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need ensenada and guadalupe valley recs for road trip w/ mom!

hey everyone, my mom is coming to town friday and we'll be heading down mehico way come monday to explore the wine country and then hit the coast. ive only been to ensenada once in the winter, and had a fabulous time, but i was w/ a friend and we were on a student budget. i figured we'd overnight in ensenada, then maybe head down to la bufadora, then head back up and maybe stay at la fonda, although ive read mixed reviews on tripadvisor recently (although i hear the food is still good - please tell me it is!). are there any places worth eating in the valle de guadalupe, or should we head back to la fonda (fyi we like not fancy, excellent authentic food and good seafood since we'll be by the ocean)? also, regarding wineries, are there any cool, off the beaten path ones that we shouldn't miss? i'm really looking forward to this, as is my mom, so any info you can provide would be greatly appreciated, thanks so much!

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  1. Whatever you do, do not miss Manzanilla restaurant in Ensenada, where I had the best meal I've ever had in the San Diego-Northern Baja area. The food at La Fonda Beach Hotel is fine, nothing spectacular, but if you can get a patio seat on a sunny day, the view over the ocean is impressive. In the Guadalupe Valley, I've eaten at a decent little restaurant called Mustafa several times (coming from Ensenada, it is on the left side just after you pull into the first little town). People will also undoubtedly mention Laja, which is generally regarded as the best restaurant in Northern Baja. Although I have not eaten there, I've heard that it is pretty fancy, so it may not be what you're looking for. Although I love visiting the Guadalupe Valley, the only winery I can honestly say makes good wine is Casa de Piedra.

    7 Replies
    1. re: mangiatore

      Okay, Mangiatore, I hope you see this and can respond. I'm headed to Ensenada in a couple of weeks with a friend who is will soon have some major surgery. We're doing Laja for dinner Saturday night; Manzanilla was what I was hoping to do on Friday evening so that we could compare the two. My friend is an old school fine-dining waitress with more than a passing knowledge of good food and drink. We complement each other very well when we dine.

      First, you've confirmed for me that it's still open. There were notices in the SD press last year that the owners were closing and moving back to D.F. How long ago did you eat there. Based on the date of your post I'm hoping it was recently.

      Second, since you so famously <gg, yeah it's gonna be hard for you to live that down> don't care for the food in SD, but you've said Manzanilla was the best meal you've had in the region, tell me what you liked about it. What did you have and why did you like it. I've only heard very good things about it and want to give it a go.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        DD, I get the gist but what exactly are you trying to say here? (from your third paragraph): "Since you so famously <gg, yeah it's gonna be hard for you to live that down>." The idea that I somehow need to prove myself because I complained about San Diego restaurants is laughable. But let's move on...

        The meal we had at Manzanilla, if I remember correctly, was about 7 courses, but unfortunately I don't remember the details of each course because it was a while ago. Here's what I remember. The main ingredient of my favorite course was a thin layer of lengua, which normally I can't stand. In this dish it was subtle and delicious. We had a dish with thinly sliced ahi and greens that was amazing, and one of the starters was a shrimp bondegas (sp?), which was fairly ordinary. The last course was ribeye and it was one of the best pieces of steak I've ever had. I'm going to ask the people I dined with if they remember anything else -- I'll get back to you with more details if possible.

        The thing I liked about Manzanilla was the balance of ingredients and the uniqueness of each dish. With the exception of the ribeye, every plate was unlike anything I had ever had. The dishes were creative but not hokie or over the top -- i.e. the ingredients they used went well together.

        I still have yet to make it to Laja, but my impression is that Manzanilla is a bit more relaxed. The only people I know who have eaten at both restaurants are residents of Ensenada/Valle de Guadalupe. One of the vintners in the valley scoffed at Laja and recommended that we go to Manzanilla instead (Laja was closed so we didn't have a choice). But the comment I took most seriously was the owner/chef at Manzanilla, who raved about Laja.

        1. re: mangiatore

          "DD, I get the gist but what exactly are you trying to say here? (from your third paragraph): "Since you so famously <gg, yeah it's gonna be hard for you to live that down>" The idea that I somehow need to prove myself because I complained about San Diego restaurants is laughable. But let's move on..."

          Nope, nothing about proving yourself, just that you are exceptionally vocal and vociferous in your dislike for the good in this region. Don't get paranoid, I'm really not spiteful or meanspirited ;-)

          How long ago was "a while ago"? 2 months? 6 months? last year? I haven't been to Ensenada for a couple of years and the last time I was there the people I was with were more fish tacos and beer than fine dining. I've known about Manzanilla for sometime but have just not had the opportunity to go and it has come very highly recommended by people in the industry in SD.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            You're right...sorry if I got a little paranoid there.

            I believe it was last summer that we were there. Maybe you should try calling just to make sure they'll be open?

            1. re: mangiatore

              Ok, I checked with my dining companions and they remembered the missing dishes. Grilled abalone, which was served on a small abalone shell with a delicious sauce. I remember really liking it but that's all I remember. The other dish was 6 different types of fresh oyster, each of which came with a different (and very light) sauce or dressing. I remember adoring three of them and thinking the other three were fine.

              p.s. The word I was searching for above was "albondigas," not bondegas. But you probably knew that. :)

              1. re: mangiatore

                Mas informaciĆ³n:

                If one is to believe the schedule of Fiestas de la Vendimia, it would appear that it is still open:
                http://www.fiestasdelavendimia.com/

                I think this is their tel. number (from SD): 011-526-46175-7073

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. I wrote an article in this months westways..here is a link w lots of info and a phone for a great taxi driver who loves food.

          http://www.aaa-calif.com/westways/060...

            1. re: DiningDiva

              thx Diva. was curious if they had any non Valle Guadalupe wines. could get by on what they've got but I bring some of my own, particularly something sparkling to start. was pleased and surprised to see that they are open for late lunch. also noticed no Ch. Camou on their list which seems odd. buena comida y suerte

              1. re: ibstatguy

                I suspect that their wine list is rather fluid and that they probably have more than what is shown on that list. If you're looking for something in particular, you might send them an e-mail and ask about specific wines in which you may be interested.

                2 years ago in Morelia (a Las Mirasoles) I had a stunning white out the V de G that was produced by a boutique winery in VERY small quantities. I thought for sure I'd remember the name, but of course, now 2 years later I have no clue. I am not a white wine drinker by any stretch of the imagination, but this particular white got me to start trying them again and I've found I'm enjoying them much more as well.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  had a sauvignon blanc/semillon blend from either Monte Xanic or Ch Camou that was very nice

            2. re: ibstatguy

              We actually hit a few more places than the article stated...we didnt have enough space to list all of them...I love the GV and am trying to convince some people to film there...I would really recommend going down there for a trip, the people were fantastic and the food great...Ramon the cab driver was the best!

          1. Laja should be 1st in your list.