Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Eating in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico
When you take a quick getaway– determined to relax, unwind, and reconnect, the last thing you have time for is a disappointing meal. After all, a good meal is the prelude to all the good things you were hoping for when you decided to take that long romantic getaway. So whenever I go someplace in my blog travels, I always do a Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner post. The idea is to save you from making any of the mistakes I may have made when it comes to choosing places to dine. My breakfast, lunch and dinner posts usually separate the wheat from the chaff and represent the best of what I enjoyed.
However, eating in Valle de Guadalupe is an exception. Every meal we ate and every place we went was special. From the simple backyard patio of a local Doña to the taco carts and the array of upscale farm-to-table haciendas and outdoor campestres. Everything was wonderful.
Valle de Guadalupe is often compared to the Napa Valley of 60 years ago. Simplicity and elegance mingle with quality products and passionate people. I can’t say what Napa was like 60 years ago, but I can say that Valle de Guadalupe is magical. Especially when it comes to dining. Wherever you go, the restaurants feature clay ovens, outdoor grills, and mesquite fires. You’ll find slow roasted local meat and fresh fish. You’ll dine on produce that came from a field within your line of vision. You’ll drink Mexican wine and local craft beer. The people who bring you these treats are striving to preserve the region and it’s unique beauty. They work to keep it sustainable, and free from large scale commercial development. Everywhere we went succeeded in this promise.
Eating in Valle de Guadalupe: Breakfast Lunch Dinner
In order to enjoy eating in Valle de Guadalupe you have to be willing to leave the paved highway and follow a few dusty trails. The first bumpy road we found ourselves on led to breakfast at La Cocina de Doña Esthela. I mentioned this restaurant in my intro. But I have to include it here as well. It was my favorite breakfast of the trip. Sure the Encuentro Guadalupe hotel poolside breakfasts we enjoyed as part of our stay were nothing short of breathtaking. They were delicious too. But you can’t eat scenery and the view was my favorite part of the meal. Besides, wherever life takes me I still crave the kind of authenticity that is served up at La Cocina de Doña Esthela.
It’s a simple place and you should know that eating at Doña Esthela is like eating at Doña Esthela’s house. Because it is her house. There are vegetables gardens sprinkled here and there– and there are chickens everywhere. The menu is quite diverse. You could eat any meal of the day here. In fact, Doña Esthela herself tried to steer us to BBQ, but it was 8:00 a.m. and I came for Huevos Rancheros. My partner Ken chose the “bricklayer’s” breakfast– a chile, egg, and meat combo. We both drank the milky sweet coffee known as Café de Olla. All of this was served with handmade corn and flour tortillas– that just kept coming. The restaurant isn’t easy to find. You have to get off Highway 3 at the gateway to town and travel south, further than you’d think. There’s a sign on the left-hand side of the road. Keep your eyes peeled and don’t be afraid of the dirt road that leads you there, because eating in Valle de Guadalupe doesn’t get any more traditional than this.
My recommendation for eating in Valle de Guadalupe at lunchtime has to be Finca Altozano (Valle de Guadalupe, km 83, Highway 3). We went there three times in just three days. I’m sure the dinners are good too, but I recommend it for a (late) lunch (it opens at 1:00 p.m.) because you’ll want to see the innovative architecture in the daylight. The way they use recycled materials is fascinating all on it’s own. There’s a strangely beautiful fence-like barrier of empty wine bottles undulating along the path to los banos.
When it comes to dining (or drinking) you can sit on the awning shaded patio, or the sun drenched terrace. Both overlook the vineyards and the rest of the finca (farm). There’s a bar at the back and there are private areas set up on top and inside of giant barrels. There are also wonderfully eclectic destination patios, just an easy walk down a gravel pathway– complete with fire-pits.
The place is the vision of Tijuana celebrity chef Javier Plascencia. It’s the perfect balance between country cooking and sophisticated urban creativity. It’s the kind place where they raise a pig in a large, comfortable pen and then cook him up (nose to tail) in a Mexican-style campestre (campside) kitchen. The menu is set up as a creative list of small plates. Many of the selections are grilled outdoors over mesquite flame. We chose a tender, smoky grilled pulpo from this category. After 20 (plus) years of dining together, this was the first time Ken and I fought over the last bite.
I apologize that there aren’t any photos of my dinner choice: Deckman’s en el Mogor (Valle de Guadalupe, km 85.5, Highway 3). Eating in Valle de Guadalupe doesn’t always go as planned. We missed the turn from Highway 3 (twice). By the time we had explored the property and settled into our seats beneath an enormous pine tree– the stars were coming out. So I just didn’t feel like taking any pictures. Who can blame me? Sit down for one drink as the sun sets and let that sweet mesquite smoke tantalize your taste buds. You’ll tuck the camera aside too. This is Chef Drew Deckman’s rustic version of camp side dining. Each summer he closes his popular San José del Cabo restaurant to come here to cook under the stars. The place started as a summer season pop up. Perfectly situated with its outdoor kitchen adjacent the vineyards of one of the best wineries in the area, Mogor Badan. But it seems to have overstayed the summer season. Lucky us.
The meals at Deckman’s are set up as culinarily innovative five or seven course tasting menus that change daily. The menus feature impeccably prepared simple food (we had grilled quail) and can be paired with wines from Mogor Badan, craft beers from Baja breweries, and/or Durangan mezcal.
They also feature a few à la carte selections. There was a steak for two that sizzled past me; it would have demanded any carnivore’s attention. That is if that carnivore could take his gaze away from the atmosphere. Everything about the place is charming and so casually well done. Mason jars, mismatched crockery, and little bouquets of local herbs and flowers stuffed into empty wine bottles. It’s a formula you’ve seen before, but somehow the Valle de Guadalupe does it without the least hint of pretense. So come and sit under the stars. You’ll see the Milky Way. You’ll toast your good luck. You’ll have a meal to remember.
More on my trip to Valle de Guadalupe: GREG