Fonda San Miguel

Mexican
legendary
Worth driving from anywhere!
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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.

What to Eat
Fonda San Miguel, Ceviche Las Brisas
Ceviche Las Brisas
Must-Try
Ceviche is a preparation of uncooked seafood, usually fish, whose meat becomes firmer and lighter in color through a process of acidification, in this instance caused by lime juice and the tomatoes in pico de gallo. According to food science expert Harold McGee, it is “an ancient dish from the northern coast of South America,” and varies by region, this being the cocktail style found in certain parts of Mexico.
Fonda San Miguel, Sopa de Elote
Sopa de Elote
Must-Try
This sopa de elote was adapted from Diane Kennedy’s groundbreaking 1972 cookbook, The Cuisines of Mexico. Kennedy was an early supporter of Gilliland and Ravago at their first restaurant, San Angel, in Houston. Ravago was strongly influenced as a chef by Kennedy, having spent time in her New York kitchen learning various Mexican cuisines before opening Fonda San Miguel.
Fonda San Miguel, Sopa de Tortilla
Sopa de Tortilla
Must-Try
The deep flavors in the sopa de tortilla are built on a sofrito-like base of pureed broiled tomatoes, onions, and garlic, which is fried in a small amount of oil before chicken stock and toasted chilies are added to it. This caramelization gives the soup a subtle, pleasant bitterness and sweeter flavor than the Tex-Mex tortilla soups often served around Austin, whose flavors are more one-dimensional, centered on the flavor of chicken.
Fonda San Miguel, Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil
Must-Try
The Fonda San Miguel cookbook explains that cochinita pibil, original to the Yucatan Peninsula, is traditionally “cooked in pits lined with hot stones.” It is rubbed in citrus juice and vinegar, along with an achiote mixture containing cumin, oregano, peppercorns, allspice, garlic, and paprika.
Directions and Hours
closed now
Sunday11am - 2pm
Monday5pm - 9:30pm
Tuesday5pm - 9:30pm
Wednesday5pm - 9:30pm
Thursday5pm - 9:30pm
Friday5pm - 10:30pm
Saturday5pm - 10:30pm
Information
Price
$$$
Seasons
Open Year Round
Meals Served
Lunch
Credit Cards Accepted
Yes
Alcohol Served
Yes
Outdoor Seating
No
Website

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