It’s that time again. Time for Don Day’s annual “best of” list. My favorite things to eat in and around town. The choices don’t necessarily come from the best restaurants. They’re simply what I think are the best dishes. But you can presume that a restaurant that makes at least one dish very well is probably going to make a lot of others very well.
There are many new additions this year. Mostly from brand new restaurants. But some just from new discoveries at restaurants that have been in San Miguel for years. There are quite a few deletions as well. Mostly from restaurants that have joined the dear departed.
When I first did this list there were 40 best dishes on the list. That number has grown every year until it’s now over the century mark. And, of course, like Robin Hood’s men, the more the merrier.
Here they are, in no particular order. And my apologies for the overflow of gushing adjectives. When you love the food in this town as much as I do, it’s very difficult not to get overly excited.
Chicken liver pate. Fat Boy’s. A tennis ball sized mound of heaven.
Teriyaki glazed pork riblets. The Restaurant. Melt in your mouth meat coated in a sweet and savory sauce.
Cabbage and kale salad. DeliCa Mitsu. Makes me wonder why the Japanese aren’t famous for great salads.
Chocolate souffle. Berlin. The prep time of 20 minutes is worth every second.
Smoked salmon. Smokehouse SMA. Mix the cold smoked with the candied for a superb penne al salmone.
Parmesan crisps. Bacco. Hold my pizza or pasta. I want to fill up on these freebies that are always placed on the table.
Mussels in the house sauce. Vinos+Tapas. Welcome back sun-dried tomatoes.
Pork terrine. Marsala. Studded with prunes. Sided with crumbled pistachios, olives, gherkins, grainy Dijon and a fruit compote.
Provolone al forno. Food Factory. Take one of the world’s best cheeses and make it even better with a little heat.
Guajillo braised short rib taco. Taco Lab. A great cut of beef in a great chile sauce.
Tlayuda. Salon Oaxaca. Calling it a Mexican pizza just doesn’t do it justice.
Jicama taco. La Azotea. This may just be the most popular dish in town. Deservedly.
Bacon wrapped asparagus. La Posadita. On a plate that includes perfectly grilled tomatoes and onions.
Squash blossom soup. Los Olivos de Denver. From mother to son comes the recipe for a rich, cheesy version of this seasonal soup.
Wild turkey sandwich. Cocineria del Campo. Can’t get enough smoked turkey. Especially on a sandwich this good.
Lemon cheesecake. Mi Vida. The cheesecake is just the start. Then they add chocolate and preserves and egg whites and strawberries to make one of the prettiest presentations in town.
Clams. La Isla. The only reliable place for fresh (not previously frozen) manila clams for pasta at home.
Crêpe clasica. La Crêpe du Chef. Ham and gooey cheese in a real buckwheat flour package.
Barbacoa. El Pato. Can’t think of anything else I’d rather fill a taco with.
Carciofi ai quattro formaggi. Cent’Anni. Gorgonzola, gruyere, gouda and parmesan. Four of the world’s best cheeses. All melting and melding together on an artichoke.
Pay de cacahuates. Hecho en Mexico. When a guy who doesn’t eat peanut butter falls in love with a peanut butter pie, it must be very special.
Onion rings. Hank’s. Not exactly a gourmet dish. But I don’t think you’ll find any better rings.
Eggplant parmesan. Los Olivos de Denver. Not a hint of bitterness in the aubergine. And so generous with the cheese.
Sopa de lima. La Casa del Diezmo. The Veracruz classic. And yes, it’s the verdadero McCoy, made with limas not limes.
Pork leg in a coffee cream sauce. Hacienda de Maria. If it’s not on the menu, beg chef Maria for it.
Oysters Bienville. Hank’s. The Rockefeller are very good. The Bienville are even better.
Mole negra. Salsabor. Chef Alfonso says his black mole sauce is “not too salty, not too sweet, not too spicy.” Smother your pork or chicken with it.
Profiteroles. La Cucina di Afrodita. So good we ordered a wedding cake made of them.
Reuben. Hank’s. A classic treatment of the classic sandwich.
Pasta a fasol. Risi & Bisi. Pasta and bean soup with chunks of off-the-bone ham.
Pulpo a la parilla. Mi Vida. Who would have thought that octopus and walnuts would make such great plate partners.
Caramel ice cream. La Parada. It’s what’s also on the plate that makes it so special. Sugared chunks of walnut add crunch and bruléed bananas add crisp and creaminess.
Menudo. El Cedro. The reason San Miguel brings their own buckets and lines up outside the door every Sunday.
Croquetas cochinita pibil. La Azotea. Come for the golden sunset. Stay for the golden batter that encases fall-apart pork in a sour orange sauce.
Cream of carrot soup. BaBite. Chef Josy roasts a root vegetable that definitely tastes better in Mexico and teams it with Indian spices and the added bonus of a perfectly cooked shrimp.
Chiles relleno con pescado. MuRo. The pomegranate sauce is the crowning touch.
Marlin ahumado. Mario’s Mariscos Frescos. The hint of jalopeno makes Mario’s marlin marvellous.
Hot dog. Costco. No wonder they sell millions each year.
Cremoso de foie gras. Aperi. Yes of course there’s duck liver somewhere on my best of list.
Cecina de Morelos. Hacienda de Maria. I’d been waiting for years for a good restaurant to put this dish on their menu.
Empanadas. Casita Feliz. The best fillings in town, especially the chicken and poblano.
Matzo ball soup. La Frontera. You don’t have to be Jewish to know this dish schmecks.
Lettuce and citrics salad. Cumpanio. When any salad makes my list it must be extraordinary.
Tuna tostadas. The Restaurant. Closest thing to the taste of Japanese sushi.
French onion soup. Zumo. A little lighter than most. But still so heavy in taste.
Short rib of beef. Firenze. Tender loving care produces the tenderest, tastiest meat in town.
Geisha roll. DeliCa Mitsu. No, there isn’t much competition but this is one of the best maki in town.
Cochinita pibil. La Posadita. One of Mexico’s great dishes with the right amount of orange in the sauce.
Grilled trout. El Rinconito. One of my favorite fish done moist in the middle, crispy on the outside.
Moronga. De Quen Chon. I grew up eating blood pudding and I have no plans to ever stop.
Tasting menu. Nomada. Impossible to choose one dish from an ever changing and so imaginative menu.
Tuna tostada. Mi Bistro 300. These guys appreciate the pleasures of raw fish and this dish is a testament.
Gnocchi Gorgonzola. Risi & Bisi. Can’t get enough of the walnut and gorgonzola sauce.
Salade Niçoise. El Vergel. With fresh, fast seared tuna. Not canned.
Pescado alla Veracruzana. Grille Torres. Mexico’s very best fish dish done very well by Chef Mauro.
Smoked meat sandwich. Mon Bistro. That Mon might be short for Montreal with this sandwich.
Baked brie on toast. Paprika . Adding peppers, capers and walnuts completes a very appetizing appetizer.
Borscht. Verintort. Served hot or cold in a charming cafe.
Duck and vegetable rolls. The Restaurant. With that wonderful ginger chili dipping sauce.
Higaltidos asaltados. La Parada. The best treatment of chicken livers in SMA.
Spaghetti carbonara. Osteria de Mia Italia. That dusting of nutmeg makes the difference.
Squash ravioli in brown butter and sage. Firenze. A classic sauce kisses a classic pasta.
Cebiche La Parada. La Parada. The addition of mango creates pure Peruvian pleasure.
Carnitas. Apolo XI. With lots of juicy belly just for the asking.
The traditional hamburger. Fat Boy’s. When Dick Weber left San Miguel, he thankfully didn’t take the secret to creating a great burger with him. Including the essential grilled onions.
Karne en su jugo. Birria Jalisco. Add a lot of bacon and a lot of beef to frijoles de olla and you’ve got what might be Mexico’s very best bean dish.
Tacos al pastor. Pancho’s. There’s a reason this is one of the busiest stands at San Miguel’s Tuesday Market.
Helado queso con zarzamoras. Jimmy’s. The creamiest of ice creams studded with solid chunks of cream cheese and ripe blackberries oozing juice.
Pepperoni pizza. Mi Vida. The wood-fired oven that bakes some of the town’s best thin crust pizzas. But, darn, not available every day.
Pizza Cipriani. Chiquita’s. Because carpaccio, black olives, sundried tomatoes and arugula are four of my favorite flavors. Especially on a wood-fired, Neopolitan style crust.
Lime meringue pie. Victoria’s. There’s a reason they call them fruit tarts. Because that’s how people like me want them. Not sweet but tart.
Grilled quail. Da Andrea. Crispy on the outside. Fall apart tender on the inside. Delightfully but lightly seasoned. Wonderfully moist.
Shrimp. Grille Torres. The challenge is choosing which one of the many ways they prep and cook them.
Arrachera. El Rinconito. Arrachera is Mexico’s best beef cut and nobody preps and grills as well as Miguel and Mercedes.
Gorditas. Ceci. They sell about 2000 of these chubby stuffed tortillas every Tuesday at the market. Enough said.
Consome. El Pato. So very, very rich in lamb flavor.
Jamon y queso empanada. Empanadas d Loreto. The flakiest crust in San Miguel.
Sopa la premiada. La Casa del Diezmo. Pumpkin, peppers and cheese blended into one delightful soup.
Cassoulet. El Vergel. The south of France classic with fall apart duck confit.
Tomato soup. Mi Bistro 300. Oven roasting the tomatoes and topping with Manchego cheese takes the soup from simple to superb.
Birria. Birria Xalisco. Guadalajara’s best dish is available in San Miguel.
Marrow bones. Cumpanio. Divine decadence.
Linguine con vongole. Antigua Trattoria Romana. An old favorite dish at an old favorite restaurant.
Enchiladas verdes con pollo. Tacos Don Feliz. In a place that absolutely buzzes with atmosphere.
Nopal asado. Don Taco Tequila. Open sesame for the seeds on fire roasted cactus.
Pescado entero a la sal. Mi Vida. Ah, for the moment that the crust is broken and the smell of the fresh fish fills the air.
Spanakopita. Greece On Wheels. Wrapped in the finest of phyllo.
Prime rib. California. Yes, you have to suffer the long drive to Celaya. But you’ll talk about how it was worth it all the way home.
Tacos de lengua. Andy’s Tacos. This tongue is mightier than a lot more things than the sword.
Bruschetta. Mi Vida. Proof that you should never take a simple dish for granted.
Samosas. Bhaji. So what if they’re not authentic, the phyllo works.
Seared yellowfin tuna. Hecho en Mexico. A premium denizen of the deep at a deep discount price.
Drowned burrito. La Frontera. An absolute, definite, at least once a month experience when I’m in San Miguel.
Ginger chicken. Food Factory. One of a few very good dishes of an Asian persuasion.
Enchilado. Cafe Contento. Rabbit piled high on a crispy tostada.
Risotto all’arancia. La Cucina di Afrodita. The creamiest and tastiest rice in town.
Baguette. Cumpanio. Simply the very best loaf in town. Not to mention the best croissant.
Burnt caramel sundae. The Restaurant. Proving that sugar and salt make great bedfellows.
Sopa Azteca. Café Muro. Not sure where the cockles of my heart are but this definitely warms them.
Pulpo a la parilla. Mi Vida. The most tender grilled octopus with a lot of extra added attractions all singing in harmony.
Orange chicken. El Dragon Chino. Rivals the very best of Toronto’s Chinatown.
Pozole con puerco. La Alborada. When it comes to pozole, this is San Miguel’s legendary destination.
Chicken Madras. Bhaji. The perfect amount of chile heat.
Pizza fantasia. Osteria de Mia Italia. I’d almost give up pepperoni for this tuna topped pie.
Cafe de olla. Hacienda de Maria. Amazing what a a touch of canela does to good coffee.
Meat lover’s pizza. Pizza Pig. A conventional crust but a very good one. And I’ve never had too much meat on a pizza.
Gnocchi. La Parada. Mighty clouds of joy no matter what they’re served with.
There you have it. I know I’ve missed at least one or two delights. So I apologize to the restaurants. And even more so to the readers. And if there’s any dish I might not know about that you think belongs on the list, let it be known that I’m always hungry for more. You can share it by posting a comment or by emailing email@example.com. You’ll be helping me continue to eat my way through the town I love so well.