Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Visit to San Miguel de Allende

Parochial Meringue Architecture
Parochial Meringue Tarts
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Cradle of Allende and Independence.
A quintessentially Mexican city of 80.000 Mexicans, but also home to over 11,000 foreign residents, either full or part time. Noted for its Colonial architecture and its galleries and shops. Notably more expensive than many other Mexican cities. There are so many U.S. expats that the State Department has opened a Consular Agency there.

Don Cuevas photo, Calle Cuna de Allende
The last was the reason we just made a 6 hour, multi-stage bus trip from Pátzcuaro to SMA, in order to apply for new U.S. passports.

Someone we know here recently made the trip in his car, up and back in one day. But since we'd not been in the colorful and vibrant Centro in 19 years, we decided to make our trip a stay of three nights. We went by bus to avoid the hassles of car travel and parking. The fare from Pátzcuaro to Morelia was about $36 MXN each, and the combined fare for two, from Morelia to SMA, with an INAPAM discount of 50%, was about $165. On our Wednesday return, we took the 7:45 a.m. Directo from SMA to Morelia, for a total of $175, then hopped on a Lineas Purépechas 2a clase for 36 pesos. Our total transportation cost, SMA to home, was about $20 USD.

I carefully scheduled our visit so that we'd arrive between the many fiestas, but the fiestas are nearly nonstop in the last half of September and the first part of October. We arrived during the last day of the intensely colorful celebration of the town's patron saint, San Miguel. Although the streets were jammed, our taxi got us to within confetti throw of our hotel, the Parador San Sebastian, located on Calle Mesones # 7. This was the same hotel in which we'd stayed in 1991. It's located only 3 blocks from the Jardin (main plaza) and has every necessity available at a short walk. (Besides a cheese and carnes frías shop, there's a carnicería where you can purchase venison and filet of crocodile.) My review of the Hotel Parador San Sebastían appears on I will say here that it was very satisfactory for us and the location is convenient to all services and shopping.

During the cab ride to the hotel, we rode into a wild celebration, with drumming indigenous dancers, a battle of the bands and that night, a spectacular display of pyrotechny. It involved the tallest castillo we've ever seen, a sound and light show projected on the Gothic fantasy La Parroquia, and a whimsical display of Vochos and whirring helicopters of fire. Then, the big guns came out to lift an aerial bombardment that made the crowd applaud. As we trudged up the cobbled street from the Jardin, more aerial burst spangled the night sky. What is the annual San Miguel fireworks budget?

We were in SMA Sunday afternoon until Wednesday morning. Our first meal, at El Correo, was passable but mediocre. I had chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese in a Salsa Poblana. Sauce was good, chicken was cooked dry. Accompanying vegs mix looked like they were out of a box of frozen vegs. Doña Cuevas had an o.k. but not great veg stuffed baked potato.
She liked the unobtrusive service. I thought it was very impersonal. No bread, no nothing until our main courses arrived.
• Food: ***
• Service: ***
• Price: $$
• Ambience: Basic Colonial
• Rest room: fine

Best breakfast and good coffee at Monte Negro, across the street (Calle Correo). Good service, warm atmosphere, decent Machaca con Huevo and Huevos Albañil. The latter were barely picante but that was remedied with the application of a good salsa picante de la mesa.
• Food: ***
• Service: ****
• Price: $-$$
• Ambience: Dark Coffeeshop

Later, I found Casa Cafe, a small, individually owned place with a warmly personable owner, Maricela. Hospico #31, corner of Recreo. Best espresso and cafe espresso cortado I had in SMA. She offers  sandwiches, like ham and cheese, tuna or chicken salad, etc, but didn't try them.

Breakfast at a fonda, Las Rositas. in the Mercado Nigromonte was underwhelming. We had menudo, which was skimpy on the meaty parts. Not bad, not great, not worth a return. I am accustomed to better.

Went to Cafe Contento, (mentioned above in connection with Buena Vida Bakery) in the same mini mall as the American Consulate. Strong American influence. O.k, nice creative touches, free wi-fi, very skimpy on the potato component. Bread was dry, jams were good. Moderate prices.
Omelette Contento a specialty; mushrooms, spinach, cheese. I may have missed some component. (See the little patty on the left? That's the "potatoes".)
• Food: ***
• Service: ***
• Price: $+
• Ambience: Cute patio, casually artsy.
• Rest rooms: did not visit

Casa Payo, Zacateros at Pila Seca. Nice, casual, terraced setting. My wife and I shared Queso Fundido Verde. Not bad, but undistinguished, certainly not worth $70 MXN. She had a Bife de Chorizo, wasn't that great a quality, lacked char. Vegs were nice, and *real*.

I had Asado de Cordero, very simple and good, accompanied only by some roasted onions and (UGH!) Mint Jelly! I put that aside. It came with a cute basket of skinny French fres which were pretty good. The chimichurrí sauce and the salsa roja went well with the lamb. Service was decent but variable. We had to ask for the glasses of wine we'd ordered, after our main course had come. But the waiter was helpful in arranging the shade without us asking. Free wi-fi there, also, plus free phone calls to the U.S. We didn't avail ourselves of the latter.
I think it can be a very enjoyable dining spot, with careful choice from the menu and a bit of luck.

• Food: ***
• Service: ***
• Price: $$+
• Ambience: Casual relaxed terraces
• Restroom: clean.

Noted but untried: both the famed tacos behind the church on Mesones, and any of the slick hamburger stands seen both on Mesones and near el Jardin. Might be SMA's favorite street food, other than elotes. We did see the taco stand on Sunday niight, and customers were lined up deep waiting.

Tuesday, I went for a "snack" at Tortitlán, Júarez 16, across from the side of the church. The Torta Vegetariana Especial turned out to be hot, tasty, and almost more than I could eat. It's easy to understand why Tortitlán is so popular. Cheap, tasty, clean and fast service.

• Food: ***
• Service: semi-self service; place order at counter, food is delivered to your table. It was lightning fast.
• Price: $ Tortas, $28 to $40 something, mains plates (arrachera, etc.) more. Overall, a very good value place.
• Ambience: Are you kidding me? It's functional.
• Restroom: clean

Tuesday evening we made a nostalgic return to La Grotta, Cuadrantes # 5, near the corner of Cuna de Allende (around the corner from El en Ten Pie.) We'd eaten there 19 years ago.
We were brought decent warm bread right away, plus a salsa de la casa in a bottle. It resembles an emulsified chimichurrí rojo. It was muy picante, but I couldn't stop dabbing it on my bread and pizza.

We had two excellent salads; the first a Monte Bianco, with greens, nuts, bacon, pink grapefruit and goat cheese, plus "Fantasia Dressing". I had a very well made Caesar Salad. They are expensive, at $80 MXN each.
Noted, but not tried: appetizers, all $95 each, and admittedly tempting pastas, averaging about $120, if I recall correctly.

We split a large pizza, base price $150 MXN but extra $ for more than two included ingredients. Our choice was garlic, eggplant and black olive.  A large pitcher of limonada completed our dinner, and the final bill was about $432 MXN. We agree that it was the best dinner meal we'd had in in SMA. Service was friendly without being obtrusive. For me, it's a near perfect place.

• Food: ****
• Service: ****
• Price: $$+
• Ambience: Cozy, casual
• Restroom: Just one, unisex, clean and kind of unique.

Here's the entire album of photos, in slideshow format.
Click on the viewer to pass to the album itself.


Michael Dickson said...

Due to the number of Gringos there, I question your use of the phrase "quintessentially Mexican city." I'd say SMA is quite atypical.

But it´s a great place to eat. That´s for sure. That alone makes it atypical.

Would have been far easier to drive, I think.

I´ve stayed at the San Sebastian. Good price, good location. The rooms are very small, however.

Nice post,señor.

Don Cuevas said...

Thank you, Felipe.
I used the phrase, "quintessentially Mexican city.", because it looks like the way a Mexican city is supposed to look. At least in my Hollywood memories.

Many of the gringos may be there because it does that for them also.

Re: San Sebastian; some of the older rooms are much larger. On our first visit long ago, our room had a bed, a fireplace and a kitchenette. On this visit, our second room, # 19 was a cluster of nooks, a Cubist's delight. The first, #10, was more spacious but cost a lot more. I preferred #19.

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

Holy Crap!
10000 Gringos, now I have to think twice about returning there again...
I had no idea there were that many there, our last trip we must have lucked out.
I appreciate your stellar reviews, I know that I am not the only one too!
When will you publish the online version for the savvy traveler?

Don Cuevas said...

I want to add why we prefer the bus:
• It's cheap; tolls and gas are included in the fare.
• You are permitted to sleep, if you can.
• You can't get lost.
• No chance of being pulled over by a cop for "an infraction".
• Once arrived, no parking problems.
• Movies and snack included in the fare.
• See the countryside and some of the cities from on high.

Don Cuevas

Don Cuevas said...

Tancho, thank you for your observations.

But, please, have another cup of coffee. This is the online version.

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

Ok, I'll have another cup this time double straight.
What I meant to say is a on-line consolidation by city and state.
Invaluable, saving the reader time of wandering around your older blogs, unless you .....
Oh, never mind.

Joseph McClain said...

Actually, as a so-called gringo living in San Miguel, I much agree with the comment "quintessentially Mexican". It really is that and then another face of San Miguel is determined by the existence of a large foreign population. Not by any means all Gringo and they are an important part of the 10,000 number...we have French, Moroccan, Italian, Canadian, Spanish, Argentinan, Cuban friends and that mix of the things that make it 'quintessentially Mexican' and International is both unusual and fascinating. By the way, I hate to say this, but I think you missed the best restaurants and I don't necessarily mean the most expensive ones, just the best ones. Maybe I can post on the website names of restaurants that are really good here? Joseph

Don Cuevas said...

Joseph McClain, bienvenidos.

I'm sure that you are correct regarding the restaurants we ate in. I would be happy to have your list here.

I did a lot of reading on the subject on Much of the discussion seemed to center on which restaurant had the better view. That, IMO, is a likely kiss of death in terms of the food.

We would love to read your list of better restaurants, as we'll be going back in a month or so to pick up our passports.

Don Cuevas

gusmorelos said...

Don Cuevas my respects to you (I envy you)is a reall pleasure to read and see so many delicious platillos that you enyoy with that special style I know you have develope in your search for that socalled" eclectic" mexican cousine.BRAVO my good amigo its so nice to discover over your reviews the vast and wide selection of mexican platillos , keep in your search my friend Don Cuevas and in the quest for new flavours present to all of us avid readers and also of course bon vivants of the world with many more interesting discovers ,

see you soon tu amigo Gustavo ,saludos de Cuernavaca .

Don Cuevas said...

Gusmorelos, el gusto es verdaderamente mío en recibir tus comentarios. Debo mucho a ti y a tu familia, Sra. Meli, Don Pepe (que descansa en paz), tambíen Liz y Pepe chico.

Tengo muy buenos recuerdos del tiempo que yo pasaba en tu casa y las enseñanzas que me dieron allí.

¿Sabes que escribí unos posts pasados sobre el tema de mis experiencias en la cocina de Sra. Meli? Es verdad.

En fin, el tiempo que he pasado con mi familia "Tlahuica" es un tiempo inolvidable.

Saludos y unos abrazos fuertes,
Don Cuevas

Anonymous said...

As a person living in SMA, I will say Casa Payo has been our worse dining experience with dried out chicken fingers for our daughter, a hamburger raw in center then returned charred and a bartender repeatedly picking his nose while preparing drinks.

Oliver's just up the street would be a dramatically, better choice.