May 2010


We flew from Mexico City to Buenos Aires, Argentina, last weekend and one of the reasons we haven’t posted anything since then is that it’s been a rough transition.  The total travel time was over 12 hours, with almost 11 hours on planes, and we gained two hours and six months.  Well, we didn’t gain six months, but by crossing the equator we went from late spring in Mexico City, with temperatures in the nineties and over 13 hours of sunlight per day, to late fall in Buenos Aires, with temperatures yo-yoing between the high fifties to low seventies, and only 10 hours of sunlight per day.  Add in a terrible landlady, pressure from Amy applying for and interviewing for a job in Oregon, and it’s been a tiring time.

Things are getting better, though.  By Thursday, Amy got the job, we had a great (but not the best ever) steak in celebration, and it turns out this is a huge holiday weekend here.  All the signs here proclaim that it’s the bicentennial that’s being celebrated, and the events began last night and culminate on May 25, so you’d think that means it’s their Independence Day, but it isn’t.  This marks the events of “May Week” when in 1810 the local viceroy in Buenos Aires was booted out of office and a local government formed (according to Wikipedia).  It wasn’t until July 8, 1816, that national independence was actually declared, so that’s the official Independence Day.  So, this is the bicentennial celebration of  . . . something.  Although this seems to be a national holiday, it might be celebrated more here than elsewhere in the country, in that it commemorates the first local government in Buenos Aires.  Get it?  Yeah, me neither.

We saw part of a military parade, and many of the participants had on old-style uniforms that made it look like a live-action Stratego game.  Celebrations will continue for days, but in our wandering today we never came across food vendors.  I’m sure they’re out there somewhere but I can’t imagine a regular Independence Day celebration in the States, let alone a really big one, that didn’t include more food options than a person could go through in a month.

Some of you may think we recently experienced Mexican Independence Day on May 5 but Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in Mexico.  In fact, it’s not a national holiday at all but just a state holiday in Puebla, and which is partially observed elsewhere.  The day commemorates the Battle of Puebla, an impressive victory of the outnumbered Mexican army over the invading French in 1862.  The problem is the French went on to win the war and control Mexico for 3 years, so the Battle of Puebla ended up not making much of a difference in the arc of history, though the battle became a source of justifiable pride for Mexico.  The real Mexican Independence Day will come this September 16, and will mark Mexico’s bicentennial, too.  Several other Latin American countries also declared their independence in 1810, though it took years of fighting in each case to actually break free from the crumbling Spanish Empire.  1810 was not a good year for Spain.

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Best tacos in San Miguel de Allende

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

As we wrap up our final days here in San Miguel de Allende, we wanted to pass on a few of the great restaurants we have enjoyed here. It is not a complete list, but it is our list which means affordable and flavourful.

CHEAP EATS:

Taco stand at Hidalgo and Insurgentes: If you are willing to give street food a try, it doesn’t get any better than this. The stand is up and running by around 7:30 or 8:00 most evenings. We have tried tacos at other places, and nothing can hold a candle to this place. Our favourite choice is an order of Gringas al Pastor. They slice off bits of marinated pork and cook it up on the griddle with a handful of molten Oaxacan cheese all put in a flour tortilla with a sliver of pineapple. The tacos al pastor are excellent, as well. In addition to tacos al pastor, they serve bistec, costilla (rib meat), chorizo and lengua (tongue). I’m sure the other choices are good too, but we are hooked on the gringas al pastor. A gringa al pastor will cost you $15 pesos, and the tacos are about $8 pesos apiece.

The Asador on Potranca on Salida a Celaya: Potranca 4. As with the tacqueria, this place has no name but you can’t miss the huge black grill sitting in front of the restaurant. Arrachera is their specialty, and the hamburguesa de arrachera is very flavourful. Arrechera is a thinly cut, marinated flank steak. I also like their hamburgers and the baked potato con todo: bits of arrachera, cheese and sour cream. We haven’t been there on the weekend, but I believe they offer grilled rib-eyes on Friday and Saturday. The arrachera burger is $40 pesos and the baked potato con todo is $30 pesos. Open for dinner (maybe lunch, too, but we’ve never tried).

Burritacos on Mesones between Hidalgo and Reloj: Once again, not sure of the name of this place, but it is the only place I know of that makes fresh flour tortillas here in San Miguel de Allende. Corn tortillas are far more common in this part of Mexico. You order the number of tacos you want at the counter (I usually get two or three), and then go to the back to choose from about 12 fillings. My favourites are pollo con mole verde (chicken in a green sauce) and papas y chorizo (potatoes and sausage). There are a few tables out front, but we often get the tacos to go and eat them while sitting in the Jardín. A burritaco costs $8 pesos. Open for lunch and (an early) dinner.

BREAKFAST AND LUNCH OPTIONS:

There are loads of options for breakfast and lunch here in San Miguel. The places listed below tend to run between $30 to 70 pesos for a meal.

Cafe Contento: Hernandez Macías 72. The terrace is shady and pleasant and the food is consistently good. Try the crepes with fresh fruit and cajeta (caramel sauce). A scrambled egg breakfast, one of their sandwiches, or the Sopa Azteca are also good options. As a bonus they have a basket full of old New Yorkers and other magazines to browse while you wait for your food. Free wi-fi is available and there is a small collection of paperbacks for sale or trade. Their bread comes from the Buena Vida bakery which is just down the hallway. Stop by Buena Vida to get a cinnamon roll or donut for dessert.

Cafe Buenos Dias: Reloj 64. This place is filled with loyal customers with good reason. The bacon is (almost) always crisp, the cafe latte is the best in town, the waiter is a perfect gentleman, and the owner, Elisa, is always welcoming and friendly. Pat always gets the scrambled egg breakfast and I am very fond of the French toast and the fresh fruit smoothies.

Via Organica: Calle Margarita Ledesmo 2. For breakfast, try their French toast or tapas de huevo (scrambled eggs, beans and cheese served in a puff pastry). For lunch, they have excellent salads. We also like the chicken salad torta and the ham and cheese torta, which come with a small side salad and cost as little as 30 pesos. In addition to the restaurant, Via Organica has a shop with fresh organic produce, handmade local cheeses and other items for sale.

Media Naranja: Hidalgo 83. Another great place for breakfast or lunch. Their salads are excellent (especially with the extra chicken). I recommend the falafel salad with tahini dipping sauce.

Bagel Cafe: Even though it is the Bagel Cafe, our favourite dish is the club sandwich. They also have good chilli. Try the naranjada here. It is a very refreshing drink on a hot day.

Cafe Etc, (or Cafe Juan): Reloj 37. Most people agree that Juan makes the best cappuccino in town. The club sandwich is excellent too. A friend of mine tells me there is a Spanish conversation class that meets here on Monday and Friday at 11:00. The cost of the class is 20 pesos.

Monte Negro: On Correo very close to the Jardín. The food here is always fine, although not spectacular, so it’s not usually our first choice, but it’s always a safe one. The prices are reasonable, the ambience is comfortable, and the salsas are tasty.

Sappos Restaurant: Paseo del Parque 10. The terrace is very pleasant, and the chilaquiles are the best I’ve had in town.

Cafe Rama: Calle Nueva 7. Come here for a special lunch. It is a bit more expensive than some of the other options, but the quality of the food is worth it. Try the Asian Chicken Salad, and make sure to leave room for dessert. The truffles are superb and I hear the lemon cheese cake is a revelation.

Posada Corazon: Aldama 9. Come here to splash out for brunch in a beautiful setting. They have a set menu which is $140 pesos. It is includes 2 cups of coffee, hot chocolate or tea, fruit salad or juice, a main dish such as eggs Benedict, and a buffet of homemade granola, yogurt and artisan cheese. Reservations are recommended.

DINNER IN SAN MIGUEL

Ten Ten Pie al Carbon: Sterling Dickenson 5. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but well worth it. This place has the best arrachera we have tasted since being in Mexico. Perfectly seasoned and always tender. The chicken kebabs are also excellent. You will not be disappointed. Margarita, the manager, is always gracious and kind. The last time we were there, she plucked pomegranates off of a tree in the courtyard and shared them with the customers for a refreshing dessert.

Longhorn Smokehouse: Salida a Celaya 6. This is the place to go in San Miguel for Texas-style barbecue. The grilled ribs are quite good, but our favourite choice is a cheeseburger and a side of fresh cut fries. Thursday is steak night. They also have key lime pie that is worth saving a little extra room for. As a bonus, the waitress there (Jimena) is very friendly and charming.

Burrito Bistro: Correo 45. We love the fresh roasted salsas, and they make a delicious naranjada. We have liked everything we have tried on the menu, but our favourites are the grilled chicken salad, the thai chicken soup, and the grilled chicken burrito.

Gombo’s: Tata Nacho 2. Come here for the pepperoni pizza.

Fenicia: Calle Zacateros 73. Great Lebanese food. The chicken shawerma wrap is especially good.

Mare Nostrum: Umaran 56. Run by a Sicilian couple, the pastas are handmade and delicious. The last time I was there I had mushroom-stuffed ravioli with a sweet potato sauce. It was wonderful. Rumor has it the pizzas are good too.

Chinese food: DondayinSMA has a great post about the two Chinese restaurants here in San Miguel.

BITS AND BOBS

Ice Cream:
On the corner of San Francisco and Reloj is Dolphy’s Ice Cream, a Mexican ice cream chain. They use real cream and have about 20 flavors to choose from.

As you head south on Ancha San Antonio, you’ll find Santa Clara Ice Cream, another high quality creamy ice cream. Menta con chispas in my favourite.

For a taste of real Mexican ice cream, go to the ice cream stand at the corner of Canal and Hernandez Macías. I highly recommend the sorbets. Limón and Mango are my favourite. If you are feeling adventurous they have queso (cheese), mamey (a fruit with a sweet potato-like flavour) and rose flavours on offer.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables: My favourite place to go to for fresh fruit and vegetables in San Miguel is in the Mercado Ignacio Ramirez. DondayinSMA is also fond of this particular stall. See his post for details.

We have a great deal on our apartment here in San Miguel, and cable television is thrown in for free.  As much as I may complain about the offerings on TV here, it is nice having something to watch occasionally.

Our cable system has about 70 channels, and it’s a mix of Mexican stations and U.S., with many stations devoted to movies, several to science (this is one of our greatest frustrations – that the National Geographic and Discovery channels are invariably dubbed into Spanish, and between my still-fledgling Spanish skills and my ever-worsening deafness, it’s not worth the effort to watch them).

The not-so-good is that most of the shows are crap, and most of the movies repeat about seven thousand times each month.  Dances With Wolves, for example, seems to have played every day or so since we first arrived in October.  Sometimes the movies are so bad they’re good, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, which we enjoyed a couple of weeks ago, and if you like good old movies, it’s fairly common to find Humphrey Bogart or even the occasional Hitchcock movie.  Most of these are subtitled in Spanish, but some are dubbed, and it’s not uncommon to see a movie with English audio and Spanish subtitles on one station, then see the same movie start an hour later on another channel, but this time dubbed into Spanish.

Most of the shows seem to be either telenovelas (soap operas) or shows from the U.S.  I am fully convinced that some anthropologist exploring the jungles of Papua New Guinea will stumble across what she believes to be an undiscovered tribe, but will that night find the village gathered around a TV watching CSI Miami.  CSI, CSI Miami, and the Simpsons are on TV everywhere we’ve travelled.

What surprises me are the movies on the Mexican stations.  There seemed to have been a period in Mexican moviemaking (from the clothes and the colors, I can only assume it was during the ‘70s and ‘80s) when there were only three plots available, all of which involved men in suits making goofy faces around women in lingerie, or less.  The fairly common nudity from decades ago in this extremely conservative Catholic country never fails to surprise.

It is great, though, to flip through the channels and catch a movie like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which was filmed largely in San Miguel and the nearby town of Guanajuato.  It’s fun to see Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp in places we’ve come to know so well.  Rumor around town has it that Banderas owns a house in town, though no one we’ve spoken to has actually spotted him.  Until he shows up in person, we’ll have to settle for watching him on TV.