No matter where I land in the world, I’m the gal who searches out the funkiest dive bar, the most remote farm to table restaurant, the sauciest cantina, and the tiniest shack of goodness that I can find. This past trip to Baja, I decided to see what other folks hunt down when it comes to food using random word of mouth, tripadvisor.com and other such internet buzz words. I hit up as many #1 rated restaurants up and down the peninsula as I could, and I tried a handful of new places. Some quests were wild goose chases and some introduced me to whole new neighborhoods I’d never cruised through. I was pretty surprised by what wets the whistle of the masses in Mexico. Happy hunting as you scout your way down the long leg that is Baja!
El Rosario, Mama Espinoza's
This is the stop of all pit stops before entering the great outback and cactus riddled no man's land that makes up the high desert of mid-Baja. In a tiny pass-through town, with just a handful of really honorable and authentic restaurants, I’m actually stunned this mainstay is #1 on Tripadvisor. I think it has more to do with the legends and history that surround the lobster burritos than it does with actually serving rave worthy food (they opened their doors in the 30’s!). I could be basing that on their poor excuse for margaritas – but wow, powered Kool-Aid and cheap tequila does not a margarita make. However, that said – I usually stop here either for an early morning coffee if I’ve stayed nearby. If it’s later in the day, I load up on some sort of lobster stuffed dish, which are usually amped up a notch with boatload of butter. I was happily surprised to try the super fresh shredded chicken salad platter, especially with temps reaching the mid-90’s. A cold dish is the best thing going in those kinds of conditions. The place is usually loaded with cheery dirt bikers (happy to be off the trail) and weary travelers coming over from the rudimentary hotel on the property. Their dog friendly rooms are a must for when you just can’t go another mile, and they always seem to have space available.
Loreto, Sabor! Restaurant
This tucked away house turned restaurant was a wonderful gift during my time spent in Loreto. I kept hearing whispers of their superb chile rellenos from random strangers in town and finally, one lazy afternoon, it was time to experience it all. Cut to: the friendliest staff (all family) doling out enormous top shelf margaritas poolside while pre-marinated meat charred up on the outdoor grill. The smells were intoxicating as we waited on the steak, burgers and rellenos to be made to order. We raced back and forth to the parking lot checking on our dog as no dogs are allowed in the restaurant area. My dog, Minka, was 100% fine, with long strips of drool tangled up in her whiskers – clearly the scents were driving her mad with joy as well. There was no way we could finish the massive portions so Minka got her fair share of perfectly seared steak, and the owner even grilled up a thick chicken breast for her. What a doggie life! The chile rellenos were indeed the best I’ve had in Baja and I have to give them credit for that – rellenos are easy to mess up. From the wood fired pinto beans, to the chunky guacamole, to the homemade tortillas, Sabor is a winner all the way around. They are open seasonally, and come October, the doors will be back open. Alhough I didn’t try the desserts, apparently, these are the dishes that have the locals going back time and time again. I also love that they change their menu up each season, giving regulars new dishes to try and old favorites to come back to.
Loreto, Carnitas Mulos and the PERFECT House Rental on the beach - Casa Aliciamaria
Never have I had such spot on house rental hosts as Jeanne and Mark in this Sea of Cortez rental. We took over their beachfront house with a private pool for almost 2 weeks in May and it was exactly the way I need to structure my trips to Baja from here on out. Amazing house with an incredible sound system – check. Wonderfully high thread counts in both bedrooms – check. Super awesome food suggestions – check. Well stocked chef’s kitchen – check. Hammock by the sea – check. So between cooking like mad, margarita blending like a pro, dipping in the pool and rooftop hot tub like a princess and eating like a local with the best of them, I’ve found my soon-to-be-regular Loreto spot. On Day 2 of 10, the owners made it a point to ask if we’d like to partake in the usual Sunday festivities - cold beer and taco fixin’s from the best local restaurant about 5 min away, Carnitas Mulos. Cut to: Hop in the truck with the owners and grab a mess of fresh whole hog shredded carnitas with pickled onions, fresh corn tortillas, multiple salsas and a ton of limes. Double done! These are the meals dreams are made of – and you must have the super insider edge to get the goods. And, if you rent the place for a week – you get a free trip to Isla Coronado on a private panga. Snorkeling in pristine waters with coolers full of goodies in a dolphin filled sea – happy check!
Los Barriles, El Viejo
In Los Barriles, an expat heavy town on a beautiful stretch of the azure Sea of Cortez, it’s a little tough to find real local food, done without a bit of an Americanized twist. When I read about El Viejo online, a wee shack of a place on the main strip, I was so pleased to think of crispy fish tacos, zesty ceviche and of course, cold margaritas for an early lunch. Sadly, though, this was a TA sub-par joint. It was here that I started to wonder what exactly the reviewers were basing their raving reviews on. If they were judging on friendliness or charm, well, those things were spot on. The restaurant had lants flowering, draping every spot the eye lands and laughing employees tidying up and greeting everyone with a smile. But, if they were judging based on food – perhaps they had a little more exploring to do around the village. Everything we ordered from the tacos to the ceviche was just a modest take on other spectacular dishes we tried in town. At least they were dog friendly, though – and, things like that go a long way in my book.