San Miguel de Allende, in Central Mexico, has become a real foodie destination. Upscale, chef-branded kitchens have put an impressive culinary stamp on this UNESCO World Heritage town, and gourmet food lovers are turning it into a gustatory destination. But that doesn’t mean that simpler—and far cheaper—alternatives for a truly authentic and inexpensive Mexican meal have disappeared. Indeed, it is still easily possible to a find delicious, filling, inexpensive, and authentic meal in San Miguel.
One of my favorite spots to do that is the moveable feast that is the pop-up food court at TOSMA, the weekly organic farmers’ and artisan producer’s market. A more genuine meal you won’t find. And your wallet will love you for it as much as your stomach does.
Location: TOSMA is located in the courtyard area beside El Mercado Sano, Ancha de San Antonio 123, San Miguel de Allende.
Menu: TOSMA’s food patio is the place for genuine Mexican fast food, with a couple of twists. There are as many as a dozen vendors, depending on the season, with offerings ranging from tacos and tamales, burritos, gorditas—like flat, slit pocket tacos—to “huaraches,”—similar to tostadas. You’ll find quesadillas, soups, fruit cups and even Spanish paella and grass-fed lamb burgers. One stand, Norma’s, specializes in traditional vegetarian options, including a ceviche made with mushrooms, and lots of egg dishes.
Thoughts: The patio food court at TOSMA is very casual and laid back. The open-air courtyard is covered with orange-and-white striped tarps to shade you from the sometimes-relentless Mexican afternoon sun. Food vendor stands are ranged around the edges, and in the center, the tables are long and communal, covered with brightly checked Mexican oilcloth covers. Seating is on metal folding chairs. There is usually some kind of live music being performed in one corner. It feels a lot like being inside a big circus tent. Nothing pretentious here!
Your first step should be to circle the patio to discover what delicious dishes are on offer that day. Most stands are the same every week, but a few vary seasonally. Have a good look and a smell before making your choices. And it is perfectly acceptable to order a huarache from one stand, some chicken tinga from another, a burger from a third and end up at another for an “agua de fruta” or a cup of good coffee.
While the quality and culinary ambitions of the vendors may vary from stand to stand, I can honestly say I have never had a bad meal or dish at the TOSMA organic Saturday market in San Miguel. And I have tried most of them at one time or another.
My personal favorite go-to stand is Estela’s, located on the back wall, left corner. You decide if you want a taco, gordita or huarache. All are made from “masa,” the universal dough made from stone-ground soaked corn and water, and are basically just slightly different packaging for the same fillings. Tell them how many you want. They will put the proper number of fresh-made corn creations on the comal—a Mexican griddle—to toast. Spread before you will be more than a dozen covered casserole dishes of traditional brown glazed pottery. Lift the lids to see what the day’s offerings are. Each holds a different filling, all authentically and traditionally Mexican. There will be potatoes with chorizo, poblano pepper strips in cream sauce, chicken with mole, shredded chicken in savory red sauce, stewed mushrooms, melted cheese with mushrooms or chorizo, and many more. One of the cooks will put a generous scoop atop your choice of base on a brown ceramic plate. You can choose to add chopped onion, cilantro and/or shredded cheese.
From Estela’s, I usually make my way across to the no-name drinks vendor for a fresh fruit water or a mug of “jamaica”—a sweet-tart and very refreshing cold drink made from dried hibiscus flowers. Or I might choose a horchata, a creamy drink made with rice, milk, cinnamon, and sugar. Basically, it’s a drinkable rice pudding. On chilly days, I might opt for a cappuccino or a café de olla—coffee spiced with cinnamon and orange peel and sweetened with unrefined brown sugar. It’s heavenly when you want something warm.
I’m also quite fond of Norma’s stand, where I can order eggs any style. I like the huevos rancheros served with beans. She also serves up delicious enchiladas verdes with cheese inside.
When you’re finished with your meal, take the mugs and plates back to their respective stands to be washed and reused. No throw-aways here.
This is real Mexican food, not the Cal-Mex/Tex-Mex food I grew up on in the US. I actually still like that too, but now I know the difference between it and authentic Mexican home-style cooking. At TOSMA you get the real deal, with an organic and sometimes vegetarian twist.
If you’re ready for dessert, step into the garage-like space where the weekly farmers’ market is held for a pastry from one of the artisan bakeries. I love the ones from La Buena Vida. Or go up the few steps into the Mercado Sano where you will find many more pastries, artisan chocolates, gourmet honey treats and other goodies. Unlike the TOSMA farmers’ market, the multi-floor indoor food halls are open daily. Prices will be higher, but the quality is excellent.
The food court at TOSMA is open on Saturdays only, from 9 am-4 pm.
Price Range: You come to TOSMA San Miguel for real food, not expensive food. This place is cheap. My usual lunch of two tacos and a pottery mug of “jamaica” costs 50 pesos (currently about $2.75) Even that grass-fed lamb burger topped with all-organic veggies on artisan bread is only 90 pesos (less than $5). Unless you are extremely hungry, or so curious you want to try everything, or traveling with a teenage boy, you’d be hard-pressed to spend more than about $15 for lunch for two people.
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