After an 18-month hiatus due to the pandemic, late 2021 and 2022 marked A Gringo in Mexico’s triumphant return to Baja California and all its natural, cultural, and culinary glory. Our annual Top 10 Baja Bites 2022 marks the first list of its kind that we’ve published since 2019.
From the streets of Tijuana to the vineyards of the Valle de Guadalupe to white tablecloth dining in Tecate with an award-winning chef, we sampled a little of everything this year. As host of Tacos with Muchachos on the new YouTube show Baja Window to the South and A Gringo in Mexico’s 1-Minute Taco Reviews on Instagram reels, we ate a LOT of great tacos. This category merits its own list which we’ll no doubt publish soon.
Our Top 10 Baja Bites list is neither definitive nor exhaustively researched, nor does it provide rankings. These are simply the top dishes out of many great bites we’ve personally enjoyed this year. What was your top Baja Bite of 2022? Let us know in the comments. Provecho!
1. Dried shrimp tostada at La Medina (Valle de Guadalupe)
This winning tostada of dried and grilled shrimp from outdoor eatery La Medina in the Valle de Guadalupe is an umami bomb and not for those of timid tastes. A common sight in Ensenada’s seafood markets, the sun-dried shrimp are cooked until rehydrated. This wholly tempting tostada is served on a blue corn tostada and dressed with radish, cucumber, red onion, and tomatoes.
2. Bone marrow with escargots at El Original Pastel de Crepas (Tijuana)
Chef Martin San Roman of El Original Pastel de Crepas in Tijuana is known for his deft combination of French and Mexican cuisine. This dish is exemplary. A beef bone full of unctuous marrow is grilled, then topped with plump, flavorful escargot in a sauce of garlic and white wine. The dish is finished with parsley and fried leeks. After this decadent dish, one must enjoy the restaurant’s famous namesake cake.
3. Poached salmon at Restaurante Amores (Tecate)
Chef Marcelo Hisaki of Restaurante Amores in Tecate led Team Mexico to a qualifying finish with a variation of this dish–anatomy of a salmon–at the Bocuse d’Or Americas this year. A perfectly poached salmon loin is accompanied with the fish’s skin as a crumble, its belly as tataki torchon, garnished with its trimmings as quenelle, and finished in a luxuriant sauce with a salmon bone broth base.
4. Sweetbreads at Primitivo (Valle de Guadalupe)
Primitivo offers a tasting menu based on whole animal woodfire cooking. The beef offering includes grilled ribeye, tripas (small intestine), beef rib, and one of my favorite dishes of the year, sweetbreads (beef pancreas). Luscious sweetbread morsels are poached in milk, lightly grilled, crusted, and finished in a cast iron pan. They’re served with house-made blue corn tortillas, limes, and a smoky salsa tatemada.
5. Pork shank “Ossobuco” at Il Massimo (Ensenada)
At restaurant Il Massimo in Ensenada, chef Massimo Zaretti substitutes the traditional crosscut veal of this northern Italian stew with a whole pork shank and serves the entire affair “ossobuco”. The ample shank is braised for 7 hours, bathed in a hearty, peppery gravy with carrots, onions, and celery, and served with a side of potatoes. You may be tempted to lick the plate to enjoy every drop of the savory sauce.
6. Shortrib tlacoyo at Salvaje (Valle de Guadalupe)
New restaurant Salvaje at Xolo Vino was the surprise hit of the summer. I added it to my list of top 5 restaurants in Baja California’s wine country sans hesitation. Salvaje’s tlacoyo (elongated fried masa) is heaped with savory, slow-braised short rib atop a bed of melted requesón (similar to ricotta). It’s finished with pickled onions and cilantro and accompanied by a rich salsa tatemada.
7. Smoked marlin quesabirria taco at Tacosteño (Tijuana)
Chef Rodolfo Luviano at Tacosteño at Telefonica Gastro Park has crafted what may be the perfect seafood taco. Morsels of smoked marlin are slowly stewed as birria with all the chiles and spices that make the stuff so good. The taco is served with melted cheese on a corn tortilla dorado—dipped in consomé and fried on the plancha–for a slightly crunchy texture. (NOTE: Sadly, Tacosteño closed in November. Happily, Luviano is now serving border style barbacoa at his La Barbacha food truck in Tijuana).
8. House salad at Malva (Valle de Guadalupe)
If you arrive at restaurant Malva early enough, you’ll find chef Roberto Alcocer foraging greens, beets, radish, Swiss chard, carrots, and other veggies and herbs from his garden in front of his Valle de Guadalupe restaurant at winery Viñedos Mina Penélope. All this super fresh, organic goodness is artfully plated as a salad and abundant in flavor and texture. It’s a satisfying start to Malva’s tasting menu.
9. Lamb barbacoa at Hacienda de Badú (Rosarito Beach)
The Sanchez family opened Hacienda de Badú over 70 years ago in north Rosarito Beach. Today, traditional cook Josefina Sanchez helms the kitchen in the impressive two-story brick restaurant and prepares some of the best barbacoa borrego (pit-roasted lamb) in Baja. Delectable morsels of tender lamb are served with supple house-made corn tortillas. Best drizzled with their very spicy salsa tatemada.
10. Prepared chocolate clams at Honokai (Valle de Guadalupe)
Honokai is devoted to small plates of hibachi and raw bar items—perfect to enjoy with host vineyard Vinos Lechuza‘s wines and tastings. The prepared chocolate clams are served raw on ice and bathed in a green broth of tomatillo, serrano, cilantro, cucumber, clam juice, and lime. The scrumptious bivalve is finished with wakame seaweed, furikake, and basil oil. Stay for dinner at sister restaurant Damiana.
Disclaimer: Several dishes on this list were complementary. No further compensation was received for placement and our opinions remain unflinchingly our own. We would happily spend our own pesos for any one of these dishes.
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