What To Eat, Drink And Do In The Heart Of Mexico: San Miguel De Allende

In the highlands of the mountainous Bajio region, and centrally located in Mexican state of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is known as the “Heart of Mexico”.  This small city, bursting with Old World charm, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic Baroque and Neoclassical colonial architecture as well as its important role in the Mexican War of Independence.

San Miguel de Allende has a reputation as one of Mexico’s safest cities as well as the cleanest. In accordance with its strict health policies, during the pandemic, all venues greet visitors with a temperature check and a dab of sanitizer on their hands before entry. The premier travel destinations also received the World Travel & Tourism Council global stamp known as “Safe Travels” for safety and hygiene. 

And, because of its location in the highlands, the air is clean. As for the climate, daytime temps are typically in the 70’s, then it cools down to the 50’s at night through the early morning.

But, San Miguel de Allende is more than a safe getaway that offers an authentic Mexican experience. Often acclaimed as the “Best City in Mexico” in renowned travel publications, SMA is quite cosmopolitan.  Along with its many cultural festivals, it is a foodie destination with an elevated cocktail scene that emphasizes agave-based spirits.  

These hotspots can be found all around the Zona Centro, or main town square, which is centerpieced by El Jardin, the central park located in front of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel –a majestic Neo-Gothic church with soaring pink spires.  Speaking of hot spots, the town is connected with free wireless internet.

The Zona Centro’s irregular, and often steep, cobble-stone streets and their narrow sidewalks are lined with colorful painted homes and buildings with beautifully carved, wooden doors.  Behind these ornate entryways can be found leafy courtyards with elegant fountains and stairways leading to garden rooftops -both perfect settings for drinking and dining al fresco.

Eat & Drink

Bovine Brasserie 

When you arrive on the top floor of the Codigo Postal, a collection of luxe lifestyle boutiques, do not be intimidated by Bovine’s sophisticated, dark hardwood aesthetics.  This brasserie and steakhouse, helmed by Australian-born Chef Paul Bentley (DANIEL/New York, MAGNO BRASSERIE/Guadalajara), will comfort you with its French-influenced, meat-centric cuisine.

But, first, head to the inviting bar, whose countertop was recovered from an old canteen, for cocktails.  If it’s Thursday evening, you’ll be served by a guest bartender as part of an ongoing, local mixologist program. 

Chang

Shaken with Mezcal Lineal, Pineapple, Cucumber and  Cilantro with housemade Peanut Salt Rim.

Destello De Luna 

Shaken with Vodka, Lychee, Passionfruit and Aquafaba.

Kick off your dinner with a platter of Grilled Japanese Oysters paired with Casa Dragones Joven Tequila served straight up neat. For your main course, consider the house specialty – Wood Fire Roasted Half Chicken along with sides of the most amazing Papas Francesas (French fries) and Roasted Carrots -topped with thick Buttermilk dressing and sliced Almonds. Save room for their Paris Brest for dessert.

In addition to Bovine’s cocktail menu, it also offers a selection of  premium whiskeys as well as an exclusive menu of Casa Dragones sipping tequilas and cocktails, such as Margarita Dragones – mixed with Casa Dragones Blanco, Contreau, Lemon Juice and Basil. 

Casa Dragones has been working with many top chefs across Mexico since its inception.  This collaboration led to the creation of Bovine’s Mesa Dragones (Dragons Table), a 10-seated, private, walnut-paneled dining room,  where the chef’s six-course tasting menu is paired with the brand’s Joven tequila.

Canal 16, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende; bovinerestaurant.com.mx;  @bovinebrasserie

Moxi

The upscale, contemporary MOXI is located on the courtyard terrace of the chic Hotel Matilda. Its globally-inspired menu, featuring locally-sourced Mexican dishes, was created by Australian-born chef, Paul Bentley (NY’s Daniel, Guadalajara’s Magno Brasserie). For a quiet, romantic dinner, arrive here early as later in the evening there is a house party vibe as local regulars fill up the widely-spaced tables for an exuberant night.

As you peruse the menu, do order MOXI’s signature cocktail, the Caviartini -made with Belvedere Vodka and garnished with a Pearl Onion between two Caviar-stuffed Martini Olives. Excellent small plates include the yummy Duck-filled Tamale served over black bean puree or the delish  Vuelve De La Vida – this re-interpretation of the Veracruz-style seafood cocktail (renown for curing hangovers), has a mix of octopus, shrimp, and catch-of-the-day fish over a crisp tostada, and topped with salsas negras – a smoky, fire-roasted salsa made with chiles, garlic and toasted sesame seeds.

However, should you have a taste for casual, Japanese cuisine, ask for the ramen-centric menu for MOXI’s alter-ego, MUI.

Monkey Bar

New to SMA’s cocktail scene, the Monkey Bar is quickly becoming the go-to Happy Hour destination for locals and visitors alike. Also located off Hotel Matilda’s courtyard, grab a stool at this outdoor hotspot, and order their Summer Tonic -a twist on the classic G&T made with Casa Dragones Blanco and Muddled Red Berries along with a tasty bar bite, like Tacos de Cochinta (slow-roasted pork).

Aldama 53, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende; hotelmatilda.com/moxi-restaurant-san-miguel-de-allende; @moxirestaurant @monkeybar

Café San Agustin 

Also known as “Chocolates y Churros”, this intimate café is popular with locals as well as tourists for their churros – long, fluted rolls of sweetened dough that are deep-fried in hot oil, before drenched in sugar and cinnamon.  Choose from an order of 3 sencillos (traditional), or a churro Rellenos, a larger version filled with a choice of Nutella or chocolate, along with a sweet Mexican Hot Chocolate spiced up with cinnamon. 

San Francisco 21, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende

Rooftop Hotspots 

Quince

Pass through the rustic building’s entrance, and across the romantic open-air courtyard, to access the stairs leading to Quince – referred to as the oldest rooftop in the World, and, recently, “The #1 Rooftop Restaurant in the World 2020”. After a wave of serenity welcomes you, so will their friendly staff. It’s a great spot for late-night drinks and sushi and cocktails.

Quince Spirit

Tanqueray Flor De Sevilla Gin (distilled gin made with bittersweet Seville oranges), Fresh Pineapple Juice, St. Germain Liqueur and Tonic.

Pepino

Don Julio Blanco Tequila, Cucumber, Lime and Fresh Pineapple Juice.

 However, Quince is an even better brunch destination, which is available Friday through Monday, from 11 am to 1 pm. Chilaquiles is a scrumptious, traditional Mexican breakfast dish -and a perfect hangover meal. You have a choice between Rojos (roasted red peppers and cilantro sauce ) or Verde (grilled green tomatillo and cumin sauce) over a bed of beans with grilled Flank steak, fresh crema, soft Panela cheese and cured Red onion and Habanero peppers.  Then, choose from unique variety of Cheladas (beer cocktails) or Mimosas, like the Garden Rosè Mimosa -made with Prosecco and St. Germain Liqueur poured over muddled Blackberries, Raspberries and Blueberries. if you need a ‘wake up’ boost, order the Quince Carajillo -a shot of sweet Licor 43 Spanish liqueur shaken with a shot of Espresso.

Cuna de Allende 15, Zona Centro, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende; quincerooftop.com; @quincerooftop

La Unica

The unassuming street entrance of this authentic Mexican restaurant belies the gorgeous open-air courtyard, and, on the next level, a rooftop terrace with stunning views. Enjoy these tasty cocktails with their famous Soft-shell Crab Taco or Roasted Cauliflower at this SMA hotspot, with sister restaurants in Mexico City (CDMX) and Puebla.

Dragon Verde

Casa Dragones Blanco Tequila, Cointreau, Lemon Juice, Agave Syrup and Basil.

San Mike

Mezcal Union, Jamaica (hibiscus), Lemon and Orange.

Martini de Mazapan 

Zacapa 23 Rum, Frangelico and Mazapan (Mexican candy, similar to Marzipan, but made with peanuts).

Diez de Sollano y Dávalos 14, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende; launica.mx/san-miguel; @launicasma

Fatima 7 at Hotel Casa Blanca 

Located on the rooftop of the Morrocan-inspired Hotel Casa Blanca, overlooking the stately San Francisco Church. Enjoy Mediterranean fare, and the views, with Fatima 7’s signature drink, the Aurora – mixed with Mezcal, Kiwi, Soursop and Lime.

Juárez 7, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende; casablanca7.com/fatima-7; @Fatima7Rooftop

Tasting Tours 

Vinicola Tres Raices 

In the last ten years, a handful of small growers have resurrected wine production in Central Mexico’s inland Bajio region. The vineyards growing between San Miguel and neighboring Delores Hidalgo benefit from the area’s dry and cool air, high altitude and loamy, red clay soil. With the emergence of great wines, typically Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals and blends comes a blooming wine tourism.

After a 30-minute drive from SMA to Dolores Hidalgo, you arrive at the vineyards of the gorgeous winery, Tres Raices -which translates to Three Roots but also references the owner’s three children. In addition to its Merlot, Cabernet, and Cabernet Sauvignon producing vineyards, Tres Raices has terraced gardens and the property’s original 18th-century chapel.

The winery also houses a large restaurant with an underground cellar, Terruño -which hosts regular wine tastings and pairings, as well as a boutique hotel with two private, guest houses separated by a pool.  

Tres Raices has a breathtaking mix of ultra-modern and rustic architecture design – such as its restaurants’ laser-cut metal facade, patterned after vineyard grapes and flowers, and oversized, antique wooden doors. But, it is their wines that will impress you more. Standouts are the dry, pink-tinted Rose and the surprisingly lush Tempranillo.

Carretera San Miguel de Allende a Dolores Hidalgo, KM 73, Tequisquiapan, Dolores Hidalgo; viedotresraices-zqb.com: @vinicolatresraices

Casa Dragones Tasting Room 

Although harvested and produced in the Valley of Tequila in Jalisco, the independent, small-batch producer of this premium tequila considers San Miguel de Allende its spiritual home.  The Casa Dragones name was inspired by the legendary Los Dragones from San Miguel de Allende,  an elite cavalry that during the 1700s led one of the movements that sparked the Mexican Independence.

The six-seat tasting room for sipping tequila and signature craft cocktails is adorned throughout with obsidian, the iconic Mexican stone found in Casa Dragones’ agave fields.

Champagne Lounge 

This stylish, yet, relaxed bar is a perfect destination to sample your favorite glass of French bubbles. 

Both tasting bars are housed at Dôce 18, a historic mansion that now is home to upscale boutique shops, pop-ups and art installations as well as a restaurant and food court dining area that occupies its open-air courtyard.

Dôce 18 Concept House, Relox 18, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende; doce-18.com; @doce18concepthouse ; @casadragones

Stay

Hotel Matilda 

Repeatedly named among the top hotels in Mexico, Hotel Matilda has also been ranked one of the top hotels in the world. In a quaint colonial town with accommodations in the same traditional style, the unconventionally modern boutique hotel is part of Design Hotels, a globally-curated collection of independent, design-driven luxury hotels.

Located on a narrow side street in the Zona Centro, just a short few blocks from the town’s main plaza, guests enter by passing through Hotel Matilda’s open wooden doors, and into instant tranquility.  Stepping inside the open-air courtyard, you are greeted by a 150-year-old millstone-turned-water feature, and the hotel’s professional and friendly staff, led by its charming General Manager, Bruce James.   

In the lobby, and throughout the hotel and main terrace courtyard, you will find white marble,  indigenous landscaping, and an eclectic collection of Latin and contemporary art.  This includes a portrait of the owner’s mother, Matilda, as a young girl painted by the famous Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. An infinity pool and deck, adorned with a color-popping mural by Mexican artist Claudio Limon, as well as an inviting bar, underground spa, and fine dining restaurant, MOXI, surround the main outdoor courtyard. 

Hotel Matilda maintains a high standard for hygiene and a strong dedication to sustainability. The hotel has photo-voltaic panels to produce electricity, solar panels to heat water, composting of organic waste and automatic lighting controls to reduce energy use.

All chic 32 rooms and suites are designed with a traditional colonial style mixed with modern Mexican furnishings set against a neutral background with pops of color. Bathrooms feature a large rain-style shower or soaking tub stocked with MALIN+GOETZ products, such as a rum body wash, and other luxurious bath items such as robes, slippers and a Dyson hairdryer.  Other room amenities include a coffee bar with a Nespresso coffee machine, minibar, safe and turndown service complete with quality chocolates.

TIP: Book the recently renovated Owner´s Suite A, which features a private balcony off the bedroom and a covered terrace, with wicker daybeds and bistro dining table with two chairs, overlooking the hotel’s courtyard and pool. You’ll find the largest mounted TV, with a screen that cycles through a series of digital art when not in use, in an even larger living room with the comfiest, oversized sofa.

Spa at Hotel Matilda  

As if the hotel was not relaxing enough, it also houses an innovative holistic spa with a new spa treatment, Lineal Treat, featuring one of the nation’s national drinks: Mezcal. Known to promote good blood circulation as a cholesterol reducer, Mezcal is relaxing, calms pain, and has anti-inflammatory power. 

Hotel Matilda has chosen Mezcal Lineal -a double-distilled smoky, yet sweet Mezcal from Durango, for this special body treatment. The amazing two-hour treatment, by one of Matilda’s professional therapists, starts with an agave Inulin body exfoliation to clean the pores of the skin. After a quick shower rinse, your repaired and re-hydrated skin is treated to a body wrap with an infusion of Mezcal Lineal, rosemary, and arnica. Lastly, feel all your aches and pains leave your body from a specialized, 90-minute massage that promotes blood circulation and muscle relaxation. 

There is a state-of-the-art fitness center complete with cardio and strength-training equipment.  In addition, the hotel offers a selection of personalized fitness and mind/body services within private studio venues for yoga, Pilates and meditation.

Hotel Matilda is the only hotel in SMA with an underground garage. Valet parking is included if you arrive by car, but renting a car isn’t necessary. The nearby town center, or Zona Centro, is in easy walking distance. In addition to the narrow and steep, cobble-stone streets in town, the two-hour road trip to mountainous-set San Miguel de Allende can be challenging for non-locals. It’s best to arrive via ground transportation, such as the airport shuttle bus or taxi from the small, yet modern airport in Leon (BJX), the nearest city in Guanajuato. San Miguel de Allende is also accessible from Mexico City aka CDMX.

Hotel Matilda details 

Aldama 53 · San Miguel de Allende, Zona Centro, Guanajuato · Mexico 37700; hotelmatilda.com; @hotelmatilda

TRAVEL TIP: Helpful travel products to bring include the KeySmart Passport wallet -to keep your passport and flight documents safe and organized, plus, portable powder packs of Kinderlyte, a vegan electrolyte drink, -to help rehydrate and recover due to travel or hangover.

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