Last night, the Fifth Annual SMART Awards dinner was held. It’s the evening when we recognize the town’s very best restaurants as voted on by the readers of Don Day in SMA.
518 people voted. Each voter was allowed to choose up to three restaurants. In a town of almost 300 restaurants, only 73 of them received any votes. For many restaurants, it was as few as one, two, maybe three votes. For others, it was close to a hundred.
With those close to 300 restaurants in San Miguel de Allende, receiving one single vote puts a restaurant in the top 25%. Finishing in the top ten, puts a restaurant in the elite 3%. In other words, every single one of the restaurants who received votes should be extremely proud and those in the top ten should be absolutely beaming with pride.
The top vote-getter from the previous year has the honor of hosting the awards dinner. That honor went to Firenze and chef/owner Antonio Arrieta had put together a five-course menu paired with wines that showed off many of the reasons why the restaurant has received the highest acclaim at the SMARTs in two of the four years that the awards have been held.
I spoke briefly to the guests about a couple of restaurants that had been near the top during those first four years but had slipped this year. One, Cafe Muro, had moved out a few too many blocks from its previous, much more convenient location. The other, La Posadita, had gone from the best to second best to third best view of San Miguel’s camera-ready Parroquia.
I mentioned a couple of critics’ darlings, 1826 at The Rosewood and Moxi at Hotel Matilda, that didn’t get one single vote in the SMARTs, despite one of them having Mexico’s most celebrated chef. And no, I have no good explanation as to why they go unappreciated by the mostly ex-pats that read Don Day in SMA.
Then there were the restaurants that just missed the top ten, the honorable mentions. Aperi had been there for the three previous years but slipped a little in 2018. El Vergel had been up to number seven in 2017 but didn’t quite make it this year. Mario’s again narrowly missed making the honor roll. And two brand new restaurants, Bovine and Mio Bistrock, made impressive debuts by finishing just behind the elite list.
The first two courses, prosciutto croquettes with bell pepper coulis then orecchiette pasta with white truffle cream sauce had already been served when I began the countdown of the top ten.
I love a restaurant where the staff have an enthusiasm, a pride, about all of the food that comes out of their kitchen. That’s the way I feel about Hugo Tepichin, Manny Flores and the person their restaurant takes it’s name from, Pablo Nicasio. One of the new restaurants on this year’s top ten, SMART voter Mónica Valeria Muñiz said of Nicasio: “Amazing Mexican food in town. Great breakfasts, great menú and all food perfectly seasoned.”
They say you can’t keep a good man down and that’s definitely the case with Juan Manuel Reyes, better known as Denver. His restaurant was a solid top ten performer for the first three years of the SMARTs then, in 2017, when the city turned what Mark Vanderbrook calls “the best Italian restaurant in town” into a construction site, it slipped off the charts. Well the road is now open and Los Olivos de Denver is back, in ninth place on the 2018 list.
“Value” and “consistency” are the words that keep coming up over and over again when Don Day in SMA readers talk about the number eight restaurant on the list. Plus voters really like the choices on the north-of-the-border influenced Mexican menu. Like Denver’s, it slipped off the list in 2017 but it’s back. In eighth place was Hecho en Mexico.
When you talk about “consistency”, the next San Miguel restaurant comes foremost to my mind. It’s one of only two restaurants to make it to the top ten every single year that the restaurant awards have been in existence. Last Saturday, it celebrated ten years in this town and Donnie Masterton, its owner, continues to expand his local little empire. In 2008, this restaurant dramatically changed the eating habits of San Miguelenses and I like the fact that there’s been little change to the style of cuisine ever since. The Restaurant was the seventh place choice.
I would call number six on the list the biggest surprise in the history of the SMARTs. To me at least but not, obviously, to a lot of voters. The last time I was there, Dilawan Don Madawala, San Miguel’s Sri Lankan chef was working there. As was Allen Williams, owner of the Food Factory. Last time I was there was about ten, maybe eleven years ago. And I feel guilty. Voter Claudine Langan seemed to sum it up nicely when she said, “I think this is an under-appreciated restaurant that has consistently good food, charming atmosphere and feels authentic. Not chichi and a great place for a long lunch with some good wine choices.” I’m planning a long lunch at Chamonix very soon.
Meanwhile, the pesce del giorno with cous cous, pecans, cranberries, red onion and citrus vinaigrette had been served and the sounds of clinking glasses of Pinot Grigio were filling the room. Though not a seafood restaurant, a lot of the voters for Firenze had mentioned fish as one of their favorites. Voter Chip Swab called it “the best fresh fish in SMA”.
Each year, in addition to the top ten vote-getters receiving recognition at the SMARTs, we also honor the highest scoring restaurant that opened their doors during the previous year. The top new restaurant for 2018 debuted at the highest position in SMARTs history. A few voters mentioned less than stellar wait staff but that seems to be changing. Heather Hanley wrote, “After a rocky start with complaints about service, this spectacularly-located terrace restaurant has vastly improved. Lovely soups, wonderful salads.“
That restaurant with the magnificent view of La Parroquia comes in at number five overall as well as being the very best new restaurant in San Miguel. Congratulations to Atrio.
The winner of the best new restaurant last year debuted in sixth position. This year they moved locations and moved up to fourth in the rankings. There are two words I read over and over again about this restaurant, “best” and “chef” and, usually, both words were together. When it came to describing the cuisine, words like “imaginative” and “innovative” were used. The service and wine selection didn’t get the best mentions but when it comes to their food, Nomada is, obviously, one of the very best restaurants in San Miguel.
“Innovative, great wine selection, beautiful ambiance and fabulous view of San Miguel! The hosts are terrific, we love Stewart and Vanessa, we feel right at home every time we visit. We travel some times just to enjoy their special dinner events.” Voter Jorge Guillen said that. He said it about the number three restaurant in SMARTs voting, another former best new restaurant of the year that made a big move from ninth to third this year. That’s an especially remarkable achievement in a year when three or four more upscale restaurants moved into the San Miguel market, a remarkable achievement for Zumo.
And then there were two. And what a two! The next number that I gave to the attendees finishing their filet in a green peppercorn sauce, I think is extraordinary. Of all of the voters for the SMART awards, 42% voted for the two restaurants that finished first and second in the voting. As I said earlier, there are almost 300 restaurants in San Miguel de Allende and just two received almost half of the votes. It was obvious to everyone at the awards who the top two restaurants were. It had to be our host, Firenze and their neighbor down the street, the Peruvian gem, La Parada.
I called up Juanito Leon de Vivero and Ale Gutt, the owners of La Parada and made the final announcement:
“In second place, towering far above all of the other San Miguel restaurants except one in this year’s SMART Awards is the wonderful La Parada.
Your 2018 favorite is, again, the fabulous Firenze.