Because of the regular influx of wealthy tourists, both foreign and domestic, San Miguel de Allende has an abundance of fine restaurants. I found it difficult to decide which to omit from my itinerary; there were so many tempting options. Since I prefer to explore local cuisine as much as possible, I passed over Peruvian and Italian restaurants, among most other non-Mexican choices. In addition, I wanted to make sure that all the selections had a memorable atmosphere. San Miguel is blessed with too much historic architecture and too many panoramic roof terraces to waste time in banal spaces.
In addition to the Cuna de Tierra winery and the fine restaurants at The Essentia Hotel and the Hotel Casa Blanca 7, these were my favorite culinary discoveries on this visit to San Miguel de Allende.
It makes sense that such a resolutely contemporary restaurant would make its home in Dos Casas Hotel & Spa, a member of Design Hotels. We had a table in the minimalist courtyard beneath a tree, and I ordered a tasty cocktail of Montelobos Mezcal (one of my favorite brands) with tamarind purée and mint syrup to sip as I considered what to order. Rather than sit through a tasting menu — I wasn’t feeling patient enough for eight courses — I made à la carte selections. The beef tongue taco with red onion marmalade and mustard greens was delectably tender, but the spaghetti caponata was a disaster, with overcooked pasta adjacent to unincorporated eggplant and tomato. I ordered a glass of austere Bodegas Henri Lurton Sauvignon Blanc from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley to steel myself for the next course: sustainably farmed mojarra with squash blossoms, zucchini, pumpkin and a sauce of hoja santa, a local herb. Fortunately, this pretty dish was much better, with savory fish and brightly flavored vegetables. A dessert of carrot Tatin with guanabana ice cream was a fine finish to a mostly delicious meal. Closed Tuesday.
Dos Casas Hotel & Spa, Quebrada 101, Centro. Tel. (52) 415-154-4073
Located on the top floor of a hotel perched on a hillside, Antonia Bistro has stupendous views of the whole of San Miguel’s center. An old-style elevator with a manually operated door leads up to the terrace, where our table directly overlooked the towers of the Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel and the Templo de San Francisco. The food was well-presented and tasty — a hearty appetizer of braised eggplant came filled with ripe tomatoes and accompanied by a creamy three-cheese sauce, and some roasted chicken arrived golden and juicy, with buttery chard and sherry jus. But the sweeping view is the restaurant’s main attraction.
Antonia Bistro SMA
San Francisco 57, Centro. Tel. (52) 415-152-7295
Tucked away in the small Hotel Casa 88, this restaurant doesn’t have a view, but its indoor-outdoor dining room does have an appealing midcentury-modern décor that contrasts with its centuries-old walls. How could I resist a starter of grilled romaine with celery, Parmesan, charred bread and “ant mayonnaise”? The smokiness of the chicatanas blended into the creamy dressing enhanced the dish’s savory notes, turning it into a seductive Oaxacan version of a Caesar salad. My satisfying main course also had Oaxacan roots: a hearty tlayuda. A crunchy tortilla came topped with black bean purée, pork loin, Oaxacan cheese, avocado and spinach. It was unfussy but full of flavor. If the Eva Tinto is on the wine list, don’t miss this lush, fruity and well-integrated blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Barbera from Baja. It’s a touch on the sweet side, but it works beautifully with the food.
Nómada Cocina de Interpretación
Hotel Casa 88, Hernandez Macías 88, Centro. Tel. (52) 415-121-6165
This restaurant in the Dôce 18 Concept House opened just a week or two before our stay at the hotel above it. As the only dining establishment with table service in the self-consciously stylish complex, I decided we should give it a try, even though it was Spanish, not Mexican. The average crab stuffed into a bready croissant was a disappointment, but I liked the rich duck sandwich served with zesty pickled onions and spicy tomato soup much better. The suckling pig proved wonderfully tender and flavorful, especially with the accompanying hoisin-like sauce and bitter orange confit. And I quite liked the crunchy oxtail croquette, filled with shredded beef. To drink, try the sweet-and-sour Mezcal Punch, garnished with flowering herbs and served on a volcanic stone charger.
Calle Relox 18, Centro. Tel. (52) 415-688-3168
Trendy Quince, with its bustling roof terrace and thumping music, isn’t an ideal choice for those seeking tranquility. We received a table with a dramatic view of the Parroquia’s tower, but I worried that the “#1 Rooftop Destination in the World” would be all flash. Against all odds, this popular spot had both welcoming service and delicious cocktails and food. My companion’s El Clásico cocktail of Casa Dragones tequila, housemade limoncello, pineapple and ginger was aromatic and exotic, and my Black Forest was true to its name: a sweetly herbaceous concoction of mezcal, pineapple, cucumber and rosemary syrup, turned black by the addition of activated charcoal. The lamb barbacoa dumplings had a flawless texture, and I loved the accompanying poblano pepper confit and spicy cilantro sauce (though the lamb flavor was overwhelmed). Even better was my main course of moist and flaky sea bass in a crunchy panko crust, with ginger-lemongrass rice and ancho pepper cream. Be sure to make a reservation, because wait times for walk-ins, especially on weekends, can be quite long. (Reservations can only be booked online.)
Cuna de Allende 15, Centro
By the same chef who helms Fatima 7, the new restaurant on the Casa Blanca 7 hotel’s rooftop, this romantic spot occupies a quiet, candlelit courtyard with a flower-filled fountain and strings of lights. We sat under a loggia, where I started with some ravioli filled with tangy goat cheese and topped with squash blossoms, huitlacoche (corn fungus) sauce and poblano crema. It was a delightful Italian-Mexican fusion dish. I also enjoyed a more German-influenced grilled pork chop with bacon-braised red cabbage and vanilla-infused sweet potato purée. The dinner felt comforting but creative enough to warrant attention. I can see why The Restaurant makes so many “Best of San Miguel de Allende” lists. Closed Monday.
Casa Blanca 7, Sollano 16, Centro. Tel. (52) 415-154-7862
With a lunch reservation at 1 p.m., early by San Miguel standards, we had our pick of tables on La Única’s roof terrace. We chose a place in the right-hand corner, with a sensational view of the Parroquia. Some shrimp aguachile with mango, jicama, passion fruit juice and habanero chile tasted fresh, fruity and quite spicy. I was glad I had an El Viejo cocktail of mezcal, orange liqueur, ginger and lemon to sip with it. Simpler but just as delicious were the gaoneras tacos with rib-eye, caramelized cheese and arugula, served on warm corn tortillas. For dessert, we tried a corn cake topped with sweet tomato marmalade and vanilla ice cream. It was a light and unusual finish to a lunch with an unforgettable view.
Diez de Sollano y Dávalos 14, Centro. Tel. (52) 415-688-1393