Mr. K and I took a quick road trip in the new car down to Baja California last week which I was keen to explore after reading many mouthwatering accounts of the gustatory delights that can only be found south of the border. We left San Leandro at an ungodly early morning hour, and were rewarded by virtually no traffic all the way past L.A. and San Diego, arriving at Rosarito Beach by 1 pm!
I found a great deal through Travelzoo for a studio suite at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, a historic spot right on the beach that was easy walking distance to shopping and restaurants. We were there a couple of weeks before spring break, so it felt almost like we had the place to ourselves, the beaches were empty, and the weather was unsettled with dark cloudy skies one moment, then blue skies and sunshine the next.
The hotel had lots of nice amenities like the tub of fresh flowers that was changed daily in the lobby, and the bathroom was twice as big as ours at home.
Couldn’t believe the gorgeous views of the ocean from our balcony.
Breakfast was included in the deal each morning, and so I enjoyed Huevos Rancheros, (two fried eggs served on a tortilla topped with spicy Ranchero sauce), refried beans, some excellent chilaquiles and delicious house made chorizo. It was a fabulous start to the day (although I had to work up an appetite before lunch), and I gobbled up the refried beans which were creamy and rich from lard…
Breakfast on the second day, Huevos Mexicana, the eggs were scrambled with tomatoes, onion and peppers, served with avocado slices, more of the lovely refried beans and chilaquiles.
We wandered through a shopping bazar, blocks of stalls filled with blankets, ponchos, ceramics, leather goods, and I loved perusing the candy store, which was packed with all manner of treats
There were all kinds of foodstuffs, including trays of intriguing dried fruits and other sundries, here is a display of cheese, and a block of what looked like some sort of pressed fatty meat.
Dinner the first night was at Vinces Fish Market, which I read about on the excellent online resource Chowhound. It was a few blocks down from the hotel, and we were the only customers at first.
We were served platters heaped with lusciously lardy refried beans, fluffy well seasoned rice and iceberg salad with thousand island dressing – we loved everything but the salad, which was a bit dull… The grilled halibut with garlic butter was juicy and flakey with perfectly crisped edges. – total captivation of the taste buds.
I read that Puerto Nuevo was a tourist trap and to get the lobster at Vinces instead, so we ordered a lobster al vapor, which was steamed until tender, served with the same sides and a cup of clarified butter. The lobster meat was fresh and sweet, so incredible dipped in the butter. We made decadent tacos with the tortillas dripping butter all over our hands, making indecent sounds… and the bill came to an astounding $35, including several icy cold beers…
The next day, we ventured up to Mariscos Alegria, in Primo Tapia on the inland side of Highway 1 or “the free road,” next to a tire repair shop.
Mr. K and I found ourselves once again, to be the only customers. I think that we must have been eating during not prime times, could it have been siesta time? The tables were loaded with a variety of hot sauce bottles.
The woman, whose name I read on the bajanomad forum is Flor Aguilar, made everything by hand as we ordered. Such a beautiful smile!
We ordered an Aguachile (firewater) with shrimp. Boy it was super duper spicy, but so delicious that I couldn’t stop eating it… Brilliantly fresh flavors from fiery hot serrano chile, cilantro, onion and lime juice, the shrimp were exquisitely fresh and we dueled over the cool chunks of refreshing cucumber.
Our lips were on fire, and Mr. K thought to put out the flames and asked for a cheese quesadilla. Flor made the tortilla and then grilled it on the comal until toasty brown on both sides. The tortillas are lusciously tender, and filled with a wonderful melted cheese. It did indeed help tame the flames…
From our hotel, we were just a couple of blocks from Tacos El Yaqui, on Mar del Norte, the side street that parallels Benito Juarez Blvd. one block east. They are hard to miss from the sign proclaiming to serve the best tacos in Baja.
They serve only one thing, carne asada tacos called Perrones, which I think means the Big Dog. Right in front of the window where you order, is the wood fired grill where the slabs of marinated Arrachera (skirt steak), sizzle, along with jalapeños.
The meat is plucked from the grill into stacks and chopped on a thick wooden stump with a cleaver while still steaming, and then piled onto a tortilla on your plate, which is brought to your table.
The tacos were huge, served on flour tortillas with melted cheese, a smattering of tender pinto beans, slathered with guacamole and sprinkled with onion and chopped cilantro. The meat was juicy and flavorful, fresh from the grill with an excellent smoky char. The combination of ingredients seemed burrito-y to me, but on a manageable scale. We thought this was an excellent carne asada taco, muy sabroso!
The patrons were all so friendly and helped us as we were obviously tourists, and when we asked after fish tacos in the area, the chef pointed us down the block to El Cotorreo.
We enjoyed our first fish ceviche which was full of crunchy vegetables and spread thickly over a crisp tostada and topped with avocado.
I finally got to taste the Michelada, which is like a bloody mary but made with beer and ice, and our cups were topped with a chile sauce then dipped in Tajin chile and lime powder and garnished with a celery stalk and lemon slice.
and a plate with raw oysters, and a raw clam that had been chopped and mixed with cucumber, onion, tomato and jalapeño topped with ketchup. And thus we were introduced to baja seafood, insanely fresh and with bolder flavors than what we are used to.
Rosarito is a lovely beach town, an excellent entrance into Mexico. It is primarily a tourist location but we felt it was very casual and relaxed. It was very easy to get to from the border and although our Spanish is extremely limited, we had no problems communicating and getting around. Next stop, Ensenada…