Coronavirus has been “The Great Separator” — creating achingly long distances between friends and families, children and schoolwork, musicians and audiences and Baja California enthusiasts and our favorite destination.
In COVID’s wake, our family scrapped all of the 2020 trips we’d planned to Baja. My upcoming culinary tours postponed. Annual events canceled. Restaurants in Baja shuttered or offered carryout only. Winemakers sat on inventories that stopped flowing to retailers and restaurants — and into guests’ glasses. Hotels and resorts plummeted from zero vacancies to zero bookings.
My lifestyle as A Gringo in Mexico came to a screeching halt — though I mourn more for my friends in Baja who rely on tourism. My family and I won’t return until COVID cases decrease and border restrictions lift. All we have are memories of Baja California and a yearning to revisit the people, places and experiences we miss most.
10. Tijuana Tacos
I dream about succulent beef birria and tendon tacos at Tacos Birria Martín, the really fast taquero at Tacos Fitos — who tosses a ladle of consommé through the air and into a tortilla. I miss suadero at Tacos el Gallito, carne asada at Tacos Chuy, barbacoa at Aqui es Texcoco, adobada at Las Tres Salsas and smoked marlin tacos at Mariscos Ruben. And it’s been far too long since I’ve had carnitas at Tio Pepe’s.
Tecate is more than just a waypoint between San Diego and the rest of Baja California. It’s a destination with a lot to offer. I miss the warm, pillowy corn tortillas at Malinalli Sabores Autóctonos, the rambling charm of El Lugar de Nos and sharing good wine with my friends Isabel and Lucy at vineyard Casa Veramendi. And Restaurante Amores in Tecate makes me want to break my hiatus, COVID and border restrictions be damned!
8. Culinary Events
Events were COVID’s first victims, as large gatherings are now prohibited in Baja California. Ensenada hosts two of our favorites — Conchas y Vino Nuevo, the annual seafood and new wine festival, and the month-long Vendimia. Though the grape harvest continues as usual, this year we’ll miss celebrating with our winemaking friends. I also won’t be judging the Festival del Chile en Nogada in Tijuana or the La Parrilla Fest in Mexicali again this year. Sigh.
7. Baja California Wine
I’m lustily desirous of Baja California Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Barbera, Syrah and its myriad and imaginative red blends. It’s been a while since we’ve enjoyed vinos, great hospitality and views at wineries Alximia, Villa Montefiori, Adobe Guadalupe, Monte Xanic, Bodegas F. Rubio, Casa Magoni, Montaño Benson, Vena Cava, Lomita, Cava Maciel, Vintango, Emevé, Santo Tomas and El Corcho Rosa. We miss Kris Magnussen and her family at winery Lechuza — whose wines are some of our favorites.
6. Wine Country Cuisine
We’ve enjoyed the best meals of our lives and hours of sobremesa in the Valle de Guadalupe at restaurants Malva, Origen, Traslomita, La Esperanza, Quercus, Once Pueblos, Tre Galline, Parcela 70, Brasa del Valle and others. I long for sunsets at Deckman’s en El Mogor. Fine dining in the boughs of an ancient oak tree at Animalón. Most of all, I miss greeting my friend Doña Esthela with a big abrazo before a huge breakfast.
5. Road Trips
The anxiety and stress of our daily lives blew away in the ocean breeze as we headed down the Pacific coast. We enjoyed the drive home through the vineyards, rolling landscape and pastoral views of the Valle de Guadalupe, which give way to rugged, rocky and winding hills outside of Tecate. I even miss navigating the challenging dirt roads of the Valle de Guadalupe as we sought a restaurant or winery tucked into its foothills.
4. Seafood in Ensenada
In another, less fulfilled life, you couldn’t have paid me to eat raw seafood on the street in Mexico. Now, I’m happy to shell out pesos in Ensenada for prepared clams, seafood coktels, ceviches and campechanos from El Güero, Almejas Fidel and El Pizón. I miss visiting La Guerrerense, where my friend Sabina Bandera always makes sure I try her latest tostada. And I miss wandering through the Mercado Negro, marveling at the daily catch.
3. New Restaurants
As I write about food and culture in Baja California, I’m often invited to try new restaurants. I missed the opening of Martín San Román’s Tijuana eatery, The Original Pastel de Crepas last month. I was becoming a regular at Tijuana’s Estación Central on Avenida Revolución. Their porchetta torta made my 2019 top 10 list. And when I visited restaurant Raices in Rosarito Beach last June, I was anxious to return for more. But alas…
2. Baja California Sur
Baja California is our “backyard”, but we vacation in the southern peninsula. We long for the seafood, beaches and relaxed vibe of La Paz. Fish tacos at Tacos El Estadio, seafood at El Molinito, Carlo David Valdez and his patio at Tatanka and lazy days lounging with a bucket of beers and ceviche at Playas Tecolote and Pichilingue. We sorely miss San Jose del Cabo’s dining scene and restaurants Nido at Viceroy and Acre Baja.
It’s the people who work and play in Baja California that we miss most. We yearn for the easy company of Valle de Guadalupe chefs and winemakers. I miss the enthusiasm of young chefs and their new concepts. Culinary events were like a pinball machine for us — we bounced back and forth between bites, sips and conversation. When you sit down for a meal in Mexico with ten strangers, you leave with ten new friends.
What I won’t miss is the opportunity to return to Baja California. Look for me there. I’ll have a taco in my hand, my toes in the sand and a smile on my face. We’ll raise a glass, toast our homecoming and visit our neighbors in Baja California once again.