6 Great Dishes from Baja
Last weekend was a Baja blur, featuring a relentless food tour of the northern Baja Peninsula that included state-of-the-art Tijuana tacos, high-end “alta cocina” and Baja Med fusion. We visited more than 20 spots in just over 48 hours. These are just six of the staggering tastes along the way, with a full report to come in the next two weeks.
El Mazateno – Shrimp Taco
The second-largest migrant group in Tijuana hails from the coastal state of Sinaloa. El Mazateno is a leading example of the style, a high-volume open-air taqueria that produces scintillating seafood. The smoked marlin taco was memorable, but couldn’t compete with the taco camaron enchilado, featuring a flaky, paratha-like flour tortilla topped with plump grilled shrimp tossed with chile de arbol.
La Querencia – Beef Tongue Carpaccio
Miguel Angel Guerrero, a fourth generation Tijuanan, invented a style of cooking called Baja Med by combining Mediterranean, Asian and Mexican influences with the best local ingredients. At his nine-year-old restaurant in Tijuana’s Gastronomic Zone, Guerrero features several carpaccios that would shame most high-end L.A. restaurants. My favorite: silky beef tongue carpaccio topped with fried garlic, frizzled scallions/leeks and drizzles of sea urchin cream.
Barbacoa Ermita – Pansita
Every weekend, Hidalgo native Victor Torres opens up his home’s covered patio so people can eat his barbacoa, an entire mutton slow-roasted for 8 hours in maguey leaves that leave the meat moist and aromatic. My favorite part of the experience was digging into the bowl of pansita, a chile-tossed mess of organ meats, include tender strips of stomach and a mixture of kidney, liver and who knows what else. The roasted mutton was great, but didn’t feature pansita’s distinctive organ funk.
Guerrerense – Sea Snail
Sabina Bandera has been producing mind-blowing tostadas from an Ensenada street cart for 33 years, topped her corn crisps with jewels of the sea like sea urchin and sea cucumber. After we had three rounds of tostadas, she passed around a plate of sea snail, featuring warm two-inch steaks that were reminiscent of clam, but not as chewy. The chile marinade helped to make the cooked “meat” supple and flavorful.
Silvestre – Bluefin Tuna Ceviche
Drive from Tijuana to Ensenada and you’ll see circular pens just off the coast. These gigantic pens are used to farm bluefin. We encountered the prized tuna in Valle de Guadalupe at Silvestre. Benito Molina’s seasonal restaurant overlooks his Zinfandel vineyard and features twin mesquite grills. Our first course: luscious ruby-hued bluefin ceviche topped with minced ginger, Serrano chiles and a judicious dressing of olive oil, soy, and balsamic vinegar. This seemingly simple preparation generated explosive flavor.
Los Salceados – Dessert Taco
A decade a ago, Jalisco native Javier Campos Gutierrez invented a taco that utilizes griddled cheese as the tortilla. Word of his state-of-the-art tacos spread and he soon outgrew his street cart. Los Salceados produces several masterful tacos, but it was his dessert taco that blew me away, featuring the crispy cheese tortilla, thin-sliced beef, onions, and mango puree, topped with colorful purees of cherry and strawberry and a sprinkling of chopped pecans. This was a daring combination of savory and sweet elements that complemented each other to the fullest and didn’t lean too far to one side of the flavor spectrum.