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About Scott Koenig

W. Scott Koenig has traveled throughout Baja and Mexico since he moved to San Diego during the 90's. He has been called "guerolito" by Purépechan women in Michoacan, and "muchacho" and "amigo" by many friendly, warm and welcoming locals throughout the country. Scott is the owner of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego and author of the blog, A Gringo In Mexico www.agringoinmexico.com, Cultural Exploits, Tall Tequila Tales and Trip Reports.

Seafood Nirvana: Succumbing to Mariscos Madness in Popotla

Seafood Nirvana: Succumbing to Mariscos Madness in Popotla

POPOTLA, BAJA CALIFORNIA – Okay, I’ll admit it. El Gringo has a seafood jones the size of Ensenada. Not a day goes by when I don’t salivate, nay, slather, over a recollection of my favorite mariscos (seafood) – be it fish, mollusk or crustacean. In my fevered mental meanderings, the mariscos are carefully prepared raw, on a mesquite grill or in a kitchen, and served south of the border in the classic Sinaloan and/or Sonoran style. Sure, the Puerto Nuevo lobster was a good buzz for a while. Though in hindsight, I realize that these now-mostly-imported-frozen-from-Australia, buttery, fried crustaceans were only a gateway dish to a fresher, tastier kick. And that Popotla, a small fishing village just south of Rosarito Beach, was to me as beat writer William Burroughs’ Morocco was to him: an endless source of the only sustenance that could scratch a never-ending itch…the freshest seafood possible prepared in a seemingly infinite number of ways.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

Fresh fish and shellfish for sale, Popotla, Baja California.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

Popotla in all of it’s fresh, delicious and ramshackle glory.

Though we had recently returned from Oaxaca, El Gringo’s Señorita was in need of a day off –something amiss amongst the activity during our twelve days of Christmas spent exploring this beautiful region in the Mexican Heartland. When I saw that a favorite nearby Rosarito Beach area hotel, Las Rocas, had a special on rooms for 50% off, I immediately booked a full suite ($70/night) for us and our five-year old hijo, and eagerly anticipated the crash of the waves lulling us to sleep each night as I dreamt of the tasty critters swimming beneath them.

“Since we don’t check in to the hotel until 3 p.m. and it’s Sunday, we should really stop in Popotla for lunch.” I urged my Señorita, employing my best Pescetarian logic with a slight twitch in my jaw. Sunday IS the best day in Popotla. Locals, visitors and a smattering of tourists arrive by the car and truckload, lining the dirt road that hugs the south wall of Baja Studios. They shop for the day’s catch near the rocks down by the ocean and have it prepared and cooked for them at one of the many ramshackle restaurants that comprise Popotla’s center.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

Catch of the day displayed on a makeshift panga market.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

Preparing shrimp, sea urchins and other seafood, seaside.

We arrived in the village at around 1 p.m. and pulled up behind the last car in the long line leading to the shore. Walking past the restaurants toward the market on the beach, we chatted with a few of the hawkers attempting to entice us into their establishments and checked out what they had on offer. The shellfish shimmered in the cloud-muted sun. The displays of red snapper, ling cod and ocean perch appeared to be opening their hooked mouths, pleading, “Choose me. I’m better than the others.” Coming down from my Huachinango hallucination, I found myself posing for a photo holding a giant rock crab (aka “Martian”) by the claws as a gentleman placed a large sombrero on my head. NOOOOOOO! I’m not that kind of Gringo! That photo shall remain unpublished, BTW, and hopefully will not show up on TMZ!

Mariscos madness in Popotla

Magnificent mollusks, ready to be shucked, prepared and consumed in Popotla.

Arriving oceanside, we found at least two dozen tables lining the shore with every kind of seafood imaginable on display. Spotting fresh sea urchin, I quickly stopped and ordered a cocktail, this edible echinoid being a newly appreciated taste for El Gringo. The girl preparing it cracked open two sea urchins, separating the good, mushy yellow stuff from the rest in a bowl of salt water. She placed these very generous portions in a plastic cup, adding clamato, cilantro, lemon and a bit of hot sauce to create the perfect uni shooter. It was briny and refreshing and the urchin was perfectly fresh and delicious.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

She shucks shellfish by the seashore. Sea urchin prep in Popotla.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

A bit of clamato, lime, hot sauce, cilantro and loads of Sea Urchin!

I ordered up a chocolate clam for my hijo, which was shucked, cleaned and prepared for him ready to eat. We both slurped our seafood and enjoyed the ocean view.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

Delicious and fresh chocolate clams, served right by the ocean in Popotla.

Dizzy from the experience, we worked our way back up to “town” and chose Restaurant Atotonilco as our lunch destination. We were seated on the back patio with a fine ocean view, and presented with a menu of myriad and illicit seafood treats ripe for the picking. My head was swimming with the possibilities. El Gringo’s Señorita chose the bacon wrapped shrimp. Apologies for no photo of the meal, it was too good and we were too worked up with hunger, devouring them before we thought of taking a shot! El Gringo ordered a mixed mariscos cocktail with pulpo, shrimp and oysters (delicious and fresh) and of course, Pescado Zarendeado, a marinated, butterflied and grilled preparation of red snapper (Read about my Zarendeado epiphany here). We had it served in the “deluxe” style, which included grilled pulpo (octopus), shrimp and queso atop the flattened fish. Between the three of us, we devoured the kilo of snapper and accouterments, enjoying every savory, hot and delicious bite.

Mariscos madness in Popotla

My “Death Row Meal.” Pescado Zarendeado with grilled pulpo, shrimp and queso.

Satiated, we stumbled out of the restaurant and back up the road to our waiting Jeep and the next leg of our Baja adventure. As a fellow addict, I can only urge you to seek help the next time YOU need a fix of fresh fish. Just head south of the border to Popotla and tell them El Gringo sent you. Word on the street is that it’s good stuff.

Your Gringo in Mexico,
Scott

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

 

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Mi Casa Supper Club: A Touch of Class in Rosarito Beach

Mi Casa Supper Club: A Touch of Class in Rosarito Beach

ROSARITO BEACH, BAJA CALIFORNIA – “Food isn’t a new passion. I started cooking when I was just six years old.” Chef Bo Bendana Sein eased back into the stylishly upholstered seat at our table. The last rays of sunlight streamed in from the edge of the Pacific just outside the large patio windows that line the western side of her new restaurant, Mi Casa Supper Club in the San Antonio del Mar community of Rosarito Beach. Dressed in chef whites, her brown and blonde streaked hair flowed from under a colorful bandana. Though not wearing makeup, Chef Bo is stunningly attractive, radiant – appearing at least a decade younger than her forty four years. Her dusty blue eyes sparkled in the setting sun as she continued…

Mi Casa Supper Club

Mi Casa Supper Club. Elegant “Moroxican” dining in Rosarito Beach.

“I lost track of cooking for a while and went to study interior design at the Fashion Institute, my first profession.” Bo’s time at FIT was well spent. The restaurant’s interior boasts delicate mother of pearl chandeliers, large upholstered wooden chairs, luxurious sofas, a fireplace and even two “bubble” chairs from Bali, the backs high enough to create a private, romantic table for two smack dab in the middle of the space. The finishes are all warm wood and earth tones, complementing the vast blue of the sky and ocean outside. The impression given is one of Morocco meets Orange County, Chef Bo’s home country and her last residence in the US before moving here with her husband Dennis nine years ago.

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Mi Casa Supper Club’s cozy, elegant interiors.

Bo continued, “When things got a little tense in Baja California, no one wanted to go out to eat at night. So we’d go to each other’s homes. That’s when I started cooking again.” This was 2008, when cartel violence had reached a peak in the region. “Collectively, we formed a supper club, and would host weekly dinners in members’ private homes. But as our club became more popular, we outgrew even the largest houses. Our last private dinner had 52 attendees.”

With culinary tourism becoming popular in Tijuana, Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe, Bo and Dennis decided it was time to invest in a more permanent restaurant, building Mi Casa Supper Club from the ground up. Since it opened in the summer of 2014, the restaurant has quickly become a favorite of the local expat population and is also gaining popularity with visitors to Baja California. Recently, the restaurant rose to #1 on TripAdvisor for Rosarito Beach.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Tea time at Mi Casa Supper Club.

Just last night, Bo was host to the sold-out second annual Sabor de Baja, a culinary competition and white attire event that she and Dennis organize and manage. A monumental task for sure, the seemingly tireless Bo shows no sign of wear this evening, though is visibly enjoying her break from the kitchen to chat with El Gringo and family. I had helped judge the competition, tasting 17 dishes from Baja’s best chefs, winemakers and craft brewers and Bo had graciously invited us to her restaurant to sample her cooking. Chef Bo refers to her menu – which changes monthly – as “Moroxican”, the application of Moroccan recipes and preparation techniques to locally-culled Baja California ingredients.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Bo Bendana Sein with Martin San Roman, winner of this year’s Sabor de Baja, the event she organizes.

Earlier, when we arrived at Mi Casa Supper Club, Bo’s instruction to her head waiter was to “…keep bringing in small plates for them, so they can taste a little bit of everything,” turning to me, she smiled, “You just let us know when to stop.” Not a problem chef! Napkins on laps, glasses of wine poured – and a lemonade for El Gringo’s hijo – we were up to the challenge and ready to enjoy a feast of Chef Bo’s Moroccan-inspired Baja cuisine.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Fresh organic fig bruschetta with roasted walnuts, basil, goat cheese and aged balsamic vinegar.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Labneh cheese, black cured olives, Za’atar infused olive oil.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Gigamoto oysters with chili, ginger, champagne vinegar sauce & flying fish eggs.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Fried oysters with mango habañero chutney.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Chicken tagine with homemade preserved Meyer lemons and green olives.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Slow cooked sirloin in saffron sauce with sweet plums.

Mi Casa Supper Club

Mini chocolate cake, key lime pie cheesecake with candied rinds and chocolate truffles.

At the end of the evening, Chef Bo asked El Gringo’s 6 year old how he liked the food. He replied, “It was like a present for my mouth”. With Mi Casa Supper Club’s winning combination of Moroccan and Mexican, sweet and savory, delicate and hearty, I would fully agree with his assessment and suggest that you stop by for your own Middle Eastern feast in Baja California. And tell Chef Bo El Gringo sent you!

 

Mi Casa Supper Club is located at 54 Estero, San Antonio Del Mar, Rosarito, Mexico – at the entrance to the community of San Antonio Del Mar exit from the toll road. Phone: +52 664 609 3459. Open Thursday & Friday to everyone after 5:00pm. Sunday noon to 8:00pm.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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Eight Ways to Eat (and Drink) Your Way through Rosarito Beach

Eight Ways to Eat (and Drink) Your Way through Rosarito Beach

ROSARITO BEACH, BAJA CALIFORNIA – Located off Baja California’s Highway 1, tiny Rosarito Beach (pop. 70,000) is often overlooked as a culinary destination in deference to Ensenada’s seafood scene to the south, and Baja Med just north (and closer to the border) in Tijuana. But a little time spent exploring some of Rosarito’s restaurants, taco stands, farms, hotels and its single winery will unearth an abundant, fresh, farm-and-sea-to-table smorgasbord. Of course, every old “Baja Hand’s” favorites are still there…Puerto Nuevo style lobster and El Nido’s mesquite-grilled Sonoran steaks. But on a recent trip, I found some surprises as well…craft beers at the Rosarito Beer Fest and a famous taco stand somehow missed during past excursions just south of the border.

In no particular order, read ‘em and drool…

1. Claudius Viña Y Bodega

Master winemaker Julio Benito Martin from Segovia, Spain, started Rosarito Beach’s only winery in 2010 with a 300 case production. Today, he’s planning on releasing 15,000 cases in 2015 and is bringing his wines to a wider national market. Claudius boasts some outstanding reds. Their 2012 Nebbiolo was my favorite – fruity, bold and with a bit of chocolate. Julio let me know that it was still young…and he’d be lucky if the rest of the vintage makes it until its peak 5th year. Claudius also hosts winemaking classes.

Claudius Viña y Bodega is available for private tastings by appointment, events and winemaking classes. They are located at Bulevar Sharp 3722, 22710 Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Website.

Rosarito Beach

Ernesto Diaz Perez and Master Winemaker Julio Benito Martin of Claudius Winery.

2. Baja Produce

Owner Fernanda Sanchez stocks a variety of fresh produce including olives and cheeses from the Valle de Guadalupe, homemade bread and the BEST, firmest, freshest tomatoes I’ve ever had. On hand also are a variety of Baja produced lotions, honeys, wines, art, music and other goodies. The location, right on the free road, also has a quaint, rustic restaurant in which to kick back and enjoy some of Baja’s bounty, delivered right to your table.

Baja Produce is located at Popotla 10, Col. Cuenca Diaz, Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Website.

Rosarito Beach

Baja Produce’s selection of Valle de Guadalupe cheeses at their Rosarito Beach location.

3. Popotla

If you’ve followed El Gringo, you know I have a “thing” for Popotla and this fishing village’s fresh seafood, as I’ve posted here. And here. In Popotla the fishermen bring their catch to shore daily and local vendors and restaurants prepare it at a price that’s typically much less than what you’d pay in the States. After you’ve experienced Popotla’s beachside and restaurant scene, you can head just north of the village proper to Popotla Restaurant and Bar for a more formal meal. Located oddly at a nicer mobile home park, their ceviches, clams and Puerto Nuevo style lobster are superb.

Popotla Restaurant and Bar is located at Carretera libre Tijuana Ensenada Km 34, 22710 Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Website.

Rosarito Beach

Delicious and fresh chocolate clams, served right by the ocean in Popotla.

4. Tacos El Yaqui

They say, “If you haven’t had Tacos El Yaqui, you haven’t been to Rosarito Beach.” Well, it’s official, El Gringo has now been to Rosarito Beach and loves Tacos El Yaqui’s smoky beefy goodness. Founded in 1967, Tacos El Yaqui serves one type of taco only, and they do it very well. Marinated Sonoran arrachera (skirt steak) is cooked over oak on a metal box grill, then served with onions, guacamole, cilantro and beans in a hearty flour tortilla. Grilled chilis and radishes are served on the side. The line for Tacos El Yaqui has been known to go down the street…these are tacos worth waiting for!

Tacos El Yaqui is located at Mar del Norte, 22710, Rosarito Beach, B.C., Mexico. Website.

Rosarito Beach

Tacos El Yaqui does one taco really, really well. Marinated and grilled arrachera from Sonora.

5. Rosarito Beer Fest

El Gringo was privileged to attend the first annual Rosarito Beer Fest during a recent visit. Baja California’s proximity to the craft beer scene in San Diego has spawned a burgeoning brew culture here as well – particularly in Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali, all of whom represented at the Beer Fest held at the famous Festival Plaza in the center of town. Standouts were the Chocolate Stout from Funes in Tijuana, and a lineup of Tequila and Mojito-flavored brews from Salitos.

Rosarito Beach

Raul Aispuro Funes of Funes Beer in Tijuana shows off his new Chocolate Stout.

6. Puerto Nuevo

Puerto Nuevo. You remember it well. Home of the buttery, grilled, don’t-need-to-refinanace-your-home-to-afford-it lobster feast. This Baja village is still serving up mariscos and its world-famous lobsters at a number of restaurants in town. Though Puerto Nuevo has suffered a reputation for sourcing it’s crustaceans frozen and from Australia over the past decade (the local waters apparently “lobstered out”), La Casa Del Pescador served us up a platter of the tasty red critters that were moist, flavorful and wholly satisfying.

La Casa del Pescador is located at Paseo del Mar No. 5, Puerto Nuevo, Rosarito, B.C., Mexico.Website.

Rosarito Beach

Lobster feast at La Cas del Pescador, Puerto Nuevo, Rosarito Beach, Mexico.

7. Rancho Las Ilusiones

If you can tear yourself away from the beach and travel east of the highway up into the hills a bit, with the proper directions, you’ll arrive at the sprawling Rancho Las Ilusiones. Rancho Las Ilusiones is a family-owned working ranch and organic farm with crops, sheep, goats, cows, chickens, turkeys and even a few peacocks. In 2012, the Cordero family opened their palapa restaurant and offer a very fresh list of options for brunch, made from the ranch’s produce and meats. El Gringo dug into the Conejo (rabbit) Machaca and Eggs and had a couple of cups of really good, strong coffee. The desserts were homemade, and although I didn’t partake, I was assured by a fellow diner that they were delicious.

Rancho Las Ilusiones is located at Calle Baja California, Colonia Morelos, 22710, Rosarito, B.C., Mexico. Facebook Page.

Rosarito Beach

Rancho Las Ilusiones is a working ranch and organic farm just east of Rosarito Beach.

8. Restaurant El Nido

Another old Baja saying goes, “Where there are gringos, there’ll be an El Nido.” Opened in 1971, the Rosarito Beach location is the original and still the best. Much of the restaurant’s produce, fowl and game meats come from its farms just east of town in the foothills. One is Rancho Guacatay, which raises much of their free-range venison. El Nido’s location in town is a beautiful rustic mess of stone, waterfalls, plants, palapas, rusted farm implements and folk art. On a recent visit, I sampled their ribeye, venison and quail, which were perfectly grilled and presented.

El Nido Restaurant is located at Mar del Cortez #348 Sur, Rosarito Beach, B.C., Mexico.Website.

Rosarito Beach

El Nido’s paradilla of ribeye, venison and quail. All farmed and sourced locally.

Hungry yet? I am! Get down (or back down) to Rosarito Beach soon for the weekend or just a casual Sunday and enjoy some of the great cuisine the region has to offer.

Your Gringo In Mexico,
Scott

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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4th Annual Rosarito Art Fest Was a Delight for the Senses

4th Annual Rosarito Art Fest Was a Delight for the Senses

The Fourth Annual Rosarito Art Fest was a big success this year, with initial estimates forecasting an attendance of 18,000 people over the past Memorial Day weekend. This number has grown exponentially since the event’s inception in 2009. The actual numbers are not yet available as of this post, but from what your Gringo could see, they weren’t far off the mark. A festive crowd of locals from Tijuana and the region mixed with visitors from north of the border and the area’s ex-pat population to enjoy the work of Baja-based artists, performers, artisanal food vendors, craft breweries and regional winemakers.

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Raising the banner for the Rosarito Art Fest 2013.

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Enjoying the day at the Rosarito Art Fest 2013.

Over 100 artists displayed and sold a variety of stylish masterpieces in front of the Rosarito Beach Hotel. The colorful and rich heritage of the region was well-represented by painters, sculptors, jewelry-makers, fashion designers and other artisans who seemed to be enjoying the positive vibe and exposure the Art Fest brings (not to mention the beautiful 70 degree day). Your Gringo watched an amazing quartet of guitarists and an artfully executed ballet performance.

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Artist Antonio Proa from Tijuana displays his colorful artwork.

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A fun family of dolls on display from artist Esau Andrade.

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Ballerinas perform on the main stage at the Rosarito Art Fest.

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A quartet of excellent guitarists serenade the crowd.

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Tijuana’s Vamonos de Tapas serves up a delicious Paella de Mariscos.

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A variety of artisanal breads and cheeses available for sample and purchase. Yum!

Several charitable organizations were represented and used art as a catalyst to promote their causes. Among them was Es Por Los Niños A.C., whose mission is “To prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child and provide social support to improve the quality of life in women, adolescents, children infected with HIV/AIDS, as well as their families”. I spoke with Rosalva Martha-Patten, the President and Founder, who indicated that though the number of children born with HIV has declined in the US, it is on the rise in Mexico’s border cities such as Tijuana. The organization displayed a very nice collection of artwork from children who participate in or are otherwise involved with the charity.

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A young area artist proudly displays her work among her classmate’s

The burgeoning regional craft beer industry was represented by Cerveza Tijuana, who offer six varieties including Rosarito Beach American Lager. These beers are tasty and I’m not sure if they’re available yet in the US. So you’ll just have to get down to Baja California yourself to try them!

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Cerveza Tijiuana offer several satisfying craft brews, including Rosarito Beach Lager.

We enjoyed our day at the Rosarito Art Fest immensely, and it was great to see a world-class cultural event taking place in a city that has sometimes been synonymous with “party town” in the past. Your Gringo is excited to attend more Mexican cultural festivals in the coming months, so stay tuned!

Planning a trip to Rosarito? Contact a travel agent at Baja.com.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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