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Is it worth driving to Baja for the food? [Moved from L.A. board]

My friend just got back from Ensenada/Rosarito and said it wasn't worth the trip. The hotel they booked looked good online but ended up being dirty. The food wasn't spectacular.

I know another person who thinks the food is great. Do you think it's worth the trip? Where should I stay and what's good to eat?

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  1. It is worth it for one reason alone: Taqueria el Fenix (next to the Fenix Hardware store) in Ensenada. It's a fish and shrimp taco stand well away from the Malecon where all the tourists go. Honestly they were the only fish tacos I had in Ensenada that were significantly better than what I could get in LA at Senor Fish or other places. But they are amazing - perfectly crispy but light and with great salsas. They are fried right in front of you and handed to you immediately when they are ready. I would go just for that. I also had great pozole - better than Liliana's Tamales in East LA - in Ensenada at a place called Cenaduria el Parrian.

    1 Reply
    1. re: oro3030

      my mouth is watering...thanks for the recommendations.

    2. As long as this thread is here, I've been considering going to Laja, possibly next Thursday or Friday. I've read all the searchable posts here, but curious if anyone has anything to add or recent experiences at Laja?

      4 Replies
      1. re: Itslikeimsayin

        Absolutely, GO to Laja. They grow (organicly where possible) their own produce, they treat it with great respect. The cooking is contemporary Mexican, alta cocina, don't expect typical or traditional Mexican food. There food would be quite similar to what you would find in D.F. (Mexico City). If you "get" Chez Panisse, you'll understand the concept at Laja.

        Also, you'll be in the Valle de Guadalupe, which is the prime wine growing region. If you're into it, you can do wine tastings at several different wineries. To get to the V de G and Laja, take Mex 3 east from the main highway. The cut off is not too far past the 3rd toll booth and north of Ensenada, it's well marked.

        1. re: Itslikeimsayin

          I have been to Laja, and I would recommend waiting until the weather cools off. They do not have AC and the resteraunt gets very very hot. It was so hot that it felt extremely uncomfortable.

          The food was very good and it was prefix. The table has to aggee to the course amount. One fuddy dutty can incumber the whole table's ability to have the whole experience.

          We took Taxi's from our Hotel, and it was well worth it. It is fairly remote. I certainly would not want to drive it after a few drinks at night.

          1. re: normalheightsfoodie

            Thank you very much for the 'no A/C' info. That would have ruined the trip.

            1. re: Itslikeimsayin

              Laja now has AC. It is now 2 years since it has been there

        2. I like some of the fish taco places at the Bufadora (south of Ensenada). Check out the Estero Beach Hotel; they should have a website. I like the location.

          I've taken many, many chow drives to Tijuana SOLELY for the purpose of having carnitas at Carnitas Uruapan, next to the Aguas Caliente race track. Carnitas, guacamole, beans, and beer. It's such a hassle to drive into TJ now, just walk across the border and take a taxi.

          You should probably check the California board for some tips from San Diegans.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Mrs Fang

            Carnitas Uruapan rocks. Mrs. Fang is right on. However, if you don't want to cross the border, the family also runs a sister Carnitas Uruapan in Lemon Grove, which is in the San Diego east county. Also, El Por Venir in National City does exceptional carnitas. Absoulute hole-in-the-wall, absolutely fabo carnitas.

            1. re: Sonrisa

              well everyone is right carnitas uruapan does have one of the best carnitas of tijuana and has been open for 47 years now, but the carnitas uruapan in lemon grove is not owned by the same family so please do not ever say that. and if the restaurant does say that then remember this that the restaurant in lemon grove has no relationship at all with the one in Tijuana. And trust me I know the statement I am saying is 100% true

          2. Hi-

            Just a quick note, Chowhound is about food, any lodging discussion would be off topic and will be removed.

            Thanks for helping us maintain the value of Chowhound as a site for exchanging tips on where to find great food.

            1. The best time to go to Ensenada is mid-week when there are no cruise liners in port. The cruise industry has pumped dollars and dollars into the economy, but it's kind of killed any ambiance. When the tourists are on shore, look out.

              First, do a search on this board and the CA board for posts by Gypsy Jan. She lives in Baja and has posted some real, non-touristy, recommedations.

              Second, what exactly are you looking for because you can find everything from the open air stand where you are sure to get a killer case of food poisioning to extremely upscale food at upscale prices. You'll find the usual tourist fare, Americanize Mexican food, American food, and alta cocina/contemporary Mexican.

              In La Mision, about 10 miles or so south of Rosarito is La Fonda. This has been a must-stop watering hole/restaurant since moses parted the Red Sea. It was recently sold and reports are that it's still good. Have breakfast on the way down, it's very good. La Fonda sits on the cliffs above the beach and has spectacular views of the fog burning off and the sunsets. Food is good to very good - try the quail - as are the drinks. Prices are fair.

              The restauranat at Punta Moro just north of Ensenada is very good, tremendous views. There used to be a web page on line for them somewhere.

              Puerto Nuevo is pretty much a tourist trap, but the original Ortega's - brown restaurant on the corner of the 2nd block in - is actually not too bad. Potent margaritas

              Barkissimo on the malecon in Ensenada is owned and operated by an American married to a Mexican. Food is pretty good, somewhat inconsistent. Try the steamed clams. This is an old recommendation, hopefully it's still there.

              Manzana is an upscale place run by a couple of kids from the interior of the Mexico (D.F & Cuernavaca). Both professionally trained in the U.S. and/or Europe.

              El Rey Sol is one of the oldest restaurants in Ensenada. They do have a web site that you can Google for. I've had good meals there and not so good meals. Pricey and the value doesn't always match the price. Depends upon who is in the kitchen cooking.

              Hussong's has morphed into multiple locations to take advantage of the tourist dollar. Tourist is the operative word here...........

              The marisco vendors around the fish market are all pretty safe and you'll find fresh seafood and fish tacos galore from which to choose.

              Casamar is another old time Ensenada restaurant. Probably not spectacular, and it's probably not going to set the world on fire, but it shouldn't be awful either.

              This is prime tourist season. Food is probably taking a back seat to fishing as many dollars out of tourist pockets. If you want to go to Ensenada wait until after Labor Day when prices drop and the thundering herds of tourist depart.

              1. 2nd La Fonda - no trip to Baja is complete without a stop here. Being going there since I was a little girl (a looong time, believe me!) & it's always special. Most spectacular setting on the coast - worth it to request/wait for a front table on the patio.

                1. Definitely go to La Fonda. I can't speak to food in TJ -- we NEVER eat there -- but here are some Rosarito choices:

                  1. About four blocks north of the south end of town on Benito Juarez is one of those typical taquerias, called El Paisano. It's open on two sides and they have a fish fryer and an al-carbon skewer in the front. It took a long time to try it, but once we did, we go back every time we're down there!

                  2. On Benito Juarez two blocks north of Guerrero (that's one of the main east-west drags, the one with the huge Comercial Mexicana on it that you can see from the toll road), in a yellow Baja-brick building, is Carnitas La Flor de Michoacan. It's great, it's cheap, and it's filling.

                  3. It's worth going to Puerto Nuevo, contrary to many hounds' opinions, but you have to be VERY selective. Restaurante Chela, which is on Chinchorro (one block up from the ocean), a little less than a block east of the main street (Renteria), on the uphill (inland) side, is the best of them, and we've tried almost all of them.

                  4. Finally, if you're going soon, you'll want to know about Paleteria La Michoacana, which is on Benito Juarez right by the main traffic signal (maybe seven or eight blocks north of the south end of town). It's on the west side of the street. Try the burnt-sugar ice cream and the guayaba or jamaica (hah-MY-kah) fruit pops. By far the best ice pops in Baja.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Hey Das,

                    You are missing out on some very good food in Tijuana... there are definitely taco stands etc.., that are worth trying.... but when I used to drive to T.J. it was to get food not found around L.A.

                    First... you can't go wrong at Sanborns... whenever I craved a meal reminicent of the neighborhood restaurants around Mexico City... that is one of the first places I thought of:

                    > Vegetable Soup... nothing but hearty vegetables in a great tomato based broth

                    > Guisados... that Central Mexican tradition of serving a modest portion of Flesh with some vegetables in a tasty sauce... accompanied with something cold & crunchy for textural contrast... (I like the Puntas en Salsa Ranchera with Fresh Tomato & thinly sliced Onions)

                    > Fruit Plate (Mango, Papaya, Pineapple & Melon)

                    > Cafe

                    As of late... Tijuana has developed a gourmet offering that Americans are missing out because of the Post 9/11 border traffic. Here is a link to TJ's top high end restuarants:


                    I have eaten at Cien Anos... all around excellent, menu changes frequently, the food is outstanding... but you have to make reservations.

                    And I have eaten at La Diferencia which is not as good as Cien Anos but far better than Border Grill (L.A.). What to have?

                    > Octupus (Appetizer
                    )> Shrimp & Cactus Soup
                    > Mexican Salad
                    > Rabbit Mixiote
                    > Local Wines (Monte Xanic & Santo Tomas are consistently very good)

                    Finally it sounds weird but take the waiters advice and have the Crepe Layer Cake... it was one of the best tasting desserts we have had in the last 2 years.

                    For less expensive fare, try Antojitos La Poblana at Plaza Rio Tijuana

                  2. Finally able to log in again!

                    I agree with all the responses to this post, with additions, such as Cocteleria Mazatlan, Manzanilla, La Tortuga, Bahia Mariscos, La Embotelledora Viejo and La Esquina in Ensenada -- all terrific, good value and top quality dining venues.

                    Don't discount the fish market vendors on the Malecon or the various clean and impeccable street food vendors -- look for crowds of locals, they know what is what

                    Separate note about Laja in the Guadelupe Valle, the restaurant has been reviewen in the New York Times as a notable destination, and we have enjoyed many memorable meals there.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Gypsy Jan

                      Laja has a website... from the Wine Menu... I am 99% sure they have the best selection of Baja wines... anywhere:


                    2. If you live in Southern CA, L.A. or south, La Costa in Tijuana is a local landmark and worth the trip for the camarones al mojo de ajo, the courtly service, and the ancien atmosphere.

                      1. My personal opinion ... I avoid Tijuana/Ensenada for food. Instead go further south to the smaller towns such as Lazaro Cardenas, Bahia de Los Angeles, etc. Avoid the tourist traps such as Puerto Nuevo and Mama Espinosa's in El Rosario. You'll get much better food if you stick with the small towns.

                        I also recommend MEX 3, the "Ruta del Vino." I particularly enjoyed La Casa de Doña Lupe organic winery which is across from the large DOMECQ winery.

                        Anyway, just my 2¢.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Kosmonaut

                          Have you tried any of my recommendations? Sanborns, Hacienda Cien Anos, La Differencia etc.,?

                          BTW, on La Ruta del Vino.... did you do the Santo Tomas or Monte Xanic tours... & did you get to eat there? How about L.A. Cetto.... that place is supposed to have fabulous Italo-Mexican fusion cuisine.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            I actually have not tried your recs, but have made note of them for my next visit to Baja. :)

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Unfortunately, Hacienda Cien Años is gone, replace by a place called "3res" that I haven't tried yet.

                          2. I actually have not tried your recs, but have made note of them for my next visit to Baja. :)