Hummingbirds are said to bring good luck. If that’s true, then Néctar Teahouse & Restaurant, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, must be the luckiest place in town for a meal or a cuppa. As you sit in the pretty courtyard patio of this small haven, the hummers flit about over and around your head, sipping nectar from beautiful blown-glass feeders hanging from the tree that anchors the center of the space. You know right off that you are someplace special. Just a couple of blocks off the Jardín, the town’s main plaza, this mostly vegetarian/vegan option delights in every sense of the word.
Location: Néctar is at Correo #43, at the corner of Chiquitos, in the courtyard of the store Camino Silvestre.
Menu: The emphasis here is on fresh organic produce, locally produced artisan cheese, good bakery-fresh bread and innovative combinations. Since Néctar began as a teahouse, it has remained true to its origins, with a tea list of dozens of types of tea and herbal infusions. And the teas are not just to drink. Most of the dishes on the menu feature some sort of tea in the mix. The recipes are some of the most inventive I’ve ever tasted using these uniformly delicious concoctions. For example, their tomato salsa includes a touch of blood orange tea. The sun-dried tomato paté is infused with a tropical herb infusion. Or try the Darjeeling tea roasted vegetable plate with green tea and rose petal-infused couscous. The homemade vegetarian tamales, made by a local 70-year-old abuela (grandma) using a recipe she keeps a closely guarded secret, are served with Earl Grey black beans.
Although most of the menu items are vegetarian or vegan, there are a few fish and seafood options for omnivores. The sauteed shrimp are cooked in lemongrass tea dressing. The nicoise salad is full of chunks of tuna. For the salmon sandwich, your fish is cooked with smoky lapsang souchong and mixed with house-made vegetarian turmeric soy mayonnaise and goat cheese. The menu is well marked to show which choices are vegetarian, which are vegan, and which are neither (there are only a few). It also invites you to ask for gluten-free options.
Thoughts: Néctar is one of my favorite San Miguel de Allende restaurants. It’s where I like to take out-of-town visitors for lunch or dinner. It’s where I love to go by myself at breakfast time to linger over a pot of one of their dozens of tea choices with a couple of scones and a good book.
All tables are outside in the courtyard, under a slide-back transparent roof. In chilly weather, large space heaters appear, keeping the space tolerably cozy. The stone walls are decorated with an eclectic mix of art and crafts. The particular joy is that centerpiece of a tree growing up through the paving stones, its branches draped and hung with dozens of windchimes as well as the glass hummingbird feeders, assuring that even when you visit Néctar alone, you’ll have company. Hummingbirds and sparrows flit about the branches, entertaining you as you nibble. It’s quite easy to forget your tea in the pure enjoyment of watching them. The garden/patio ambience is just about perfect.
Since the patio is small—fewer than a dozen tables—it’s common to have to wait for a table. But it’s no hardship. After leaving your name, wander through the delightful attached gift shop, Camino Silvestre, filled with well-chosen home accessories, books, candles and those delightful glass hummingbird feeders. They will come in and find you when your table is ready.
Breakfast is popular at Néctar, and for good reason. You can order a simple plate of seasonal fruits, a pair of gluten-free scones with house marmalade or a plate of whole wheat toast served with Irish tomato relish and avocado/lemongrass tea relish. Or opt for a breakfast salad made with red and white quinoa, fruits and nuts. My personal favorite is their porridge, like nothing I’ve ever had anywhere else. It’s a mix of hot cereals, including steel-cut oatmeal, white and red quinoa, red millet, and teff, served with your choice of milk (cow’s, almond, or soy). To this mix, you add your favorite add-ins of fruits, nuts, and seeds. I always choose the “Hangover Cure” add-in, a mix of crystallized ginger, ground chia seed, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds and fresh bananas. Other hearty breakfast dishes include a tofu scramble with kale and an organic egg and Swiss chard frittata served with two relishes and toast. For a more Mexican touch, opt for the overstuffed burrito with quinoa, beans, corn, lettuce, tomato, onion, spinach and mushrooms with chipotle soy mayonnaise or vegetarian chilaquiles, made from their house-made tortilla chips with sesame and poppy seeds and topped with cashew “sour cream.”
At lunch, the soups at Néctar really shine. Order any one of them, or better yet, ask for the probadita, a tasting sampler, of any three.
• Zucchini soup with fresh lime juice and lemongrass tea
• Carrot soup with vanilla rooibos tea and slivered almonds
• Tomato soup infused with smoky black tea, served with yoghurt.
• Cream of black bean soup infused with Earl grey, served with cashew “sour cream,” avocado and chips
• Sweet potato soup with ginger rooibos tea
• Gazpacho prepared with an herbal infused sangria
There are half-a-dozen meal-sized salads on the menu, including one with smoked salmon and a tabbouleh that can be either vegetarian or served with tuna. All their burgers are vegetarian. Gluten-free diners can opt to have them served on a bed of lettuces. Choose from:
• Chickpea veggie burger with tomato and onion chutney in a ginger rooibos infusion
• Curried black bean burger with corn and carmelized onions infused with chai tea
• Quinoa and lentil veggie burger with parsley, onion and a touch of rooibos ginger infusion.
A nice dish to share at lunch is the Mediterranean plate of cannellini bean dip, carmelized onions, chickpea fritters and green olives. Or order a plate of patés, choosing from cannellini bean, sun-dried tomato paté, lentil and walnut with smoky tea, olive tapenade, or artichoke paté infused with mint tea.
Spoiled for choice, you might find you want to try one of their combinations. You can order half a sandwich with a cup of soup, or half a veggie burger with two patés or half a salad. This makes for a nice sampler.
The dinner menu is small but choice and all vegetarian. It includes the paté sampler and house salad, the carrot soup plus a roasted leek and potato soup with basil olive oil; Portobello mushrooms stuffed with apricots, pecans and raisins served over couscous; vegetarian shepherd’s pie with a sweet potato crust; a vegetable tagine with rice pilaf; cauliflower medallions with pesto; and ratatouille with a polenta heart.
Price Range: Prices are quite reasonable for San Miguel, which tends to be more expensive than many other parts of Mexico. The most expensive main dish on the menu is under $9 (depending on current exchange rates). Veggie burgers and other sandwiches and all the salads are under $7 (one dollar more for the salmon). The sautéed shrimp and the vegetarian lasagna run about $8. The four-soup sampler is $4.25. A paté sampler with artisan crackers is $4.50 for two, $8.50 for four. At breakfast, the frittata is just under $6, a fruit plate is $3. The tofu scramble is $7, and my favorite porridge combination is about $5.50.