By Aran Shetterly Original Print Publication: July, 2007
Just before the street lamps come on in the Jardín de Tequis, about a ten minute walk west along Venustiano Carranza from San Luis Potosí’s city center, the sky is a deep, electric blue. It’s an unusual color, visceral, as if you were a whale peering from the depths, toward the surface of a shimmering sea. Then the yellow lights twinkle on, and the color of the sky deepens, but holds the twilight for what seems an impossibly long moment. Grackles squeak and alarm from the trees in the park. Teenagers skateboard. Young parents push strollers.
Image:San Luis Potosí Dept. of Tourism
Along the north side of the park there’s some bustle where Doña Juanita and her family are slapping together tacos rojos. The matriarch’s been at it for 48 years. Red because there’s a touch of chili in the masa, with a bit of queso fresco rolled into a tortilla dipped in hot oil, topped off with fried carrots and potatoes, shredded lettuce, and more cheese.
This little park sits out beyond the impressive colonial center, but it’s a point of convergence for potosinos. San Luis Potosí is one those cities that’s deceptively large. It still feels like a collection of neighbors, even though it claims a million-plus population.
An SUV stops and two women in their 50s step out to order. How long have you been coming for these tacos? One laughs and drops her hand to her waist, palm down.
Since she was a little girl. A young man rolls up with his novia in a silver VW bug that looks like a crumpled ball of aluminum foil, gets his tacos, asks me if I want to see the jewelry he makes. A day laborer ambles by, inquiring. Might Doña Juanita have any chores for him? He munches one of her quesadillas.
Doña Juanita’s a tough, wiry great-grandmother, who skips along so fast with her cane that her grandkids hustle to keep up. Business, she says, is better than ever. She’s selling more tacos at higher prices and she’s got more than enough help; the night I’m there a daughter, a daughter-in- law, and a granddaughter are working for her.
My family loves the business too, she says.
All the potosinos I met noted that San Luis Potosí is safe. I felt completely comfortable walking between the city’s seven plazas late at night, admiring Latin America’s first master lighting plan, designed by Mexican architects Gustavo Aviles and Maria Pinto-Coelho to “project unexpected geometries and shadows on streets, plazas and buildings, [and to] create narrative sensations of space and time.”
Perhaps big city folks will find the absence of below-the-surface crackle boring. But San Luis Potosí is a livable place with good infrastructure, one of the best hospitals in the region, and, with students from the Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosí everywhere you turn, the energy of a university town.
It was founded as a boomtown in 1592. The Spanish discovered gold in the nearby Cerros de San Pedro. The wealth that poured out of those gold and silver mines is evident in the mansions at the city center and street after street of well-preserved colonial houses. In fact, San Luis Potosí’s next goldmine may well be these buildings. At least one is being turned into an impeccable boutique hotel.
Located in the north-central part of the country less than two hours from San Miguel de Allende, few tourists stop in San Luis Potosí. Why, you might wonder, is San Luis Potosí, with more colonial buildings than any Mexican city save the DF and Puebla, off the track for traveling foreigners and Mexicans, whereas San Miguel is virtually synonymous with Americans living in Mexico? Surely it has to do, at least in part, with the whimsy of history that built a storied expat tradition in one place and not in another.
The lack of attention shows in the rental market: A quick check of the classifieds puts well located 2-3 bedroom apartments at $180-500 USD per month.
They’ve got a shiny little airport where you can’t get lost and direct flights to San Antonio. As more tourists and expats arrive -- as they are bound to do -- it will be interesting to see if potosinos continue to reimagine their present by including their past: Doña Juanita’s tacos, the colonial architecture, and an easy neighborliness.
By air: Aeromar, 1 hour 15 minute flight from Mexico City. $ 250-300 RT.
Where to stay
Hotel Panorama. Amazing views from the top floors. $50-80 USD.
Hotel Filher, Universidad No. 375 Centro. A good traveler’s hotel and SLP's oldest. $45 USD for a double.
Westin SLP. Fancy hotel, outside the center. $250 USD and up.
Where to eat
Rincón Huasteco, Cuauhtemoc 232 (corner Tomasa Esteves). Excellent traditional food from the state’s eastern lowlands. $
Restaurante 1913, Galeana 205. Solid Mexican fare with local touches in lovely space. $$
Doña Juanita’s tacos, Jardín de Tequis. Cheap, tasty, filling street food. ¢