Deep in the heart of off season in Baja, I had a very important decision to make. I wanted to spend a big chunk of time in a small Mexican town getting some really intense, and very focused, work done. No distractions like back on the home front (garden, household chores, unexpected friends popping over). The only requirements were loads of fresh seafood, tons of time in the ocean and miles of sandy beach for the doggies to run leash free. After much research and pondering, Los Barriles, an expat haven we haven’t spent much time in, was decided upon. This little beachfront town in the stunning East Cape of Baja is a hotbed of activity during the high season, and I found a perfect seaside house to post up in for a solid five weeks…which is plenty of time to feel like you’ve become a legitimate local.
Here are four solid steps to getting into the local vibe almost immediately no matter where you land in Baja.
1. Get a quad – and grab a charred chicken daily (Ochoa’s Chicken)
Acquiring a quad was a game changer for us. I have to admit, I never really saw the appeal of riding around on a loud beast, but out of all the things that bring you the feeling of being a local instantaneously, this tops the list. Why? Well, you are out in the open at all times – constantly stopping to chat with other locals, waving at complete strangers (who quickly become friends), petting village doggies (who also become friends), stopping off at new establishments. This becomes the must have go to/get around vehicle quickly hopping off to a yoga class, grabbing a fresh pressed juice, taking the doggies for a beachfront ride to a secret snorkel spot, and the lunch pick up vessel all in one. We hop on our quad from Quadman around high noon every single day and head down to grab a whole grilled chicken from Ochoa’s Chicken. I’ve never had such a craving for poultry in my life and the super friendly owners know they have a full-blown Baja foodie institution on their hands (they only close three days per year). Moist, fire grilled chicken (with crispy skin) is all they serve – just a Styrofoam container full of perfectly spiced chicken accompanied by a vat of frapped salsa, steaming corn tortillas and blissfully crunchy fries. Daily. We get it daily. And, when we’re not eating it, we’re thinking about it…waiting patiently ‘til the sun rounds the earth again so we can head on back to chicken paradise.
2. Embrace the local animal life near your fave restaurant in town (Campestre Triny)
Right off our patio is a beach that Outside magazine just called one of the best 16 beaches in the world. Amazing. Usually deserted from human population, but quite full around dinnertime with happy dogs and hungry cows, this kind of waterfront access is a Baja beach dream come true. Now, right out our back door is the bustling village of Los Barriles and our go-to dinner spot has become Triny’s – where every single thing on the menu is a must order. We see the same family of cows outside their patio on the daily and while we are munching on gooey shrimp stuffed chile rellenos and beyond killer tuna sashimi, we watch the cows. Just stand. In the road. With one hoof perched up like a playboy model posing. Watching you back. Cars swerve around. Folks stop to photograph them. And, all the while, we order skinny frozen margaritas, munch on perfectly cooked coconut prawns, and laugh at how much they resemble our Mexican mutt, Pancho.
3. Swim daily – then eat shrimp tacos (El Paso)
I have never, in all of my years, come to Baja and swam daily. Couple of times a week, maybe, but not multiple times per day. This Los Barriles beach is a body of water that begs you to jump in every few hours, though. Some days, we don’t even get out of our swimsuits. In the morning, it’s coffee and a luxuriously long swim with the doggies. Around 11 am, it’s another dip in the bathwater warm ocean and then later in the afternoon…at the hottest hour of the day, it’s yet another dip in the Sea of Cortez with the pups. Which brings me to the afternoon meal – a meal best had after a swim fest. There is nothing like the taste of salt water to get your mouth salivating for a mess of fresh shrimp tacos. Not the kind you find in a typical restaurant, but the kind that only Baja roadside shacks seem to know how to whip up. El Paso, a tiny pop-up establishment right at the top of the hill as you enter Los Barriles, has mastered this legendary Baja style taco. And, we all know it comes down to the accoutrements. Slivers of crispy cucumber, a variety of salsas, avocado crema, charred jalapenos, super shaved cabbage, and copious amounts of fresh lime all get piled on top of just made flour tortillas topped with just caught, and just fried, shrimp. You can feed and fuel 3 adults with a few 'packed to the gills' seafood tacos and a refreshing hibiscus juice each for less than $10. Total.
4. Eat with the aquatic season (Smokey’s)
Everywhere we go in these late summer months, there is one fish and one fish only being served up. And, that fish is tuna. And, it is like a tuna you have never been blessed with trying. After tasting it, there is no chance you would ever crave any other kind of tuna from a can again. That sorry excuse for fish will be banished from your pantry immediately. We usually order it from a variety of local restaurants in the best fashion…which is grilled. Smokey’s is an expat filled haunt that has taken the art of grilling tuna to a new level. They drench it a bit with the house made Black Pearl rub and then grill it up to order. It takes a while, but the convo’s you listen in on while perching at the bar eating chips and salsa are worth it. Everything from what’s happening in the fishing world in South Africa to who is winning the game on one of the dozen wide screen TV’s is being chatted about all around you and the only thing you can do is try to keep up. Once the flaky white tuna hits the table, it’s all hands-on deck devouring the piping hot catch of the day. We keep it Baja simple – just a side of beans, rice, tortillas, salsa and cabbage with ours. Mixed in with the NGO-gone-wild vibe of Smokey’s, it’s a seasonal flavor sensation not to be missed.
Campestre Triny - Calle 20 de Noviembre S/N
El Paso – first shack-style restaurant on the left as you enter town
Ochoa’s Chicken- 23330, Los Barriles-Santa Teresa, Los Barriles, B.C.S.