Don Day is a man. And many men…OK, make that almost every man…likes certain things a little larger than the norm. But there are exceptions to that rule. And I have one big exception.
I dislike almost every big restaurant. No make that every single one of them. Because when a big restaurant isn’t very full, it’s very, very empty.
If I ever had anything bad to say, about anything or anyone, Don Day’s mother would always say, “Hush your mouth”. So Don Day doesn’t usually name names but, in this case, I can’t help it. Because I applaud each of these restaurants’ aspirations. But putting a hundred behinds, on a hundred seats, almost every night of the week, I think is an impossibility in San Miguel de Allende.
The restaurant names I’m naming are Lolita, Cent’Anni, MX and Brazza. I like them all. I respect what every one of them is doing. I think they all look good. I think they all have more than acceptable service. And they all dish out good food. But the last time I’ve eaten in any of them, there have been less than ten people there. And, I think, in every one of those cases, almost as many staff as paying customers.
When I’m in a big restaurant and I’m the only one there all I can think of is I made a mistake. Everyone must know something that I don’t know. Where the hell is everyone else? Take me to where the people much smarter than I am are.
Or, better yet, take me from the ridiculous to the sublime. Take me to the little guy. The one I’m rooting for no matter how big the odds are against them. Take me to Victoria’s.
Number 109, Ancha de San Antonio used to be the home of La Cocina de Boris y Jessi. It was their very first San Miguel restaurant. It was small. Simple. Humble. It was a springboard to Casa Olvera, their current endeavour. Something a little bigger, a little more risky. A few more seats. An expanded menu. But if I wanted to find Boris and Jessi at lunchtime on their day off you know where I’d look? Victoria’s.
Jessi told me, “Victoria and Mari are sisters, and they operate the whole place…just them and their nieces. So…girl power! They are all fantastic cooks but Mari and Victoria are perfectionists and no one can make rice to their standards. Because their standards include Mom’s rice! So guess who makes the rice for Victoria’s?…you got it! I call it arroz de la abuelita and it is the best. Which is why I purchase some rice just for our personal meals at home.
Yes, number 109 is now called Victoria’s. But perhaps it should be called Maria’s. Because the heart and soul of Victoria’s is, to me, that woman called Mari.
Mari is, like her restaurant, small. Or perhaps, better said, not tall. I met her a few months ago when she was working at La Pozoleria. I liked her and I liked her food. And I was impressed with how cool, calm and very collected she was on a day when I arrived with a large and some might say rowdy group of guys. I thought this woman could and should run her own shop. I was thrilled when I discovered she now is.
The restaurant is called Victoria’s after Mari’s sister and now partner in the venture.
“And why not Maria’s?” I asked her.
“All of my sisters have a Maria somewhere in their names”, said Mari. “And besides, I think Victoria’s a nicer sounding name.”
When Mari left La Pozoleria she brought two important things with her. The first was her recipe for pozole. The second was her recipe for pozole. You see, Mari makes both of the most popular styles of pozole. Red and green. But I’ve already written about how good they both were when I wrote about La Pozoleria.
Victoria’s is actually a little less than small. It comfortably seats about ten. Perhaps twelve if they’re slightly smaller than Don Day size. But, despite the tight quarters, never eat alone at Victoria’s because that makes it impossible to order both the red and green pozole and practice your shuffleboard slide halfway through.
It may also not allow room for two of my other favorite dishes at this restaurant that really seems more like a warm and cozy Mexican family’s kitchen than a restaurant. And makes me feel like I’m an honorary member of that family.
Gorditas are something I traditionally eat at markets, at food stands. But they’re almost impossible to resist at Victoria’s. At 25 pesos, they’re also one of San Miguel de Allende’s great bargains and enough for an entire lunch for someone with a slightly smaller appetite than Don Day. The gorditas come in three different flavors…pork, chicken and beef…and give you the opportunity to add what I (and Don Day’s Wife) think is the best salsa verde in town. I’m not sure what the secret is.
Mari simply says, “It’s because I fry the tomatillos.”
But the difference in taste between Victoria’s salsa verde and other restaurant’s green sauces is like the difference between an oven roasted pepper and a raw pepper. And that’s not the only reason why Victoria’s gorditas are better.
“I love the crunchiness”, says Don Day’s Wife of the fat corn tortilla that forms the pocket of pleasure for the lean over the plate goodness that’s inside.
I think I mentioned a second reason to save room after the pozole a few paragraphs ago. And that’s dessert.
Now If Don Day’s eating at Victoria’s, he’s almost definitely eating lunch. And, normally, Don Day doesn’t eat dessert at lunch. Because if Don Day ate dessert at lunch and dinner, he’d be terribly afraid that he might explode. But Mari is a very charming woman and Don Day is almost helpless when a woman exudes her charms. Particularly when it concerns carrot cake and that carrot cake is so very, very moist.
The carrot cake is, admittedly, because of those luncheon handcuffs, the only dessert I’ve ever had at Victoria’s so again I’ll share the words of fellow restauranteur Jessi Olvera.
“Flan is always a go to, and practically mandatory dessert on any Mexican restaurant menu. The flan at Victoria’s is delightful, creamy, not gelatinous, just the right amount of sweet and a perfect balance of custard to caramel. Although I always dig around for that last sweet drop, it is the perfect amount to complement the dish.”
Plus there’s the coconut cheesecake, another of Victoria’s desserts that I’ve heard huge accolades for but has yet to kiss my lips.
Yes, size matters. Particularly when it comes to heart or a smile. Like the smile on Mari’s face when she tells you what’s on the menu. But when it comes to the physical size of a restaurant, big is bad.
I say, think simple. Think small. Think Victoria’s.
Victoria’s Comida Mexicana is located at Ancha de San Antonio #109 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.