There are tons of tourist-friendly restaurants in Guanajuato filling the Plaza San Fernando, the Jardín de la Unión, and other picturesque locales across town. Catering to the massive crowds of national tourists who visit the city annually, these eateries can be a great pick for a cold beer, a plate of guacamole, and an amazing atmosphere (not a bad combination by any standard). Generally speaking, however, the most visible restaurants may not be the best place for a satisfying or authentic Mexican meal. Catering to a transient tourist crowd, the service can be slow and the food unmemorable.
That said, Guanajuato’s restaurant scene has made some considerable leaps forward. Not traditionally renowned for its cuisine, the city now offers a number of truly nice places to eat, some cool cafés, and a smattering of good international options, adding a measure of welcome sophistication to this student-centric city.
Throughout Guanajuato, there are casual food stands on almost every corner, many selling gorditas (stuffed and griddled corn cakes), tamales, sweets, fruit, potato chips, snacks, and juices. For a quick meal, you’ll find the most variety on the first floor of the Mercado Hidalgo, where there are a host of tacos, tortas, gorditas, seafood and shrimp cocktails, fruit juices, cakes, and sweets at a variety of informal food stands. Carnitas (braised pork) is a specialty here, and you can order it in tacos or a torta, served sandwich-style inside a white roll.
For a quick snack or a light breakfast, Mexican bakeries offer a tasty and inexpensive option. Traditional Mexican breads are generally lightly sweetened and are meant to be accompanied by hot chocolate or coffee. In Guanajuato, you can buy traditional sweetbreads and rolls at La Infancia (Alonso 22, tel. 473/732-9922, 7am-10pm daily, US$1). This old-style bakery has stacks of pastries, bread, and cookies in the windows as well as a daily spread of tempting multicolored meringues, incredibly sweet yet tasty. Here, you pick up a metal tray and a pair of tongs and then choose your breads from the selection on display. At the counter, they’ll put everything in a paper bag and tell you how much you owe. Breads usually cost US$0.50-1 each.
Feeding the Mexican national obsession with shrimp cocktail, Mariscos La Vela (Constancia 3, tel. 473/120-6901, 11am-7pm daily, US$5) is a small seafood counter located behind the Teatro Juárez. Choose from a range of cocktails and tostadas with shrimp, oyster, and octopus; ceviche; seafood empanadas; and fried fish fillets, all made fresh in the moment and served with a plate of limes and some hot sauce. Sit inside or at one of three umbrella-shaded tables on the street, where you can accompany your fish with a limonada or a beer. La Vela’s seafood is brought in continuously from the coast, meaning the catch is fresher than what you might expect to find in the Mexican highlands (though it’s best to stick to fully cooked food, if you’re concerned about the distance to the coast). This is an inexpensive, easygoing place for a good bite. They also operate a second branch in the Marfil neighborhood (Subida de los Ángeles s/n, Col. Marfil, tel. 473/100-9956, 11am-7pm daily).
Casual and quirky Habibti Falafel’s (Sostenes Rocha 18C, tel. 473/732-9418, 11am-11pm daily, US$6) has an appealing menu that focuses on fresh, delicious, and generously portioned Middle Eastern-style dishes like dolmas, hummus, tabouleh, and custom-prepared falafel sandwiches. The comfortable, relaxed space has colorfully painted walls and music on the sound system. Grab a stool at the bar, or take your food to one of the small café tables or couches for a more leisurely meal. An alternative to the ubiquitous taco, it’s a good option for vegetarians too. To accompany your meal, order chai, lassi, an espresso, tea, or beer. If you still have room, you can finish up with baklava.
An atmospheric restaurant on the Jardín de la Unión, Casa Valadez (Jardín de la Unión 3, tel. 473/732-0311, 8am-11pm daily, US$7) gets double points for style. This big eatery is always packed with tourists and families dining alfresco or lounging indoors in one of the restaurant’s big booths. Located on the east end of the Jardín de la Unión, Casa Valadez’s old-fashioned dining room is decorated with gray-and-gold columns, brass chandeliers, and patterned wallpaper. Bathrooms are particularly fancy. The menu covers a full spectrum, including soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, enchiladas, and meat dishes; plates run from economical to pricey.
On a small alley just a block from the Jardín de la Unión, Truco 7 (Truco 7, tel. 473/732-8374, 8:30am-11pm daily, US$6) is a very popular and inexpensive café that serves a range of tasty Mexican staples as well as a daily comida corrida, a three-course set-price lunch (though standard menu items tend to be tastier). This casual restaurant has the cozy and convivial atmosphere of a cool college hangout, with exposed brick walls, comfy wooden furniture, low lamps, and eclectic art on the walls. The restaurant is open from early in the morning until late at night, and the menu is filled with Mexican dishes, like enchiladas, good sopa azteca, sopes (thick corn tortillas topped with beans and chicken), and several mole dishes as well as breakfasts. Espresso drinks and desserts are also good here.
Toward the back of the Jardín de la Unión La Bohemia (Jardín de la Unión 4, tel. 473/732-9772, 8:30am-11pm daily, US$5) is a surprisingly inexpensive place for a casual meal, despite its prime location in the central square. This small, traditional eatery serves a range of typical Mexican breakfasts, like huevos a la mexicana (eggs scrambled with chile pepper, tomato, and onion) and an inexpensive comida corrida, which usually includes soup, rice, a main plate, and a drink for a set price. With small tables, the atmosphere is functional rather than fancy, though large doorways open onto the jovial bustle of the Jardín de la Unión. Food is tasty, though simple, and service is friendly and attentive. Easy on the wallet and with plenty to recommend it, La Bohemia is popular with both locals and visitors.
Owned and operated by the chef Javier Cruz Hernández Vallejo, son of beloved local ceramic artist Capelo, Mestizo (Positos 69, tel. 473/732-0612, 1pm-10pm Mon.-Sat., 1pm-6pm Sun., $US8-10) is a wonderful modern-Mexican restaurant. Located in what was once Capelo’s downtown showroom, Mestizo’s dining room preserves the gallery feel with white-cloth dining tables tucked between shelves of pretty hand-painted platters, flatware, and urns. Traditional Mexican dishes get an update here—sopa azteca is served on a slate platter with all the traditional ingredients (crisp tortillas, avocado, cheese) prettily arranged around a bowl of bright-orange broth. Other dishes, like the steak with chile morita and cilantro pesto, use local ingredients to create innovative flavors to good effect. For the quality of the food, the surprisingly accessible prices, and the beauty of its presentation, Mestizo has become a favorite with locals, and it is certainly one of the most satisfying places to eat in town.
It is well worth a trip to the San Javier neighborhood to dine at the lovely family-run Las Mercedes Banquetes y Restaurante (Calle de Arriba 6, Col. San Javier, tel. 473/732-7375 or 473/733-9059, 2pm-10pm Tues.-Sat., 2pm-6pm Sun., US$15). Offering heirloom Mexican recipes with a contemporary touch, Las Mercedes manages to present traditional flavors with a creative flair that is surprising yet eminently delicious. From memorable starters like escamoles en mantequilla de epazote (ant eggs in epazote butter) or sopa de huitlacoche (corn-fungus soup) to entrées like a cheese-stuffed chile pasilla, it is tempting to try everything on the menu. Whatever you choose, you’ll enjoy flavorful, unique, and perfectly prepared food that is both elegant and pleasingly homemade. The restaurant maintains a large selection of Mexican wines as well as margaritas, spirits, beer, and its signature mezcal-xoconostle cocktail made with the fruit of a sour prickly pear. Despite its off-the-beaten track location, this place has gotten enough buzz to attract a nightly seating of tourists and locals. Make a reservation, and come with an appetite.
Away from the bustle of the centro histórico, Mexico Lindo y Sabroso (Paseo de la Presa 154, tel. 473/731-0529, 9am-11pm daily, US$7) is a nice place to linger over an afternoon meal. The airy dining room has a pleasingly Mexican atmosphere, with red-lacquer furniture, crafts on the walls, and ranchera music overhead. In front, the lovely covered patio overlooks the Paseo de la Presa, with big, comfortable seats and large tables. Service is attentive, and the waitstaff adds to the Mexican atmosphere with spiffy tri-color bow ties and white collared shirts. The extensive menu is entirely Mexican, offering a range of inexpensive and generously served dishes like enchiladas, enmoladas, and sopa azteca as well as some more unusual yet tasty Yucatec dishes, like papadzules (egg-filled tortillas topped with pumpkin-seed sauce and more hard-boiled egg) and cochinita pibil (pulled pork with achiote and spices). Everything tastes freshly prepared and is nicely seasoned; chips and salsa at the table make a nice start.
Just across from the Normal School on the Paseo de la Presa is Café Corazón Parlante (Paseo de la Presa 52A, tel. 472/731-2305, 11am-11pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-11pm Sat., US$6), a large café and art gallery with big selections of loose-leaf teas, herbal infusions, coffee drinks, and smoothies as well as pastas, baguette sandwiches, and some traditional Mexican dishes, like chilaquiles and sopa azteca. If you’ve just come for a hefty slice of cake and chai, there is plenty of space to find your own nook for reading, writing, or surfing on a laptop; sit indoors in the airy café or outside on the big shaded patio. The café also sells silver jewelry handcrafted by local artists, and there is a selection of artwork on the walls. An additional, smaller branch is in the centro (Sopeña 13, tel. 473/732-9174, 8am-11pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-11pm Sat., 1pm-8pm Sun.).
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon San Miguel de Allende.