One would be hard pressed to find a more opulently decorated space in Austin than Fonda San Miguel, where dining is a luxurious visual experience. In the style typical to San Miguel de Allende, an interior Mexican town renowned for its beauty and whose unique charm draws artists from all over the world, the atrium is decorated with Mexican patio furniture, painted azulejos de pasta tile, and Mexican art curated by owner Tom Gilliland, all in a spectacular combination of textures and colors intoxicating to the senses. Entering the dim, romantically lit room is to be transported into a near jungle of tropical flowers and plants. Paco, a green parrot, squawks from his perch near the host station—an over-the-top touch. A skylight refracts its soft glow through a chandelier, infusing the whole space with the air of extravagance. Continue into the several dining rooms and find more art, long decorative banquet tables set with more lavish flowers—an elaboration on the established theme. And yet, for all its upscale qualities, Fonda remains quintessentially Austin—that is to say, you can come as you are, whether you’re dressed in a suit or blue jeans.
This attention to detail and spirit of hospitality extend to the service. Consummate professionals, servers in immaculate embroidered shirts anticipate the needs of customers before those needs are felt; drinks are replenished without delay, and each course is timed perfectly to arrive at the moment you take the last bite of the one that came before.
As to the food, the more nuanced flavors and presentation of the interior Mexican cuisine served here stand in refreshing contrast to the heavier-handed border fare so ubiquitous in the region. Emphasis is on the spices and sauces, not least of which is the green table salsa served with chips at the beginning of the meal. The popular Sopa de Tortilla, a menu staple since 1975, is rather unlike the chicken-soup-with-tortilla-strips-and-avocado tortilla soups often featured on Mexican menus (available here as Caldo Tlapeno): the broth, a deep red with toasted chilies and spices, flirts with bitter notes, which is complemented by its sweetness and its overall depth of flavor. Or choose the Sopa de Elote, a creamy corn and poblano soup for a richer option.
For a light, refreshing appetizer, the Ceviche Las Brias is Fonda’s most popular. Fresh black drum mixed with pico de gallo is gently “cooked” in lime juice, garnished with julienned radishes, and served with thick tortilla chips in a beautiful dish, extra lime wedge on the side.
Although many entrees deserve mention, including the Enchiladas de Pato (shredded duck enchiladas in a delicious creamy spinach poblano sauce, the showstopper that I come back to is the Cochinita Pibil, what the menu describes as a “Yucatan specialty” of impossibly tender “pork baked in a banana leaf.” This colorful plate proves the dictum that we eat with our eyes first: the hallmark blue and white of Fonda’s plates; the earthy reddish-brown of perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned pork peaking out from bright pink pickled onions, nestled inside the green-yellow of the banana leaf; the deep ocher and orange of two sauces; and the white rice, speckled with green cilantro, garnished with even whiter julienned radishes tipped with magenta. The flavors are no less exciting: the crisp pickled onions contrast against the tender, rich pork; the sauces compliment them both, alternately creamy or spicy with each bite; and the rice is light and delicious.