ROSARITO BEACH, BAJA CALIFORNIA – Located off Baja California’s Highway 1, tiny Rosarito Beach (pop. 70,000) is often overlooked as a culinary destination in deference to Ensenada’s seafood scene to the south, and Baja Med just north (and closer to the border) in Tijuana. But a little time spent exploring some of Rosarito’s restaurants, taco stands, farms, hotels and its single winery will unearth an abundant, fresh, farm-and-sea-to-table smorgasbord. Of course, every old “Baja Hand’s” favorites are still there…Puerto Nuevo style lobster and El Nido’s mesquite-grilled Sonoran steaks. But on a recent trip, I found some surprises as well…craft beers at the Rosarito Beer Fest and a famous taco stand somehow missed during past excursions just south of the border.
In no particular order, read ’em and drool…
1. Claudius Viña Y Bodega
Master winemaker Julio Benito Martin from Segovia, Spain started Rosarito Beach’s only winery in 2010 with a 300 case production. Today, he’s planning on releasing 15,000 cases in 2015 and is bringing his wines to a wider national market. Claudius boasts some outstanding reds. Their 2012 Nebbiolo was my favorite – fruity, bold and with a bit of chocolate. Julio let me know that it was still young…and he’d be lucky if the rest of the vintage makes it until its peak 5th year. Claudius also hosts winemaking classes.
Claudius Viña y Bodega is available for private tastings by appointment, events and winemaking classes. They are located at Bulevar Sharp 3722, 22710 Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Website.
2. Baja Produce
Owner Fernanda Sanchez stocks a variety of fresh produce including olives and cheeses from the Valle de Guadalupe, homemade bread and the BEST, firmest, freshest tomatoes I’ve ever had. On hand also are a variety of Baja produced lotions, honey, wine, art, music and other goodies. The location, right on the free road, also has a quaint, rustic restaurant in which to kick back and enjoy some of Baja’s bounty, delivered right to your table.
Baja Produce is located at Popotla 10, Col. Cuenca Diaz, Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Website.
If you’ve followed El Gringo, you know I have a “thing” for Popotla and this fishing village’s fresh seafood, as I’ve posted here. And here. In Popotla the fishermen bring their catch to shore daily and local vendors and restaurants prepare it at a price that’s typically much less than what you’d pay in the States. After you’ve experienced Popotla’s beachside and restaurant scene, you can head just north of the village proper to Popotla Restaurant and Bar for a more formal meal. Located oddly at a nicer mobile home park, nonetheless, their ceviches, clams and Puerto Nuevo style lobster are superb.
Popotla Restaurant and Bar is located at Carretera libre Tijuana Ensenada Km 34, 22710 Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Website.
4. Tacos El Yaqui
They say, “If you haven’t had Tacos El Yaqui, you haven’t been to Rosarito Beach.” Well, it’s official, El Gringo has now been to Rosarito Beach and loves Tacos El Yaqui’s smoky beefy goodness. Founded in 1984, Tacos El Yaqui serves one type of taco only, and they do it very well. Marinated Sonoran arrachera (skirt steak) is cooked over oak on a metal box grill, then served with onions, guacamole, cilantro and beans in a hearty flour tortilla. Grilled chilis and radishes are served on the side. The line for Tacos El Yaqui has been known to go down the street…these are tacos worth waiting for!
Tacos El Yaqui is located at Mar del Norte, 22710, Rosarito Beach, B.C., Mexico. Website.
5. Rosarito Beer Fest
El Gringo was privileged to attend the first annual Rosarito Beer Fest during a recent visit. Baja California’s proximity to the craft beer scene in San Diego has spawned a burgeoning brew culture here as well – particularly in Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali, all of whom represented at the Beer Fest held at the famous Festival Plaza in the center of town. Standouts were the Chocolate Stout from Funes in Tijuana, and a lineup of Tequila and Mojito-flavored brews from Salitos.
6. Puerto Nuevo
Puerto Nuevo. You remember it well. Home of the buttery, grilled, don’t-need-to-refinanace-your-home-to-afford-it lobster feast. This Baja village is still serving up mariscos and its world-famous lobsters at a number of restaurants in town. Though Puerto Nuevo has suffered a reputation for sourcing it’s crustaceans frozen and from Australia over the past decade (the local waters apparently “lobstered out”), La Casa Del Pescador served us up a platter of the tasty red critters that were moist, flavorful and wholly satisfying.
La Casa del Pescador is located at Paseo del Mar No. 5, Puerto Nuevo, Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Website.
7. Rancho Las Ilusiones
If you can tear yourself away from the beach and travel east of the highway up into the hills a bit, with the proper directions, you’ll arrive at the sprawling Rancho Las Ilusiones. Rancho Las Ilusiones is a family-owned working ranch and organic farm with crops, sheep, goats, cows, chickens, turkeys and even a few peacocks. In 2012, the Cordero family opened their palapa restaurant and offer a very fresh list of options for brunch, made from the ranch’s produce and meats. El Gringo dug into the Conejo (rabbit) Machaca and Eggs and had a couple of cups of really good, strong coffee. The desserts were homemade, and although I didn’t partake, I was assured by a fellow diner that they were delicious.
Rancho Las Ilusiones is located at Calle Baja California, Colonia Morelos, 22710, Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Facebook Page.
8. Restaurant El Nido
Another old Baja saying goes, “Where there are gringos, there’ll be an El Nido.” Opened in 1971, the Rosarito Beach location is the original and still the best. Much of the restaurant’s produce, fowl and game meats come from its farms just east of town in the foothills. One is Rancho Guacatay, which raises much of their free-range venison. El Nido’s location in town is a beautiful rustic mess of stone, waterfalls, plants, palapas, rusted farm implements and folk art. On a recent visit, I sampled their ribeye, venison and quail, which were perfectly grilled and presented.
El Nido Restaurant is located at Mar del Cortez #348 Sur, Rosarito Beach, B.C., Mexico. Website.
Hungry yet? I am! Get down (or back down) to Rosarito Beach soon for the weekend or just a casual Sunday and enjoy some of the great cuisine the region has to offer.
Your Gringo In Mexico,
Disclaimer: Parts of this post were written based on information gathered and much free food eaten (urp) during a press tour of Rosarito Beach, sponsored by the Rosarito Beach Tourism Trust and the Rosarito Beach Hotel. That being said, El Gringo has frequented most of these places on his own peso in the past, and would not hesitate to visit any of these recommendations for more good food and drink down the road!