The flavors that I seek out while on expeditions in Baja can (and do) change day-by-day, even minute-by- minute. And, thankfully, there are enough innovators and chefs up and down the peninsula to keep up with my intricate tastebuds demands; more so now that ever. I just spent six glorious weeks enjoying the thrills of Baja while dining out every single day and here are a few of the bites I could not get enough of.
Best New Dish that Sounds Odd but is Downright Addictive – Chile Rellenos with Plantains – Loreto
The quaint cobblestone streets around the town square in Loreto have been ripe for a new restaurant for so long, so I was not surprised to stumble upon Mi Loreto, the latest to open this year. I always wondered what happened to the health food store and now I know. It’s long gone and this adorable restaurant is in its place. There is a reason why it into the Top 10 on Tripadvisor.com a mere few months after opening, and the main one for me would be the superb chile rellenos stuffed with sweet plantains. This is a new spin on the infamous chile dish that makes me pause and wonder why everyone else isn’t doing it. The owner, Edgar, and his wife are recent transplants from the Cabo scene and shared that before opening this restaurant, they traveled all around Mexico for months, scouring for the best of the best when it comes to recipes. They hit up tiny villages that were known for the best mole, the best walnut/date pie (we ordered a whole pie, it was that good), and the best aguachile. They then added their own riff on each dish and a new favorite spot was opened. It’s especially relaxed in the evening when the lights are twinkling, the music is playing and the neighboring church bells are ringing. The complimentary appetizer is a lovely bonus and the cozy ponchos on each seat turn the chilly evenings into a real treat.
Best Advice from a Stranger – Chill N Grill – Todos Santos
One day while walking the dogs on the beach in Cerritos, we started chatting up a pair of pals with their own dog, exchanging thoughts on good food and drink that are must try’s in the area. Their biggest rave? The ribs at the newly opened Chill N Grill. Now this is the kind of place that I usually wouldn’t hit up, but I was on the last week of the trip and was literally salivating for something – just one thing – that was more American than Mexican. Enter some of the best pork ribs ever to cross my path. These babies are served up with perfect potato salad, a mess of French fries and are served fall-off-the-bone style. We grilled Gabe, the owner (and recipe lord), on his technique after ordering not a second round of drinks, but a second round of ribs and he explained that he was self taught and simply just tries to make each dish the very best of. He is succeeding tremendously in his quest, because we could not stop talking about them. Other bonuses - there is often live music, dogs are allowed, the attached hotel his family owns is charming with a lovely pool, his sister runs the organic health food store next door, and he is a TV show personality in the making. All ingredients for a family empire not to be missed!
Best Daily Addiction to Carnitas – Carnitas Puro Michoacan – Pescadero
Pork tacos are nothing new to Mexico and certainly nothing new to me, but the fork tender carnitas at this tiny roadside stand in the fishing village of Pescadero are next level. A couple of things to remember – use all of the toppings provided (especially the pickled onions) on your taco as they take the flavor profile over the top. Always get the drooling doggies a couple to chow down. You will never want to order just one, so be wise and get three while your at it. When they run out of meat, the joint closes, usually by 4 pm. These carnitas are so addictive that when we would eat at other places, we’d make a final pitstop back here and get another batch of tacos, as if they were dessert. It became a bit obnoxious when we showed back up five days in a row, but when you’re doling out meat this good, we know we aren’t the first to stalk.
Best New Flavor of Margarita – Tamarindo at La Coronela – Todos Santos
It sounds impossible, but every single traditional lime margarita is different no matter where you go. They are all distinct in their own way, and you quickly develop favorites in each little town. And, yes it is possible for bartenders to mess them up, crazy as that sounds. But, who is doing them 100% perfectly, and with multiple exotic flavors to boot is the Hotel California. I was hugely surprised at the quality and flavor of their tamarindo version because it’s such a tourist mecca; I figured it would be catered to the tourist’s often simpler palate. I could not have been more misinformed. Tamarind is an ancient fruit that is similar to dates once harvested, and when it makes its way into a frosty libation, watch out! The bartenders at the restaurant in Hotel California truly know what it means to blend the holy heck out of a something and concoct a smooth drink ripe for another round. I set up shop at a corner table in the bar one afternoon and every person who walked by commented on my gorgeous drink and upon listening to me rave about the tamarind flavor, no less than 15 newbies floating around the compound ordered up what should be dubbed the house specialty. I camped out so long the bartender even shared his traditional Sunday pozole with me. Now that is customer service at its finest!
Best Homestyle Breakfast for Road Warriors - Mi Casita – El Rosario
The tiny desert village of El Rosario is usually one of two things - total blow through or safe overnighter in the quest to get elsewhere. No matter which is on our agenda, this family run restaurant is a must stop. How I’ve missed it all this time is beyond me. You order at the French-style shuttered windows and it’s as if the menu posted is more of a suggestion than anything because if they have the ingredients and you want to dream up your own dish, the gals in the kitchen will do their best to make it from scratch and to order. Steaming hot coffee and just made huevos rancheros never tasted so good at 7:30 am on a frosty Baja morning. The free Wi-Fi helps pass the time while you wait for a plate of goodness to be laid out before you and if you can get your hands on some of the festive tamales, do not hesitate.
Mi Loreto - Calle Salvatierra near the Loreto town square; phone - 624-151-5894
Carnitas Puro Michoacan - Located on the east side of the street along the main drag in Pescadero
Hotel California website - Todos Santos
Mi Casita - El Rosario - Located on the south side of town on the north side of the street