What are the gastronomic Baja buzz words these days?
And what do they mean?
The buzz words reflect the revolution in Baja’s food and dining culture: a 180-degree shift from heavy, traditional dining to new-age cuisine that takes full advantage of the abundant bounties Baja offers.
From vast acres of tomatoes and strawberries to an ocean rich with Yellowtail and Bluefin tuna—from abalone and oysters that are cultivated in sustainable nurseries to quail eggs and venison from local ranches—from boutique wine vintages that are rocking the world of enology to artisan beers that are available in burgeoning brew pubs.
This is what Baja California tastes like in 2012.
So where do you find these tastes?
All up and down the 800-mile-long Baja peninsula, but with special intensity in some of the major destinations:
Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate, Rosarito, Loreto, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos.
But for now, let’s just talk ‘north’ and quickly visit Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada—with a couple of pauses along the way.
Arguably the most influential city in Baja’s gastronomic movement, Tijuana—which has for so long been famed for its more controversial issues—has surfaced as an international culinary powerhouse.
Award-winning chef-restaurateur and cookbook author Rick Bayless has called Tijuana “one of the great food cities of North America.”
Over the past two years, Tijuana has seen the emergence of innovative chefs and restaurants that have been attracting attention from food writers, bloggers and newspapers across the world. Take Javier Plascencia, for example, the chef-owner of Mision 19, located in the heart of the Zona Rio (river district): Plascencia focuses on a food style that has become known as Baja-Med (Baja Mediterranean), featuring the products that thrive in Baja California’s coastal climate – foods like olives and olive oil, abalone, zucchinis, arugula and more.
Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero’s restaurant
is trendy – even with the decor of deer heads and antlers – but user friendly, and the food is consistently fabulous and imaginative.
Small bites are the way to go here, focusing on light dishes like tuna-fin stew, duck tacos (our favorite) or sashimi.
There are also the tried-and-true La Differencia, which offers gourmet fare using local, regional products as well as iconic ingredients such as huitlacoche (corn fungus); the reinvigorated Ceasar’s (owned by the Plascencia group), home of the Ceasar Salad and Ceveceria Tijuana, with great bites and handcrafted beers.
A special shout out: To the east of Tijuana is Tecate, a charming, authentic burg with its own (quieter) border crossing that leads up into eastern San Diego.
Here is one of Baja’s most interesting, sophisticated restaurants, Asao.
This place – the name Asao means ‘eat’ in the language of the Kumeyaay tribe — literally backs up to the border and, with its own hotel, offers a great place to spend a night when visiting the area.
But you go to Asao is for the food, which is stunning in its flavor development.
The origins of the menu can be found in the traditions and ingredients of indigenous tribal peoples, but each item is its own gastronomical experience.
Duck in tamarind sauce, nut-crusted shrimp with hibiscus flower mole, and so much more are all served in an elegant dining environment.
A must-do in northern Baja!