Photos by W. Scott Koenig
Well, with a recommendation like that how could you not want to travel out into the ranchland of El Porvenir? In 2015 FoodieHub bestowed this grand title on La Cocina de Doña Esthela and culinary ambassador Anthony Bourdain has raved about their food, so I had to go for an adventure off the beaten path! Half of the experience is the journey, the new sights and sounds furnish the foundation for delicious aromas from Doña Esthela’s kitchen accompanied by the rich warm flavors of a meal made by hand.
El Porvenir is an interesting name when translated, it means “The Future.” It makes one wonder from where the historic meaning comes. The first people saw their future in the luscious open valley, spreading out into the foothills, rising to the dramatic Sierra Blanca. This valley is still ranchland where cattle graze. It runs parallel to the now famous Valle de Guadalupe wine country. This is still a very quiet open-range where grape growing is only starting to make inroads.
For a breakfast destination place its location is quite surprising. A small sign is on the road to El Porvenir, points you off on a rather rough dirt road with some rain erosion. Four wheel drive is not necessary; passenger cars can take it slow and easy with only a few little challenges. After several jarring miles following the hilly terrain, you turn left before entering the new winery, Hacienda La Lomita. La Cocina is a very unassuming ranchita, part restaurant, part home. I wonder how I could have missed this trek to La Cocina for so long, but I am about to rectify that oversight.
Stepping in past the quiet little Chihuahua waiting for its master at the door, you enter into a large room where bright splashes of sunlight make light and dark patterns across the floor. A welcoming atmosphere is immediate, followed promptly by the gracious smile of Doña Esthela. She opens her arms wide and tells you to sit anywhere you like and to please be comfortable. There is a huge earthen oven in the middle of the room that once baked the homemade bread, but now is done outside. The handmade tortillas are created by a lovely woman in the ancient tradition. A menu, all in Spanish, is placed on the solid wooden table. Coffee? It is a must, say yes. In true Mexican tradition, it is laced with canela that adds the distinct cinnamon aroma to the rich brew. There are some techniques about reading a menu in Spanish, first don’t be afraid, everything will be delicious. Or maybe a friend has come along and suggests the Borrego Tatemado special. This is the breakfast that Bourdain made famous around the world. However you must like lamb. If you are not into a huge pile of savory meat that has been simmered underground for hours, served with salsa and handmade tortillas, there is a hearty selection of alternatives.
Now, forget all about that diet and order the Pancakes de Elote. These are not like the fluffy Aunt Jemima mix. These thick, heavy corn cakes are the real deal, semi-sweet from the corn and slathered in butter. You can skip the syrup, saving some unnecessary calories, or better yet, leave the diet for another day. A familiar choice is a platter of Huevos a la Mexicana; scrambled eggs with tiny tender chunks of peppers, onions and tomatoes. Pile on the crisp bacon and tortillas hechas a mano and you have one of the most scrumptious breakfast traditions in all of Mexico, if not the world. The fresh squeezed orange juice has no rival. Now if this wasn’t enough and you think you do not have one little corner for more food, Doña Esthela comes by your table with a gift of little sweet cakes right off the griddle. She beams at you and there is no way to say no.
Lunch is just as good and will include things like homemade chips and queso fresco that are little chunks of unpasteurized cheese, machaca, chorizo, gorditas and homemade bread. The birria de res, is a savory beef stew and served only on weekends.
After an hour of immersion in rich aromas, hearty food and chatting up Doña Esthela, friendship happens naturally in a Mexican cocina. Doña Esthela gives me a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek as I leave. There is one thing about visiting the out of the way places, if you have a little Spanish and an open heart you will have a very real experience of being included. You will be welcomed back, as if you are part of the family. The kiss on the cheek and abrazos for coming and going are found where the gracious tradition has not disappeared.
“The secret of the flavor of our dishes is that they are cooked with a lot of love, and served at your table with happiness. Welcome to our house...your house!” -Doña Esthela
Directions from Rosarito Beach take the toll road and exit at La Fonda. Proceed through the small community of La Misíon following the free road, Highway 1. Watch for the sign to the Guadalupe Valley, but stay on the road to El Porvenir. Beyond the road that cuts over to the Guadalupe Valley you will see a sign for La Cocina, however by pass this, proceeding to the second sign that is also for Hacienda La Lomita.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 8am to 6pm
Closed Mondays (except holidays)