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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—Taste of Adventure