Perched on the edge of the Pacific just south of Rosarito Beach, Splash has become an iconic destination eatery. Heavy surf surges into dark volcanic rock channels and leaps back on itself in powerful plumes. The wave returns to the sea to gather itself again for another run at the rocks. Splash is a very fitting name and part of what has made this restaurant famous. All the rest of its popularity is due to four brothers, Nicolas, Agapo, Samuel and Julio Cesar Santos Nuñez. The fact is they had all the right stuff, combining it with the last unique ingredient of love.
Years ago Nicolas and Agapo were working their magic in a dark little fish camp restaurant called Cantiles. Nicolas was bartending there, catching the fancy of the local women with his tall, dark and handsome good looks. The hombres liked his jokes and spirited banter. Nicolas called everyone by name and you could say that it was much like the atmosphere of the old TV series Cheers where everyone knew your name and were always glad you came. Agapo was hidden behind the scenes, but did his own kind of dazzling. With light in his eyes and animated talk he told how he loved his life as a chef and how much heart went into every dish on the menu. He was first to make famous the black sea bass steaks, baked to melting tenderness. At this time, there were very few places to eat south of Rosarito. This was known as the “hot spot” to the old timers. The locals passed the word along and hearty travelers found it by searching for less touristy storefronts.
One fine Baja day, the secret became public. The two brothers were going to make a go of it on their own. Both of them were bright and intelligent with their own ideas and wanting to serve people without restraints. They found a little palapa style restaurant where waves hit volcanic rocks, sending white spray high into the air. Thus the name Splash! They were wise and started small, building the business on good food and cheerful staff. These were warm days at the edge of the sea with a chilly margarita and wonderful quiet nights with soft guitar music. A few people would remain after dinner to dance into the night. Sometimes Agapo or Nicholas would join in. The early times were like being invited into this warm-hearted Mexican family.
But soon the place was packed. The brothers made the decision to expand in order to accommodate the rapidly growing business. A modern kitchen for Agapo and for Nicolas, a brand new bar area for larger bands and evening dancing. Samuel, or Sammy, as everyone calls him, joined in the business. He brought even more of the Nuñez family charm and good looks. You could find him greeting everyone with warm abrazos. Still, even after the expansion, on weekends it was standing room only at the bar. On the dance floor you became very friendly with everyone, as tightly packed as you were. There was no detail left undone, if it would please their clients, it happened. Even the parking lot was managed by a rather wild man called Pulpo, who had no front teeth, yet he did his duty with a flashing smile. It was a big day for everyone when he had made enough money from his tips to buy himself some teeth. After his untimely disappearance, Humberto took charge with diligence and charm. Splash showed everyone what it took to become the favorite restaurant on the coast. Whether people realized it or not it had everything to do with this family’s big heart and the love of a job well done.
In five short years, the building was just not big enough anymore. Luckily there was land just south of the original site where they could build. This was the biggest dream yet for the brothers; the building was to be a triple level affair with kitchen mid-section and upper and lower levels for dining, each with its own bar. New additions were the big screen TVs for sport events and of course a staff double in size. Today the cheer remains and the favorite places at the bar have not changed. Humberto is still there to watch over and even wash your car. The windows downstairs are floor to ceiling, giving a feeling of being aboard a cruise ship moving with the tides. Every ship needs a Captain and Nicholas is at the helm. He strides through the room making sure everything is perfect. Or you might find him at the bar, like the old days, polishing a wine glass, laughing that famous laugh at his friends’ jokes. Sammy is entertaining everyone at the upper patio bar with vast view of the horizon. During whale migration, you might catch a glimpse of a spout or a pod of dolphin swimming by. The fourth of seven brothers, Julio Cesar, joined on as barkeep, Nicolas calls him “my go to guy.” Agapo is hard to find these days. He is deep inside the stainless steel kitchen watching over the flying hands of his crew, who must go through vigorous training. Agapo expects the same kind of commitment to perfection as he has always provided. There is no doubt the brothers were raised by extraordinary parents. Each son has their own way of making you feel at home. Nicholas tells his crew to be happy in their work, “Life is too short to not love what you are doing.” Certainly the secret to success.
The new menu has many favorites that could not be left behind. Agapo’s signature black sea bass in season; the velvety, perfectly seasoned lobster bisque; the calamari frito breaded lightly and so tender you can cut it with a fork; and the famous Nicolas burger is a He-Man presentation with everything but the kitchen sink piled high between two buns. For breakfast one must try the shrimp omelette, filling the platter and smothered in Agapo’s secret creamy sauce. Years ago, with a cup of coffee in hand, Agapo admitted with a big grin that sometimes he would peek out of the kitchen and watch as people fork the first bite into their mouths. He said, “The look on their faces meant everything to me.”
Open seven days a week, including holidays, 9 until the last person leaves.
Music Thursday through the weekend.
Km 52 Rosarito-Ensenada free road
Heading south on the Mexico 1 scenic toll road, take the Cuenca Lechera exit