How to Eat Your Way Through San Miguel de Allende
Aguachile, gorditas, mezcal: A chef’s guide to Mexico’s newest foodie mecca.
Donnie Masterton first fell in love with San Miguel de Allende two decades ago as a young backpacker (and budding chef) on a weekend visit. Years later, in 2002 the chef—burned out by cooking in Washington (at the Hay Adams), then New York (at Tavern on the Green) and later Los Angeles (as executive chef for the Hollywood Bowl)—picked up his family and relocated to the colonial city that had made such an impression. At the time, San Miguel’s dining scene was sorely in need of new perspectives on cuisine. “There wasn’t really a chef-driven, forward-thinking restaurant,” he says, “nothing that was doing anything contemporary, or using local and organic ingredients.” So he opened his own, calling it simply The Restaurant. Now one of the city’s most revered dining spots, it celebrated its 10-year anniversary in February and has been joined by Masterton’s other ventures, including two fast-casual projects; El Vergel, a bistro and market outside of town; and his latest restaurant, the Mediterranean-inspired Fatima, opening in early 2019.
Ask Masterton about the dining scene in San Miguel today and he’s quick to sing its praises. “It’s amazing right now,” he says. “The produce is great, so many restaurants are sourcing from local farmers, and young, talented chefs want to live and work here. I’m excited about the food here and feel proud to be a part of it.”
For Rosewood Conversations, Masterton created the perfect one-day eating itinerary, from breakfast to cocktails.
For a morning pick-me-up, Masterton’s go-to is the stylish new Ki’Bok in the historic center. An offshoot of a much-loved Tulum café, it exudes that resort town’s boho-chic vibe. “The coffee and service are great,” he says. “The owner is a closet chef, and she does really good grain bowls and vegan desserts.”
Some weekday mornings, Masterton will start the day with a dip in the nearby hot springs of La Gruta or Escondido Place, followed by a breakfast pit stop at Gorditas Don Ciro. “I’ve been eating there for 14 years, and it’s always consistent. The owner makes gorditas [cornmeal pastries] stuffed with everything from guisado [beef or pork stew] to fried eggs and tomato sauce to potatoes and carrots,” Masterton says. “It started with a Volkswagon van under a tree with a blue tarp, and it’s grown to have seating and a corrugated cover. It’s truly heaven.”
For a mid-morning snack, two bakeries are bringing a taste of Paris to San Miguel’s historic centro. Cumpanio, a popular French-Mexican restaurant, has a bakery annex that sells what Masterton dubs the best bread in town, plus an artfully presented selection of pastries. “I love the lemon tart, the rustic sourdough loaf, and the baguettes.”
At the tiny patisserie Petit Four, a small glass case shows off freshly made treats, including Masterton’s favorites: éclairs and croissants. The owner also offers market tours and cooking classes—though you’ll be preparing classic Mexican food, not pastries.
It’s not often that Masterton has time to go out to lunch, but when he does, you can find him at one of two spots. La Alborada is his go-to for pozole, a traditional Mexican stew. “I’ve been taking my daughters there since they were toddlers, and I also go whenever I’m feeling under the weather,” he says. “They make a caldo de pollo that always cures me. The broth is crystal-clear, just salty enough, and with the perfect amount of cubed veggies and shredded chicken.”
Luna de Queso, meanwhile, is a gourmet market with a café that’s ideal for a quick, healthy meal made with local and organic products. “They do amazing sandwiches, falafel wraps, and smoothies,” Masterton says.
If you’re looking for a laid-back place to have a drink before (or after) dinner, Masterton recommends La Mezcaleria, an intimate, candlelit restaurant and bar outfitted with simple wooden tables. “It’s really minimal, with about 10 or 15 seats inside and a small patio,” he says. “I like going for a few small plates and the great mezcal margarita, made with cucumber and cilantro.”
San Miguel has been having a mini restaurant boom, and Bovine, a high-end steakhouse from Australian chef Paul Bentley, is one of the newer games in town. Design-wise it’s a stunner, with geometric tiled floors, exposed-brick walls, emerald green chairs and tufted black leather banquettes. “Last time I had the côte de boeuf, which is aged for 45 days. The sides are classic, like creamed spinach and mashed potatoes,” Masterton says. “The chef has a delicate touch with seafood, and makes an incredible grilled octopus dish that’s light and flavorful, with a silky chickpea purée.”
Another special-occasion favorite is Jacinto 1930, an indoor-outdoor restaurant just around the corner from Bovine, with a copper-and-black-hued mosaic floor. “I love what chef Matteo Salas has done there,” he says. “The menu is based around masa, so they do their own tortillas. There’s an amazing aguachile [a Mexican ceviche], and last time we had a superb vegetarian taco.”
NIGHTCAP SNACKS WITH A VIEW
It’s one thing to be eye-level with San Miguel de Allende’s brightly colored buildings, including the iconic, pink and pinnacled Parroquía de San Miguel Arcangel on the main square. It’s quite another to witness it all from above, drink in hand, from a rooftop bar. Among Masterton’s top choices is Atrio, from the same team behind the popular restaurant Azotea. “It’s so close to the Parroquia, it’s practically slapping you in the face,” Masterton says. “My go-to drink is usually a margarita.” For something a bit quieter—but with a similarly unbeatable view—he loves the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. “It has one of the best views in San Miguel and great cocktails. Plus, the red snapper tacos are fantastic,” he says. “We always take family or friends there when they visit.”
The Restaurant Diez de Sollano y Dávalos 16; +52 415 154 7877:
Ki’Bok: Diez de Sollano y Dávalos 25; +52 984-135-9509
Gorditas Don Ciro: Carretera a Dolores Hidalgo, Km 5.5; +52 415-113-3362
Cumpanio: Correo 29; +52 415-152-2327
Petit Four: Mesones 99-1; +52 415-154-4010
La Alborada: Calle Solano 11, +52 415-154-9982
Luna de Queso: Salida a Celaya 79 and Jesús 2; +52 415-154-8122
La Mezcaleria: Correo 47; +52 415-121-5354
Bovine: Canal 16; +52 415-121-6787
Jacinto 1930: Relox 18; +52 415-150-0075
Atrio: Cuna de Allende 3; +52 415-688-1405
Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar: Nemesio Diez 11; +52 415-152-9700