By Leigh O’Connor.
Condors carve circles into an unblemished blue sky, surf
crashes onto majestic sandy beaches and side roads meander drunkenly along the
side of mountains – where on Earth is it? Bountiful Baja, of course. Earth’s
second longest peninsula has long been a playground of Californians, who can
cross the border into Tijuana at a whim and drive to Cabo San Lucas for a few
days of fun, fiesta and food.
A fusion of culture and cuisine, Cali-Mex not only implies
an intersection of food but also lifestyle. Some visitors simply sip drinks
while watching the sun sink into the perfect Pacific, while others choose
adrenalin rush activities or stare up into a night sky full of bright stars. One
thing all who come to Cabo are drawn to, is the myriad of restaurants serving
up Mexican fare that has a taste only Baja delivers.
From the local delicacy of chocolate clams to pork belly
empanadas and shrimp fajitas, washed down with a Corona or tequila, it is a
culinary destination as well as a holiday and nightlife hot spot.
Let’s take a tour through a few of the best places to throw
down a towel or tuck into a feast, complete with a Mariachi band and margarita
Couples looking for a romantic spot to watch the sun set are
drawn to Land’s End, sandwiched between Playa del Amor and Playa del Divorcio.
Framed by rock formations created from the rough winds and seas of southern
Baja, it is also a great place to catch sea lions in their natural habitat and
the best way to check out the local sea life is by water taxi or a boat tour. One
drawback is the lack of vendors or facilities, but some will argue this adds to
the peace and quiet, so just bring swimmers and a camera and grab a water taxi
from Cabo’s downtown marina.
Playa del Amor and
Playa del Divorcio
Playa del Amor - Beach of Love - is considered the jewel of
Cabo, a place of legends and adventures. Offering crystal clear waters, it is a
natural aquarium of tropical fish of all colours and shapes. The story goes that
its name comes from an 18th Century love affair between a Japanese
sailor who was rescued by a local woman, they fell in love but her father
disapproved and killed the sailor and in despair the young woman took her own
life to re-join him. In comparison, Playa del Divorcio – Beach of Divorce – is
considered to be the opposite of its adjacent sandy paradise due to the dangerous
nature of the surf and rip tides, like the turbulent side of a relationship. Both
are beautiful and must visits on any Baja adventure.
San Jose del Cabo
Considered Cabo’s more elegant twin sister, San Jose del
Cabo is commonly known as ‘Old Town,’ exuding traditional Mexican charm amongst
luxurious resorts. Those looking for a respite from the party streets of Cabo,
can stroll around the lovely Plaza Mijares, tour a beautiful mission church and
town hall, or shop until they drop. It is also a great place for a seafood
feast at cantinas and cafés dishing up fare such as shrimp tacos, jumbo crab
cakes and seared scallops. Nearby Playa Palmilla and Playa Santa Maria are safe
for swimmers and snorkelers, while the area is also known for its golf courses.
Cabo Wabo Cantina
Former Van Halen front man Sammy Hagar is one of Cabo’s
adopted sons and a frequent sight at legendary club and restaurant Cabo Wabo
Cantina. Located in the heart of the downtown area, this cantina is regarded as
one of the best night spots in the city, albeit geared towards the slightly
older crowd – Spring Breakers will be disappointed to see patrons the same age
as their parents! With a limited menu, don’t visit Cabo Wabo for the food, it
is all about atmosphere, live music and happy hour. Take a seat, grab a margarita
and sit back to people watch Cabo-style.
Authentic Mexican décor, a Mariachi band and plenty of local
cerveza (beer) await diners at this family owned restaurant, with Cali-Mex on
the menu. Try the shrimp fajitas, traditional stuffed cheese chilli relleno
with black beans, rice and guacamole, or perhaps chow down on a housemade adobo
beef corn quesadilla. Groups may opt for a combo platter with arrachera (flank
steak), grilled chicken breast, grilled chorizo and melted cheese. Mango margaritas
or Mum’s Special Mint Lemonade beckon as a drink of choice at this popular budget
Chocolate Clams with
No Cabo culinary adventure is complete without trying Baja’s
seafood candy – chocolate clams. Named for the uniform brown colour of the
shell, rather than any chocolate flavour, this meaty Mexican clam is one of the
largest, reaching up to 15 cm across. They colonise the sandy bottom of coastal
lagoons in dense populations and are harvested for dishes such as chocolate
clams and salsa, where they are grilled on a barbeque and topped with a salsa
mixture and frijoles (mashed refried beans). One of the best spots to delve
into these delicacies in Cabo is Mariscos Las Tres Islas, a hidden gem of a
restaurant where they are served raw and live in the shell.
Los Tres Gallos
Great ambiance in an open outdoor setting, Los Tres Gallos
is a must for those seeking original fare and ice cold Jalapeno margaritas,
served in terracotta cups. Start with sopes, housemade thick tortillas topped
with black beans, cheese, lettuce and meat, before digging into pollo con mole –
chicken thighs topped with a hearty sweet and smoky sauce – served with rice
and refried beans, while being serenaded by the wandering Mariachi band.
Now that we’ve whet your appetite for a Mexican adventure,
find out more about Baja at this link and find your own Cali-Mex fix.
Image credits: Tijuana 1992 taken by Zemistor, flickr. Land's End 2015 taken by Kirt Edblom, flickr. La Pool at Melia Cabo Real 2013 taken by Madhu Madhavan, flickr.