Beating out such gloriously romantic and famed cities as Paris and Vienna, Florence and Rome, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico was recently named the number one city in the world by the supreme travel guide Conde Nast. San Miguel deserves the acclaim with its unspoiled colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, sequestered courtyards dripping with fountains and flowers, friendly atmosphere, lovely weather and its many, many restaurants. My husband and I began vacationing here seven years ago, after hearing glowing reviews from friends and neighbors who have second houses in this charming city.
San Miguel has a storied past as the heart of the Mexican revolution, a mecca for beat poets and artists of the ‘50’s and 60’s and now as a paradisiacal retreat for Americans, Canadians and Europeans from the fast pace of their harried contemporary lives. With a healthy population of ex-pats (roughly 16,000 out of a little over 100,000 permanent residents) and as a popular tourist spot for both Mexicans and foreigners, San Miguel has an international aura.
With that comes a variety of places to eat, from street vendors and open produce markets and little Mexican cafeterias to more upscale cafes, bakeries and restaurants of nearly any cuisine one can think of: Mexican, of course, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, French, Thai. . . One could stay here for an age and not eat at the same place twice.
Being vegan, I find I am no more limited in my dining options than my omnivorous companions, though it does take a little looking. There aren’t any strictly vegetarian restaurants but there is always something delicious to eat, even if it is just extra-fresh salsa and guacamole with equally fresh tortilla chips. Beans, whole or refried are also available almost everywhere. Molletes, beans and cheese on toast with a variety of salsas are a popular and traditional breakfast. I just ask for them “sin queso” or without cheese. You also need to check that they use vegetable oil and not lard for frying, but many places are “vegano” friendly. All places are friendly in general and very accommodating- even when I once asked for the tempting gorgonzola salad on the menu- without the gorgonzola. The waiter laughed with me and promptly brought me the salad without cheese. It was delicious: butter lettuce, warm pears and walnuts with a light citrus dressing. This was at a rooftop restaurant called “La Azotea” which has stunning sunset views of the city.
I love the Indian restaurant in town, Bhaji. There are lots of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu here and everything I’ve tried is mouthwatering and scrumptious. They are accommodating here also. Though the korma is made with coconut cream and dairy cream, they were willing to take out the dairy. It’s small and popular so you need to make reservations but they also do take-out.
There is also Via Organica, which is both a restaurant and a little organic market. Our hosts call it San Miguel’s answer to Trader Joe’s in that you can find specialty groceries here such as granola, non-dairy milks, fresh nut-butters, and spelt and quinoa pastas. They also have some good homemade prepared foods like ginger carrot soup, tabouli, babaganoush and the like. A wide variety of fresh produce is available, as well as fresh juices that are made on site. Their vegan chocolate cake and brownies are rich and decadent and make the idea of living here one day a real possibility!
A walk through the open air produce market next to the artisans’ market is worth the time. Even if you don’t buy anything, it is a feast for the eyes. Aisle after aisle of mountains of mangoes and guavas, tomatoes, cactus leaves, bananas, dragon fruit, papayas, rainbows of chili peppers, corn and carrots, ropes of onions and garlic bulbs, melons and crisp lettuce and mounds more of fruits and veggies I know and many I don’t, all framed by colorful and fragrant flores and smiling people.
There are one or two caveats that probably apply to visiting most places in Mexico and other countries. If you do buy fruits or veggies here, outside of a reputable restaurant, wash everything very carefully to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge. Also, there is meat for sale throughout the city and it is less antiseptic-looking than meat sold in the US; for example, you might occasionally see carcasses hanging in shops or in the backs of trucks. I know where these carnecarias are now and look at my feet when I pass by.
San Miguel de Allende is truly a wonderful place to visit for the history, the sights, the friendly people and the food. New restaurants are opening all the time. I hope more vegetarians and vegans will visit and create a demand for even more dining options for us. I only touched on a few here. If you do come, all you need do is ask about places to eat. Visit the jardin, the central square in front of the city’s splendid cathedral, or parroquia. This is where people congregate to listen to mariachis, promenade beneath shady topiaries or just hang out. Strike up a conversation with someone here. You’ll get several enthusiastic dining recommendations from the first person you ask!