bakery and Restaurant is the best find we’ve had in the decade we’ve been here. 

You’ll never complain about the price. MAEH offers a $350 pesos brunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM. Price aside, the food is so good and when we asked to see the new chef, we were reminded why.

We went to Mexico City to eat with SMA chef, Marco Cruz, who owned Tres Tonola in Roma, and also trained this chef, Andrea Rivera, who was in the kitchen at the time. That credential is good enough for us because in the 10 years we’ve been in SMA, Chef Marco Cruz was always one of the best chefs here. Chef Rivera has been in MAEH’s kitchen for less than a month and is already creating a buzz; using locally sourced ingredients and cooking all Mexican dishes. It’s great to have another female chef at the helm of a SMA kitchen; especially a Mexican one. The new GM was also familiar, Vizcaya Arellano Edgar, who was trained at Grupo Levain and Co and worked or cooked at many of their best restaurants - Dos Casas, Aperi, Los Olivos and Cumpanio. She’s one of the few women we know in SMA who is responsible for multiple brands: Recinto, Huitzil and MAEH.

The brunch was simple and delicious. Take your choice of juice or a Mimosa, Chilaquiles with red or green sauce or Mole Almendrado and a bowl of mixed fruit: Pear, Cantaloupe, Papaya, Blueberries, Blackberries and Raspberries with a Passion fruit honey; a homemade recipe from the chef which we suggested they sell as the flavors were remarkable. We also loved the Chilaquiles. We ordered half salsa verde and half mole; the mole was in the category of DIVINE.

The French Macarons stuffed with Orange and White Chocolate are some of the only French Macarons we’ve eaten that we really loved and the Pan de Muerto was filled with a Mandrin cream and topped with fresh fruits. Both had marigold accents and were baked in-house by Chef Jafet Flores, who hails from León and worked for Panio before coming to run the MAEH Bakery. The bakery is open to the public and has some of the most original and interesting baked goods; many changing with the seasons.

The service was fantastic. Our waitress, Izamar Lopez Gonzalez, knew the answer to every question we asked. It was surprising considering that many of the questions were quite complex.

Their hotel, El Recinto, won an architectural design award in Mexico. Hilda, the owner, is charming, fun and totally down to earth. Her staff changes started a few months back and both the food and service have taken a giant leap forward. This past month, the new, young Mixologist, Johnathan Soto, who doesn’t look old enough to drink himself, came over from two of the best restaurants in SMA - Atrio and La Dona. Today he made a seasonal cocktail to celebrate Day of the Dead with Casa Dragones, Mandrin and Aperol. Interestingly, it’s the only drink we’ve ever liked made with Aperol.

Also look for new, handmade pizzas which have recently been added to the lunch menu. At the more formal restaurant downstairs, Huitzil, Chef Andrea Rivera will surprise you with a menu of simple, classic Mexican specialties. In our book, simple cooking is where it’s at.

We can’t say enough about the owner, who clearly hired some of the best trained staff in SMA. The quality of the experience is one of the many reasons that this is one of the top new restaurants in SMA. And the best news is you can also afford to eat here!

Buen Provecho!

MAEH Bakery and Restaurant
Huitzil Restaurant
El Recinto Luxury Hotel
Quebrada #113
Centro 37700
San Miguel de Allende, Gto
415 688 5246
Daily 8:00 AM - 9:00 PM

The Voice: Karla Pineda-Martinez


One of the highlights from Day of the Dead week was a front row seat at a private concert from Karla Pineda-Martinez, a Professor of Music from Costa Rica and the Mezzosoprano who recently sang in the SMA Opera production of Don Giovanni at Casa Europa just last week.

Karla Pineda-Martinez sang a series of classic, Mexican songs at Claudia Bo’s studio which included favorites, Besame Mucho and La Llorona.

Karla recently received a scholarship and leaves for Vienna today. Wish her luck on her first of many trips to Europe. Yes, this beautiful woman with the incredible voice is going places!

Cemas: Puebla's Best Sandwich in SMA


Cemas was hand carried with love from Puebla where owner, Alberta Sanchez Arce, cooked for a family that ultimately moved abroad and she was out of a job. 

If you’re a good cook, you can always find work, but Alberta decided to take a risk and open a restaurant near her new house on Salida a Queretaro. San Miguel de Allende presents many opportunities for new arrivals and this was Alberta’s. She finds comfort in cooking simple dishes that remind her of home.

A family affair, son Eduardo works alongside his parents, Alberta and Gerardo . Eduardo and his sister, Natalie, who does most of the marketing from Puebla, both grew up in Los Angeles and speak perfect English. What attracted me to her menu in the first place was the Cemitas; the signature sandwich of Puebla.

I first went to Puebla back in September of 2013 when I moved to Mexico. The reason most people go to Puebla in the first place is to eat. With its unique combination of Indigenous, Spanish and Arab influences, Puebla has created one of Mexico's most vibrant cuisines. In fact, many gourmets and food writers consider the Turkey in Mole Poblano, which contains chocolate, to symbolize the culmination of Mexican cooking tradition. On the weekends, Alberta offers Mole Poblano and Enmoladas; two famous dishes from Puebla on the weekends at Cemas.

For me, the signature dish of Puebla is the Cemita. I love this sandwich and did not realize the complexity of building it until I watched the staff at Cemitas Las Polentas in the Mercado del Carmen in Puebla. It was one of those well-oiled machines and the biggest challenge was just getting your mouth around one.

You use to be able to buy a Cemita at Milpa, the farm to table restaurant in Doce-18 owned by Daniel Estebaranz of Bui. The chef, none other than Marco Cruz, one of SMA’s most famous chefs, made the Cemita with beef instead of pork or chicken but when Milpa closed, you couldn’t find a  cemita in SMA until now.

Alberta Sanchez Arce makes her Cemita with a chicken milanesa, panela cheese, quesello cheese, avocado, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, refried beans and uses a special Papalo herb. Her buns are baked locally especially for her; a specialty item in Mexico made of egg, much like a brioche and topped with sesame seeds. Over the years, the only place I’ve found them was at Panaderia El Maple at Salida a Celaya #53. She also makes Tamales with Salsa Rojo or Verde and a dessert one made from fresh strawberries.

The shop is tiny but there is room for four people to sit under an enormous, Mexican flag and sip Café de Ollo; a specialty of the house that I am totally addicted to.

Go for a Cemita and you’ll find so much more. We love this family so much. They represent the value of small businesses in San Miguel de Allende and what they add to the economy, community, and culture not to mention what they’ve added to our own life.

Photos: Pepe Martinez

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Chef Collaborations: A Recipe for Success


Just back from cooking at Burning Man, Chef Pablo Gil of Bennu volunteered his pizza oven for our project with Chef Ryan McNab, a new chef just in from London. Chef Michael Coon got us all together. I came for the food but really, who could resist playing in the kitchen at Bennu?

First we had one of Pablo’s pizzas, our favorite: the Marinara with Stracciatella. Stracciatella is the inside of the Burrata; our favorite Italian cheese. We also watched as a couple devoured Chef Pablo’s Pibil Cauliflower, which is a total work of art. Bennu is located at Jesus #20 in San Miguel de Allende.

Chef Ryan McNab brought something new to the table; something that chefs Pablo Gil and Michael Coon, this food writer and three unsuspecting customers had never tried before: Panuozzo. A Panuozzo is a street food from the Campagna region of Italy. It’s much like a pizza sandwich in that the base is made from leftover pizza dough. As a chef in London, Ryan made them regularly so one might say he’s an expert. The pizza dough is stretched out and puffs up when it’s cooked in the pizza oven. The fillings are as limitless as that of a Mexican torta. We also decided along the way that they can be stuffed with sweet ingredients and made into a dessert.

We loved the taste of Ryan’s Panuozzo because it was both crispy and soft. Ryan offered this explanation “The Neapolitans tend not to bake them crispy and they were more like a soft pita. What makes mine extra crunchy is that I put the whole thing back in the oven for the second bake. As far as I know, this isn’t something that is normally done. I think it was a case of me doing it my way before I fully understood the whole concept, creating a “happy accident.”

And happy we were as Ryan made us two different types of Panuozzo: The Mushroom Panuozzo - a twice baked, slow fermented Panuozzo bread stuffed with thinly sliced portobello mushrooms, mozzarella, sliced garlic, black pepper, thyme, grated Parmesan and white truffle oil and the Pepperizo Panuozzo - a twice baked, slow fermented Panuozzo bread stuffed with mozzarella, sliced pepperoni, minced chorizo, red onion, grated Parmesan, black pepper and after the second bake crisp iceburg lettuce before folding and slicing to serve.

Three of Pablo’s customers were so fascinated with the results they wanted to try one so Ryan went back to the kitchen and made another round, serving his very first customers there in Pablo’s restaurant.

Look for Ryan’s Panuozzo coming soon to SMA.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Ghar: Chef Hiran Patel's New Indian Restaurant


There’s one thing about Chef Hiran Patel - he’s one of the nicest chefs we know. He ALWAYS puts his people first. We place him in a group of chefs that have made a difference. Just ask his staff. He’s only been in SMA for a few months and he’s already had an impact.

Chef Hiran Patel threw out the rule book when he came to SMA; that’s the kind of guy he is. Some of the many perks of working for him are that he pays his people a living wage, he offers English lessons to further enrich their lives and possibilities, he takes them on trips so they get plenty of exposure to cooking and culture and he allows them the freedom to be creative. Don’t blush Chef Patel. We think Ghar is one of the best kitchens in SMA which also includes the other leadership of Enrique Garcia-Evans, the Director of Operations, Marketing and Sales for Casa Hoyos, where Ghar is located.

I knew Chef Patel in Chicago where he and his lifelong friend, Viral, shared a deep love of cooking that was immersed in Indian culture; family culture. Throwing caution to the wind to pursue their dream, Naansense was born. There is now a Naansense restaurant in Chicago and in suburban Naperville and Oakbrook as well. 

Mexico had become the number one spot for Indian destination weddings so when he first came to San Miguel de Allende, he was doing Indian weddings for Zumo Catering. He was approached to open a restaurant here and the rest is history. Amazingly, he put together a staff that operated as a team from the get go. They will tell you otherwise but we see it as one of the smoothest start ups in SMA history. His team includes Executive Chef Mauricio Hernandez Patraca, Pastry Chef Mayte Rivera, Beverage Director Sebastian Vasquez along with Hur Cupido Preisser.

Eight courses were served last Friday at Press day; most of them from a new menu where every dish was exceptional and delicious. I had to fight Chef Michael Coon for the last bite of Makai Esquites made with an espuma of roasted corn. It was one of the best dishes we’ve had and is now on our list of favorite things to eat in SMA. We loved every one of these dishes with emerging flavors of Mexico, like the Rib Eye steak with huitlacoche cardamom curry and onion pakora that will be on the menu soon. There will also be a new Sunday brunch menu coming out and the bar in front of the restaurant will open to feature out of the ordinary cocktails and Indian small bites.

We’ve posted a diagram on the Regional Indian cooking (@Sukhis) that GHAR will be offering down the road. With home to over 1.4 billion people, 120 languages, 9 religions, over 2,000 ethnic groups and 29 states – each having its own set of flavors and culinary style – you have plenty of exciting food to look forward to. It opens tonight at 5:00 PM.


Casa Hoyos

Mesones 14

Centro, San Miguel de Allende

Wednesday – Monday

5:00 PM – 10:00 PM