If there’s one place where it’s OK to plan a trip around your stomach rumblings, it’s Baja California. With farm-fresh ingredients on the doorstep of every restaurant, as well as the rich Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez lapping at its shores, Baja’s culinary scene is off the charts. From getting a taste of the original Caesar salad to feasting on the world’s tastiest fish tacos, here’s our pick of Baja California’s best restaurants.
Caesar's Restaurant Bar
Hotel Restaurant, Restaurant, Spanish, Seafood, Italian, $$$
One of the most famous restaurants on the whole Baja peninsula, it’s rumoured that this spot was where the famous Caesar salad was invented. Caesar’s Restaurant – an elegant dining room filled with sepia photographs, dark wood decor and black and white tiles – still uses the same simple recipe (consisting of cos lettuce, parmesan, olive oil, egg yolks and lemon juice) created by its founder Caesar Cardini almost 90 years ago. The pièce de résistance? The waiters – clad in smart 1920s-style waistcoats – prepare and serve the delicious salad right at your table.
Rapidly earning a reputation for being one of the best restaurants in northern Baja California, foodies are flocking over the San Diego border just to get a taste of chef Javier Plascencia’s exquisite Mexican fusion menu. Set in a modern, unfussy dining room, Misión 19 fuses contemporary cooking techniques with authentic Mexican flavours and locally sourced, farm-to-table ingredients. Expect beautifully presented, inventive dishes such as short ribs served in a black mole sauce and seared cod with a chile poblano adobo and toasted sesame seeds.
La Cocina de Doña Esthela – located at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road in the Valle de Guadalupe region – has been an old-time favourite with Baja Californians for years. However, since appearing on the BBC cook show Rick Stein’s Road to Mexico (as well as winning several local awards), Doña Esthela’s humble home-kitchen is fast becoming one of the most popular breakfast spots on the peninsula. Esthela cooks up huge, Sinaloan plates of shredded beef machaca with eggs and home-made queso fresco (cheese made from cow’s milk), but the star of the show here is her birria de borrego, wood-roasted lamb served with a delicious lime and coriander-loaded salsa called borrego tatemado and freshly-made corn tortillas. Her café de olla – black coffee spiked with cinnamon and dark brown sugar – is pretty sensational too.
With its colourful tables shaded by a fairy-lit tree, larger-than-life margaritas and a charming owner welcoming each and every guest, you can’t help but be drawn to Claudia’s Restaurant. Her menu changes depending on what the Loreto fishermen have caught that day, but the yellowfin taco, as well as the famous chocolate clams, are solid favourites here. Claudia serves her perfectly cooked battered fish with a dollop of homemade guacamole, pico de gallo and shredded cabbage on a beautiful traditional clay plate. A great option for those looking for authentic, street-food favourites but with a little bit of finesse.
Nestled high up in the hills overlooking the stunning vineyards of Ensenada‘s Valle de Guadalupe, Corazon de Tierra is as much about the setting as it is about the food. The six-course tasting menu here, directed by world-class Ensenada-born chef Diego Hernandez, is designed daily depending on what ingredients are available both in the on-site herb and vegetable garden and local fish markets that day. Past tasting dishes have included Kumiai oysters with Swiss chard and bacon, seared octopus with a fruit jelly, and a smoked shrimp, sea urchin and creme fraiche tostada. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.
Perched high on a hill overlooking the shimmering blue Pacific Ocean, El Mirador boasts one of the best views in Todos Santos – and maybe even Baja California Sur. But that’s not all: the food, lovingly prepared with an impressive attention to detail, is world-class. The menu largely focuses on fish and seafood, which is bought daily from the fishermen at the famous Punta Lobos beach, just a few kilometres from the restaurant. Make sure you arrive in time to watch the spectacular sunset from their terrace over one of their delicious fruity cocktails.
If you haven’t quite got your fill of Baja’s sensational tacos yet, look no further than La Lupita. With rustic wooden furniture, colourful art and textiles on the walls and a happening live-music scene, this is definitely one of Baja’s hippest taquerias. The food is no less creative: expect interesting twists on the taco classic, including Mediterranean octopus and miso-style yellowfin. If you hadn’t already guessed it from the name, the tacos here are best washed down with one of their artisanal mezcal shots.