San Pedro Mexico, The Mexico That Isn’t

Posted By Brie Austin In Category: Reviews , Travel

It was the summer of 2011 when I got a call from my friend Jim. He had been working in Monterrey Mexico for almost six months as controller for Latin American operations for an almost nine billion-dollar-per-year technology company.  He often joked that despite his Ernst-Young and Deloit background, that he was hired as their GOG (gringo-on-the-ground). When he told me he had a two bedroom apartment up in the hills, and invited me to come down and share the space, I didn’t hesitate: I booked a ticket.

View from Plaza Fiesta

Stateside friends bombarded me with drug-war horror stories, but I wasn’t deterred.

I liked Mexican cuisine and music. I also greatly enjoyed the Latino culture that I experienced when I lived in Buenos Aires, though I didn’t know if I’d find the same in Mexico.

As it turns out, his apartment wasn’t actually in Monterrey, though it was considered a part of the Monterrey metro area.

It was nuzzled in the hills above San Pedro Garza Garcia, across the river and only a 10-15 minute drive from Monterrey, in the neighborhood of San Angel.

The Mexico That Isn’t

The two communities were night and day.  Monterrey breathed of Mexico.  And though I didn’t have the opportunity to spend much time there due to the raging drug war [that had only weeks earlier claimed the lives of eighty civilians when a bomb exploded in a casino there, subsequently prompting the government to send in 1,500 armed troops ], we did spend a day along the newly completed River Walk.

The River Walk, which was modeled after the San Antonio River Walk, was located close to the old neighborhood of Barrio

River Walk Santa Lucia


We stopped in at San Luisita, and indoor-outdoor restaurant along the paseo Santa Lucia.  It was my first meal out since arriving, and was a precursor of good things to come.  We sat outside and my first Margarita was terrific, and the open-fired grilled chicken and hot rice was superb!  There was even a Mariachi band playing in the background.

We detoured onto some back streets in Barrio Antiguo, but it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t the best idea, so we returned to the River Walk, which seemed perfectly safe.

Across the river and back in San Pedro Garza Garcia, it was an entirely different Mexico.  A very upscale community, it is one of fifty-one municipalities in the state of Nuevo Leon, and part of the Monterrey metro area, as well as the wealthiest town in all of Mexico — and I’ve been told, the wealthiest in all of Latin America.  Had I not heard Spanish being spoken, there would have been nothing here to tip me off to the fact that I was in Mexico: it was as cosmopolitan and trendy (albeit smaller) as any city I’d been in North or South America.

The inhabitants had a Euro-based look about them; as opposed to the workers (who were bused in from outlying towns, some working for as little as a $1 an hour) that looked like the Mexicans depicted in any Hollywood Western movie. The local girls, who reminded Jim and me of the girls we’d known when we both lived in Buenos Aires, were fashion-conscious and trendy — with particular attention given to their choice of shoes: they could rival Cary Bradshaw and friends with their sense of style and attention to detail.

The malls are chock full of stores with all the leading designers you’d find in New York, London, Paris, or Milan, with prices similar to those in the states.  There were a dozen or so American-branded food chains.  Starbucks was everywhere, but unlike New York, still providing lots of those big over-stuffed coaches and chairs that they were originally known for.  Carl’s Jr., Subway, iHop, Wal-Mart, and 7-Eleven were also some of the other American brands present, as was Chilis: leave it to the American’s to import Mexican food to Mexico!

Like the wealthier sections of most any city, the streets were clean and well maintained.  The stores were well stocked. Restaurants and bars were trendy and well serviced.  In fact, service here is one of the things that stood out; waiters, waitresses and host/hostesses were on ever-ready alert to cater to your every whim; whether it was another drink, opening the door for you or fetching you cigarettes or cigars.

Most of the places I tried were located in or near outdoor malls.  On the other side of town at the Plaza Fiesta, located on a terrace that wrapped around the San Agustin Mall, you’ll find a wide assortment of upscale, but casual restaurants and bars with indoor and outdoor seating.  These include El Argentino, an Irish Pub, Asian and Italian restaurants and La Cerveceria, the apparent favorite watering hole.

Lo Spuntini

My favorite spot to sit outside to relax and enjoy a few Margaritas, a cigar, and – sometimes a meal – was Lo Spuntini — located in the Plaza 404 on Gomez Morin; one of the main thoroughfares six-lanes wide.   It’s an Italian restaurant with a creative and well-prepared menu, and impeccable service.  Let me repeat that – impeccable service! Well-run and friendly, I quickly became a regular there, and they couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating.

Do you like soup?  Then Mexico is the place for you. They’re known for great soups; and also cooked Goat.  Tight next door to Lo Spuntini is a casual spot for salads, sandwiches and homemade soups that will have you coming back. A half a sandwich and LARGE bowl of soup cost me $7.00.

If you just want coffee, Internet access and perhaps a sweet, or a salad, I also liked Love & Peace, located just a few doors down. Starbucks is also right there.  Or, across the Gomez Morin, a cost-effective alternative for drinks and/or Tex-Mex appetizers and meals is the Cabo Grill; 2 large Margaritas, a plate of Enchiladas and a seafood crisp cost me only $15.

Along Calzada Del Valle, a 5-10 minute drive, you’ll find plaza 401, an outdoor shopping mall with an enclave of restaurants and bars, and a teaming after-hours crowd. They too have a La Cervaceria; and restaurants like El Diego and five or six others.  And, also, a Starbucks – do you see a pattern emerging?

Have you heard of a La Paloma?  In a side street five blocks behind the Plaza 401 Jim came across Clamateria, located on the


corner of Rio Mississipi and Tamazunchale.  Great spot! I reminded us both of the semi-outdoor cafés we frequented in Buenos Aires.  At La Clamateria they call it a Jarrito; named after the Mexican Jarrito Grapefruit soda that is a part of the ingredients:   2 ounces tequila, 1/2 ounce lime juice, pinch of salt (or put it on the rim of the glass), and Mexican Jarrito grapefruit soda (or substitute with lemon-lime soda with a splash of grapefruit juice).  But the twist here at La Clamateria is also to float a slice of apple and a hot pepper!

It’s a great place to hang out with friends, have drinks, and if interested, watch sports. On my last day we went back to watch the Super Bowl there.  Ask for Joe, he speaks perfect English, is knowledgeable about the area and its customs, and is very accommodating.

See more photos from my stay in Mexico here


About Brie Austin

Co-author of I'd Do It Again, he is a columnist/reporter for a variety of magazines in the areas of music, lifestyle, nightlife, travel and business. He also writes business documents and creates copy for websites.

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