For better or worse, the secret is out. For the past three years, San Miguel de Allende has been ranked the world’s #1 city to visit. And we can’t argue. Exquisite cobblestone streets and Moorish-influenced Spanish colonial architecture make this UNESCO World Heritage site irresistible. Add to the mix a thriving food scene with over 300 restaurants, many extraordinarily beautiful, helmed by top chefs and menus infused with the best, fresh local produce, and well, what are you waiting for?
San Miguel de Allende’s Rich History
Thanks to its position on the route south of the silver-mining cities in Mexico’s central highlands, the 16th-century village of San Miguel quickly became a prosperous city marked by grand houses and even grander churches when it was established by Spanish colonists. The birthplace of an early revolutionary hero, Ignacio Allende, hence the addition of de Allende to its name, (which, since it’s a mouthful, is often abbreviated to SMA) this beautiful, historic city soon attracted the likes of Mexican artists and movie stars Cantinflas. Today the carefully restored city is a haven for expats, bohemians, tourists seeking authentic Mexico, and Mexico City residents (many of whom own second houses here) who flock here to discover a city of courtyards hidden behind carved wood doors which when opened reveal an oasis of greenery and historic columns and arches housing amazing restaurants, shops, and boutique hotels.
The Foodie Scene
Like any thriving city, the food scene is a crazy mix of international cuisines, from Lebanese to Sri Lankan, Peruvian, Thai, and the gastronomy standouts go on. As for Mexican, the culinary offerings range from delicious street food to gourmet and you’ll find incredible tacos at almost every high-end hotspot. The city is now home to a growing number of restaurants run by inventive young Mexican chefs and one thing you can count on is dining in beautiful settings. Rooftop restaurants rule at the moment, each claiming to have the best view, but there are equally stunning courtyard eateries as well as coveted food trucks. At night, lines form outside the famous Tacos San Francisco truck (called Andy’s) at the edge of the Jardin, a tree-filled central square under the stunning pink sandstone façade of the Mexican baroque central church, La Parroquia. Then there’s Tacos Don Felix, high on a hill in Independencia (a short taxi ride from Centro), one of those legendary eateries that began with a family selling tacos from home. “Home” is now a coveted restaurant decorated in folk art, known for its bathtub-sized margaritas and home-style Mexican cuisine. And the best bit is even the most expensive, must-visit spots cost a fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S. and Europe.
An elegantly minimalist space in the upscale boutique hotel, Dos Casas, Áperi is one of San Miguel’s perennial favorite fine dining spots. It’s had a run of highly regarded chefs, and today is helmed by the rising young star, Omar Henriquez. You can order a la carte, but the three-course menu with wine pairing is the way to go. The menu is seasonal, but at the moment count on heirloom tomatoes with burrata, spiked up a notch with chorizo, or try the Wagyu beef with a celeriac puree and wild mushrooms.
Housed on the rooftop of the lovely boutique Hotel Limon, Zumo is a bright open air restaurant that’s close enough to the Jardin that the views include not only la Parroquia and the landmark dome of Las Monjas church but a panoramic sweep of the city and its ring of hills. The seasonal menu emphasizes local produce and the dishes are an international fusion with a distinctly Latin flair. The scene is fun and hip, with brightly colored yellow chairs paying homage to the hotel’s lemon style. Don’t miss the deconstructed tiramisu for dessert.
To find this hidden gem you stroll past a series of modern art galleries only to enter the colonial-era building of Hotel Casa 1810 with its stunning lobby, mix of modern art, columns, light-splashed tiled patio, and discrete plush seating. Trazo has an elegant indoor dining area, but the multi-level rooftop seating is considered one of San Miguel’s best, along with its food. The cuisine is modern Mediterranean and the chef sources organic local produce and meat from local ranches, and sustainably caught fish. You might start with hummus infused with roasted beet, served with vegetables, and go on to a pear and serrano ham risotto. Be sure to order the chai tiramisu for dessert.
Nomada Cocina de Interpretación
Nomada has moved so often that some of its fans have lost track. Now housed in the trendy, upscale Doce 18 Complex House steps from the Jardin, its tables and open kitchen are centered below a sky-lit atrium in the chic boutique hotel L’Ôtel. Run by husband and wife team, chef Marco Cruz and pastry chef Sofia Antillon the menu is sophisticated modern Mexican with signature favorites like fish tacos, tuna tostadas, and fresh salmon. Try the grilled cauliflower in a spice mix offset by sliced pineapple for your starter.
Be sure to reserve a table in the romantic courtyard here, with its flower-strewn fountain, peaked Islamic-style arches, and lush greenery. The Restaurant, housed in San Miguel’s most elegant colonial settings at Sollano 16, is the restaurant that pioneered California cuisine techniques in SMA. When American chef Donnie Masterton moved to SMA in 2005, he brought with him experience at top restaurants across the US (including Joachim Splichal’s Patina Group), along with a commitment to seek out the best local produce and artisan cheeses.Here the always popular Thursday burger nights offer more than a dozen choices, including an homage to LA’s famed In-N-Out burgers. The menu is not about wild experimentation but expertly presented elevated comfort food created with the freshest ingredients available. Want sushi? Ramen? Head over to the extension, The Bar at the R.
Australian chef Paul Bentley has set up shop San Miguel, opening Bovine Brasserie in an elegant space with classic black and white tiled floors, gleaming wood and opulent brass, and mirrors. In addition to the restaurant there’s a private dining room inspired by the female-led artisan tequila, Casa Dragones, aptly named Mesa Dragones. As for the food, the beef is aged, the charcuterie is made in-house, and there’s also fresh seafood and pasta on the menu. For our money, try the porchetta and white bean stew with an Italian green sauce or whole roasted trout with almondine sauce, mashed potatoes, and asparagus.
A charming restaurant in the art-filled Hotel Matilda, Moxi is overseen by Paul Bentley of Bovine, who’s created an international menu with Mexican influences. The space has striking ceilings decorated in a beige version of traditional Otomí animal patterns, and opens out onto a buzzy bar and terrace with pool. Try the braised short rib with black mole and pickled onions, or the roasted octopus in a chile ancho glaze with a jicama salad.
Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar
The Rosewood San Miguel de Allende has beautiful restaurants, and although Luna is technically a bar, it’s the place to be for delicious tapas at sunset for the hands-down best view of San Miguel de Allende. You won’t go wrong (or be left feeling hungry) with the flatbread with pear and gorgonzola or the Baja-style fish tacos, which are especially good.
Quince, La Posadita, Atrio
Cuna de Allende is a short street that runs along the western side of La Parroquia, that’s filled with three coveted rooftop dining options. The oldest is the always popular La Posadita, which specializes in traditional Mexican dishes and gigantic tamarind margaritas. Quince, right next door, has an extensive international meny and caters to a trendy, young crowd with loud music that drives the Posadita people crazy. And Atrio is so close to la Parroquia’s soaring towers that you could just as well be inside. The menu is international, ranging from seared tuna to Asian-style tacos and while it’s a little more subdued than Quince it still attracts a hip, young crowd.
Kôuyīn Asian Eatery
Chef Marcela Bolaño of Marsala has sublimated her love affair with Asian food at Kôuyīn Asian Eatery, a minimalist-style bar and restaurant atop the stylish new Apapacho Boutique Hotel. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a small pool decorated with floating ceramic water lilies. Just as lovely are the sweeping views of the surrounding upscale neighborhood, the leafy Chorro hillside set beside Parque Juarez. Head here on Thursday nights when the place is buzzing with a DJ to try her signature barbecued pork dim sum and the Korean popcorn chicken.
Santiago y Macarena Cocina Contemporánea
Next door to Kôuyīn is Santiago y Macarena Cocina Contemporánea, a chef-owned restaurant set on a stone garden terrace capped with a bamboo roof at Casaliza Hotel Boutique. Talented chefs Santiago Hiriart and Macarena Gomez trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and here they present a French-inspired menu with Mexican touches. They deserve their loyal following for their culinary passion and beloved signature dishes like their appetizer Lyonnaise-style quenelles. Even their simple green salad with a more piquant than usual green goddess dressing was excellent.
This casual spot open for breakfast and lunch has a large wood front porch, the gravel-lined tree-filled backyard surrounded by wooden fencing adorned with hanging plants is where you want to go. The breakfast menu is all about great coffee, smoothies, eggs, pancakes, while lunch sees the welcome addition of their signature tacos, salads, and sandwiches to the mix.