Lured by the region’s dynamic culinary mix, I’ve been driving to Baja California at least once a month for the past decade. Its street food culture is rich and expansive, from sea urchin tostadas to mesquite-grilled carne asada. Recently, however, it’s the flashy “Baja Med” movement that has caught the attention of Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, and The New Yorker. Maverick chefs, including Javier Plascencia of Misión 19, have reinterpreted traditional Mexican cooking with olive oil and Asian flavors: think abalone chorizo sopes and oysters with beef chicharrón sauce. As a result, Tijuana is experiencing a renaissance as focus shifts away from its history of drug violence to the dishes coming out of its kitchens.
Last year I led 50 friends to the first Baja Culinary Fest. After three days, they returned as disciples of the local cuisine. This year’s event takes place October 11 to 14 and features dinners by Plascencia and Benito Molina of Manzanilla, a cook-off (I was so impressed last time, this year I’m a judge), and a gala to honor the famous romaine salad from Tijuana’s Hotel Caesar. It’s a chance to see what everyone (especially me) has been raving about. If you want a sneak peek stateside, here are three places in L.A. that have caught the fever:
Andrew Lujan has introduced Baja dishes like huevos del Valle de Guadalupe: three-cheese quesadillas topped with eggs and ranchera salsa. Venison tacos come machaca style with habanero salsa, and hibiscus-flower tacos are blanketed in cheese. 1576 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock.
Ricky’s Fish Tacos
Baja-born Ricky Piña has perfected the region’s archetypal dish. On a street corner in Los Feliz, the cheerful vendor serves the crisp, battered fillets of moist, delectable fish we’ve come to know as Ensenada-style fish tacos. 1400 N. Virgil Ave., Los Feliz.
Mariscos Los Lechugas
If you’ve ever taken a cruise to Ensenada, you’ve likely encountered that city’s tangy ground tuna ceviche. Here you’ll get the freshest citrus-marinated tuna dressed with colorful vegetables. It’s a bona fide taste of Ensenada, without the shuffleboard. 5244 S. Huntington Dr., El Sereno, 323-537-3273.
Photograph by Andrea Bricco