By W. Scott Koenig
Daytrippers and weekenders from Southern California have officially returned to Baja—lured in part by the rise of the region’s culinary stars. Most visitors have tucked into a street taco in Tijuana, or enjoyed a farm-to-table dining in the Valle de Guadalupe—Baja, California’s wine country. Here are 10 more delectable reasons to visit Baja California in 2017 that are equally rewarding. Provecho!
1. Enjoy seafood by the seashore in Playas de Tijuana
Playas de Tijuana is known as the spot where the U.S./Mexican border fence ends in the sea. It’s also home to some great seafood. At Alga Bien, Chef Julio Rodriguez serves Sonoran mariscos such as a spicy aguachile of shrimp and octopus. The ocean view patio is a popular gathering spot most weekends.
2. Explore Mexico’s only cheese cellar in Ojos Negros
Four generations of cheesemakers have been producing aged Ramonetti on this ranch in Ojos Negros for over 100 years. Tours of Marcel Castro’s working dairy farm and tastings in the cheese cave are offered during weekends, seasonally. The restaurant is situated in a charming old farmhouse and offers exceptional grilled fare.
3. Sample “Moroxican” cuisine in San Antonio Del Mar
Diners at Mi Casa Supper Club enjoy panoramic ocean views from the restaurant’s elegant dining room and rooftop bar. Chef Bo Bendana’s “Moroxican” menu showcases recipes from her childhood home of Morocco fused with ingredients from her adopted puebla, Mexico.
4. Tour the Chinese underground in Mexicali
Origenes y Secretos de La Chinesca conducts tours of Mexicali’s underground—a system of basements and tunnels built and inhabited by the city’s Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s. Emerging from a day of discovery, hungry explorers can dig into a Cantonese-Baja style feast at one of the city’s nearly 200 Chinese restaurants.
5. Take a cooking class in Tijuana or Ensenada
The Cookbook was conceptualized as an informal kitchen classroom where anyone can learn to create a variety of dishes, from Mexican moles to Italian pastas. Participants are immersed in every aspect of food preparation, guided by instruction and encouragement from Chef/Owner Ryan Steyn and a revolving staff of culinary pros.
6. Try insects for the first time in Tijuana
Restaurant Cien Años offers a menu of seasonal insects—a pre-Hispanic gastronomic staple—in addition to traditional Mexican dishes. Guests can try chapulines (grasshoppers), gusanos (maguey worms), and escamoles (ant larvae) prepared tableside and sautéed with chiles and onions.
7. Eat at Bourdain’s favorite street cart in Ensenada
La Guerrerense rose to culinary fame due in part to Anthony Bourdain’s adulation and praise. Restaurante Sabina is Owner Sabina Bandera’s new location for those who prefer their mariscos indoors and in a seat. In addition to her ceviches and prepared clams, cooked specialties—such as a rich Seafood Pozole Rojo—are also on the menu.
8. Discover a rustic culinary gem in Tecate
The eclectically designed El Lugar de Nos is one of several restaurants changing perceptions about Baja California cuisine in Tecate. Chef Mariela Manzano’s “84 Meat” is a savory stew of seasoned beef, lamb, and pork that’s slow cooked for 84 hours and served as tacos or tortas ahogadas.
9. See and be seen in the Valle de Guadalupe
Decantos Winery has become the “last stop” for scenesters in the Valle de Guadalupe since it opened in 2015. Visitors can now pair Decantos’ young wines with Baja Indian cuisine from Chef Surinder Veer Singh Ortega at Sanvil, the vineyard’s new restaurant. An insider’s trip to el Valle isn’t complete without an overnight stay in B&B Bruma’s Casa Ocho, a private villa with a private pool and gorgeous vineyard views.
10. Meet new people at a culinary gathering in Tijuana
Photographer Josue Castro’s The Kitchen Project has been organizing gastronomic “happenings” in Tijuana and Ensenada since 2013. Events feature food, wine, beer, desserts, and chocolates from some of Baja California and San Diego’s top culinary talent.
W. Scott Koenig is a San Diego-based Mexican food, culture, and travel journalist and has traveled extensively throughout the country for two decades. He launched his blog, AGringoInMexico.com in 2012, and also writes a column on Baja food and culture for SanDiegoRed.com. Additionally, Scott is the Tijuana and Valle de Guadalupe Food Expert for FoodieHub.tv.