Truly, the joy of driving the entirety of Baja multiple times a year is due in part to the profound change that continues to happen up and down the peninsula. It could be as something as astonishing as a tiny outpost along Highway 1 finally getting a much needed gas station and bustling mini market (Hello, Catavina, welcome to the 21st century!) or a beautiful old building being turned into an unexpected gastronomic epicenter (YES! Opening in Los Barriles in November). I just spent six glorious weeks peeking around all the corners and through all the doors down South, exploring it all and relishing in each new find. As they say…innovate or collapse. And, it seems to me, Baja is 100% on the innovation train.
Shaka’s Delicious Wood Cantina – Cerritos
Who wouldn’t love happening across a towering new palapa, tucked away down a dirt road, littered with Texas flags and surfboards and a school bus that screams Cabo Surf Bus…but you are nowhere near Cabo. Well, I know we did. We were actually leaving Cerritos Beach and almost back to the highway when I spied the said bus. In the midst of simply snapping a shot of it, a dread locked Rasta man popped out full of spit and vinegar asking us to come on in and eat. To the naked eye, they looked brand new (which they are) and possibly not open but after the generous invite, we threw the truck into a parking spot, grabbed the beach-tired dogs and proceeded to have one of the best meals of our entire trip. Out came the just fried chips, blended red salsa and chunky, lime-drunk guacamole. Out came the perfect sips of mezcal and properly blended margaritas. Out came the most stunning (not on the menu) coconut shrimp I think I have ever had in Baja. The fries were hand cut and perfect. The crazy fresh fish was just caught from the Sea of Cortez side the day before (by the owner, mind you). I ordered some hamburger and rice for the doggies and it was straight up a gourmet doggie nirvana. Even the hot sauce array was a sight to behold. Some real thought went into this oasis. A bit of locals’ sports bar, mixed with gourmet cooking, mixed up with live music venue, mixed with a star-filled surf vibe, all covered with a sprinkle of dirt road Baja love on top. If this spot isn’t exactly what the El Pescadero area needed, I don’t know what is. And, all dogs welcome. Always.
Casa Mayoral – Valle de Guadalupe
When we first starting hitting up wine valley many years ago (only four hours from LA – door to door), there were only a handful of wineries and hotels to choose from. We made do and loved the outback charm of a then no-mans-land. What we have witnessed since those days and even the last few years is a literal explosion in the grape world. Everywhere you look, there is a new tasting room, a new hotel (glamping, glitter and grit all combine to make the best little sleeping pods you can imagine), or a new vineyard. Casa Mayoral was the exact pit stop we needed somewhat near the Tecate border – not only for a rock star breakfast, but also a delightful coffee-fueled stroll around the property. The owners love doggies and ours tore out, sniffing their way across the vineyards while we slurped hot coffee and dreamed of starting a small vineyard back in New Mexico. Breakfast is taken on the veranda overlooking the valley and is whipped up in the nearby kitchen – think fresh fruit and yogurt, tasty huevos rancheros, piles of tortillas and truly, the best find yet – a basket of homemade cookies as a parting gift. I refuse to eat cookies again unless they are shaped like bovine. What a whimsical touch from a magical spot.
We all know Orlando’s in Loreto. How could you not? Not only do they have the best breakfast in town, they have the best little personality in all of Loreto. Over the years, they have stuck with their very popular menu items – originals like cilantro cream covered omelets that are literally breathtaking in their flavor profile and crunchy chilaquiles…but they continue to up the bar each time I visit. Over the past year or so, not only have they completely expanded and redone the al fresco seating area so it is more spacious than ever…the owner Orlando has gone a step above and built a true B&B a few blocks down the road – Casa Mangos is the gem of the century in Loreto. And, this is the kicker – you get free breakfast every single day you stay at the adorable casitas – just show up at Orlando’s and indulge in every item on the menu if you stay a spell. Now, not only are they pet friendly, they have beautiful beach bikes to head out cruising on the malecón, free high-speed wi-fi, a full kitchenette, a gorgeous little plant-filled patio and courtyard area, maid service, and all top-notch amenities. I was blown away at the detail that went into each room and literally almost just didn’t leave. Because, guess what – you can rent by the month! Not a bad spot to spend a dreadful winter, especially since Loreto is a hub of learning – from cooking classes to language lessons to scuba diving to sailing, you can go beach-side ballistic with your new Mexican life, if you so choose. And, Orlando’s new egg stuffed poblano chile breakfast platter is enough to make someone weep…it’s just that good.