By Misty Tosh
Just because you are passing through a particular town doesn’t mean you can't find a killer meal there. The spots I usually fly through without a second thought have some surprisingly good food happening – here’s a quick roundup...starting in the North and weaving on down the peninsula.
El Lugar de Nos in Tecate – Sometimes it just makes sense to cut through Tecate (in and out of the Baja). Not only do you get to drive through the spectacular wine valley and hit up some tastings along the way, but you get much less of a border wait crossing south as well as north. But more than anything, it’s simply delightful to plan a super early dinner at El Lugar de Nos, a gastronomical super-find just moments from the border. I’m certain that any place exhibiting such precision and focus on just-plain-local ingredients deserves a gold star for effort. Folks rave about the pizza, but the grilled shrimp delicately burrowed in a nest of poblano risotto is a major taste sensation. Menus are scribbled on chalkboards and the open kitchen is a testimony in watch-and-learn cooking techniques. An English menu would be handy, but if you have the bare basics of Spanish (ie pulpo, queso), then you will be rewarded with tender charred octopus and pillows of grilled bread with whipped local cheese. The outdoor seating is bright and airy, and always dog friendly. Make sure to order a batch of vegetarian crispy tacos.
Manzanilla in Ensenada – This restaurant may be a bit hard to find, but it is well worth it. Even the local folk don’t know quite where this culinary gem is tucked (I had 4 separate, and all wrong, maps created for me from strangers), but once you get there (just off the 1 when entering Ensenada down a tiny side street in the port, across from a shipyard) you will be hard pressed to leave for a couple of reasons – a) the décor and paintings are jaw-dropping (local artists have taken the nautical vibe to a whole new level) and b) the food is stone cold delicious and really just opens up a brand new world for Baja foodies. Start with freakishly fresh ceviche and end with a charred rib eye. For the middle courses, toss in the creamy seafood risotto, the dreamy enormous crab claw, and the steamy array of hot oysters (chef Benito Molina’s choice is the way to go). It’s an ever-changing menu, pending on what is in season (from the dirt and from the ocean) and expect to see gangs of raucous local chefs descend upon the place come closing time at their respective restaurants. A seat at the palatial bar is primo seating for star gazing (Bourdain and Zimmern have both been in).
Malarrimo in Guererro Negro – Look, it's easy to fly past Guerrero Negro as points further south become within reach. Except when you’ve just come from a dirt road after camping out and are looking for a cold drink and some tasty food. Malarrimo has serving up tired RV’ers, saucy expats, energized whale watchers, dusty ATV warriors, and in-the-know locals for decades (they’ve been around since 1974) and unlike many on Mexican time, they most certainly know how to whip up a cold drink quickly to weary travellers. We tend to sit outside with our dog and toss her over bits of juicy grilled chicken for her salivating patience. I’m usually scarfing garlic fish and bowls of melt away beans, but let it be known, the crusty pan-fried chicken with sautéed mushrooms is a joy to partake in; especially when frosty drinks are presented before one can even think to ask for another. They have the most tongue tingling salsa in town and when you rock a night with your RV in back, it becomes real easy to turn up the heat, knock a few back, and then mosey on "home" until the next morning, when before sunrise, it’s time to scram faster than the staff can open for breakfast.
Boca del Rio in Ciudad Constitucion – Funny how you never really notice fly by towns til you are starved and on the verge of losing it. Enter ceviche at Boca del Rio. Now, the reason we plopped down at this particular cevicheria was because they invited my dog, Minka, in...and I was thinking perhaps some seafood was in order. And whoa, the ceviche...what a revelation. It had to be the cracked black pepper that brought it to the next level because honestly, I was expecting something bland slapped down onto a stale tostada. Turns out, since Constitución is the gateway to Magdelena Bay, the just caught seafood is beyond rave worthy. And, don’t you know it, not even the basic shrimp and cheese taco was sub-par. In fact, it was so fresh and light, I inhaled a whole new round!
(From the north, the restaurant is on the right hand side in the main part of town.)