Now I hate that I buy in pesos but still think in dollars. But I do. So my apologies for talking in dollars when I talk about a bargain.
But today, after I had an 85 peso lunch and arrived home, I had to go into Yahoo Finance and check what the tab was in US dollars. I entered 85 divided by 18.7937. It equaled $4.52. Or just above a buck a course. I thought, are you kidding?
Plans for the lunch started when I ran into Olma McLendon at the opening of San Miguel’s new gourmet food court, Mercado Centro, and asked what she was up to.
“Alondra and I have opened a restaurant. You have to come,” said Olma.
“You’re right,” I said, “I have to.”
I had first met Olma and her sister Alondra back in 2010 when they were servers at Cafe Iberico. As fondly remembered as the Spanish tapas were, when I first wrote about the restaurant, a large share of the accolades went to Olma and Alondra. I called them “efficient, vivacious, timely, delightful, knowledgeable, effective, accurate and charming”.
Jack Jacobs was a regular at Cafe Iberico. And thinks as highly of the McLendon sisters as I do. He was the obvious choice to check out their first solo venture into the restaurant biz.
Jack and I met in front of the Oxxo variety store at Stirling Dickinson and Ancha de San Antonio. We walked down through the tunnel into what is commonly known as Chelo’s complex. We passed through the two arches and across the parking lot. Then on to the big yellow building in the far left corner, a home commonly known as Chelo’s house. Chelo is Grandma to Olma and Alondra and they’re using part of her home for their restaurant.
Olma and Alondra McLendon haven’t changed much since those days at Cafe Iberico. They’re a little more pixie-like with their hair pulled back.
“A few years and a few pounds”, said Olma.
Just as vivacious and charming as ever I thought. With a new sense of self confidence.
There’s no sign on the building. There’s no name for the restaurant. Yet.
“We’ve got a name in mind, but I’m not ready to share it,” said Alondra as she placed a big jug on the table. “For now, it’s just The Diner.”
Jack poured a glass of the jamaica water and I took a sip. It was different from any other version of the Mexican drink that’s made with hibiscus flowers. It had the added flavor of cloves.
The restaurant is open from Monday to Friday for comida corrida, the fixed price, home cooked style menu that used to be much more common in Mexico and is missed by those of us who’ve been around for a few years. The menu changes daily. Ours started with a chicken soup. I could see and taste potatoes, rice, onions, garlic, carrots, avocado and chayote in a fresh but hearty broth.
“Nothing exotic. A very simple but very tasty soup,” said Jack.
“Everything we use is local”, said Olma. “There’s no bouillon. That’s our own stock. We get the chickens from a ranch on the road to Queretaro. They’re not officially organic but they’re very close.”
Lunch was served in the home’s glassed-in dining room on heavy antique tables. Modern jazz played in the background as our salads arrived. The salad was a step back in time. Lettuce, tomato, onions, cucumber, a sharp vinegary dressing. I told Jack it brought back memories of the salad I ate growing up in my parents’ home. In those days it was too much of the same. Now it was a welcome relief from the complicated concoctions that salads have become.
The main course was the classic of cocina Mexicana, enchiladas verde con pollo with a salsa rich in the taste of tomatillos. The side was the almost essential part of a comida corrida menu, refried beans.
“I like that it’s not all mush, the beans still have some shape”, said Jack. “And the enchiladas have lots of chicken.” Turning to the sisters, he asked, “Which one of you is the chef?”
“We both are,” was the response, almost in perfect unison.
We were one day away from the start of Lent and the sisters returned from the kitchen with cups of a dish that’s traditionally served during Semana Santa.
“It’s Mexico’s version of bread pudding,” said Olma. “It has cinnamon, cloves, piloncillo, laurel.”
“Spell it for me,” I asked her.
“C-A-P-I-R-O-T-A-D-A”, Olma answered.
We washed the sweet dessert down with some good coffee, the check was brought to the table and Jack put down 200 pesos for his share. I picked up the check to see how much I owed and was shocked. Jack’s $200 was enough to cover everything. Everything.
We chatted for a few minutes more with Olma and Alonda. They told us of their plans to have a dedicated restaurant space on Orizaba by May. To introduce some new dishes. To start doing dinners. And delivery.
Jack and I talked about what we would suggest to help make the restaurant successful. We thought of different dishes that would make a nice hook, other things that might give it a unique identity.
“I think I have a brilliant idea for them”, said Jack. “Put the prices up.”
The Diner is located at Ancha de San Antonio 125A in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from Monday to Friday, from Noon to 4:00 pm. Reservations are essential at least one day in advance and may be made at email@example.com.