A Real Mexican Restaurant | Mexico | Living in Mexico

A Real Mexican Restaurant

Some people refer to San Miguel de Allende as "Mexico Lite." In our town here there's a large Nortamericano population, so some 3,000-5,000, residents and visitors alike can get along without speaking Spanish. Many hotels and guest houses cater to gringo tastes. There are no semi-circular headboards made of blue and white glass backed by fluorescent light tubes. No lurid wall colors. (In Mexico, hot pink is a neutral.) Many restaurants cater to American and Canadian palates. A couple of them even offer sushi—best avoided, though, unless you like tekka maki with chipotle sauce.

Many of us expatriates prefer to immerse ourselves in the full Mexican experience, and one of the best ways to do this is by visiting a take-no-prisoners Mexican City. No gated communities. No cars without dents and body rot. No English spoken.

Nearby Delores Hidalgo fills the bill. And some of us Sanmiguelenses go there for the carnitas at Vicente's.

Carnitas is one of the most savory, flavorful dishes on earth. You should eat it in strict moderation if you're over 40, for the sake of your cardiovascular system. Because basically, carnitas is a pig boiled in fat.

Yes indeed. An entire pig is cut into chunks and placed in a huge copper pot with a large quantity of rendered lard. Sometimes oranges, onions and other aromatics are added for flavor. All this is is cooked for several hours until the pork is extremely well-done, falling apart and full of the flavor of browned fat. With carnitas, you get the whole thing—loin, ham, shoulder, ribs, along with skin and the ... er ... guts.


A Tub of Carnitas

This is one of those dishes like sausage. You don't want to watch it being made. It's the eating that's the good part.

At Vicente's, you can choose to sit out in front alongside a busy street full of smoking cars that need ring jobs, being entertained by passing vendors, musicians or people just asking for handouts. Or you can sit in the gloomy interior listening to deafening recorded music. You don't go there for the atmosphere. Or maybe you do.

Wherever you sit, before your behind hits your chair, a waiter—brisk, efficient, professional—takes your drink order. He instantly returns to your table with your drinks (don't expect glasses), three kinds of salsa, a bowl of jalapeño peppers, totopos (corn chips) with guacamole and a plate of tortas—cornmeal patties stuffed with bits of pork.

At this point, you can order your carnitas. You order by weight. Four people? About half a kilo, please. Maybe three-quarters. What parts of the pig do you want? Ribs and shoulder are best. Loin is too dry and bland. If you're feeling adventurous, you can try some of the more challenging parts.

Your waiter returns with a pound or so of savory pork wrapped in aluminum foil. (Presentation is not a priority at Vicente's.) You put some in a soft corn tortilla, squeeze lime juice over it, doctor it with salsa and jalapeños to taste, and enjoy one of the most tasty Mexican foods there is. You load up another tortilla. And another. It's so good, it's hard to stop.

Finally, you can eat no more. You wrap up what's left over in the handy aluminum foil the pork came in, and pay your bill—usually not more than $25 for four.

On Sundays, Vicente's offers a special treat—barbacoa. It's not what you think. It's stewed sheep. Not lamb. Sheep. Old ones. Tough ones. Strong-tasting ones.


Barbacoa, Early in the Preparation Process

I haven't had the courage to try barbacoa yet. A friend who has raves about the "consommé." Uh-huh.