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Laja WAY OVERRATED

We visiting Valle Guadalupe a couple of weeks ago and because of all of the hype related to Laja on this board we decided to have dinner there. I can tell you that anyone who thinks that this place rates among the best restaurants in all of Mexico, in Baja, or in Southern California, has to be joking. First of all, both the "La" and the "Ja" who were involved in owning the restaurant are both gone. I think they were married or at least a couple but word is that they have both flown the coop. Also, the place is absolutely stark. No tablecloths, not even candles or flowers on the tables. Not a piece of art work on the walls. Just a room with basic tables. I would add that it was almost an empty room the night that we were there and it was a Saturday night. Obviously word has gotten around to avoid this place. Also, with the few people who were there it was very loud. No sound deadening at all. Additionally, not one person came to our table and said "my name is ....., I'll be your waiter". Didn't even say buenos noches or hello. We were shown to our table, the waiter came over, handed out the menu, walked away, back in 5 minutes to take the order, back when we were finished to deliver the check and that was it. The food was ok considering the restaurant is in the middle of nowhere. However, it doesn't compare to the better restaurants of San Diego and I would say is mediocre at best. Oh, by the way, for what it's worth we had an ok wine and the check was $100 a person. Not extremely expensive but to be honest I'd be embarrassed to recommend that anyone go there.

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  1. If you could give a more detailed description of what you ate, it might help some of us understand whether it has actually gone downhill, or whether you simply viewed it differently. I ate there about a year ago, and some courses were great - some were just ok. We did have to move outside because of noise, so I can definitely relate to that complaint.

    I think my advice would be (and what I would do in the future) is to go in the afternoon. It's much more pleasant when the room is sunlit and you can see the gardens outside. (We stopped by during the day to take some pictures, but ate in the evening.)

    Did you stay and or eat at either Guadalupe Adobe or at Brisas del Valle? If so I'd be curious what you thought. We stayed at Guadalupe Adobe but are thinking about Brisas del Valle for a return trip.

    1. Just in case folks are curious, there is a factual error in the orignal post...Jair Tellez is still the owner/chef at Laja. I'm not an employee or owner of Laja, though I am a big fan.

      1. A couple of follow up comments. First, in reply to the person who says there is a factual error in my posting I'll clarify that we heard from a very credible local source that both the La and the Ja of Laja were no longer actively involved with the restaurant. I can tell you that neither made themselves known to our group of 12. Second, in terms of the dishes that we ordered. I'm sorry to say that it's been a few weeks since we were there and I didn't keep notes on what we ate. We dine out very frequently so a couple of weeks plus the fires in San Diego mean that the details of a mediocre meal are not very memorable. I will say that the person in our group who recommended Laja was very embarrassed because we expected a really nice experience. As I said in my original post the food was ok considering that the restaurant is in the middle of nowhere. Also, we arrived at 7pm after dark so the view that we had was the stark interior which is almost impossible to describe other than to imagine nothing but a non descript room with plain wooden tables and plain chairs. No ambience whatsoever. The wine was priced at such a high multiple over retail that we were somewhat perplexed. Maybe the secret is to go for lunch. Finally, we stayed at Adobe which we enjoyed a lot. We've stayed at Brisas in the past which is also very nice. By the way, my intention is not to harm a restaurant owner. I would just never go to Laja again and I would never ever try to describe this as one of the best restaurants in Mexico or even Baja. I actually began to wonder if there were promoters on this board trying to push a restaurant that doesn't deserve the praise that some people seem to give it.

        5 Replies
        1. re: orioninthesky

          Jay's a pretty credible source, in my book anyway - also the website indicates that Jair Tellez is still involved.

          It sounds like it just wasn't your thing, or it wasn't up to snuff that particular night, for whatever reason. The way you've described it as "in the middle of nowhere" and having "no ambiance whatsoever", indicates the former to me. It's definitely more Chez Panisse than Four Seasons. Ultimately, to each his own.

          1. re: orioninthesky

            I had read this thread right before our first-time reservations at Laja last Saturday, and was a little worried, but all for naught. It was fantastic. Every member of our well-traveled group of 8 was thrilled. We had been wine-tasting all afternoon without eating, so we were starving, and did the full 8 courses with wine pairing. It was certainly a lot of food, but the portions were relatively light and well-sized and I didn't feel terribly stuffed. Everything was simple and delicious. The wines that were chosen paired beautifully with the courses; you know how sometimes you have a certain wine with a certain food and realize AHA, this is the whole point? It was like that.

            I wouldn't say it was lacking in ambiance, it wasn't the kind of place you'd have tablecloths and flowers and candles. A large room, with beautiful wood floors, wood tables, a roaring fire -- very simple but not rough. The service wasn't "sit-in-your-lap" American style, but it was gracious and attentive -- we got new silverware for every course and new appropriately shaped Spiegelau glasses for each wine. I don't know who our main waiter was, he certainly seemed to be at the top of the food chain, but he was extremely patient with our questions and did all the parings exactly as we asked. The chef came out at the end of the evening and we all shook his hand, (he even consented to have his picture taken with us, which was NOT my idea, but very nice of him). My Spanish is sub-par and I didn't speak with him directly, but I'm pretty sure it was Jair Tellez.

            The 8 courses and 8 bottles of wine plus a few tequilas and scotches came to $115 a person, with tip. After wine tasting all day, I was pretty familiar with the wine prices and they were reasonably priced over retail. The wines that were selected for us were much better than most of what we had tasted, so I will always let them do the choosing.

            Our Tecate crossing was a painless 30 minutes (at about 11am) on Sunday morning of Thanksgiving weekend, so we were lucky. As others have said, I would recommend spending the night, as I wouldn't do the road to Tecate at night or with a drop of wine in me. We're definitely going back.

            1. re: fauteuil

              Glad to hear that it sounds like it hasn't changed since we were there last year - we're looking forward to a return trip sometime next year as well.

              1. re: Alice Q

                Six of us went there for lunch on October 24 and it was just as incredible an experience as it was the first time two years ago. The freshness of the food is hard to match - we have been to Chez Paniesse in Berkeley several times and I would definitely say it compares. I think anyone should still give it a try and make your own judgment. All of us were in agreement that it was a wonderful, beautiful and memorable experience.

            2. re: orioninthesky

              Four of us ate there a few months ago and had an excellent meal. In the middle of the meal Jair came out of the kitchen and asked us if we were enjoying the food and having a good time. He also comped us a couple of amuse bouches at the end of the meal. He did this for all the customers in the restaurant. And our server was extremely attentive and helpful. It's true that wine prices are higher than they were a year or more ago, but hardly out of line and still a good value--and tell me what isn't higher these days. I find the dining room stylish and charming (especially during daylight hours), but it is "minimalist." I DO keep detailed notes of when we dine in good restaurants and my notes on eating at Laja over the years bring back very pleasant memories. But I certainly don't want to get into a food fight over the "best" restaurants in Baja or all of Mexico. De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est. There are at least a half-dozen very good/excellent restaurants in the Ensenada area that I can recommend. If you don't want to eat at Laja there are excellent alternatives, so don't write off the area.

              And for future eaters/travelers to Baja wine country: orioninthesky is certainly entitled to his/her opinion, but I'm rather certain it's a minority opinion. But eat there and judge for yourself.

            3. My wife and I have friends who have a ranch near Laja and they told us that their swimming pool perimeter is paved by Laja stones. These are the same stones that make the stairs leading to the restaurant and that cover the patio. So as I understand it, the La and Ja are not people but the name of the local stones used in construction.

              I have eaten at Laja several times over the past three years and have always had great meals with good service. On my last visit, this past summer, Jair, the owner/chef, was being interviewed by a New York City TV crew. I have always been warmly greeted by Andres Blanco. I love its out-in-the-middle-of-now-where feel. It is noisy on most nights, even with a small crowd. Mexican wines are fine but are probably overpriced for the value (compared to Calif wines) and Laja's prices are steep but not out of line. We usually ask Andres to pick the wines for us and we have never been disappointed. I have recommended the restaurant to several friends and none have ever reported anything adverse.

              1. I'm sure this wasn't the intent of the original post, but it gave me a Proustian moment of being back at Laja. Also on a slow Saturday night Just magical One of the best food memories of my life. Probably helped that we arrived without expectations.