The reason I hit the road every few months is quite simple. I go for the food. And with that food quest comes the path I traverse to get there – it’s just a simple outline of movement to get me to a new taste portal. The soul of the deserts and waters of Baja have epic food ties...all way back to the beginning of time it seems. But, it’s not often that my sensory jams lead me to a plate of home cooking because I am tracing the roots of man, it’s just that I desperately want to escape into the beauty of a homemade meal created by someone who really takes ingredients and cooking methods to heart. And, sometimes it’s just that I desire an amazing view with a Mediterranean vibe.
Here are two fresh spots in lower Baja that serve up alarmingly delicious bites and lounge-all-day views of Mother Nature doing what she loves best – riling up the ocean, the sand and the sunshine - all while keeping you satisfied that you made the right choice to head south.
Ibo - Puerto Escondido
Imagine being on a small sailboat, cruising around the desolate Sea of Cortez for days on end – snorkeling with sea lions, swimming with dolphins, and daydreaming about being waited on hand and foot once you hit land. You shimmy into the hurricane hole known as Puerto Escondido (The Hidden Port) intending on refueling, doing some shopping (Loreto is only 25 minutes north), perhaps getting a massage, and eating some good food. With something on the mind refreshingly different than boat grub, you pull into the marina, hop in the dinghy and head to shore.
What are the chances that there would be a world class restaurant RIGHT THERE? Next to impossible...but the tides have recently turned in Puerto Escondido and there is now a tiny, rave worthy, worth-the-trip restaurant and bar on the top floor of the main building that is still the best kept secret around. Life just got better. You stroll on it and witness the mirage that is Ibo. A handful of tables scattered across a beautifully decorated dining room make up the space that is what I like to call – my saving grace. Real stemware – whaaaaat? A fireplace – huh? A lovely wine list – OMG!
Then, the menu comes out – it’s like Cabo did a backflip and landed in this little cove of safety, but brought all the best seafood and chefs tricks with her. Charred octopus straddles green olive laced cous cous. The seafood tartare is not only a visual shocker, it’s a tastebud thriller....truly one of the best bites in Baja right now. Bring on the scallops nested into piles of sweet potatoes swimming happily in a cream sauce. Nobody gives a second look when you order creamy mashed potatoes and risotto on the side to top it all off. Other boaters and those in the know on road trips from points further off shuffle in with the same jaw drop you had just an hour before. But, you’re a local now – you can relax into the easy tunes, the sound of waves crashing in the distance and the impeccable service. Time to think about staying a while! Next time though, maybe you’ll dress up a little more, but it’s a marina – they expect salt-water splashed bodies rolling in. They know you need their love more than anyone!
Freesouls - El Pescadero
On the way to surf sessions and long beach walks with the dogs, I drove passed the newly built building that houses Freesouls a half dozen times before actually entering the upstairs restaurant. This dirt road joint is another who knew type of place - very inconspicuous and you need to be told about it because it’s hard to notice as you’re racing toward the sun-splashed beach that is Cerritos. Ahhhh, but you walk upstairs and enter a wide-open oasis of whitewashed calm and rolling Pacific views every which way you look. The mind drifts as an impeccable blended ginger margarita is placed in your hand and you mosey over to the heated infinity pool perched on the edge of the dining room just to swipe your road- weary fingertips through it. (Yep – folks really do strip down to bikinis and just hop on in). You don’t realize that every mostly organic dish is massive, so you keep firing off orders– stacked ceviche with spinach and goat cheese layers, piles of Caesar salad with parmesan crackers, a whole grilled fish presented straight up and resting on it’s underside with what feels like a whole garden of charred veggies, wood-fired pizza straight from the center piece oven in the open air kitchen.
Not surprisingly, every dish is dressed with details and Instagram worthy – so you snap/snap away and say keep it coming. The sun starts to set, the margs keep flowing, and the locals pop in and make it an even bigger party. Everyone in Southern Baja is down there for one vibe and one vibe only – to feel the sun on their winter beaten skin, to float in the warm waters off the edge of the desert, to eat fresh meals that they will never make back home, to laugh with new pals made instantaneously, to daydream about making this atmosphere their daily truth – and then do it all again the next day. That’s what a place like Freesouls was created for – to help you get “there” as quickly as possible – with an impromptu dance party thrown in for good measure. Just remember to bring your bikini, but if you’re truly in the Baja vibe – you never took it off in the first place.