A good number of people do not know that Baja exists as a remarkable wonderland wide open and ready to be explored. It’s just not a part of the world that is on their radar for some odd reason. I find this to be dreadful. But this tremendous oversight is not nearly as gloomy as the fact I am about to give you. And that is this - some folks only ever spend time in Cabo, meaning they have never been anywhere in all of Baja BUT Cabo. I find this to be astounding. I recently met a funny gentleman who shared with me that he had been visiting Baja for twelve years straight, considers it a second home even…and once he arrives, he never leaves his timeshare in Cabo. Twice a year, he would fly in and spend nine sunny days golfing, eating and drinking merrily at his expensive resort. Heading back home, he'd gaze at the islands off the coast seen from the air, knowing he would never see them in real life. He loved his narrow Mexico world, that is, until I got ahold of him.
When I shared with him a flurry of pictures and stories from my own trips up and down the coast, adventures I had been having for almost two decades, he was aghast. First off, that I was a female boasting about driving often, sometimes alone, and usually with my doggies by my side and second off, that he ever thought he knew the real Baja. But, the biggie that did him in was that I had just invested in moving my beloved sailboat out of the USA and into Mexican waters with no plans on returning her back across the border. He might have teared up at my personal commitment to the country of Mexico at that point. By the end of our two-hour chat, he had fully made plans to gather up his sisters and treat them to a Baja they all never knew existed (all by car). He was ready, he claimed, to go further afield. My heart soared knowing that once he began to participate in all that made up the DNA of Baja, he would be a changed man.
There are just so many things one misses when they fly in rather than drive (the way Baja should be done), and one in particular is tasting the local food that can be found at the dizzying amount of loncherías that dot every single village in Baja, usually found with some good signage planted on the walls.
Now, it wasn’t until about five years ago that we started making the quirky seaside town of Santa Rosalía a regular pit stop on our breakaways south and most of it had to do with the unforgettable chopped suey I shared with a random person that I met at a bar in Bahía Concepción. I was just there for a quick pit stop one particularly fun trip and he had just returned from his favorite Chinese restaurant in Santa Rosalía and demanded that I try a few bites of his delicious leftovers (as one does in Baja). The flavors and unexpected crunch of those bean sprouts in his chopped suey have haunted me since I scarfed all of his leftovers...which brings me to the loncharías in Santa Rosalía!
Each time we hit the mesmerizing coast of the Sea of Cortez, we make a hard right away from the port area and head deep into this hilly town to roam up and down the one-way streets searching for a new lonchería to try. After the dusty drive across the desert, it has to be the perfect snack situation for us, usually found after parking and wandering the New Orleans style streets for a bit. Because of the dogs, we prefer a walk up tin hut with jars of Nescafe at the ready and in the background, a bit of mariachi on the dial radio.
Though this will never be a resort town and the beach isn’t all that pretty, Santa Rosalía has such a personality and funky vibe because of its history in mining and the deep French influence. You really could spend hours roaming about taking in the quaint wooden architecture and remnants of mining equipment scattered about town. One of our latest finds is Loncharía Archi which actually has all of my favorite elements and goes one step further by displaying a mess of skeletons draped over wooden signs that are stamped with the menu items. All of the food whipped up by the happy grandma working the one and only hot plate is very simple, but homemade to the core. Double stacked cheese and steak burritos in thick tortillas with chunky salsa, a smear of refried beans and a squirt of fresh lime have never tasted better especially when washed down with an icy cold Fanta.
Further south, in the small fishing town of Los Barriles is perhaps my favorite lonchería find of all time and it has to do not only with their incredible food (and price), but their business card. By crafting up a scene of two smiling friends fishing off the side of a boat with a swish of blue water underneath them and a flock of birds above them, Lonchería Cuates perfectly summed up the Baja lifestyle in a quirky drawing. But, then they went one step further and threw in a cactus, truly nailing the Baja that steals souls.
As for the food, well…let me put it this way. I was saddened to my core that I only discovered this spot after spending over a month in Los Barriles. I had hit every single place in town testing out all of the breakfast burritos and had my favorite haunts and when I finally made the move to stop here on one of my last days in town, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. But when I tell you, this is the best place in town for breakfast burritos, please just trust me. In the bustling family run kitchen, three jam packed baby burritos stuffed with cheese, bacon, peppers, onions and finally egg…and are politely shoved to the side of the plate to make room for the homemade French fries (how do they get them this airy), a dollop of creamy beans and a pile of veggie dotted rice. All make the way to the table piping hot and ready to be smothered in that delicious mayo/ketchup concoction that somehow just tastes better in Mexico.
Keep in mind that just like the famous Baja taco stands, loncherías are never fancy, they are always cheap, and they are forever local. They are not just the epitome of village life for farmers, cops, truck drivers, teachers, journalists and politicians, they are the literal lifeblood of Mexico and always worth a tap of the breaks if you want to see the tremendous heart of the country. And know that just above that heart, there will usually be a friendly smile…just waiting to share with you the food that makes Baja go ‘round.
In the heart of Santa Rosalía, on the south west side of town on Avenida Constitución (Centro)
Lonchería Los Cuates
Los Barriles-Santa Teresa 433, Buenos Aires, B.C.S., México