Best Food in San Miguel de Allende: Two Day Itinerary

Magical and mysterious, San Miguel de Allende is nestled in Mexico’s central highlands, a 90-minute drive from Guanajuato International Airport (BJX).  Its twisting cobblestone streets somehow seem to always crawl uphill.  The flow of traffic is a polite dance between vehicles and pedestrians—there are no stop signs or lights marring the picture-perfect vistas.  While San Miguel de Allende has gained attention in recent years—the city was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008, and Travel + Leisure named it “The World’s Best City” in 2017—it seems to be preserving both its beauty and its identity as an epicenter of art, culture and cuisine.  Legend has it that the city sits atop a bed of healing crystal quartz, which casts a spell of enchantment over visitors.  Legends aside, there is an undeniable “vibe” in the air—perhaps supernatural, perhaps the altitude.

The comparison to New Orleans makes sense, with the locals’ reverence for and celebration of the dearly departed (particularly during the first week of November for the Festival La Calaca—the Skull Festival); the ornately carved wooden doors that obscure fantastic open-air courtyards around the city (there are said to be over 2,000 of them); and the serious food scene.  But San Miguel de Allende is an original, particularly when it comes to its food.  World class coffee, mezcal, tequila and farm-fresh Mexican fare—at shockingly affordable prices—make San Miguel de Allende a “must” on every traveling foodie’s list.

Below is a two day food itinerary that will take you around the Centro, easily done by foot, and give you a glimpse of this enigmatic destination.

Day 1

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Lavanda Cafe.  Lavanda, a charming little cafe tucked away on Dr. Ignacio Hernández Macías street, is serious about coffee.  Indeed, their coffee options take up twice the menu real estate as the food.  Don’t miss your chance to try one of the infamous lavender-infused coffee creations.  And while chilaquiles can be found on most menus around town, Lavanda has some of the best—crunchy tortilla chips atop black beans, smothered with salsa verde, cotija cheese and a perfectly cooked sunny-side up egg.

 Almuerzo (Lunch)

Dôce-18 Concept House, Taco Lab and Casa Dragones The Dôce-18 Concept House is a ritzy collection of eateries and boutiques, including a coffee bar, chocolatier, florist, library, art gallery and more—all under one roof.  Though most of the treasures found here are on the pricier side for San Miguel de Allende, head toward the back of the building and check out Taco Lab, started by California chefs Joe Hargrave and Donnie Masterson.  135 pesos will get you 3 tacos.  Don’t miss the charred octopus (pulpo) with avocado, fresh lime and cilantro on a hand-pressed corn tortilla.  The reasonably-priced lunch will allow you to splurge on a tasting at Casa Dragones (20 steps away), the small batch 100% blue agave sipping tequila with a cult following (it has landed on Oprah’s annual king-making list of “Favorite Things” for six consecutive years).  Taking home a bottle of the Joven will set you back about $180 USD; $100 less than retail in the States.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Mezcaleria.  Everything on the menu at La Mezcaleria is incredible.  Everything.  The restaurant was born out of owners Monica and Alexander’s passion for cooking and entertaining for their friends and family.  When you dine here, you are eating at their table.  The decor—from the handcrafted obsidian Oaxacan light fixtures to the art on the walls (painted by Alexander himself)—is reflective of the artifacts you will find in their home.  The short yet highly curated menu is filled with unique and inspired Mexican dishes.  The quality is impeccable.  The flavors are bold.  After landing from your 3-part flight of the house mezcal—served with fresh orange slices and chile salt—work your way through the menu.  You can’t go wrong.  Don’t miss the arugula salad with grilled pear and goat cheese; fresh tuna tartare with thinly sliced red onion, black and green olives and habanero chiles; grilled jumbo prawns with roasted cherry tomatoes and rosemary; coffee and dry herb crusted beef with grilled guava; the platter of grilled zucchini, pickled beets and roasted sweet potatoes; and the vanilla panna cotta and fresh berries drizzled with local honey.

Day 2

Desayuno (Breakfast)

Ki’bok Coffee.  What began in hip Tulum has made its way to San Miguel de Allende, thanks to owners James and Veronica. The beans are 100% Arabic, grown by a co-op of organic farmers in Veracruz.  The preparation is elite—the manager Joel honed his skills serving discriminating Italian customers in the original location.  The atmosphere is relaxed boho chic.  Don’t miss the double Americano with hand-mixed chocolate (a heavenly blend of cacao and fragrant spices like cinnamon); the poached egg in a ham cup served on a bed of vegetables and quinoa, topped with hollandaise; the halved avocado stuffed and baked with eggs and manchego cheese; and a selection of locally-made pastries.

Almuerzo (Lunch)

Don Taco Tequila.  If you walk too fast, you might just miss it.  And that would be a tragedy.  The dining room is stylish, yet understated.  The hand-shaken margaritas are frothy and fresh.  The house salsas (four of them) are addictive.  But don’t miss the restaurant’s eponymous taco: tequila flamed ribeye, caramelized onions, and garlic wrapped in cheese crust.  Thank me later.

Cena (Dinner) 

La Parada.  An authentic taste of Peru in San Miguel de Allende.  A variety of fruit and spice infused pisco sours? Check.  Assortment of interesting ceviches? Check.  But don’t miss the hidden gems on the menu, including the incredibly fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, peas, lima beans, sun dried tomatoes, sweet corn, queso fresco and a light drizzle of pesto; and the Que tal lomo, a masterfully prepared fillet of beef sautéed with onions and tomatoes, served with sweet corn jasmine rice and crispy smashed gold Peruvian potatoes.

Download the Google Map for this itinerary:

google_maps

Taste of Adventure 

Best Cooking Class in Mexico City

Mole Poblano

One of the most rewarding ways to discover the food, culture and traditions of any place you are visiting is to spend a few hours with a local cook perusing the markets, and if you are lucky, having them teach you to prepare some authentic dishes.  The mark of a truly exceptional experience of this kind is when you depart feeling that you have spent a day with long lost family.  This is the feeling you are sure to have when leaving Casa Jacaranda, the stunning home of Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz in the quaint Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City.  Although Beto and Jorge are quick to reject being labeled “chefs,” they are undeniably extremely talented cooks.

Mercado Medellin

Your morning with Beto and Jorge begins with a brief stop at a local tortilleria, where the warm scent of toasted corn fills the air and the tortillas are made using the same ancient process as the Aztecs.  Then it’s off to nearby Mercado Medellin, a local market with over 500 stalls featuring specialties from all over Mexico and Latin America.  Armed with an arsenal of “abuela-approved” recipes (Beto and Jorge will go over the menu, and suggest creative substitutions for any dietary constraints), your hosts will guide you through the market, stopping at the best vendors for various items like Oaxaca cheese, dried chiles and smoked habanero salsa, and collecting the freshest ingredients for the afternoon feast.

Casa Jacaranda

After a short walk through the tree-lined streets of Colonia Roma, you arrive at Casa Jacaranda, named for the towering Jacaranda tree that delights with beautiful purple blooms in the spring.  Beto and Jorge have lovingly restored the early 19th Century home, which is sparkling clean and adorned with funky art and perfectly-curated furniture.  The centerpiece is the custom cooking area they built for their guests, which lends to a feeling of being at a fun cooking party at your friend’s house.  The day’s menu is scrolled on a giant chalkboard on the wall, and Beto and Jorge expertly guide you through preparing each dish, encouraging you to get your hands dirty and sharing tricks and secrets they swore to their grandmothers they’d never tell.  Staples like guacamole, Smoky Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa, and coconut flan with caramel, are accompanied by more complex dishes like mole poblano, enchiladas with salsa verde, sweet corn tamales, and squash blossom and mushroom stuffed molotes.

Casa Jacaranda The impressive Mexican spread is then transported to the rooftop garden, and invited guests can join the lunchtime festivities.  An aperitif of artisanal mezcal gets your taste buds jumping, followed by a complimentary selection of wine or perhaps a bespoke tequila sunrise made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and housemade grenadine.  The exquisite food slowly disappears as stories are swapped, laughs are shared, the afternoon sun slowly fades away, and sobremesa  that magical time spent around the table with friends after an extraordinary meal; a word that has no precise English translation  sets in.

Taste of Adventure

5 Best Mexico City Street Foods

tacos al pastor

Mexico City. A sprawling metropolis in the high plateaus of south-central Mexico, built upon an ancient lake and bursting with world-class museums, architecture, shopping, entertainment and cuisine. Mexican food and culture is inextricably intertwined, and traditional methods transform native ingredients like corn, chile peppers, beans, avocados, tomatoes, guavas, cactus, cacao and vanilla into flavor-packed creations. And there is no easier access point to sample the variety of dishes Mexico City has to offer than its ubiquitous street food vendors. The choices are seemingly endless, but below are five must-try Mexico City street foods.

tacos al pastor 1. Tacos Primarily mid-morning or late night snacks, tacos are the quintessential Mexican street food. Fresh masa is pressed into thin tortilla rounds and toasted for rich corn flavor. Fillings run the gamut, from myrid cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, to roasted poblano chiles and onions, to diced potato and chorizo. Spicy salsas and chopped veggies like cilantro, onions and radishes add freshness. Be on the lookout for the famous tacos al pastor — easy to spot by the towering stack of chile and pineapple-marinated pork cooked near an open flame on a rotating vertical spit — as well as slow-roasted lamb barbacoa tacos.

tlacoyo2. Tlacoyos You can’t miss the group of ladies huddled around a giant flattop grill flipping oval-shaped, indigo masa cakes stuffed with requesón cheese and beans. Once nice and toasty, the tlacoyos are typically topped with fresh salsa, nopales, sour cream, chopped onion, grated cheese and cilantro. Tlacoyos are best enjoyed hot off the grill.

esquites3. Esquites The smoky aroma of roasted corn lures passersby. The browned kernals are cut from the cob and tossed with pungent epazote, zesty lime juice, spicy chile powder, cool mayonnaise and salty Cotija cheese, and served in cups for easy portability. The perfect blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.

jicama with chile and lime

4. Prepared Fruit Mexico is blessed with a bounty of exotic fruit year-round. Fruit stands are found throughout the city, and vendors will dice up a sampling of the season’s best, like guava, papaya, passion fruit, soursop, mango and pineapple. For a refreshing snack, try crunchy jicama sticks tossed in fresh lime juice and sprinkled with chile salt.

aguas frescas

5. Aguas Frescas No street food meal is complete without aguas frescas (“fresh waters”), colorful beverages made with a variety of fruits, flowers and seeds. Most vendors will let you sample their offerings before making your final selection. Popular choices include agua de flor de Jamaica (hibiscus flower), limón con chia (lime with chia seeds), guanabana (soursop), tamarind and horchata, a creamy blend of rice milk, cinnamon and vanilla.

¡Buen provecho!

Taste of Adventure

 

Top 10 Sonoma County Wineries

Sonoma

(Last updated on March 21, 2017) With over 400 wineries, Sonoma County is one of California’s most prolific wine-producing regions. Top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – which thrive in the cool oceanic microclimate – along with farm-to-table dining, pristine hiking and cycling, and rustic charm, draw visitors from all over the world. Discover why Wine Enthusiast named Sonoma one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations.

Save up to 25% on your hotel & see millions of reviews

1. Arista Healdsburg.  Family-owned Arista focuses on soft, elegant Russian River Valley Pinot Noir that reflects the unique terroir of the regions from which the fruit is sourced. Pros have been watching Arista’s wines since the arrival of talented winemaker Matt Courtney (formerly of Helen Turley’s Marcassin Vineyard) in 2013. In addition to Pinot Noir, enjoy samples of Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Gewurtztraminer at the intimate tasting room surrounded by a scenic Japanese garden.

2. Dutton Goldfield Sebastopol.  Pinot Noir and aromatic Chardonnay are the mainstays of Dutton Goldfield. Stop by the tasting bar and enjoy the wine and cheese flight – a tasting of limited production wines paired with local artisan cheeses – or the “Beast and Pinot” flight – a tasting of a range of Pinot Noir paired with charcuterie.

Gary Farrell

3. Gary Farrell Healdsburg.  Gary Farrell crafts superb Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with lush fruit and complexity. Although Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are at the core of the winemaking program, Gary Farrell also produces limited quantities of Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel. Enjoy sweeping views of the Russian River Valley from the tasting bar, or book a more in-depth tasting of six wines on the outdoor terrace in warmer months or fireside in the colder season.

4. Hartford Forestville.  Hartford crafts classic, single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and robust old vine Zinfandel (which pairs beautifully with dark chocolate). A Pinot Noir lover’s paradise, Hartford offers upwards of ten different selections in a given year. Enjoy a tasting while taking in spectacular views of the vineyards from the patio.

5. Kistler Sebastopol.  Kistler’s world class, single-vineyard Chardonnay rivals the finest producers in Burgundy. The Pinot Noir is similarly magnificent. Both are available for purchase exclusively to their mailing list members. Those wanting to try before they invest can make a reservation for a special visit to Kistler’s Trenton Roadhouse for a taste.

Paul Hobbs

6. Paul Hobbs Sebastopol.  Paul Hobbs crafts small production, vineyard designate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet using minimally-invasive winemaking techniques. The result is a pure and authentic expression of the varietal. Set aside two hours around lunch time for the “Small Bites Experience” at Lindsay House. You will be treated to spot-on pairings like Cabernet with wood oven roasted lamb, and Chardonnay with pan-seared halibut. Don’t miss selections of Malbec from Paul’s Argentina collection.

Porter Creek

7. Porter Creek Healdsburg.  A stop by the charming roadside tasting room of Porter Creek, a father and son operation, is a must-do. They produce organic, hillside, vineyard designate Burgundian and Rhone varietals – Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Carignane, Syrah and Zinfandel. The vineyards are sustainably farmed (they even use vehicles fueled by organic vegetable oil), with an emphasis on biodynamic practices.

8. Rochioli Healdsburg.  The Rochioli family has been growing grapes in the same vineyard for 80 years. Indeed, they were pioneers in planting Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley in the late 60s, selling off most of the fruit (including to venerable producers like Williams Selyem) until producing their own wine in the mid-80s. Rochioli offers silky Pinot Noir and crisp old vine Sauvignon Blanc, among other varietals. Stop by the tasting room to sample a range of Estate wines.

9. Sojourn Sonoma.  Sojourn – founded in 2001 – is a relative newcomer, producing critically acclaimed artisan Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet. Schedule a tasting at the charming downtown Sonoma tasting salon near the historic town square. You will appreciate Sojourn’s commitment to high-quality wine in a pretension-free, friendly atmosphere.

Williams Selyem

10. Williams Selyem Healdsburg.  From its beginnings in 1979 in a garage in Forestville, Williams Selyem has achieved renown as the producer of some of the most highly-coveted Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. They also produce lovely Chardonnay, Zinfandel and late harvest selections. Tastings of these micro-quantity wines are reserved for list members, but you can sign up here.

Download the Google Map for this itinerary:

google_maps

Taste of Adventure

Best Food and Wine Experiences in Napa Valley

Strawberry Shortcake, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California 2014 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Strawberry Shortcake, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen 2014 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

One of the world’s best wine and food destinations, Napa Valley is nirvana for those whose greatest pleasure is the perfect pairing amid breathtaking natural beauty.  The first glimpse of the vineyards as you enter the valley on Highway 29 instantly lifts your mood in anticipation of the spectacular culinary delights that await.  Whether a romantic escape, a girls’ weekend or a cycling getaway, Napa Valley offers sensory experiences that make it effortless to unplug from the world and connect with those around you.

Undoubtedly, Napa Valley vintners produce some of the best wine in the world.  The food scene is equally revered, and includes two of the nine U.S. restaurants with a highly-coveted 3-star rating in the 2015 Michelin Guide – Chef Christopher Kostow’s Meadowood, and Chef Thomas Keller’s foodie mecca, The French Laundry.

Then there are the hidden gems of Napa Valley: off-the-beaten path tasting rooms and immersive farm-to-table experiences.  These are the magical experiences that die-hard foodies live for.

Save up to 25% on your hotel & see millions of reviews

Oakville Grocery, Oakville, Napa Valley, California A morning stop at Oakville Grocery is a delicious way to kick off your Napa Valley adventure.  Although hardly a secret (the store was founded in 1881, and is the oldest continually operating grocery store in California),  Oakville Grocery is a quaint country store supplying the tastiest treasures from Napa and Sonoma farmers and artisans.  Grab an espresso and one of the scrumptious breakfast sandwiches – perhaps the organic scrambled egg with apple wood ham, roasted peppers and pepper jack cheese on a buttery croissant – and enjoy peaceful vineyard views from one of the outdoor benches before you set out for the day.

A tasting at the O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery located high in the hills above St. Helena is a can’t-miss event.  The stunning views of the valley alone would be worth the trek; add the world-class cabernet and your mind will be blown.  O’Shaughnessy’s two offerings – Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder – consistently earn rave reviews from the venerable Robert Parker, who awarded 97 points to the 2012 Mount Veeder.  Relish the powerful, complex flavors of dark cherry, cocoa and spice as you savor every drop.

With your palate awakened, head down the mountain for lunch at local favorite Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen.  In warmer months, the tables on the charming brick patio underneath the 100-year-old fig tree are the perfect spot to enjoy incredibly fresh summer salads, crisp sauvignon blanc and sinful strawberry shortcake with fresh cream.  Or cozy up inside at the lively bar and trade stories with locals and visitors over wood oven pork shoulder and a glass of earthy pinot noir.

St. Helena Olive Oil Co., St. Helena, Napa Valley, California

After lunch, stop by St. Helena Olive Oil Company around the corner on Main Street, and be sure to try Katz and Company’s exquisite raspberry honey.  About a mile up the road is The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  You will find all things culinary at their Spice Islands Marketplace, including a tasting bar where you can sample chocolate, cheese, charcuterie, olive oil and wine.

Pairing wine and food is an art, with thousands of books written on the subject.  When done expertly, the experience is otherworldly.  Seriously.

Austin Gallion, Director of Hospitality and Executive Chef at Vineyard 29, is a pairing pro.  He is the mastermind behind Vineyard 29’s innovative hospitality programs.  Forget the ubiquitous dry breadstick, and reserve your spot for a flight of Vineyard 29’s superb cabernets, cab francs and zinfandel’s perfectly matched with bite-sized “tastes” like duck confit with cherry compote. Guests with good timing might be able to snag Vineyard 29’s coveted sauvignon blanc, which delights with bright citrus, minerality and warm caramel.

Olive Oil and Syrup, Round Pond Estate, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California

Those looking for the full farm-to-fork experience have two first-rate opportunities. Round Pond Estate, located in the acclaimed Rutherford region of Napa Valley, is a family-owned and operated estate comprised of vineyards, gardens and orchards. In addition to excellent wine, the family produces delicious artisanal olive oils, red wine vinegars and citrus fruit syrups. The “Garden to Table Brunch” includes a tour of the biodynamic garden, cooking demonstration (with wine), estate wine tasting and seated brunch on the stunning terrace with sweeping views of Napa Valley. Those looking to get their hands dirty can book a spot for the annual “A Day in the Life” experience, where you will harvest grapes, assist the winemakers, and enjoy all the gourmet food and wine the estate offers.

Grassfed Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Jam, Farmstead, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California

Advocates of sustainable, organic farming will be rapt with Long Meadow Ranch, which produces acclaimed wines, olive oil, grassfed beef, eggs, honey and heirloom fruits and vegetables. Options to see and experience everything LMR has to offer abound, and include extensive tours, kitchen workshops, and multi-course meals hosted by Chef Tim Mosblech. For those with limited time, book a table at LMR’s restaurant, Farmstead, and devour down-home goodies like wood grilled artichokes, meatballs with tomato marmalade, grassfed lamb, and “brick cooked” chicken with salsa verde.

Ma(i)sonry

Ready for more wine tasting? Set aside a couple of hours to lounge in the outdoor sculpture garden at Ma(i)sonry in downtown Yountville. The art collection is intriguing, but the main attraction is tasting hard-to-find wines from over 20 boutique producers like Juslyn, Lail, Pahlmeyer, and Renteria. Don’t miss Blackbird Vineyards’ incredible Pomerol-inspired wines; a glass of the Arriviste rosé is the picture-perfect ending to a day of indulgence.

Download the Google Map for this itinerary:

google_maps

Taste of Adventure