By Carole Reedy
The virus is on our minds, and frustration fills our hearts with dread. Most of the readers of The Eye are travelers, wanderers, and adventurers, so staying inside is anathema to us. Yours truly, who lives in Mexico City, struggled with the same, especially after the cancellation of a months-long Italian trip scheduled for the fall.
As a result, I opted to take refuge in San Miguel de Allende, my second home.
The tranquil pueblo of San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is just a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the hustle and bustle of the megapolis of Ciudad de Mexico, with its population of over 20 million. SMA was recently listed as the second-best city in the world by the magazine Travel + Leisure. (Oaxaca City grabbed first-place accolades, and the country of Mexico had four out of 25 mentions on the coveted list, more than any other country.)
Fearful of a bus ride filled with 30 potential virus-carrying passengers, I opted for a private car and driver from the reliable BajioGo company. It’s also possible to order a shared-car ride, but that, too, seemed a bigger risk than I wanted to take.
The deluxe bus ride is very reasonably priced at approximately US $30 a person (half that for seniors who have Mexican residency), whereas my private car was US $250. The price of a shared car/van ride depends on the number of passengers, of course. Vale la pena was my thought!
Eating in quarantine
The quarantine situation in SMA was much the same as Mexico City: stay home and wear a mask when out. No restaurants, stores other than grocery or food businesses, or hotels are open. This is scheduled to change on July 15, when the next phase takes over. Hotels are set to open at 40% capacity, as will some restaurants.
One of the attractions of San Miguel is the breadth of its international and local eateries. Like most major cities, the scrumptious food of the region can be delivered to your door or picked up. And the La Europea and Cava Sautto wine stores fortunately are open daily for your imbibing needs.
The local tortillerías are also working daily, so you can have freshly made tortillas for your tacos. The small and large fruit, vegetable, and flower markets are open too for purchasing (at drop-dead low prices) the freshest regional produce, with avocado, papaya, melón, mango, jícama, cilantro, and broccoli topping the list of the vast range of fruits and vegetables available year-round in Mexico.
For those with a kitchen in which to cook at home, in San Miguel we are fortunate to have a grocery store right in centro.
Bonanza has graced the street of Mesones for many years. It’s a favorite of the gringos due to its range of imported items, including sweet relish, horseradish, and New Zealand butter. They also carry delicious homemade yogurt and ice cream. There’s a deli section and a back room with a variety of spices and nuts. The prices are higher than the La Comer just outside of town, but the convenience is incomparable. My favorite purchase is the pickled herring in a jar, an item I have trouble finding even in Mexico City. I would shy away from buying wine here though. The prices are often double that of La Europea or Cava Sautto.
If you’d rather not cook, let me recommend some take-out/delivery options. I’m finding comfort foods more satisfying these days than the fancy “tasting” options many restaurants are offering.
Let’s start with a brimming bowl of pozole. On the Ancha San Antonio, at # 35, you will find Victoria’s, a tiny restaurant hidden among the larger venues that sell Mexican artesanías (handcrafts). There are just a few tables inside and you’ll wait just a few minutes for your take-out order of green or red pozole, chicken or pork. Accompanying your large or small portion are fried tortillas and the fixings to top your pozole: lettuce, radish, and red onion.
Hecho in Mexico, at Ancha San Antonio, # 8, is a favorite among both the gringo crowd and Mexicans due to the highly consistent quality of each item on the menu. The variety of selections is staggering: everything from enchiladas and tacos to hamburgers, salads, soups, and (my personal favorite) the Reuben sandwich. This is a large, mostly outdoor venue, which makes it ideal for social distancing.
Il Castello Ristorante Pizzeria, at Animas 20, serves the real thing when it comes to Italian food at reasonable prices. There is fabulous pizza, stromboli, calzones, and the best eggplant and chicken parmesan around (a personal favorite). Small seating area only, but like all other restaurants, they are prepared to give you take-out. The portions are ample and the location is easy, just up from the market at the Plaza Cívica on the charming street of Animas.
Garambullo, at Animas 46, just down the street from Il Castello, serves breakfast and lunch only in a beautiful courtyard. It’s been described as a small jewel in the midst of the hustle-bustle of the nearby market. Garambullo, by the way, is a Mexican fruit that has many healthy properties, and the restaurant reflects its name in the quality of their food. There are salads, eggs dishes, beans, sandwiches, and enchiladas, all made from the freshest ingredients.
La Parada, at Recreo 94. During normal times you need a reservation for seating at this popular spot featuring Peruvian food. Of course, you must start by sipping a tart Pisco Sour. Follow it with a meal choice from the variety of seafood and wonderful pork dishes, including a yummy pork sandwich, a favorite of many friends. Portions are ample and all very fresh. The waitstaff is exceptional, which makes every visit a special occasion.
Buenos Aires Bistro, at Mesones 62, serves some of the best steaks, arrachera, and lamb chops in town. My personal favorite is the polenta with vegetables or pork; another friend always orders the octopus salad. It is a charming restaurant just steps from the Jardín.
Zenteno, at Hernandez Macías 136, has by far the best coffee in town. That and their breakfast pastries are served daily in this miniscule space with just four tables. You might find yourself alone in here during these pandemic days, but during normal times you’d see many happy patrons on their iPads sipping coffees. One day I even spotted Robert Reich, the American economist, in a quiet corner. I buy my freshly ground coffee here by the kilo.
Tostévere, at Codo 4, is known for their tostadas. Forget your image of a Mexican tostada because here they create their own version of the popular Mexican dish. The chef and staff present a small menu, but it’s filled with unique variations on the traditional tostada. Think octopus, soft-shelled crab, corn, a variety of vegetables, and carpaccio, all served in a manner you’ve not experienced before. There’s a full bar with a variety of popular cocktails and a friendly, knowledgeable staff.
Whether dining out or in, you’re sure to find variety, quality, atmosphere, and charm in this small yet grande colonial city of Mexico. Come visit when you feel comfortable traveling.