Finca Altozano: A New Best Favorite Eatery (BFE) in Baja’s Wine Country
Ensenada’s array of fantastic culinary destinations seems endless…and then one more comes along, and it becomes your new Best Favorite Eatery (BFE). That is the relationship I currently have with the amazing Finca Altozano, by famed Chef Javier Plascencia, that is located plunk in the middle of Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s wine country.
Since I first was taken to this outdoor restaurant in May, I have revisited three more times and it is always fresh and new to me. That is in part because Finca Altozano is basically an outdoor venue with a raised partially covered terrace that is open on two full sides to the vast vistas of vineyards and hillsides that surround it. With each month, each day, the scene evolves from verdant vines sprouting tiny buds to mature vineyards heavy with hanging grape clusters. Even as you sit in this casual airy bistro being fanned by warm breezes, tinged ever so faintly with the smell of the Pacific Ocean, the clouds and sky are constantly changing and you are merely observing nature as you wine, dine and savor.
And savor, you do. What separates Finca Altozano from many of the more traditional Ensenada restaurants is its ‘small plate’ approach – a tapas-style of dining that allows for bountiful discoveries and is also easy on the pocketbook. From a simple (but succulent) plate of Serrano ham (90 pesos, approx. $7), to mini tostadas of octopus ceviche (75 pesos, approx.. $5.75), to a fantastic spaghetti dish with basil, crushed chile and olive oil (75 pesos, approx.. $5.75), there are many choices to start the comestible festival.
My favorite? Without a doubt, the wood-grilled tacos (los tacos asados en leña). There are five different types of tacos offered, and all of the plates, which include two tacos, range from 50 pesos (less than $4) and less. Personally, the lamb taco is my choice. There are also ‘big’ plates at Finca Altozano – grilled quail (a regional specialty), polenta which is the erstwhile favorite of locals, beef ribs, New York steak and more.
And everything is prepared using farm-fresh locally sourced ingredients, as is the wont of Chef Plascencia, whose Misión 19 restaurant in Tijuana has achieved international acclaim.
Being in the heart of Baja’s wine country means that every single plate could be (and in my opinion should be) paired with the Valle de Guadalupe’s ever-growing varieties of wines. For me, the starting wine is often a La Lomita Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc, followed by a Merlot/Cabernet/Tempranillo by Las Nubes. But most of the top wineries in Baja are represented at Finca Altozano, so the wine selection is truly rich.
If you get tired of the sweeping views (impossible), you can wander over to the open kitchen area that boasts a big Serrano ham just begging to be sliced. Here, the waiters and kitchen staff are friendly and welcoming, and are happy to try and tell you about what they are creating and how. For me, the Altozano family is a huge reason to return – they chuckle with you, when you cannot quite figure out what you have ordered, and they offer their own advice and tips on what you might like. Invaluable service and style, indeed!
Each day, I hear of some fabulous bistro to try in Ensenada…and, in fact, this very weekend, Drew Deckman’s El Mogor reopened in the Valle de Guadalupe (I wrote about it last summer), so I will need to get there soon. But for now, my BFE is Finca Altozano, which quite simply leaves a very great taste in my mouth.
How do you get to Finca Altozano, you ask? Easy. Take Highway 3 from Ensenada towards Tecate. You will pass through San Antonio de las Minas, and continue on quite a way, until you come to Laja restaurant (another one of the wine country’s most spectacular dining establishments) at kilometer 83. Turn left at the road here. Follow the dirt road, watching for signs. A couple of miles down the road, you will find Finca Altozano, on your right. I advise a reservation, by calling 646-156-8045. The restaurant is open Tue.-Sun., 1-9 p.m.
There are great places to stay in Ensenada! Let us know which is your favorite.
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