Los Cabos Feature
Flavors of Los Cabos
"Me sube el colesterol, mi amorcita," goes the chorus to a bouncy, popular song here. "My cholesterol's going up, my love," laments the singer about the heavy, fried Mexican food he gets at home. We take it he's never been to Baja and seen how innovative chefs here are playing around with traditional Mexican fare. Not too long ago the dining options in the Cape were pretty limited, though tastily so, with mostly tacosde pescado y cerveza (fish tacos and beer) or pollo y cerveza (chicken and beer). No longer, amigos. Walking the streets of Cabo and San José, travelers will be pleased to find grand, innovative dining experiences. Things will never go completely high-brow here because, some days, nothing beats tacos and beer.
The friendly inter-Cabo rivalry infuses everything—the dining scene included. Historically, it's been a comparison of quantity vs. quality: Cabo San Lucas wins hands down in sheer volume and variety of dining places. What San José del Cabo lacks in numbers, it makes up for with the finesse and intimacy of its dining experience. The Golden Rule of Cabo San Lucas restaurateurs was once: "As long as you keep the margaritas coming, the customer will be happy." (The mass-market eateries still adhere to this rule.) But a growing number of San Lucas dining spots have followed San José's lead and have begun to offer intimate, cozy dining experiences.
The terms get bandied about: "Nouveau Mexican," "Contemporary Mexican," "Nueva Mexicana." Ask a dozen Los Cabos chefs for a definition of today's Mexican cuisine, and you'll get a dozen different answers. Many prefer the description "Baja chic," to emphasize the peninsula's uncanny ability to find the right mix of fashionable and casual. Major changes have come to Mexican gastronomy in the past decade. Traditionally heavy cuisine is being altered and reinterpreted. The trend is moving toward using quality local ingredients and combining traditional Mexican fare with elements of other cuisines, all the while asserting one's own interpretation. All chefs are quick to point out that they're not abandoning Mexican cooking entirely. "People visit Mexico. They do expect Mexican food," one chef told us. The rise in popularity of north Baja's steadily growing wine region can also be found on many of Los Cabos' menus, so be sure to try some of quality Mexican varietals that you can't yet obtain the United States.
With 4,025 km (2,500 miles) of coastline and no point more than 110 km (70 miles) from the ocean, seafood figures prominently in Baja's cuisine. Baja's signature dish is the ubiquitous taco de pescado, or fish taco: take strips of batter-fried fish (frequently halibut or mahi mahi), wrap them, along with shredded cabbage, in a corn tortilla, and top it all off with onions, lime juice, and a dollop of sour cream. You'll find as many recipes for Baja-style seafood stew as there are cooks, who refer to the dish as or paella or zarzuela. (Ensenada is Baja's most famous spot for paella.) Any mix-and-match combination of clams, crab, shrimp, cod, sea bass, red snapper, or mahi mahi could find its way into your dish, along with requisite white wine, garlic, and spices. Shellfish is frequently served here as a coctel, steamed with sauce and lime juice.
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