VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA – As Vendimia approaches and the popularity of Baja California’s wine country grows, it seems like there are as many new restaurants on the vine as there are grapes in the Valle de Guadalupe lately. Common traits among the chefs and eateries listed here are extensive use of fresh, local ingredients, a hearty pinch of creativity, and a LOT of love and dedication to food and craft. Most of the Valle’s restaurants and campestres maintain their own vegetable and herb gardens, and source their seafood and meat from local vendors and producers. The fresh, delicious and varied culinary delights on offer in the Valle are as imaginative and exceptional as its wines.
From one of Mexico’s most famous chefs to a recent Tijuana Culinary Institute grad, the restaurants listed here are some of El Gringo’s favorites, and should be on the itinerary for your next visit to the Valle de Guadalupe…
La Terrasse San Roman at AlXimia
One of Mexico’s most beloved chefs is back in Baja with a new restaurant located at the award-winning AlXimia Winery. French-trained Chef Martin San Roman is fondly remembered for eateries Tour de France and Rincon San Roman in Tijuana, and has most recently kept himself busy as consulting chef for several top restaurants and a catering service in San Diego. La Terrasse San Roman specializes in “Baja Provençale” cuisine…use of classic rural French preparation methods combined with the bounty of Baja’s fresh, local ingredients. Standouts include the Fresh grilled cactus and chistorro, tomatoes, onions and cilantro, marinated with olive oil and the Tuna loin grilled on wood with lemon aioli sauce. La Terrasse is also one of the few restaurants in the Valle that serves breakfast (Saturday and Sunday), so you can fill up before a day of wine tasting.
Prices: Appetizers from 50 – 150 pesos ($4 – $12 US). Entrees from 125 – 500 pesos ($10 – $38 US).
Location: Km.3 El Tigre country road (at AlXimia, next to Rancho El Parral), Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
Convivia at Encuentro Guadalupe
Originally from Veracruz (but transplanted in San Diego since age 23), Chef Flor Franco recently christened Convivia at the Encuentro Guadalupe Antiresort, the Valle’s first cantina. Boasting (and delivering on) a sustainable mission, architectural design, innovative eats and breathtaking views, Convivia’s goal is to bring together Valle locals with visitors in a convivial and relaxing environment. In keeping with Encuentro’s eco-friendly philosophy, Flor’s tapas menu contains items that are 60 percent cold, helping to ease use of ovens that generate heat. Standouts include the Ceviche Convivia with octopus, shrimp, mackerel, clams, scallops, peppers and cucumber and the Hurache Norteño with chorizo and octopus. Drink recipes are provided by the Snake Oil Cocktail Company and other artisanal vendors will be featured.
Prices: Tapas from 70 – 180 pesos ($5 – $14 US).
Location: Carretera Federal 3, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
La Terrazo Parrilla at Vinicola Torres Alegre y Familia
Over thirty years ago, Master Winemaker Victor Torres opened Vinicola Torres Alegre y Familia, one of only four vineyards operating at the time in the Valle. Victor’s son Leonardo is continuing in his father’s footsteps, crafting wines that are complex, robust and unique (the character of their 2005 Cab Franc Merlot can change every 15 minutes when decanted). Leonardo invited his amigo, Chef Angel Beltran of Tijuana restaurant La Casa del Mole to run the vineyard’s seasonal asador campestre which offers a small, very good menu. Standouts include Fresh Baja Oysters with shallots, chives and olive oil and the Yellowotail pan fried over mesquite with salt, pepper and olive oil. The restaurant’s elevated patio offers a nice ocean breeze from the west and fantastic Valle views.
Prices: Tapas and Entrees from 30 – 120 pesos ($2.50 – $8.50 US)
Location: 22760 El Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
Santa Brasa pleasantly took us by surprise. After a weekend in the Valle, friends suggested we stop by this new campestre-style restaurant just down the calle from Laja. We were not disappointed. After graduating from the Culinary Institute in Tijuana last year, owner Jaime Galindo teamed with Chilean Master Chef Carlos Vargas to create the menu and run the cocina for their open-air restaurant in a garden setting (where most of their produce comes from). Standouts include their Whole wheat risotto with grilled carrots and garden greens and their Grilled octopus with chili oil and creamy avocado mayonnaise, baby arugula with white truffle oil. They also feature several excellent house wines. The Dama del Valle Chardonnay was our favorite and perfect on a warm afternoon.
Location: Carretera Ensenada-Tecate, Km 83, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
TrasLomita at Hacienda la Lomita
A farm-to-table restaurant at vineyard Hacienda La Lomita, TrasLomita not only harvest veggies from their own farm, they also have a cow that provides the dairy. The menu is based on seasonal and local ingredients from the Valle de Guadalupe and the Pacific and is designed to pair well with local wines. Dishes are cooked over olive wood, grilled and served raw in the case of fresh seafood selections. El Gringo hasn’t had the opportunity to visit yet, but has it on good word that the food is outstanding. Dishes include a Wood-oven roasted pork shank and Blue Fin Tuna raw with oyster, seaweed, lime and ponzu sauce.
Prices: Unavailable. Assume Inexpensive-Moderate.
Location: Fracc. 3 Lote 13 Camino vecinal Parcela 71 C.P. 22755 San Antonio de las Minas Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.
Vinos de la Ruta
A Valle wine and gift shop in El Porvenir, Vinos de la Ruta carry many of the region’s best varietals and sell them at a price comparable to what you’d pay at the vineyard. They offer free tastings from Valle labels every weekend. We were fortunate enough to enjoy a tasting from Emiliana, who produce a deep, delicious and complex Cabernet Sauvignon. Just opened in May, the shop also has an adjoining outdoor restaurant specializing in Argentinian Barbacoa. Prepared on a Santa Maria grill by an Argentinian chef, the mixed paradilla of arrachera, short ribs, chorizo, chistorro and quail is a standout. The Grilled Romain salad with local vegetables and parmesan is a terrific start to your meat feast…and a great option if you’re rolling with vegetarian amigos.
Location: Blvd. Emiliano Zapata No. 379, El Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
A visit to any of these six spots is sure to be as unforgettable to you as they were to us. The next time you find yourself in the Valle de Gudalupe, stop by…and tell them El Gringo sent you. Bon Provecho!
Your Gringo in Mexico,
Disclaimer: El Gringo is a recent marketing partner for La Terrasse San Roman at AlXimia, but has been a fan of Chef Martin and his food for much longer. I would highly recommend his Baja Provençale cuisine regardless. La Terraza de Parrilla were very generous with complimentary tapas and entree tastings (and excellent wines that paired perfectly). Given their great food and affordable pricing, we would definitely return again on our own peso.