Eating like a local: Regional food specialties -Quick Trip thru ATL
I've never done anything involving Atlanta except travel through there
and that's all I did again on a recent trip. However this time I wasn't
flying but rather driving through, with an overnight stop. We were
headed to South Florida (report coming) and after stopping for lunch
in Nashville we wandered into Atlanta just in time for Happy Hour. We
met a friend at a dive and had a few cold brews as I
stared into the oblivion after the long drive in. After that we went
back to the hotel and then dinner.
this new Japanese spot that caught my eye so we decided to take the
ride over to Decatur and check it out. Walked right in and got a seat at
the bar though we could've sat anywhere as it want all that packed. I
guess word hadn't gotten out yet. Though they do have sushi we were here
menu features a variety of meats on a stick including most all of the
chicken parts. Aside from the grilled meats they also have a section
dedicated to Kushikatsu which are breaded deep fried skewers that
originated in Osaka. A double order of each pork belly and mushroom was
on point and just the start as far as getting good goes.
thing going is here is what drew me in in the first place. Real deal
yakitori. Real deal meaning random jidori chicken parts grilled over
binchotan charcoal. The Japanese coal burns at an extremely high
temperature and is the gold standard for yakitori back in the old
country. It's high heat causes for all the chicken skewers to crisp up
really nicely while remaining perfectly cooked being both juicy and
crunchy. You can get the skewers in breast, thigh etc but those are for
the pre-teens. It's all about the cartilage, neck, rib, oyster etc. We
tried a bunch but I kept coming back to these three below, which I could
eat all day with some cold Asahi by my side. Fantastic.
Chicken Yakitori - neck, oyster, tail
didn't think it could get much better and maybe it didn't but the Chasu
bowl was every bit as good as the yakitori. Some of the most succulent
pork belly I've had from anywhere. Melt in your mouth deliciousness.
Keep this place in mind if in Atlanta and near the Decatur area. We enjoyed.
House Chashu Rice - seared pork belly, green onion, soy cured yolk
closing down Brush we were ready to head back to the hotel...right
after I got dessert. I wasn't going to let the fact we were a quick ten
minute ride from The Varsity become a would've/could've/should've type
seen this place countless times on the TV. Usually when there's a big
sporting event in Atlanta. The local mini-chain got it's start in 1928
in what was a much, much smaller space. This one I was at must seat at
least 500 people these days, not to mention the sheer size of the
parking lot. I can only imagine the place over SEC championship weekend
or something similar. They love their chili dogs in these parts and
that's the best seller at The Varsity so that was my dessert, with an
order of onion rings. Chili Dog was pretty good while the onion rings
were pre-cooked and thus not all that hot. I'm glad I went but dont need
to rush back.
Chili Dog and Onion Rings
to the hotel for some rest before the second leg to South Florida. But
not before breakfast of course. Was rec'd a place for bagels by Twitters
foremost bagel expert and stopped in seeing as how it was kind of on
the way to where we needed to go.
The General Muir
we have an NYC style deli with an upscale more contemporary look than
the old school spots of New York's past. It's hidden in a
shopping/living area but if you got google maps it's easy to find.
Breakfast looked good but I wanted to get on the road and do so without
feeling weighed down so I got a bagel with lox, cream cheese,
tomato, onion, capers to go. It came in two parts (each side
dressed) and made for the perfect meal for two before the push South. Next time I want to try the hyped burger and the pastrami
hash as I'd happily go back if I found myself back in ATL Georgia.
Bagel with Lox etc.
Brush Sushi Izakaya
316 Church St
Decatur, GA 30030
61 North Avenue NW
Atlanta, GA 30308
The General Muir
Emory Point, 1540 Avenue Pl B-230
Atlanta, GA 30329
The Poke Craze of 2016 continues on across the country. Every city I've visited this year had some hot poke shop that was getting lots of love. Chicago being no different we've seen a few poke shops open up shop in the process. One of which debuted in Uptown this past summer. Pokiology is the project of a couple of Angry Crab restaurant co-owners.
Original Location in Uptown
Pretty much every single one of these poke shops are set up in the same way. They make use of the Chipotle style serving station where you choose what you want and watch them fill your bowl. Options are for one, two, or three scoops of poke which can be tuna, salmon, shrimp, or spicy tuna. Rice is brown or white. You then add on whatever else you want out of their topping selections. In my case I got the tuna with onions, cucumbers, Japanese seaweed, green onion, jalapeno, wasabi, and probably a couple others things I'm forgetting. They also have some sauce options and the three way flavor was pretty good mixed in with everything else. Honestly most poke places seem to taste the same. I guess it's in the toppings where one can stand out. I thought this bowl was on-par with the others spots to have opened shop in the city. I just dont happen to love this stuff the way others do.
Tuna Poke Bowl
4600 N Magnolia Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
Back when the food-court at Mitsuwa Market was making it's debut there was a Japanese burger shop that came with it. Eventually Gabutto Burger closed and I guess hordes of fans had to find something new in the form of Japanese style hamburgers. Time passed and eventually they came back to life. This time in their own location sitting inside a strip mall in Rolling Meadows. I tried Gabutto Burger once and never thought much of it. So I
wasn't in a rush to check out the new place but I planned on doing so when
the opportunity came. I was near there recently and decided
to stop in for lunch.
Newly Opened in Rolling Meadows
The new space is nice. Nothing special but it's clean and colorful. I dont recall the old menu but the new menu is a variety of burgers as well as fries and wings. The burgers here are mixture of beef, pork, and bread but they also offer an all beef patty. Flavor wise they offer the traditional Japanese style which laces the patty with a demi glace. They also offer a teriyaki burger and that one caught my eye. I added an egg and ended up being gifted an order of fries to try. The fries are McDonald's like but the difference from other spots is the flavored salts and also the dipping sauces. The burger was way better than I remember them to be. This was juicy with a really nice texture as far as the meat. The egg was cooked perfectly and the bun was soft but stable. I think this immediately becomes one of the better burgers in the NW suburbs. I plan on going back when I get a chance.
Teriyaki Burger with Egg
1410 Golf Rd
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
(224) 552-0007 Website
Eating like a local: Regional food specialties -Tacos and Fresh Seafood in the Baja Peninsula
I used my bachelor party as an opportunity to take a trip high on my
culinary wish list. Over the last five years I fell in love with the
Mexican state of Baja California and dreamed of the day I myself got to
explore it. Up until this trip all of my knowledge of the area came from
Bill Esparza who runs the blog StreetGourmetLA.com and
is also a writer for LA Magazine amongst others. Through his blog he's
long been an advocate for crossing the border from Southern California
over and into Tijuana and the rest of the Baja peninsula. Not only is
the landscape as scenic as anywhere else in Mexico, the food is just as
good as anywhere in Mexico.
pot is a pretty generic term these days but it's good way to describe
the area. Not only is Baja inhabited by large groups of people from
other Mexican states such as Sinaloa and Sonora but there's also a
Japanese presence. Just an hour from Tijuana is the town of Mexicali
where you'll find the country's largest Chinese population and with it
Mexican-Chinese cuisine. Tijuana aka TJ is the hub of Baja. Take
everything you ever heard about it out of your brain because these days
it's all about the culinary happenings around town. There are no donkey
shows but there is a fantastic scene growing in the name of
Mural in TJ
I chose Mission Beach (San Diego) as the hub for my celebration. That
would be a weekend thing and since I would be spending the week in the
area me and a couple other buddies decided to explore Baja leading up to
the party. I also made arrangements with the wonderful people at Club Tengo Hambre to take the entire bachelor party on a beer and taco tour
of TJ. More on that in a minute. Me and my buddy landed in San Diego
around 11am Tuesday and immediately went to the car rental spot at the
airport where we got our car and rode out to Mexico.
of the rental companies wont let you take cars into Mexico, however
Hertz will so we used them. That said it wasn't cheap and I dont think
you can really make it cheap as you must buy Mexican Car Insurance which
is paid for by the day (around $40/day). It was over $400 for a Tues.
afternoon thru Thurs. evening rental. Still I'd pay that again in a
minute because this is one of the best dining destinations not just in
Mexico but the world. If you like seafood and enjoy Mexican food, you
will LOVE Baja.
As we enter...
side (US / Mexico) makes it easy to get into or out of the other.
Mexico pops up pretty quickly with the only notice given being a warning
sign advising you not to travel to Mexico with medical marijuana. Upon
entry we found ourselves asking "are we there yet?" and that's because
we didn't do anything except drive on in. No one checked our passports
or said a thing to us. Though I saw a few cars get pointed to the
As we arrived
of mouth was that TJ was a very hard place to drive. I didn't think so
on the first day but I also had google maps going and that helps a whole
lot. Still though, parking can be a problem, and traffic is an everyday
reality there. The first day of driving (we went to five different taco
spots I mapped out) was still somewhat stressful as you really have to
be a defensive driver and willing to take/make your space. Nonetheless
it's worth tackling if you share a love for tacos. Or you can always use
Uber. I heard from a San Diego Uber driver that Tijuana has the highest
rated Uber drivers in the world. Which leads me to the people and the
area and it's general safety. It's no different than Chicago.
Taquero showing off his trompo
has been very quiet on the cartel front over the last five years. But
wherever it is you may be in Mexico the violence is no different than
that in Chicago and elsewhere in the US. It sticks to each other. Unless
you or your family are in the cartel trade you really dont have anything
to worry about. Just be smart like always which in turn leads to being
safe. Everyone I met was sincerely welcoming and never once did a I feel
the slightest bit unsafe.
Up in a neighborhood on the mountains of Tijuana
stop up was one of TJ's oldest taquerias. 1965 might not seem like that
long ago but Tijuana as a whole isn't all that old. The city was an
entirely different place when Tacos Don Esteban first opened shop.
Basically it was Mexico's Wild West.
Tacos Don Esteban (Tijuana)
taco spots in TJ/Baja, and really Mexico in general, tend to specialize
in things. Here that specialty is the New York Steak taco which is
commonly found around TJ. I don't know if Esteban created this
distinctly Tijuana taco but the place had to have had an influence on
it's popularity. Here they have a unique style. The thin wood
grilled steak is placed on a tortilla spread with refried beans and
topped with a slice of avocado. Your job is to decorate it with what you
want. I read the locals always use mayo so I put some of that on there
as well as some spicy salsa etc. What a great way to start our day. Been
thinking about this taco since my last bite. No bull, as good as the
tacos in America can be, they will never quite be as good as the ones in
New York Taco
the next stop which wasn't far at all. This most certainly helped in
making the driving on this day pretty much pain free. I mapped out all
of the stops I wanted to go to (impossible) and if people want to use it
they're free to take a peak.
Next stop is a spot specializing in Sonoran seafood dishes. The only
downside to these taco tours is you need to pace yourself. I had to
basically be restrained here as the menu is deep with multiple visits
with multiple people being needed to explore all of it.
La Cahua Del Yeyo (Tijuana)
turtle mascot is an ode to the old days when Sonorans used to use
turtle in a popular soup. When turtle went on the endangered species
list they found manta ray to be a suitable replacement. Despite lots of
their seafood stews being popular I had to do the exotic seafood tacos
my first trip in. I suffered a bit of a letdown when the nice lady
apologized multiple times for being out of Pulpo y Olivo (octopus and
olive). Olives are harvested all over Baja so you'll find them in lots
of recipes. One Tuna Fin taco, One Manta Ray, One Specialty of the House
aka the Tres Animales. The last of which is tuna fin, stewed manta ray,
and blood sausage. If you like your food buttery and gelatinous you'll
love these tacos. A must stop on my next visit to town. Lots to try.
Tuna Fin Taco
on the next stop is a place most people who cross the border on foot
dont make it to. It's a little bit (10-15 minutes) of a ride from the
Zona Centro area most visitors stay around. But it's worth that ride.
Mariscos Mazateno (Tijuana)
arriving this place was packed. Though it's really large so there's
tons of places to sit. But I was really liking the fact it was flooded
with locals. Most of them coming for the shops most popular taco the
Camaron Enchilado. This is a Sinaloan style taqueria where seafood tacos
are the focus. Though there's plenty of other things on offer and
everyone gets a cup of Consomme de Camaron to start. Upon first sip I
knew I was right where I wanted to be.
mentioned the Mazatenos are what this place is famous for so you know
that's what I was here for. They take a bunch of fresh shrimps that are
spiced with secret spices including chile de arbol and load them with
melted cheese in between a crisped tortilla. Each individual taco is
easily the size of two from elsewhere. I was giddy after eating these
taco. If you can manage to eat two, I just had to, try the Perron taco
which is the Camaron Enchilado paired with Sea Bream fish fried to the
consistency of chicharones. So. Damn. Delicious.
Shrimp Enchilado and Perron Tacos
give you an idea of how hip it is in Tijuana these days they now have a
few food halls of their own. Here they call them Foodgarden's which is
the name of the original that paved the way.
Foodgarden Sánchez Taboada (Tijuana)
spot with a handful of stalls most of them specializing in something.
They had burgers, chilaquiles, vegan etc. Actually aside from taco shops
the thing you'll keep seeing throughout Baja are sushi spots so of
course they had one of them. The city took some of the best street
vendors and offered them up the chance to open a stall here. I came for a
taco shop run by a taquero who's cooked at quite a few places in TJ but
now has his own spot.
La Taqueseria (Tijuana)
I learned through Bill Esparza, the man who owns this spot is the man
behind the Quesotaco, which is a popular TJ eat. Cheese is melted into a
crispy consistency and then wrapped around your choice of meat. I got
shrimp and this was an absolute delight in both texture and flavor.
Don't let anyone tell you Mexicans don't put cheese on their tacos.
Quesotaco with Shrimp
stop up. Here we have a streetside stand specializing in Norteno style
Carne Asada by way of Mexicali. They actually have two carts in TJ as
well as the original location in Mexicali. You wont find many gas grills
in Mexico. Grilling is done the old fashioned way over live fire.
El Nuevo Tecolote (Tijuana)
know you're near here when you smell the smoke. Now never have I
gone somewhere for a chicken taco but that was one of the things I was
here for. Through another extremely informative Cali Writer (Gustavo Arellano) I learned that the chicken taco here was fantastic. As of course was the steak. Though the chicken ended up stealing
the show. It was as good as advertised with the perfect amount of smokey
mesquite needed to turn breast meat into something exciting. I had a
bit of a brainfreeze and got these on corn when flour is preferred by
regulars at the Mexicali location.
Chicken and Steak Tacos
this point it was about 5p and time to head to Rosarito where we were
staying for the night. More on that in a minute as I'm putting all the
Tijuana stops from the first two days together and we had to go back to
TJ to pick up my other friend the next day. While waiting for him to
cross the border we decided to visit another one of TJ's longtime
legends as far as taco stands go.
Tacos Fitos (Tijuana)
de birria with family and friends is a Sunday event in Tijuana, and the
choice of protein is beef. Fito's is known for its lightning quick
"taqueros", perhaps the fastest in all of Mexico." - Bill Esparza.
Love that song....
I'm guessing since they
weren't busy on our visit they weren't in full go mode. While still fast
they weren't putting on a show like that in the video. No need to
though because when the tacos are this good they can speak for
themselves. Big hunks of cumin laced beef are cooked in pots overnight
until tender. The potent beef gets stuffed into tortillas dipped in the
beef juice before being warmed up on a griddle. The end product is so
money you wont be able to eat just one or even two. You'll need at least
three before leaving. Wow.
Tacos de Birria de Res
walking back to the car I noticed a Tacos Gordo was at the end of the
block so I ran over to try one of TJ's most popular exports. Tacos
Gordos got it's start here where they have a few locations. Eventually
they expanded across the border and they now have outlets across the San
Diego area as well one in Las Vegas.
Tacos El Gordo (Tijuana)
guys became popular for their tacos adobada which is pretty much al
pastor except no pineapple, onion. Adobada can found across Baja and all over TJ. I was a bit letdown to see the taquero cooking
raw slices on the flattop but I was also there early. Apparently not too
long after the spit was started. With myself and others ordering
adobada they had no choice but to cook some thru. What these lacked in
texture they made up for in flavor. I think it was the signature salsa
that did it. In the end it was probably being in Mexico that did it. Seems hard to find a bad taco in these parts.
this point I got the call that the third member of our party had
crossed the border and was headed to our place of meeting so we had to
go him. After that it was time to head down to Ensenada but first I
wanted to get the TJ stops out of the way. On the way to the highway I
had a place high on my list and after a few mishaps in finding it we
arrived just in time for lunch.
Tacos Aaron (Tijuana)
Aaron is one of TJ's oldest Tacos Varios vendors. Tacos Varios are what
they call Guisado tacos in these parts. Guisado tacos being stewed
meats that sit in warmers ready to be eaten. Many of these spots were
overwhelming as far as picking which tacos to try so in many cases I
just resorted to saying "Especialidad de la Casa Por Favor."
Chicharrones con Salsa Verde / Chicken Mole Dorado
the specialty of the house is the chicharrones (pork skin) in salsa
verde according to my order taker. Though everything is special as it's
all homemade. I added on a pollo con mole dorado style which signifies
hard shell. Don't let anyone tell you they only eat hard shell tacos in
Up Close Pollo y Mole
much goodness. I was beginning to think I never wanted to leave. That
'The Tijuana Taco Tour' needed to be started. In this area alone there
were probably 20+ taco carts. I said f-ck it and decided to gauge if
they were all good. This spot about 40 feet down had a nice cloud of
smoke hanging above it and the guy running the show had a huge smile so
we stopped and got a taco.
El Miguelon (Tijuana)
was the reason the air around his tent was smokey so that seemed like a
logical choice. Of course it was good. Though I will say that the
quality of the steak itself in Mexico, on this trip anyway, can't match
that which we eat here in the States. Well the good spots in the States
anyways. The reason steak tacos are worth eating in Mexico is due to the
fact almost all places grill over wood. This one had tons of smokey
flavor and gave further credence to the notion there's not really a bad
taco in these parts.
the first day in Baja me and my buddy stayed in the seaside town of
Rosarito. It's about a 20 minute drive from Tijuana. This is a popular
area for a weekend getaway though since we were there on a Tuesday it
was a bit sedated. Las Rocas is a popular stop right on the water and it
reminded me of an old school resort in Jamaica. This is an area on the
cliffs so that paired with the fact the property was similar to so many
in the Caribbean were probably the reasons why. The view in the pic below is from our room at at the hotel. Not bad. I love hearing the ocean from my room.
We drank at the bar and
watched the sunset before heading into town, which was pretty dead but
you can always kick it with some locals. Below
was one of the few spots in town that had any type of vibe so we had
some beers and ordered some food.
The menu was pretty typical but
everything was cooked to order in an open air kitchen and the food was
surprisingly good. I didn't eat one bad thing on this trip and I dont
think that was just by chance. An order of shrimp tacos would be on most
best of (Insert US city) lists but in these parts they were just good.
The charcoal grilled octopus bites were perfect as the combo of kraken
and char is always fantastic.
Shrimp Tacos / Octopus
I said the town was pretty dead and after a few rounds we were ready to
head back but not before hitting up a late-nite taco favorite. One of
the bartenders offered to take us over to Tacos Manuel which was his
favorite place for tacos in town. His boss didn't have a problem with
that. Let me just reiterate how nice the people down here are.
Tacos Manuel (Rosarito)
Baja diet includes lots of fish tacos and tostadas etc during the
daytime. But come 4/5p that switches over to the meat filled tacos and
in the case of many spots they'll be serving them until 4/5 in the
morning. Tacos Manuel is open until the wee hours and has some great
tacos adobada as well as suadero which is the cut between a cows leg and
it's stomach. Basically brisket with the consistency of carnitas.
Suadero is one of the two styles of tacos that DF can call it's own
(Tacos al Pastor being the other). For those wondering at this point,
yeah, I really could eat tacos every day and be just fine. Lots of
variety when it comes to what can go inside a tortilla. Especially in
Charola and Trompo
is one daytime place that's very popular for their steak tacos and it's
a must stop for any first time visitor to Rosarito. Looking up the food
options in the area will no doubt lead you to the towns most popular
taco stop. Tacos El Yaqui has been here since 1984. They've lived off of
pretty much one thing and one thing only.
Tacos El Yaqui (Rosarito)
Perrone taco is loved by both locals and tourists and expats alike.
It's often said to be not just the best steak taco in Baja but one of
the best in Mexico. Because of it's popularity there will almost always
be a line. It consists of a few handfuls worth of fresh chopped mesquite
grilled flank steak which is constantly being cooked to your right as
you wait in line. It goes inside a larger than the norm handmade flour
tortilla. Joining the steak is melted cheese, salsa, pinto beans, and
guacamole. A monster of a taco in both size and taste. It's popularity
has spawned imitators around town but the original remains most popular.
No doubt this place is also a must for most return visitors.
having a few other spots I really wanted to check out one was closed
and the rest weren't going to happen due to the fact we were only in
Rosarito for less than 24 hours. Nonetheless I'll be back and as
mentioned I saved all my spots I wanted to check out on google maps
which people are free to look at. Just south of Rosarito is the tiny fishing village of Popotla.
is a popular area for tourists these days as basically it's entire
economy is fishing along with restaurants where much of the fresh caught
fish is cooked. Visiting the area almost feels like you're visiting a
gated community as you'll drive down a dirt road past a bunch of people
telling you to park. Though there's no problem with parking in one of
the spots they direct you too they will want a bit of a tip. Give them a
dollar or two upon parking and tell them to watch the car and you'll
get them again on the rebound. You can also just pull right onto the
beach and park. The guy letting people in and out past the barricade
isn't doing so under instruction but rather just to be nice, and of
course he too would like a tip.
The Local Shark Store
This town is small and while pretty it's got the feel of a place in Mexico
that many tourists dont make it to. But that's because they dont care about
food like we do. This is one of the great places to eat in Baja. Go to
the beach and walk around from vendor to vendor and see what's for sale
that day. Negotiate or just pay the ridiculously cheap asking price and
then take your bounty to one of the many restaurants in town that will
cook it for you. Usually the fisherman will have a rec as far as where
Bivalves for sale on the beach
started our lunch in Popotla with some fresh shucked oysters as well as
pismo clams. The oysters being warm water, and warmer water than most,
didn't do it for me. I like mine cold. But the pismo clams that were
chopped up and served mixed with a pico de gallo like condiment and
served on the half shell were the perfect beach bite for Baja. These
were all shucked fresh and made right in front of us from the little
stand pic'd above.
Fresh Shucked Oysters on the beach
that quick snack we wandered over to a couple vendors. I wanted to give
at least two of them some business so we bought some locally caught
spider crab from one vendor. These are a specialty of the area and not
easily caught. You need to dive down and find them hanging out around
the rocks and snatch one up when doing so.
Local Spider Crab
seeing a boat return from the water with a nice days worth of fish we
followed him to his table and bought a medium sized red snapper. I
should point out that meals in Popotla are a lunchtime thing. The
fisherman leave in the early evening and the area on the water is said
to host a different type of industry once the sun goes down. One that's
probably a witness free zone.
The days fresh catch
asked the guy where we could get this cooked and he directed us to a
spot right on the water. Upon entry I was happy to see a 'Club Tengo
Hambre' banner which is the company we'd be using for a beer/taco tour
of Tijuana later that week. It's a company partly owned by the
aforementioned Bill Esparza and they do food related daytrips in various
spots around Baja. As I said they know their stuff so I was confident
in what was coming from here.
Mariscos La Estrella (Popotla)
walked up the stairs and gave the guy our goods. He showed us the
restaurants fresh supply in a cooler and said something in Spanish that I
didn't understand. Reason I mention this is because you dont have to go
to the beach and buy the fish if you don't want to. But that would
defeat the purpose of visiting. First order up was the spider crab which
locals call Marciano (Martian). They cook it the same way all over
town. Legs cut off (Mexicans dont eat the body) and deep fried before
being tossed in garlic, butter, and red chile sauce. You owe it to
yourself to come here and eat this if ever in Baja.
full belly mode our snapper arrived shortly thereafter. Most of these
restaurants around here have very similar menus but the recipes can
vary. The popular way to get your fish is to order it 'Zarandeado' style
which is a Sinaloan specialty. The fish is split and rubbed with a red
chile rub. Here they didn't do that much to it but what they did do was
perfect. Not pic'd are some wonderful handmade tortillas and a couple
very spicy salsa options. We all agreed it was one of the best things we
ate this trip. When finished the other two said they were done for the
day. Ha. I told them to rest up on the way to Ensenada. Because once we
got there, we had spots to check out.
I get to the Ensenada stops there's another little village just South
of Rosarito. Puerto Nuevo is famous for it's lobster. We stopped here on
the way back to the States as we wanted to check out. But truth be told
it just doesn't compare to Popotla. It's very touristy but nonetheless
it's lobster so it's still better than what most people are eating. As
soon as you enter town you will be hounded by guys working for
restaurants and their job is to get you in.
Puerto Nuevo, BC
peddlers will offer everything from cheap lobster meals to "free" shots
of homemade almond tequila at their little shop they double hustle at.
None of the spots could show us live lobster and after walking around
town the peddlers became annoying so we ended up going to the spot
pushed by the most consistent of them. Not only was he persistent but
the spot he was pushing had outdoor seating on the water and the deal of
four lobsters, rice, beans, handmade flour tortillas, and two
margaritas for $16.95 was nothing.
La Casa Del Pescador (Puerto Nuevo)
helpful in making our decision on which lobster shack to dine at was
the fact this spot had an outdoor dining area on the water. It was
definitely the best view of any restaurant on this trip.
View from the outdoor dining deck
far as the food goes like I said it's still lobster. And lobster will
always be good especially when you stuff it's meat dripping with butter
into a warm flour tortilla spread with super creamy refried beans and
perfectly cooked Spanish rice. Maybe not to the level of Popotla but
still a damn fine snack.
Puerto Nuevo Lobster Dinner
to head down to the beautiful cruise town of Ensenada. On the way there
from TJ we rode on the highway right on the water most of the way. At
some point that brought us up into the mountains and added on another 20
minutes to our drive but that was okay as we got to see a spot we never
would've seen otherwise. It's a different type of pretty up in the
mountains and along the road there were different food vendors here and
there. Usually selling fruit and or candies. We stopped at the one below
to get some coconut.
Somewhere in the Baja Mountains
family running the show here was so happy to have us. Particularly the
young ones who were filled with joy and very eager to say hello. We got a
coconut which came with two bags of coconut juice which was perfect
after all the food we had ate. It also came with some chopped pieces of
coconut meat seasoned with Tajin. The tender pieces were good but some
pieces were too hard to eat. We said our goodbyes and on we rode.
Coconut Meat in it's shell
batch of spots all come from Ensenada. Let me just say this is a place I
have no doubt I make it back to. Unfortunately there is no airport but
the easy access from San Diego makes this place a must return in my
book. Perfect for a getaway with your SO or the entire family. This is a
cruise town and they dont f-ck around when it comes to the dollars the
industry brings. It's very clean, the people are extra friendly, and the
food is just fantastic. Safety wise I'm not sure I ever felt safer,
anywhere. The cops patted people down at every bar in town upon entry.
many may know Ensenada is synonymous with the Baja Fish Taco. It's here
where they were said to be born. The favorite snack of surfers and
locals alike is found all over town but some places do them better than
others. Of course our first stop had to be for one and of course that
first stop had to be an OG.
Tacos Fenix (Ensenada)
these ladies don't take credit for creating the fish taco they are one
of the city's oldest stands serving them. They go all the way back to
1970 and they haven't changed a thing as far as the preparation of them.
This is strictly a cart and you'll have to stand if you want to eat
here but that's a small price to pay for one of the worlds great snacks.
Note: They have another outlet down the street with seats but this one
is said to be better.
The making of Ensenada style fish tacos
Fenix uses fresh cazon and fries the filets in an oil mixed with pork
fat. Ensenada style fish tacos are fried to the consistency of tempura
which is said to be something the Japanese people that moved here passed
on to the locals. For the most part all of the Ensenada fish taco
stands serve you your taco bare with nothing but fried fish filets on
top of a tortilla. Each stand has a mini salsa bar where you're free to
dress the taco up to your liking. I'd been waiting a long time to try a
Baja fish taco in it's birthplace and it was magic upon first bite. No
doubt the best fish taco I'd ever had. Perfect in every way.
Fully Dressed Fish Taco
other spot that most every first time visitor makes it to is Mariscos
La Guerrerense. The world famous seafood cart sitting on a corner in the
middle of town. It's a short ride (or walk) from Tacos Fenix so we
wanted to stop there since they were still open upon our arrival.
La Guerrerense (Ensenada)
Guerrerense is famous for their out of this world seafood tostadas and
the salsa bar that comes with them. There's a pillar on the corner with a
who's who of famous people that have stopped by to try their product.
They've won street food competitions in Hong Kong. The team here is led
by the family matriarch Mrs. Sabina Bandera. She was in the back talking
upon our arrival but the son struck up a conversation with us and he
was just the nicest guy you could talk to. When we told him we're from
Chicago he said something along the lines of "Oh yes, our good friend
lives in Chicago and always loves to come to see us, his name is Rick
Bayless. Do you know him?" We got a laugh out of that.
Making of the tostadas
the time we arrived they were down to their last item. Sea Snail was
all they had left. Not even sure what sea snail is I didn't care as I
knew the hype was real just by the fact they were sold out of everything
else until tomorrow. Turns out sea snail is similar in texture to
octopus but a bit meatier in taste.
Sea Snail Tostada
only was the tostada we got to try wonderful but the owners son was so
damn nice we knew we'd be back in the morning. When I inquired about the
salsas which they sell bottled he told me not to buy any right then and
there as I didn't get to try them all. Tomorrow he insisted. Well
tomorrow came and we were back there bright and early. This time we had
the choice of whatever we wanted and I got both a Campechano and also
the Rick Bayless / Anthony Bourdain / Andrew Zimmern etc. approved Uni
Mixed Seafood (Campechano) Tostada
This is the type of food that will make an atheist start believing in
God. What more can I say than what everyone else has already said? This
is one the great street food stops in all of the world. No doubt about
it. The food is one big umami bomb and the family behind it is as
hospitable as any. One of the absolute must stops in one of the great
seafood eating areas of the world. The peanuts you see on the tostada
below come from their housemade 'Chilitos de mi Jardin' salsa and it's
so damn delicious. I bought a few bottles to take home and have used it
in both Mexican and Thai foods.
it sucks having to pace ones self but I had to in that there was more
than one spot I was excited to try. If you share a love for tacos and
dont own Tacopedia
than you actually dont share the same love for tacos. The essential
reading guide to tacos in Mexico. Tacos Marco Antonio gets a shout-out
in the seafood section. It's been on my list since first reading it.
Tacos Marco Antonio (Ensenada)
This is another spot that Bill has written
about and yet another spot that you need to visit more than once. The
taco options seem endless. Those options are seafood guisado style tacos
which introduce you to fillings you never knew existed. I should've
been better prepared but I wasn't and ended up with two great tacos that
had me wondering why I didn't order more before leaving. The specialty
of the house is a fried filet covered in shrimp swimming in a creamy
sauce alongside potent onions. The smell of smoked marlin gobernador
style tacos was too much to pass up. So good.
Seafood Guisado Tacos
left full but not full enough to quit. The town of Ensenada is fairly
small and most of these spots weren't but 5 minutes at most from each
other. So we had a heck of a stretch the morning we were up early to
eat. Next spot was one of our favorites of the trip. Not just for the
food but also the friendliness of the owner and also his daughter.
Trophy Taco (Ensenada)
single one of the menu options from here was worth ordering but again
we had to pace ourselves. Thus all I could do was a couple. One of them
being the namesake taco which is pulpo, camaron y almeja banado en salsa
alfreda. Translation being octopus, shrimp, and clam sauce bathed in
Alfredo sauce. Yeah I wondered about it too but never doubted how good
it would be. I just didn't think it would be one of the top three tacos I
ate this trip. I should've known it would get a medal based on the name
of the taco alone.
The Trophy Taco
we chatted up with the owner we learned his story and basically became
friends. He really wanted us to try his Hawaiian style taco so we did.
Fresh shrimp wrapped in bacon that's cooked through and topped with a
pineapple salsa. As you can see rice is used in these to keep the stews
on the tortilla. The seafood guisado tacos down here are an absolute
must for anyone visiting be it by car or cruise. I highly rec this spot.
onto the next seafood guisado spot we make our way to another place
that caught my eye. For a town of just over 500,000 the food scene here
is just ridiculous. We didn't even get a chance to tap into any of the
chef driven hip and happening spots nor did we get to any of the
Japanese spots on my radar.
La Avioneta (Ensenada)
cart pic'd up above is where you place your order. Since this spot was
kind of a freestyle stop we weren't sure what to get. The guy tending to
the stews showed us all of the days selection and I ended up settling
on a pulpo en red chile taco as well as a shrimp gobernador. I asked for
one other item that I thought was a taco but ended up being a soup and
it was the best mistake I'd make this trip.
soup had huge hunks of tender fish mixed with all sorts of vegetables
as well as sliced green olives. All of that swimming in a spicy tomato
broth with tons of seafood flavor made this one of the top eats of the
week. I'll be thinking about it through the winter. The pulpo was well
spiced but I'll always prefer it when grilled so that there's some char
flavor. The Gobernador taco is a Sinaloan specialty that was requested
for dinner by the then Governor of the states wife one night. She asked
for shrimp tacos with cheese mixed with tomatoes, peppers, and onion.
The rest is history as it's become one of the regions most popular
Pulpo in Red Chile and Shrimp Gobernador Tacos
our way out of town back to San Diego I wanted to get one more Baja
fish taco just to see how it compared to the spot we tried upon arrival.
The place I wanted to try wasn't where it was supposed to be but in
finding out we passed another spot that I had read good things about.
You're never far from a good taco in in these parts.
Tacos Floresta (Ensenada)
crowd of locals hovered around the stand. I was stuffed but I still had
room for one. No regrets on this. The fish might've been even crunchier
than the first stop. I ended up having no idea which one was better but
I did learn that the legend of the Ensenada fish taco is definitely not
Baja Fish Taco
that's it for the seafood eats in Ensenada, but not the meat! As
mentioned above once the sun goes down it's all about the four legged
animals. We made sure we got full use of our only night in town and we
were able to eat some good food and visit some fun watering holes.
Before going to some bars we hit up a pair of dueling taco stands
located down the road from our hotel. Note: I rec staying at Hotel Coral
and Marina to get the best of everything.
Taqueria El Flamazo (Ensenada)
knew we needed to try this place based on their sign and name alone.
Upon walking up we were greeted by a beautifully maintained trompo.
Everything about it was perfect. You could tell this was the real deal
just by looking.
Trompo in Motion
friendly taquero carved us off enough for six tacos and we took them
over to the seating area. These I believe were al pastor as there was a
pineapple over the meat. Either way they were some of the best spit
roasted meat tacos I've ever had. Probably the second best tacos of the
Taco al Pastor
noticed we hadn't had a Volcan taco up until this point so I put an
order in for a couple of those. I wasn't sure what to expect as far as
this spots making of one but they knocked it out of the park. Yet
another Sinaloa specialty where they fry a tortilla 'til crisp and pile
it high with meat, melted cheese, and a barrage of condiments like
guacamole, salsa, and pinto beans. Also called Vampiros these are
basically tostadas on steroids.
Volcan Taco with Carne Asada
next door there was another taco spot. Though what we just had would be
hard to top we decided we had to see what they were doing. Not the same
thing as is often the case. Here they seemed to be popular for their
Taqueria El Trailero (Ensenada)
got one each and as always ordered them "con todo" which means with
everything. The wood grilled steak was being chopped to order and while
good it was the tortillas that actually stood out here. Some of the
better ones we had on this trip. Believe it or not handmade tortillas
aren't common practice in Mexico. These tortillas being made by a lady
on site were thicker than most and left a nice corn smell on ones
fingers. A good thing in my book.
Carne Asada Tacos
it was a weeknight and there didn't appear to be any cruise ships
docked the town was pretty tame. There were a good amount of people that
were out but most of them were locals. There's a popular set of
restaurants in Baja called Papas Y Cerveza and I guess they could best
be described as a Senor Frog's type place. Though it's still frequented
by locals as there was a nice crowd on our visit. We enjoyed some
tequila, cerveza, and Cubanos on the patio listening to some music
before walking around town. Right down the block was this place making
lots of noise.
Las Micheladas (Ensenada)
too may or not be a chain. We were drawn in by the police of all
people. Before this I had never so much as seen a police officer in
Mexico smile. Rarely do they even acknowledge you. But the ones working
the door here were as friendly as any cops I've ever come across. They
insisted we come in so we did. Upon entry it was obvious we were the
only gringos in there. The place was packed with locals there to see a
band that was about 16 deep on stage. The place was rocking. I didn't
know this was a thing but most every table of guys had a bottle of
Johnnie Walker and buckets of Monster Energy drink. GROSS. But what a
fun night it was. We never would've gone in if not for the friendliness
of the Policia.
a peek inside
outside the club was a lady slinging Danger Dogs. My buddy who owns a
hot dog stand here in Chicago had never had one so I had to introduce
Hot Dog Cart (Ensenada)
Hot Dogs go by many different names but they're just called hot dogs
there. I'm sure there's slight variations to Sonoran Dogs, Border Dogs,
Danger Dogs etc but the basis of them all is a cheap wiener wrapped in
they're deep fried, other times they're cooked in fat on a flattop, and
most all of the time they're covered in an onslaught of toppings. These
had ketchup, mayo, tomatoes, grilled onions, jalapenos, and more. The
smell alone was worth the price of one hot dog. I love these things.
They make for the best use of a cheap wiener and you need to use
them when making one. I've tried one with the likes of a Vienna Beef and
they're nowhere near as good.
Mexican Danger Dog
stop of the night before heading back to the hotel. What a good life to
always be within close reach of some fantastic tacos. I may have to
grow old somewhere in Mexico and Ensenada might be the front-runner.
Tacos El Paisa (Ensenada)
spot was a classic Baja style late night taqueria. They had a spit of
adobada up and running and a grill full of carne asada alongside some
cebollitas was calling our name.
Taquero at Work
each got both a carne asada as well as an adobada taco and also a
couple of Mulitas to share. What's that you ask? An open face flour
tortilla spread with a variety of toppings and your choice of meat
topped by another tortilla and then cut in half. Basically a taco
sandwich. Or what we in the States call a quesadilla. This was the
perfect post-booze food.
Carne Asada Taco
that's it for this part of the trip but it's not the ending. While
heading back to San Diego on Thursday we finally found out what people
mean when they say Tijuana is a tough place to drive. The city was
getting ready for the weekends Independence Day festival and some roads
were closed. We spent over an hour trying to get to the border. It was
hell. Eventually coming to our sense we paid a taxi driver to lead us
there and he did so no problem. Haha. Then and there I was happy to be
gone but soon after I was ready to go back.
Crossing by foot
would be the day most everyone in the group crossed back over the
border to do a guided beer/taco tour of Tijuana. As mentioned we used Club Tengo Hambre
which does guided tours of not just Tijuana but pretty much all across
Baja as well as Mexico City and Los Angeles. Though they have set tours
with places they go to I wanted to make sure we got to do a few spots on
my list so I created my own itinerary as far as the taco stops and they
made it all happen while mixing in some breweries. For $105/head we
were chauffeured around town and got tacos and beer at the spots on our
list. Mezcal was provided on the bus.
popular sitdown spot was the perfect place to start our tour. The
seating allowed us to relax and have a few drinks as well as whatever
else we wanted to eat on top of the food that came incl. with the tour.
Javier Plascencia is one of TJ's most decorated chefs for his dedication
to innovative food and also sustainability. He grew up working in the
culinary business at his family's restaurant Caeser's which is the
birthplace of the Caesar Salad. These days he has a few of his own
restaurants around town including Erizo - Cocina de Mariscos Estilo
Shrimp and Tuna Tostadas
start we had what the CTH people ordered for us. Two of the best
ceviches I've ever had. The one on the left is the Verde de Camaron and
it mixes fresh local shrimp with diced seranos, jalapenos, tomatillo and
more. It wasn't all that spicy but did have the perfect amount of kick.
The tuna with sesame seeds was something I could eat every damn day.
Erizo is also known for their Tacos Tijuanero which mix pulpo, cecina de
res y camarón enchilado inside a crispy tortilla made so from time on
the grill. It was at this point those that were visiting for the first
time understood how good the food in Baja is.
at Erizo I realized that next time I come back I was going to have to
further explore some of the nicer more modern spots like it. I had them
on my radar but time restraints made most of them out of reach. Next
stop up on our craft beer and taco tour was a place who's name might
ring a bell to fellow Chicagoans.
Tacos Kokopelli (Tijuana)
guys have a culinary background and use it to make the most of tacos.
They started off as a food truck and became one of TJ's most popular
taco stops allowing them to switch over to brick and mortar. They do
seafood tacos and they grill most everything on their wood fired grill.
Though for our first bite they made an off menu item for us.
Taco Dorado y Panza Ahogada
sure if this was a test run for a future menu item or just something
they like to make up from time to time but it was wonderful. Tacos
Ahogada are commonly found at places specializing in tortas ahogada but
I've never had any like these! It was crispy, it was porky, it was
spicy, and it was a delight.
Kraken Tacos for the table
taco that put these guys on the map is the Kraken. Grilled octopus
marinated in a pesto and mixed with lots of cheese. Damn good but I
liked the shrimp and poblano offering a bit more. If the menu translated
from here to the now defunct Chicago location it would probably still
be going strong.
Shrimp and Poblano Tacos
Tijuana's food scene grows fast the same can be said for the beer.
Seeing as how San Diego is one the biggest beer cities in the States
this makes sense considering TJ's proximity to San Diego. We got to stop
at three different craft breweries popular for their beers. For
whatever reason Tijuana doesn't seem to be a big day drinking city so it
was mostly our group and a few others here and there at the bars. I
dont remember the beers I tried but all of it was good.
Border Psycho Brewery (Tijuana)
stop would've been the first place I went to upon my arrival that
Tuesday but I wanted everyone to get a chance to come here so I saved it
for the tour. No talk of tacos in Tijuana is complete without a mention
of the city's seafood queen.
Mariscos Ruben (Tijuana)
Mirta, along with her husband Rubén, have operated this local
institution for a quarter of a century. It's the type of spot that
inspired Chef Plascencia to open up Erizo. Though it's a truck they set
up on the same corner everyday and people from all walks of life flock
to that corner.
Legendary Salsa Bar
though Sonora is known for it's steak part of it's land lies on the Sea
of Cortez so you better believe locals there know how to do up a surf
and turf. Though here at Mariscos Ruben they stick strictly to seafood.
Known for their famous grilled tacos as well as wonderful tostadas, big
bowls of chile water (aguchile), and a top shelf salsa bar. This place
is a legend in these parts.
from what we were there for I wanted to try one of their fabulous bowls
of aguachile. We opted for the campechano (mixed) version and got a big
bowl of locally caught seafood. This style of ceviche comes with lots
of sliced seafood swimming in a bath of cucumber, red onion, lime juice,
and chilies that have been pulverized with some water hence the name.
Grilling the Smoked Marlin Tacos
of the cooking here is done on the corner on top of a small little
grill that would be nice for a single guy with a deck at his apartment
to have. They're able to speed up the process by having the tacos
pre-rolled and ready to grill. While they offer a handful of options
none come with as much praise as the smoked marlin tacos. Smoked marlin
meat done so by sitting on coals is mixed with cheese that melts when
the tortilla is grilled. Just absolutely wonderful. I've been to taco
heaven and it's on a corner in Tijuana. Best tacos of the trip.
Smoked Marlin Tacos
Ruben was a crowd favorite. My buddy who lives in San Diego went back
the next weekend with his girlfriend. If you only have one place to stop
in Tijuana it would be a very good choice. You can make a nice 1-2
punch of it with one of TJ's most popular taco adobada stops.
Tacos El Franc (Tijuana)
the legend that is Tacos Franc was right around the corner we wandered
over before boarding the bus to Hong Kong. Franc is so popular that its
spawned some other spots with Frank and or Franc in the name. Locals
love their take on tacos adobada and once you try one for yourself
you'll understand why locals will put their favorite taco spots in TJ up
against anywhere in Mexico. You'd do the same if you came from this
rich taco city. What a tour put on by the wonderful folks at CTH.
this is where the camera goes away and the story ends my friends. We
had our busdriver drop us off at one of TJ's most infamous clubs and
that was that. No I didn't eat any Chinese food in case you were
wondering. What a week. Hard to believe just a few of the days were
spent in Mexico. Already plotting my return to Baja California. Go BIG
or go elsewhere.
As linked to before I mapped out all of these stops as well as others
on Google Maps. You can check all the addresses by clicking legend in
the upper left corner. Click HERE for the map. Thanks for reading.