I must admit I didn’t like Consentido much at first. “It’s not really our kind of place”, said Don Day’s Wife. And she was right. It’s hard to get cozy and comfortable in somewhere the size of a barn. I’m not exactly big on monstrous TV screens staring down at me either. And it’s not that I don’t think the Gibb brothers were very talented, I just don’t want to spend most of my evening with the Bee Gees. And a children’s playground? I go to bars and restaurants to get away from grandkids.
But I’m a bendable guy. Easily molded into a different state of mind over food. And it took a simple thing like tacos, some of them extremely exquisite and complicated tacos mind you, to change my opinion.
My first time at Consentido I had a slice of someone’s very good pizza (you may add apple to the top of your toppings list after you try it). I then half-and-halved a burger and a reuben. The burger also scored a very good with a special nod to provolone as the choice of cheese. And the reuben? Well it definitely wasn’t a reuben that would get you tripping five miles to Manhattan on the Staten Island Ferry. But it wasn’t that bad as a sandwich goes.
Then, on the way out, I asked the waiter about this sign that kept staring down at me that said TACO·TECA. I asked why would you have a sign with the word taco when you didn’t have a menu with the word taco. He told me they were on the placemat. I told him there weren’t any placemats. He pulled a crumpled one out of his apron complete with some of his inked-in dots and dashes. “Can I keep it?”, I asked, “complete with your scratchmarks.” “Yeh, I guess so…yeh, sure”, he mumbled and out I walked.
You might remember the place. Long timers in San Miguel will recognize the location on the Ancha as the long time home of Los Faroles. When I first launched Don Day in SMA, I remember it sitting number two on Trip Advisor, just behind the still-surviving Tia Lucas. Short timers in San Miguel may remember it being La Bodega but it was for a very short time. Co-owner Francisco Tello de Meneses and his two partners took two years to “get Consentido right…get it exactly how we wanted it” according to Francisco and there are some nice touches like custom made furniture with the logo etched in the arms and some tequila bottle lighting I’d love to see hanging in my den.
As pleasant as the interior decor was, it was the next morning before I hauled that piece of paper the waiter gave me from the patch pocket of my baggy Wranglers. What I had was about a 12 by 8 menu of tacos from every single state in Mexico (32 in case you have to take the citizenship quiz). That was about 14 types of tacos more than I had ever had in my life. That was about four more than all of those listed in the holy bible of tacos, Tacopedia.
I had to, absolutely, without a doubt, hurrying all the way, get back to Consentido.
Francisco Tello de Meneses, better known as Paco, was there when I returned. He suggested I start with the queso frito. Now, as much as I hate flowery descriptions on menus, this one does need a few more words of adornment. Fried cheese just doesn’t do it justice.
About a quarter pound loaf of ooey gooey gouda is deep-fried in a crispy, crunchy crust and then plated on a tart salsa verde.
What really makes it zip though is the topping. Deep fried and crisped spice leaves were trendy for a while in the early nineties. Though he was barely alive during their first fifteen minutes of fame, Consentido’s chef Jesus Vasquez has revived the practice and long may it live.
Just one warning about the queso frito. It’s huge. Big enough to feed two, maybe three, even four people.
The deep fried cilantro on the cheese dish is only outshone by the topping on the next dish I had. It was my first Consentido…or, as I’m now and forever going to call it TACO·TECA…taco and I started in a style with one from our neighboring state, Queretaro.
Before I tell you about this wonderful taco and convince you to order it, I may have to do some sweet-talking because there’s one of those tiny but iffy ingredients in the Queretaro Taco. Now I have been sweet-talking Don Day’s Wife into trying a lot of things over the last quarter century but I have never been very successful with entomophagy or, in more simple words, the joys of creepy, crawly cuisine. I have never been able to get her to embrace crickets, worms, bees, termites, weevils or grasshoppers. But there is one thing she eats and enjoys. Don Day’s Wife adores escamoles or, again in more simple words, ant eggs.
“Timing is so essential in the production of this taco”, Paco Tello de Meneses told me. “The escamoles are just starting to come into season, mostly in an area between San Miguel and Mexico. They’re still not farmed, still wild, still hand-picked. They’ll be much more available in March, more so in April, May.”
“Timing is also important in the preparation of the taco”, Paco continued. “We do the base first…the onion, garlic, serrano, xoconostle (fruit from a local cactus)…we do it in manteca (lard) not the usual butter…then, after they’re washed, the escamoles go in for just five to seven minutes…any longer and you lose that caviar flavor, that extraordinary taste.”
There was one more extraordinary taste I had to mention. And it was from a deep fried leaf again. The taste of the unique Mexican herb epazote is usually lost in soups and sauces. But here the epazote was the crowning glory to the overall taste of the escamole taco.
While I waited for the arrival of my next taco, a special of the day (despite there already being 33 different tacos on the placemat), Paco and I talked about TACO·TECA.
“We are trying to do two things with the concept. We want to bring some of the tacos that were traditionally only available on the streets of San Miguel into a much more comfortable place, a place for families, plus we wanted people to have a chance to sample some tacos that they wouldn’t find anywhere in San Miguel, that they might have to travel halfway across the country to find. We’re planning to trademark the name and take TACO·TECA to other places”.
The taco del dia was ribeye. It overflowed with a generous amount of tender, Choice-grade ribeye from the U.S. Onion, garlic, salt and pepper also joined the steak in the fold of the restaurant-made tortilla. Except for the avocado cream on the side (a nice touch by chef Jesus), the taco wasn’t very Mexican, more like an old-fashioned steak sandwich, but I can’t remember ever complaining about an old-fashioned ribeye sandwich.
Next up was a very, very Mexican taco, a taco from Jalisco and a common sight on the streets of Guadalajara. But not in San Miguel. The meat in the taco is called birria and we do have something similar locally called barbacoa. But barbacoa is pit-roasted lamb and I know a lot of people who aren’t exactly fond of lamb. In the United States, I recently discovered, people consume fifty times as much beef as they do lamb.
“We have someone locally who does the birria exclusively for us”, said Paco Tello de Meneses as we sipped from cups of the consomé, the rich juices that had dripped from the adobo-spiced beef. “This is something you might see at weddings, special occasions…I’m so happy that people can get it here anytime.”
For the next taco I had room for, I traveled cross country to the other side of Mexico. To the Yucatan. That state’s most famous dish is cochinita pibil and, though you’ll find it in a few restaurants in San Miguel, I know of only one other place than TACO·TECA that you can simply order a single taco with this richly flavored, slow-roasted pork. Cochinita pibil is a dish that separates the men from the boys, the chefs from the cooks, and it’s very difficult to get the amount of sour orange “just right”. It convinced me that Jesus Vasquez might just be one of the best chefs in town.
I’ll tell you about one more taco to whet your appetite (and not just to prove I know how to spell whet), it’s the Coahuila taco. And I sadly admit I had to ask Paco Tello de Meneses, “That state’s in the north isn’t it?”
The Coahuila taco is aptly named the Vampiro. It includes bistek, that cut of beef that could come from virtually anywhere on a cow but is shaved so thin that it’s always easy on the chew. The meat is tossed with onions, blistered serranos and Oaxaca cheese into a tasty combination but what makes it extra special is what’s underneath. Chef Jesus toasts the tortilla over charcoal so it twists into a crispy, crunchy, ribbed tostado. A fang-shaped chile arbol, for people like Paco to actually eat and people like me to only think about eating, completes the trip to Transylvania.
As extraordinarily good as every single taco has been at TACO·TECA, you should be prepared for a disappointment. Many of the tacos listed on the placemat are “próxima temporada” and it’s tough to see their names staring back up at you from the placemat without drooling when they’re not available. Even some of the the tacos that aren’t seasonal may also be off the menu on certain days.
“We’re not serving any of the seafood right now because we weren’t totally happy with the shrimps or fish,” said Paco Tello de Meneses, “but I’m confident that we now have a source that will live up to our standards.”
Though the giant TV screens were still there and the Bee Gees were still Staying Alive on my second visit to Consentido, I hardly noticed them. The superb selection and exquisite preparation of the tacos took all my attention. I really felt con sentido which translates loosely as “spoiled” and I can’t think of any better tacos to spoil someone with in San Miguel than TACO·TECA‘s at Consentido.
The longer I live in Mexico, the more and more Mexican I get. And on the way home, after a night of partying, it therefore just wouldn’t be right to not stop for a taco, or two, or three. If TACO·TECA is en route, look for me at the bar. Seventh stool from the left.
Consentido is located at Ancha de San Antonio 30 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from 1:00 pm to 11:00 pm, Sunday to Thursday; 1:00 pm to 3:00 am, Friday and Saturday.