Friday, March 25, 2016

Photo Essay: Baja for Foodies

It's a funny thing when you take a "foodie" trip somewhere.

Inevitably, all you do is eat. Even when you're full, you eat. Because when will you be back here to taste any of this—all of this—again?

The good thing is that when you're visiting somewhere unfamiliar, going to get something to eat isn't just about eating.



At La Cocina de Doña Esthela, for instance, we weren't just having "The World's Best Breakfast" in Esthela's actual kitchen...



...with fresh, handmade tortillas...



...biscuits that are like a cross between cornbread and scones...



...corn hotcakes...



...and a specially spiced Mexican coffee with cinnamon and orange.



We were also visiting a farm, with horses and cows and pigs and tiny little newborn baby piglets.



On one morning, when our breakfast was of the food truck sort....



...we weren't just eating the best tortas in Baja.



We were standing in the shadow of the Washmobile, which used to be a car wash with a food truck parked outside. Now, the food truck has sprung a chain of brick-and-mortar restaurants.



At the Las Gueritas roadside grill along the Ruta del Vino...



...that specializes in bite-sized portions of quail (codorniz) and rabbit (conejo)...



...we were surrounded by the palms, succulents, and potted plants of a nursery, where the family who runs the food stand also grows grapes to make homemade wine.



As we popped into the kitchen inside the Mariscos Ruben food truck in Tijuana...



...we were breathing in an older generation's legacy, expressed through a shrimp abondigas soup...



...and shrimp taquitos.



We were experiencing the homemade flavors of salsas and sauces...



...that put Cholula and Tapatio to shame...



...and are changing the way people eat and view Mexican food—in both Mexico and Southern California.



It used to be that there was Mexican food for tourists and then street food for the Mexicans...



...but now, thanks to celebrity food truck chefs like Sabina Bandera González, who's been lauded by Anthony Bourdain and made appearances at LA food festivals like Tacolandia...



...visitors and locals can both enjoy an affordable and fast lunch of sea urchin tostada on the streets of downtown Ensenada.



In fact, when you're visiting Baja, it's hard to tell which trends started there and made their way into the U.S., and which ones started in Southern California and made their way south of the border.



Tijuana's got their own hipster food hall (in a mall, of all places) that's got  two stalls by hot chef Javier Plascencia: Khao San for Thai street food, and Erizo for fresh seafood and Tijuana-style tacos.



At Erizo, you can also get the tostada blanca made with lentils, grains, and avocado or the verde with serrano chills, tomatillo, cilantro, chives, and avocado.



For my trip, I chose to go with a small group that was led by a local tour operator—so I could sit back and relax while our guide ordered all the food for us to share at the restaurants, food trucks, and roadside grills that he'd selected.



It's not often that I abdicate control over my own itinerary, but I was really glad that I didn't have to do anything except eat and enjoy and try to remember what I ate.



When we visited the tiny fishing village of Popotla, I could just gaze out at the sea and watch today's catch come in...



...be grilled up...



...and served, the freshest I've ever tasted.



When we visited the Ensenada marina...



...I could wander off down the tourist path and make friends with some mariachis...



...and give them $5 for a song and some photos while somebody else arranged our seating.



But at the end of our final night in Mexico, I decided to make just one request: "What happened to the taco crawl we skipped last night?"



And so it was back to street tacos—a bit of al pastor from Taqueria Franc before putting our bloated bellies to bed.

Some of my favorite things that I ate during our trip disappeared off my plate before I could snap a good shot of them.

There was the cilantro polenta at Muelle 3...the lamb burrito at La Querencia...the carrot soup at Almazara...the spicy shrimp tacos at Mariscos el Mazateño...not to mention the local wines and beers.

Stay tuned for photos from drinking my way through Baja.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Culinary Tour of Tijuana
Photo Essay: Trying Something New (At An Old Favorite)