Last week, restaurant Animalón in the Valle de Guadalupe–Baja California’s wine country–was inaugurated into Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. The San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards placed the unique dining concept at the 100th spot. The organization expanded their list for the first time this year. The new 51-100 list aims to shine a spotlight on the diverse culinary cultures of the region in the lead up to the unveiling of the prestigious list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022.
This is the first time a Baja California restaurant has been included as part of the prestigious list since 2016. Past winners included restaurants Laja and Corazón de Tierra, also from the Valle de Guadalupe, and Manzanilla in Ensenada. Previously, Animalón has been featured in San Pellegrino’s 120 Best Mexican Restaurants Guide, curated by Mexico City based group Culinaria Mexicana.
Animalón was inaugurated in 2017, when chef Javier Plascencia decided to create a stunning dining experience within the boughs of a 200-year-old live oak. Located on the property of his popular dining spot Finca Altozano, Animalón began life as a seasonal pop-up from April through November. Now, the restaurant operates year-round, moving their kitchen and dining area indoors at Finca Altozano when the weather turns cold.
The restaurant’s executive chef, Oscar Torres, originally from East Los Angeles, collaborates with Plascencia to design an imaginative and delicious modern Mexican menu. One that highlights local ingredients from Baja California. Tasting menus of eight or twelve dishes are on offer. An optional wine pairing allows diners to enjoy some of Baja California’s best vintages with their meal.
The centerpiece of the Animalón experience is the dining room enveloped by the sprawling, leafy live oak. It’s a unique setting and after the first few courses, it’s easy to forget that one is dining al fresco. The tree gives the impression of a naturally flowing, gently enshrouded “room”. Hanging lanterns create a romantic aura, subtly illuminating the space with a soft, warm glow. Elegantly set tables are lined with custom designed, comfortable equipale chairs.
This season, the restaurant updated the separate bar area. Baja California craft beers and wine are available, as well as a wide selection of carefully curated agave-based spirits, such as tequila, mezcal, and sotol. An open patio offers comfortable seating in which to lounge before or after one’s meal.
When I first interviewed chef Plascencia for a story on his family’s restaurant business in 2013, I asked what he wanted to do when he eventually retired. He said that his dream was to spend his time drinking good red wine under a big oak tree in the Valle. He’s realized that dream early with Animalón. And we’re all very fortunate to be invited. The 2022 season under the tree ends on November 22nd.
Animalón is located at Carretera Tecate – Ensenada Km 83, Ejido Francisco Zarco, Valle De Guadalupe, Ensenada, Baja California, 22750, México. +52 (664) 375-2658, animalonbaja.com. Reservations can be made on OpenTable.
COST: The 8-course tasting menu is $2,500 pesos, or approximately $130/US. Wine pairing is an additional $1,150 pesos, or approximately $60/US. The 12-course tasting menu is $4,100 pesos, or approximately $210/US. Wine pairing is an additional $1,800 pesos, or approximately $90/US.