Ensenada's elegant, artsy Manzanilla would be right at home in Downtown L.A.
Ensenada was already a fine place -- home of the glorious fish taco, a good place to drink a Corona and munch on a churro while watching the waterspout blow at La Bufadora, a place to pass out on the beach after way too many tequila shots...oh wait, maybe that's a story for another time. That seemed like reason enough, until we tasted just about everything under the sea on our recent food blogger trip. While our group was hosted on the trip, our trip leader, Mexican food fanatic Bill from StreetgourmetLA personally discovered and wrote about these places first so this was no touristy experience -- these places are the real deal.
La Guerrense: Our first stop, the tiny seafood tostada stand La Guerrerense is right off the touristy main drag, and I'm sure I walked right by it the last time I was there without even noticing. Its tostadas and coctels are made from the freshest possible sea creatures, from sea urchin to clams to bacalao (spiced cod) to mussels, crab, shrimp, fish pate, abalone and my two favorites, sea snail and sea cucumber. Each tostada is around $2, and there's a selection of imaginative homemade salsas with ingredients like peanuts and searing habanero with diced cucumbers. I was so blown away by my first taste of sea cucumber that I failed to buy a jar of salsa to take home -- so a return trip is in order. Owner Sabina Bandina Gonzalez is a doctor during the week, so I believe the stand is weekends only. (La Guerrerense, 1st and Alvarado, Ensendada, phone 646-174-2114)
Ever-hungry bloggers march onward to fish tacos.
Tacos El Fenix: We weren't going to ignore what Ensenada is known for, but we couldn't have just any fish tacos -- they had to be Bill-approved. Don't do like I did last time I was there and eat at the very first taco place you see, right next to the tourist office.
Only five or six blocks behind the main tourist area is Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix, where they double-fry the cazon shark for maximum crispness in a large vat of pure lard with a mustard-laced batter. Add plenty of toppings,and their mayonaise-based sauce, and, wowza! About a buck each, shrimp tacos just a touch more (everything's half price on Tuesdays).(Tacos El Fenix, Av. Espinosa and 5ta (Juarez), Ensenada)
Border Grill chef Raymond Alvarez catches a smoke outside Muelle Tres.
Muelle Tres: Google Benito Molina and one of the first entries is an article calling him "the rockstar chef" in Spanish. Molina has a mini-empire in Baja, and the first of his places we visited was Muelle Tres. The small, modern oyster bar/seafood bistro is right on the harbor near the seafood market, so if you're looking for some seaside ambiance, this is the place. We tried wonderful local Kumiai oysters, from Guerrero Negro Lagoon, plump steamed mussels, Pismo clams with ginger, tortilla Espanola and smoked tuna croquettes. (Muelle Tres, Wharf #3, near the Mercado Negro, Ensenada)Manzanilla: Our final Ensenada stop was perhaps the most suprising. Manzanilla (top photo) is another outpost in the Benito Molina empire, and this artsy, airy bar and restaurant would be right at home in the loft district in Downtown L.A. Pink chandeliers, an antique bar and local artists on the wall give this place near the Ensenada port a very sophisticated feel, like the food, wine and beer served there. Local sardines on toast (above) and sardines wrapped around chistorra sausage were definitely alta bar food, reminiscent of AOC, not surprisingly since apparently Suzanne Goin is a friend of Molina's -- and Lucques and Manzanilla are both types of olives. While most of the bloggers tried local wines, Josh and I headed straight for tastes of Labricha beer, a local microbrew. Alvaro Alvarez-Parrilla (above) is a math professor by day, brewer and winemaker on weekends, whose Labricha extra stout and brown ale were by far the best of all the beers we tasted on the trip. Labricha isn't yet sold north of the border, but make sure to pick up a bottle if you're in Ensenada. (Manzanilla,Teniente Azueta #139, Ensenada, phone 646-175-7073).
Here's more on Ensenada and the rest of the trip from Noah at Squid Ink.