Quail, a Baja tradition cooked over a wood fire
Despite these two inconveniences the summer dining season is already underway with restaurants like Finca Altozano, Malva, Troika and the newly opened Latitud 32 buzzing with diners. The majority of the clientele are still Mexicans from Baja, Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, but there are more U.S. citizens making it down to the fast growing Valle de Guadalupe. Here are some exciting old and new places to visit this summer to get you warmed up for Vendimias
and to explore the best wine country in the Californias for those seeking approachable world class dining.
Year-round restaurants and campestres (These places are open from 9 to 11 months)
Corazon de Tierra
This last year, chef Diego Hernandez's dedication and hard work payed off when he was included in the first ever Pellegrino Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list, landing the 30th position for his delicate Baja farm-to-table cuisine.
The food keeps getting better and better with inspired touches from the garden just outside the dining room sea dock boards using local products. The affordable tasting menu changes daily--go for six courses and experience the delights of Baja with a ceviche
of geoduck enlivened by borage flowers, oyster leaves, and French breakfast radishes, or rockot fish on a puree of turnips.
lavilladelvalle.com, (646) 156-8007 or (818) 207-7130
El Almazara Gastro Bar
The chef that took over this country house--Alejandro Alvarez Cardenas--when chef Miguel Angel Guerrero left a little more than a year ago comes from Guerrero's El Taller and La Querencia but will be preparing Spanish tapas to go with Baja wine overlooking the Rancho Olivares olive groves.
(646) 156-8048, almazaragastrobar.com
Chef Javier Plascencia has converted his quiet wine country escape into the ultimate in campestre chic with a rustic kitchen wrapped in rusty aluminum corrugated siding, massive fermentation tanks that serve as a private dining area, and a Santa Maria grill for traditional Baja quail and steaks from nearby Sonora. This is Plascencia's third season in the Valle but he's already got the hottest ticket in town--be sure to get a reservation for delicious totoaba (local fish), mouthwatering octopus cooked in a cast iron skillet, and fresh yellow tail ceviche with a sprinkling of mustard seed from the garden just 20 feet away at one of the most romantic dining spots in the Valle surrounded by vineyards.
Km 83, Ensenada-Tecate Highway 3, (646)156-8045, fincaaltozano.com, Tues.-Sun., 1p.m. to 9p.m.
La Esperanza (opening date pending)
Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero has been working on his latest venture since the beginning of the year and was planning on being ready by Vendimias, but it could end up being later in the season. Guerrero will now have a permanent location for his original Baja Med cuisine on the vast L.A. Cetto property, coming soon.
Km 73.5, Ensenada-Tecate Highway 3, opening date pending
When Chef Jair Tellez opened this landmark restaurant, ranked No. 46 on the Pellegrino Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list
(Tellez is the only chef to have 2 restaurants on the list), he remarked that Valle de Guadalupe cuisine was "huevos rancheros
and pancakes." Tellez ushered in a new era, and still remains a Valle de Guadalupe classic with 2 tasting menus--a 4 course and an 8 course--that may have the standout oven roasted local lamb and the fish of the day, which most of the region's restaurants follow suit as an homage to this pioneering wine country institution.
Km 83, Ensenada-Tecate Highway, (646) 155 2556, lajamexico.com/en/
Located on the El Cielo property, Chef Ryan Steyn's comfortable dining room off to the side of the winery's reception area is one of the busier spaces in the Valle for its tasty grill menu, but do pay attention to the small selection of Baja plates like local mussels steamed in an earthen pot or Pismo clams au gratin. Ask for the roasted lamb with grilled huitlacoche in room temperature nata cream with the house tempranillo and you'll get a taste for how well this South African chef has adopted Baja California as his home.
Parcel No. 118 km. 7.5 Guadalupe - El Tigre Ejido El Porvenir Highway, (646) 151-6515, vinoselcielo.com
Another native Baja chef, Roberto Alcocer has planted himself in the Valle de Guadalupe with bold starters like grilled beef hearts with arugula and tubers, pork belly with mustard and egg yoke, and large format plates such as a juicy rib-eye steak with salsa de molcajete, or a lamb served with a birria sauce on the side. You can really get to know Alcocer's cooking with a 7-course tasting menu that's only about $44.00 USD which can be paired with the excellent wines produced by Mina Penelope next door to the kitchen on a castaway themed deck overlooking the vineyards.
Km 96, Ensenada-Tecate Highway 3, (646) 155-3085, minapenelope.com
Just across the Vena Cava vineyard at the Villa del Valle bed and breakfast lies a man made pond where chef Diego Hernandez's food truck is parked next to a bar--try that in the States! The project is a collaboration with Cervezeria Wendlandt and Hernandez where you can dine under a demilitarized camouflage covering with excellent craft beer, Baja sliders, and shellfish.
lavilladelvalle.com, (646) 156-8007 or (818) 207-7130
Asador Campestre Hacienda La Lomita
Chef Humberto Aviles and his Caza Club crew are back for their 2nd season at La Lomita winery grilling lamb, quail, steaks and seafood in the tradition of wine country, over a mesquite flame with refined salads and sides.
haciendalalomita.com.mx, (646) 156-8459
Deckman's en el Mogor
As sure as the season, chef Drew Deckman is back at Rancho El Mogor to pair his Baja cuisine that he's refined for over a decade at Cabo's Deckman's--he recently closed his Cabo restaurant and is looking set up permanently in the Valle. Deckman works wonders with local seafood like sea urchin, abalone and geoduck in ceviches and tiraditos to pair with Mogor Badan's exceptional wines before you indulge in the dishes made with heritage pork or barnacles dressed with Baja olive oil under a clear Baja sky in true country fashion.
Km. 85.5, Ensenada-Tecate Highway 3, Wednesday through Sunday starting June 12th, 1P.M. until everyone leaves, (646) 156-8156
El Pinar de 3 Mujeres
This is the first summer season for chef Isemene Venegas at the famed 3 Mujeres winery, where you can have one of the best deals in Mexico's wine country. The daily prix fixe menu will run you a little over $30.00 USD for fresh bread with salsas and a nice Tzatziki sauce, followed by a refreshing cold cucumber soup, amazing arugula salads from Rancho El Mogor, homemade chorizo with a nice spice and the ubiquitous fish of the day, just plucked from nearby waters.
Take the Viñas de Garza exit and follow the signs, Friday through Sunday, 1p.m. to 6p.m., (646) 101-5268
Always a trendsetter, chef Benito Molina opened the first seasonal restaurant in the Valle de Guadalupe years ago set above rows of zinfandel vines on a covered platform enclosed by impressive stones, with just a Santa Maria grill and a prep area. The Contra Movil wine shop is back for the coolest wine service in the Valle just a few feet away from the the dining area. It's a great day in the Valle when lechon is on the menu--start with a beef hoof tostada and one of Molina's bright salads of heirloom tomatoes or local greens in the most intoxicating and resplendent views.
Just west of the Pedro Domecq winery, take the Ensenada-Tecate
highway 3 to km. 73, turn left up the dirt road about a quarter mile to the parking lot,
Sat.-Sun., 1pm-6pm, 011-52-646-175-7073, rmanzanilla.com
Terrasse at Alximia Winery
Baja's first star chef, Martin San Roman is coming to Alximia winery at the end of June and with continue his French-Baja cuisine that many of us came to know at Rincon San Roman. Think pates, pork shanks, pizzas, and mussels cooked over a wood fire in a more rustic style but with Roman's deft touch. Alximia winery will round out this Baja wine country experience with their broad selection of house wines.
alximia.com, opens June 26th
Tre Galline at Montefiori
This is the second location of chef Angelo Dal Bon's Italian restaurant featuring local Baja products, house made pastas, and the best damn damiana liqueur I've ever tasted. The original spot is in Todos Santos where Dal Bon serves the best Italian cuisine on the peninsula.
villamontefiori.com.mx, (646) 156-8020, opens July 15th
Traditional Restaurants and Stands
Simply the best breakfast in the Valle de Guadalupe, from a traditional Sinaloan cook who will blow your mind with her lamb and beef birria tatemada cooked in her adobe oven and homemade queso fresco. The menudo blanco has unparalleled richness and flavor, the ribs in red salsa has deep, dried chile flavors from slow cooking, and even the pancakes will make you remember your meal here.
Follow signs to the La Lomita winery, open daily from 8a.m. to 5p.m.
This roadside stand is keeping Baja tradition alive with marinated grill quail and rabbit served with salad, tortillas, tasty beans and rice. Pull off at Km 77 with a bottle of wine from one of your tastings and relive the Baja California that once was.
Km 77, from 11a.m. to 5p.m.