Food | Travel

Mexican recipes her mother made

In San Miguel de Allende, tourists and transplants can dine like natives

Owner Maria de Los Angeles started La Alborada in 2000. Owner Maria de Los Angeles started La Alborada in 2000. (Necee Regis for The Boston Globe)
By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / February 16, 2011

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SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico — Each morning, when the sun lifts above the distant mountains, this town springs into radiant life. Old colonial buildings painted Venetian red, ochre, terra cotta, burnt umber, and vermillion compete with the brilliant sky. It’s no wonder that San Miguel de Allende, 6,500 feet up in the Mexican sierra, has become a magnet for US retirees and bohemian travelers.

In the heart of the historic district is El Jardin, a raised park with shade trees, a gazebo, and ample benches, which hosts artists with easels and paint, vendors hawking local crafts, and campesinos urging their dawdling mules, laden with firewood, to their destinations. In the evening, residents come out to stroll and listen to mariachi bands croon beneath the illuminated spires of the neo-Gothic cathedral, La Parroquia.

Just off the square is the small restaurant La Alborada, whose name refers to a procession in September that marks the start of the town’s patron saint feast day celebrations. Amid upscale establishments in the center, La Alborada is a haven for those who want authentic Mexican food at affordable prices. Owner Maria de Los Angeles, 61, known as “Sany,’’ opened this casual spot in 2000.

Her friend, the renowned local guitarist Arturo Segura, translates as she explains how she started. Los Angeles had never owned a restaurant before this, but watched the town boom. She decided there was a need for what she could do: home cooking. “There wasn’t an affordable restaurant for the people of San Miguel,’’ she says.

Born in Ixmiquilpan in Hildago State, Los Angeles offers recipes she learned from her mother, what she describes as “traditional plates.’’ These include a thick and tangy guacamole served with her own tortilla chips, chicken and cheese enchiladas with green or red sauce, corn or flour quesadillas with manchego cheese, tostadas with shredded pig’s feet, deep fried flautas (tightly rolled corn tortillas) with beef or chicken, menudo (spicy tripe soup), and the specialty of the house, pozole, a soup made with hominy, guajillo chili peppers, and pork, beef, or chicken.

Served in deep bowls, with accompanying garnishes of shredded lettuce, onion, and radishes, pozole makes an ample meal. Add a squeeze of lime, oregano, or powdered chilies to suit your taste, and use crispy warm tostadas for dipping. All this and a beer will cost 75 pesos (about $5.85). Affordable indeed.

When La Alborada first opened, Los Angeles cooked. Now she presides over a staff of eight. “I live here more than at home,’’ she says.

The restaurant opens for lunch at the civilized hour of 1 p.m., and stays open through dinner. On a warm, sunny afternoon, the courtyard off the street is perfect for a daytime repast. Terra cotta colored walls rise two stories, filled with plants and diffused light. Green floral oilcloths top square tables, and red metal folding chairs are adorned with Coca-Cola logos.

It’s a few steps up into the interior rooms. When the chilly mountain temperatures arrive in the evening, the two small parlors, with pale pink walls, and wood and wicker seats, provide an intimate setting for a simple meal. The walls of one room are adorned with posters, photographs, a guitar, and serape, an homage to a famous Mexican singer. In the other, a large blue and gold-painted sideboard and shelves hold assorted old bottles, maracas, painted tin animals, masks, old paintings, photographs, and other personal effects that make it feel more like a home than a restaurant. Los Angeles designed and decorated both rooms, but dismisses compliments with a wave of her hand. “You don’t eat the walls, or the decorations,’’ she says. “You eat what’s on your plate.’’

She admits that she’s not getting rich with this venture, but she’s pleased to be able to share the foods of her country with locals and visitors.

“The pleasure to give pleasure is the secret to making good food.’’

La Alborada Diez de Sollano No. 11, San Miguel de Allende, 011-52-415-154-9982,

Necee Regis can be reached at