by Carla White
Let’s face it…every bartender between San Ysidro and Los Cabos will say that her or his specialty is a margarita. And often that is true—no doubt, there are some mighty fine margaritas in Baja, and it just might be fun to take the ‘margarita’ tour bus from one end of the peninsula to the other. But every once-in-awhile, it is worth it to say to the bartender, “But what drink do you really like to make?”
It is especially worth it at El Nido’s bar in Rosarito Beach, part of the popular El Nido restaurant group that is famous for outstanding game and steaks, and authentic Baja décor. When you ask cantinero (bartender) Manuel Medina what he likes to concoct that is muy especial (very special) he fesses up: It’s the big ‘Mistake’. It’s a drink. And make no mistake, this one might be one of Baja’s best.
It all began some years ago when a customer gave him a recipe for a Brazilian cocktail. Somehow, Manuel got the recipe wrong (he doesn’t know how)…but how can something so right be wrong? It can’t!
Manuel begins with a generous helping of vodka. Then, he adds sugar, lime juice, a splash of orange juice and, most important, the exactly correct amount of fresh ground mint. Garnished with mint sprigs and large slices of Persian lime, this is truly a so-much-better-mojto! But beware: What makes this beverage perfect is the magic of the bartender in balancing the ingredients. A little too much mint…a little too much vodka…not so good. These are not problems for Manuel, who creates his drink without shot glasses or measuring tools—after years as a bartender, he just knows what works.
For him, though, the perfect drink is Scotch. He says, “It’s good for everything. You can mix Scotch with water, soda, anything…you can even drink it when you have a hangover!”
Manuel, originally from Sinaloa, has never had a taste for Tequila…he just likes his Scotch. In this, he differs from the clients who frequent El Nido. According to Manuel, the visitors always like ‘old-fashioned margaritas’ and the locals opt for micheladas – a sort of beer/lemonade beverage. Then there those who ask for cheladas, which he describes as Clamato/Bloody Mary/beer combos.
What’s the strangest drink he ever made? There is no name for it, but Manuel says that a customer asked him to combine flan, Grand Marnier and Bailey’s Irish Cream. As he describes this potion, the other bartenders cringe.
El Nido Manager Alfredo Perez, who has been with the restaurant for more than 35 years, only smiles. He has seen it all. But he recognizes a good thing when he sees it – and there’s no mistaking the fact that El Nido and Manuel Medina have created a classic drink in making the big ‘Mistake’.
How to get there: The El Nido Restaurant and bar in Rosarito are located on Benito Juarez, the main drag. They are within walking distance of the Rosarito Beach Hotel, other vacation rentals, and a hidden shopping mercado.
What to do at El Nido: Ask the bartender how you, too can make a Big Mistake! And then send us photos…
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