With many thanks to photographers Becky Milward, Yannis Dettingmeijer, Richard Smerdon and Marshall Postnikoff.

Last night, at San Miguel restaurant Firenze, the gala dinner for the 2016 SMART awards was held. SMART stands for San Miguel de Allende Readers’ Taste and, each year, readers of this blog vote for their favorite restaurants. At the gala dinner, which is held at the restaurant that was the top vote-getter from the previous year, we count down the top ten finishers.

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This year, 636 votes were cast, up from 391 in 2015. This year 81 different restaurants received votes, up from 73 in 2015. Trip Advisor says there are 300 restaurants in San Miguel, so receiving any votes at all puts a restaurant in the top 30%. Finishing in the top ten, puts a restaurant in the elite 5%.

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In tenth place was a restaurant that has been in San Miguel longer than I’ve been in San Miguel but it was their first time in the top ten. It’s the very essence of a family restaurant and, despite being in a location that’s hard to find even when you have the address, Tacos Don Felix is now getting the recognition it has long deserved.

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In ninth place was another new addition to the list, new to the list because it didn’t even exist last year. With the closing of the doors at Hansen’s, this restaurant is doing a great job filling its shoes as it builds its reputation as the go-to place for red meat. In ninth place was Pork Belly.

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If this competition was about business success, the next restaurant would probably be at the top of the list. Any time I go, every time I go, the restaurant is close to if not full, in both of their bars and in their main room. It fell out of the top ten in 2015 but is now back in a position higher than ever. In eighth place was Hecho en Mexico.

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Firenze had put together a five course menu for the SMARTs dinner, consisting of some of my and a lot of other regular’s favorite dishes. We’d already enjoyed a Caprese salad and an onion soup when the next few winners were announced.

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In seventh place was the fourth new addition to the top ten. It’s a place that, if it wasn’t a special occasion restaurant, might have scored even higher. Many people felt their vote for a favorite should go to an everyday restaurant, one that they could afford to go to anytime they wanted. People do love the food, the ambience, the staff and the view at Zumo helping them win the 2016 SMART Award as San Miguel’s best new restaurant.

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The sixth place restaurant is the first one this year that moved up the ladder in the top ten. Moving to a much bigger and better location obviously helped that score. Up from number eight to number six is the very deserving Denver’s Los Olivos.

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Though it lost a little ground in the rankings this year, the acclaim for this restaurant’s inventive menu continues. By this time next year, they’ll have three new restaurants in the running for SMART awards. Dropping from second to fifth in the top ten was The Restaurant.

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By now, we’d finished our fish course and were on to, if emails to Don Day are any indication, the most celebrated dish in all of San Miguel, Firenze’s braised beef short rib.

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The Roadrunners had pumped up the volume and were starting to rock and we were down to the last few award winners. Normally, in a competition like this, you’d highlight the top three but the 2016 SMART race was really all about four restaurants that stood head, shoulders and toques above the rest. Only eight votes separated the first from the fourth place and, on the last day of voting, the restaurant that was in first actually fell to fourth.

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If the SMART awards were based solely on creative and delectable cuisine, that restaurant might have held that lead but, according to some of the voters’ comments, they’re still a little lacking in service. Moving from ninth place last year all the way up to fourth place this, the biggest climb by any restaurant in the top ten, was Aperi.

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In third place was a restaurant I don’t hear much about from Don Day readers. Until, that is, it’s time for SMART voting. Early in the voting, it actually held the lead in the race. Third last year and third again this was the one featuring Cocina Peruana, the very steady La Parada.

I traditionally invite the top three restaurant owners to show up at the gala dinner around dessert time. Juanito Leon di Vivera and Ale Gutt from La Parada were away on holidays. Antonio Delgadilla was already there and had emerged from Firenze’s kitchen with his staff.

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Jennifer Posner had arrived from Aguamiel. It was obvious now that they were the top two finishers, two restaurants considered to be better than 298 others in San Miguel.

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I teased the finalists for a few seconds. Handed Antonio Delgadilla the cutting board that recognized Firenze‘s very respectable second place finish. And checked out the mile wide grin on Jennifer Posner’s face.

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The winner of the top SMART award for 2016 was Aguamiel.

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