San Miguel Dining

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San Miguel Dining
San Miguel de Allende stands out as a destination for foodies looking to try traditional regional specialties and exceptional contemporary Mexican cuisine. Make sure to try the town's decadent desserts and to seek out the exotic local spirits.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Mexican Market Fare
    To enjoy authentic Mexican food at a traditional market, head to San Miguel de Allende's Mercado Ignacio Ramirez, where you'll find tamales, tacos, tortas (overstuffed sandwiches), and much more. Vendors also sell atole, a traditional Mexican drink made of corn, which may be flavored with chocolate or fruit and dusted with nutmeg or cinnamon and sugar. It's served hot, and though you can buy it year-round, it's especially typical of the Christmas season. If you feel inspired to whip up your own recipes, pass by the produce vendors and buy your own farm-fresh ingredients.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    The Traditional Foods of Guanajuato
    Guanajuato, San Miguel's state, is like most other regions of Mexico in that it has its own identifiable regional cuisine. Look for three traditional dishes in particular: enchiladas mineras (miner's enchiladas), tortillas stuffed with cheese or chicken and garnished with lettuce, fried carrots and potatoes, and a guajillo chili salsa; fiambre, a dish comprised of meats and fruits, served on lettuce with fruity vinaigrette; and pacholas, deep-fried beef patties. Accompany these with agua de betabel ("fresh water" made with beets). For dessert, don't miss tumbagones, a pastry featuring green tomatoes and powdered sugar. Check many of these off your list at the town's main market.
    Photo by Dorota Bogda Bialy/age fotostock
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    Upscale Contemporary Mexican
    San Miguel doesn't disappoint when it comes to upscale dining experiences. There's Moxi, the Hotel Matilda–based restaurant of Enrique Olvera, one of Mexico's most well-known chefs. Experience his signature style: contemporary Mexican treatments of traditional Mexican ingredients. While there is an a la carte menu, you'll experience the full scope of Olvera's talent by springing for the tasting menu, which is quite affordable when compared to U.S. menus by similarly prestigious chefs. Ask about the restaurant's supper club, an occasional series featuring Olvera and other chefs in action. Another good high-end option is The Restaurant, which showcases globally inspired food by Donnie Masterson, who apprenticed under David Bouley.
    Photo courtesy of Moxi
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    International Influences
    International influences pervade San Miguel de Allende, and this fact is perhaps most evident in the city's restaurants. From upscale Peruvian fare at La Parada (the fresh ceviches are especially recommended) to Argentinean at the chandelier-dappled La Virundela (order any of the beef dishes, of course), Mexico's South American neighbors are well-represented among San Miguel's restaurants. You'll also find a clutch of seafood, sushi, and Asian-inspired eateries, such as Delica Mitsu (Japanese) and Orquidea (Thai). There's also a beloved Indian restaurant, Bhaji, which earns rave reviews for its curries. For high-end "global comfort food" in an exquisite colonial setting check out The Restaurant, just a stone's throw from the main square.
    Photo courtesy of La Parada
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    San Miguel's Sweet Spots
    San Miguel de Allende has treats for every type of sweet tooth, and the vast array of options is epitomized at local favorite, El Petit Four. The two Mexican pastry chefs helming this bakery's kitchen show the scope of their talents with Argentinean alfajores (a kind of traditional cookie sandwich); French-inspired macaroons, croissants, and pain au chocolat; and Mexican indulgences such as truffles infused with tequila and mezcal, prickly-pear pie, and tres leches cake (a sponge cake soaked in three types of milk). For more traditional Mexican desserts, head to San Agustín Chocolates and Churros, where you can try these fried dough treats with a side of hot chocolate.
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    Where to Eat Breakfast
    Though Café MuRo also serves lunch, guests rave about its breakfast menu, which features American and Mexican classics along with hybrids of the two cuisines. Try, for example, the eggs Benedict, which uses artichoke to freshen up the traditional Hollandaise sauce, or huevos rancheros, which is served with red or green salsa (or both, if you can't decide). Bread baskets, fresh-squeezed juices, and fruit waters (agua fresca) are table staples here. The service is extremely attentive and the setting is pleasant, with walls filled with artwork. Café Rama is another favorite breakfast and brunch spot; try the chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast classic based on fried corn tortillas.
    Photo courtesy of Café MuRo
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    Road Trip for Unusual Ice Cream
    If you have a rental car at your disposal and you're already planning a side trip to purchase some pottery in the nearby town of Dolores Hidalgo, then be sure to tack one more activity onto the agenda: trying the unusual ice creams in the town's main square. Dolores Hidalgo, about 25 miles from San Miguel de Allende, is known locally for its odd ice cream flavors, among them avocado, chicharron (pork rind), and camaron (shrimp). If you're feeling boozy, designate a driver and try the beer- or tequila-flavored ice cream. Vendors line the plaza, waiting to scoop up a cone or cup for curious customers. If you're not feeling so daring, tropical fruit flavors are available, too.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Tequila and other Local Spirits
    Tequila and mezcal are Mexico's top domestic spirits, and it's worth sampling your way through some of the smaller-batch artisanal brands. Mixologists at Rosewood's tequila bar can certainly organize a degustación if you'd like to do some tequila-tasting. While in the area, though, try to sniff out some of the hyper-local hooch at the market. Cebadina and colonche are two fermented drinks typical of the state of Guanajuato. The base of the former is fermented pineapple husk that is mixed with hibiscus syrup and tamarind pulp. Just before serving, a bit of baking soda is added for fizzy effect. Also reddish-pink and fizzy, colonche is made by fermenting the fruit of the prickly pear, a cactus.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    San Miguel's Secret Tables
    In a city renowned for its creativity and its culinary chops, it's amazing there aren't more spots like La Mansion de Montitlan. Open only for comida (lunch) on Sundays, this is a private home offering one of the most exclusive food experiences in San Miguel de Allende. Don't expect Mexican classics or contemporary fare, though; the expats who run La Mansion specialize in food that's typical of the Southern United States, and the menu changes weekly. Guests especially praise the fried chicken, which makes a regular appearance. The meal and the attentive service are rivaled by exceptional views. Perched high on a hill, the house looks out over trees and the city. Note that reservations must be made in advance.
    Photo courtesy of La Mansion de Montitlan
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    Cooking Classes
    Mexico is an excellent destination for vacationers who want to expand their culinary repertoire, and San Miguel de Allende has a range of cooking classes for visitors who want to learn more about regional, traditional, and modern Mexican cuisine. Many of the local hotels and B&Bs either have cooking classes on-site or can arrange a food-focused workshop for you; Rosewood and Casa de Sierra Nevada both have on-site programs. For independent instructors, Marilau Ricaud's Mexican Ancestry Cooking School is highly recommended, and chef Paco Cárdenas of the bakery El Petit Four offers classes as well. Cocktails, meals, and recipes to take home are typically included in the cost of the class, but ask to confirm.
    Photo courtesy of Marilau Ricaud's Mexican Ancestry Cooking School