La Azotea – San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Psst, come close. I’m about to tell you about a “hidden gem.” Yes, I know that term is overused, but La Azotea Tapas Bar and Lounge really is hidden, in a sense. Since there is no sign, you have to know it’s there. Someone has to tell you about, like I am doing right now. Of course, if you are a local in San Miguel de Allende, or you have a very friendly hotelkeeper to tell you about it, it’s not hidden at all. Because once you know where it is, you end up beating a regular path to this popular roof terrace, for lunch or happy hour drinks, for a pre-theater appetizer, a meal, or a toast to the sunset view glowing to the west.

Location: Umaran #6, San Miguel de Allende, ½ block from the main square. La Azotea is on the roof terrace of Restaurant Pueblo Viejo. Go in the front door, past the jewelry store to see the stairway going up on the right. No website, but check their Facebook page here.

Menu: Tapas and drinks. The bar offers a wide range of craft cocktails, spirits, and wines. The tapas can be bar snacks, but put a few together and they make a complete meal. Especially nice for sharing.

Thoughts: La Azotea could hardly have a better location. One-half block from the bustling Jardin Principal, the town’s central plaza anchored by its famous pink-spired, neo-Gothic main church, it’s an ideal spot for taking a break at the end of a long day of walking around the cobblestoned streets of San Miguel de Allende.

Since this is one of my favorite places in San Miguel, I have pretty much eaten my way through the whole menu. While I’ve had a few standouts, I haven’t had a single thing that was not worth eating again. But speaking of standouts, anyone in San Miguel who has been to La Azotea will tell you the same thing: Order the jicama tacos. This is their signature dish, the one everyone goes there for. Go ahead and order two right off, because before you are halfway through the first one, you are dead certain to want another one.  Even if you’re not a taco fan (who in the world is not a taco fan?), there’s a good chance you will love this one.

The usual tortilla is replaced with a large, paper-thin slice of jicama. Native to Mexico, this tuber looks kind of like an oversized potato or a large turnip, but is sweeter and generally eaten more like a fruit. As a tortilla replacement, it’s fresh, crisp, and mildly sweet, like a thin slice of fresh apple. On top of this delicate slice, they pile on breaded, fried shrimp then top them with crisp frizzled leeks and drizzle on a tamarind chipotle sauce. The combination is spot on…cool and warm, sweet and salty and savory, with the slightest touch of heat from the chipotle. This is always, always my starter. Pair it with a cucumber martini for a double treat.

On my most recent visit to La Azotea, I was with four others for a business lunch. We each had a jicama taco (of course) and then here is what we ordered to share around the table:

  • Tuna toast – rectangles of potato toast topped with a dollop of avocado dip and rare seared tuna, then drizzled with balsamic reduction.
  • Serrano ham croquettes – a just-right blend of finely minced aged ham in a seasoned roux that is then rolled into little haystack shapes, breaded and fried to make bite-sized lumps of goodness, especially when dipped in the accompanying sauce.
  • Romesco asparagus – Another house specialty: tempura-fried fresh asparagus, retaining a nice snap, on a bed of romesco sauce and topped with fresh shaved parmesan. Truly excellent and another local favorite.
  • Skewer Burrata – A wonderfully fresh and creamy burrata ball on a skewer edged with greens on one side and roasted tomatoes on the other, in a pool of rustic red sauce.
  • Baked Brie – Breaded and fried, served with toasted bread and caramelized onion over tamarind sauce. The warm creamy cheese was spreadable and delicious with the sweetness of the tamarind and onions.

We ended our meal stuffed and highly satisfied. Everything was delicious and beautifully presented. We accompanied our meal with a light Pinot Grigio from Tuscany.

On other visits to La Azotea, I have enjoyed a solo meal of the Chapata, a traditional steak sandwich on a crispy roll, served with French fries, accompanied by the special house mint lemonade—so refreshing. The Galician-style octopus served with olive oil, salt, and Spanish smoked paprika is delicate and rich at the same time, a strong combination. And the esquites—a traditional Mexican snack of fresh corn kernels mixed with mayonnaise, cheese, lime, and a spicy chile sauce–make a great bar snack with a beer or one of the fantastic house mezcal margaritas.

My final personal recommendation—a strong one—is to try the martini espresso, a heady and rich mix of vodka, Bailey’s, espresso, and Kahlua. And boy, does it go down smooth!

The rooftop space is modern and chic, with seating areas both inside and out. The west-facing view is wonderful for watching the sunset. The other views, out and down, are now mostly blocked by pots of bougainvillea on the edge of the terrace wall. Glass panels block out the wind as well. Away from the edge, comfortable sofas spotted with pillows, and square hassocks around low tables create convivial spaces for socializing, especially for groups. In rainy weather, a tarp covers the outside area to keep out the rain, and on chilly evenings (yes, they happen in San Miguel de Allende in the winter) there are space heaters to keep the area cozy.

The crowd at La Azotea varies throughout the day. At lunch, expect to see many older ex-pats lingering over their margaritas. By early evening, you get people stopping in for an appetizer and a drink before going to the theater or heading to another place for dinner. After about 8:30 or so, a younger, hipper crowd fills the terrace to standing room only to drink, nibble, and listen to a good mix of DJ music.

La Azotea does not accept reservations, and weekends are always busy. If you want to watch the sunset, arrive early to get the best viewing spots. Since it is on the roof and there is no elevator, it is not wheelchair accessible. Note: Smoking is allowed outside on the terrace. If that is a problem for you, sit near the edge, where there is a bit of breeze, or in one of the inside spaces.

Price Range: The above listed meal for five people without drinks was 965 MX pesos/about US$55 at current exchange rates. More expensive dishes include tempura rock shrimp, four pork tacos with chorizo and pork rind, and the Galician octopus, which run 210-230 pesos/US$14-15.50. Most craft cocktails run 100-150 pesos/US$5.50-8.

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