|Baja bluefin tuna tostadas and Baja cheeses at the Baja Culinary Fest preview at Playa restaurant. John Sedlar of Playa is participating in Friday night's dinner at Tijuana's Mision 19 restaurant.|
If you've ever felt Mexican food in L.A. doesn't quite live up to its potential, then you should make plans to check out the first ever Baja California Culinary Fest from October 5-9 in Tijuana, Ensenada, Tecate and Rosarito. If you're not that familiar with Baja, it's super easy to get around and the groundbreaking restaurants there are well worth the trip. All you need is a passport and a few pesos.
What's the best way to get there?:
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Tijuana is to drive to the border, leave your car at one of the secure parking lots on the American side, and walk across through the passport checkpoint. A taxi or local bus is a short ride into the center of town.
If you prefer to take your car over the border so you can drive to the beach towns of Ensenada or Rosarito or tour the nearby Valle de Guadalupe wine region, buy Mexican insurance online before you leave from MexAdventure or Baja Bound.
You can also take the train to San Diego and then hop on the trolley to the border, or pick up a Crucero bus from Union Station. Baja Wine Tours will be running special buses from Union Station during the festival.
Where should I stay?
Hotels in Tijuana are very reasonably priced and not at all scary like some people seem to think. We stayed at the large, modern Palacio Azteca in Tijuana, which has a pleasant pool. In Ensenada, I've stayed in a bungalow at the very private and mellow Quintas Papagayo just outside of town. In Rosarito, the Culinary Festival recommends the Rosarito Beach Hotel.
What's the best day to go?
There are events at the Culinary Fest from Wednesday to Sunday, but the main culinary festival is Saturday at Tijuana's racetrack with a smaller one in Ensenada at the same time. The main festival will have tastings from local restaurants, wineries, microbreweries, arts and crafts from Baja California's native communities, a street food pavilion and farmer's market. (Admission is $11.50)
What else is happening at the festival?
- Friday's Baja on the Bay yacht trip on Ensenada's bay to visit oyster and mussel farms, with ceviche served on board.
- Friday night's chef dinner at Tijuana's Mision 19 (with the fest's organizer, chef Javier Plascencia, John Sedlar and mixologist Julian Cox); or at La Querencia with chef Miguel Angel Guerrero and mixologist Steve Livigni;
- and Thursday's Culinary Safari in Ensenada which includes a 7:30 a.m. hunting trip with Chef Guerrero.and outdoor lunch after the safari.
Is it dangerous?
I've been there twice in the last few years and haven't seen anything to raise concern; Bill Esparza of StreetGourmetLA, who has been instrumental in promoting the Baja culinary scene, travels safely there many times a year. Personally I prefer not to take my car, but that's just so I can take better advantage of all the tamarind margaritas and the groovy Tijuana mescal bar La Mezcalera.