One of Austin's Premier Mexican Restaurants
When one steps through the hand-carved wooden doors that serve as the entrance to Fonda San Miguel it almost feels as if they have been transported to a beautiful Mexican courtyard. Opened in 1975, it was one of the first restaurants to serve exclusively Mexican food, drawing from all of the country's regions instead of just focusing on one area. Owner Tom Gilliland and executive chef Miguel Ravago, have worked to hone the food and décor of Fonda San Miguel so as to create the illusion of being transported to another place and time. With all of this in mind, we sat down at a copper-adorned table and began our tour of Mexican cuisine.
After sitting down we were informed that the public relations firm of the restaurant had told our waiter to bring out an assortment of food at a decent pace, so that left us with the first question of the night, "What would we like to drink?" We asked what the house special is, which turns out to be the "Silver Coin". This margarita made with watermelon-infused tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice is refreshing and light, which hides the fact that most of the drink is straight tequila. Matt ordered a Manhattan, which was also tasty and served in a cool metal martini glass. David ordered a Pisco sour, which is a wonderfully tart lemon-based drink from South America.
I hadn’t even noticed that the waiter had walked back up when I started hearing wonderful words like wild Canadian lobster and blue corn quesadillas. Before I could even get the camera ready people started to dive into the food. The wild Canadian lobster was served ceviche-style, which kept the meat wonderfully tender and sweet with just a hint of citrus. And the blue corn tortillas were stuffed with Muenster cheese.
Next was the Plato de Miguel, which is made up of lamb lollipops, adobo-crusted shrimp, blue corn quesadillas, and tacos Al Pastor — every bite was amazing. What really stood out was that the flavors in every dish were simple, yet flavorful and rich. The lamb, for example, was very simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and pasilla chile. The main focus was the lamb, but the flavor was raised and enriched by the seasonings that were used. Chef Ravago crafted the profile of each dish so that each component is unique, yet they work harmoniously together. Likewise, the shrimp was sweet and worked wonderfully with the spiciness from the adobo seasoning.
My favorite though, is the Al Pastor. The pork is cut into small pieces and is then slow cooked with a mixture of spices and pineapple. The way that the flavors come together truly creates a dish that is more than the sum of its parts and is why I had to make this my favorite dish of the night. The sweet tanginess of the pineapple comes through ever so delicately so that it doesn’t taste fruity, yet you know that it's there. The pork is tender without being greasy, and the smoky flavors from the chiles came through with each wonderful bite. The blue corn quesadillas were stuffed with Muenster cheese and either rajas (a sauté of chiles and onions), shredded chicken, or mushrooms.
Around this time I ordered my second drink of the night — the Plantation. This refreshing cocktail is made with Plymouth gin, basil, Cointreau, agave, and grapefruit. Next we were greeted by a tower of food, literally. The Torre de Botanas arrived with three levels of Tostadas Compuestas and Sopecitos. The tostadas were served three ways, one with the same shredded chicken that was used in the quesadillas, one with house-smashed guacamole, and one with their cochinita pibil.
The cochinita pibil was the standout of the three. This traditional pork dish from the Yucatan Peninsula is slow cooked with achiote, garlic, onion, and cumin, and is then served with pickled onion. The pork did not disappoint; it was tender and flavorful with the citrusy marinade coming through and the pickled onions popping off like exploding flavor crystals. The Sopecitos were also served three ways; one with the house-made guacamole, one with a wonderful topping of black drum, and another with the adobo-crusted shrimp. All three varieties were served on top of tender pillows made from fried masa.
Sadly our dinner began winding down at this point, but we still had two dishes left — the tres leches cake and the crepas de cajeta. The tres leches was the best that I have had, I’m typically not a big fan, but this was excellent — the cake was firm, with a good texture, and was served with fruit topping on it. But the real star was the crepas de cajeta. Cajeta is a rich and luxurious caramel sauce made from goat’s milk. The crepes were a bit thicker than I was used to but they served perfectly to sop up the amazing caramel sauce, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the dessert is served with a scoop of cajeta ice cream.
The meal was now finished. The last bite of dessert fought over, the last sip of coffee drunk (you get your own French press), and the conversation dying down into a quiet satiated moment of reflection on the wonderful meal consumed. Fonda San Miguel is a special place, a place where you go for more than just a meal, a place where you can take a tour of Mexico one amazingly delicious bite at a time. Hasta luego mis amigos.