For many travelers, San José del Cabo has become a culinary destination. At least one new and notable eatery opens every high season. Renowned chefs from Baja, mainland Mexico, and the United States are using local foods and, in many cases, organic ingredients to prepare creative interpretations of traditional Mexican cuisine. From the organic farmers market to fresh tortillas and carnitas (braised pork) by the kilo, you can find it all in and around the streets of San José.
Traditional and Contemporary Mexican
One of the trailblazers in this gourmet trend was Tequila Restaurant (Doblado 1011, west of Mijares, tel. 624/142-1155, dinner daily, mains US$20 and up). The setting is cozy, and the menu suggests Asian, Mexican, and Mediterranean influences—a fusion that food writers now call “BajaMed.” Popular dishes include tequila shrimp, beef tenderloin guajillo, and lobster deep-fried in a wonton skin. The restaurant cooks with organic produce, and the tequila menu is, of course, top-notch. Cigar aficionados will appreciate the walk-in humidor.
Next to the plaza, La Panga Antigua (Zaragoza 20, tel. 624/142-4041, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$20) offers colonial ambience, with a courtyard, lounge bar, and wine cellar. Chef Jacabo Turquie is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and he prepares a menu of contemporary Mexican cuisine with a focus on seafood. Sample dishes include seared scallops with dry chile oil saffron risotto, asparagus tips, and bell peppers. The catch of the day comes drizzled with cilantro oil over mashed potatoes with huitlacoche (corn truffle). Enjoy the attentive service of an experienced staff.
In the art district, Restaurant Bar Jazmín (Zaragoza and Obregón, tel. 624/142-1760, 7am-10pm daily, mains US$13-40) serves huachinango (whole red snapper) and carne asada a la tampiqueña (grilled beef “Tampico” style) on sizzling hot platters. The atmosphere is casual, and the menu includes licuados (fruit smoothies) and chilaquiles (salsa or mole over crisp tortilla triangles) for breakfast and tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tacos, and fajitas for lunch and dinner. Credit cards, including American Express, are accepted. We’ve heard complaints of incorrect charges at check time. Take a second look at the bill before you pay.
If you don’t mind the strip-mall setting, Habaneros Gastro Grill and Tequila Bar (Mijares in Plaza La Misión, tel. 624/142-2626, 11am-10pm Mon.-Sat., lunch mains US$7-15, dinner mains US$10-30) has some creative Mexican fusion dishes in store. Try the chipotle tequila barbecue baby-back ribs or Cajun filet mignon with grilled prickly pear ratatouille. The Shrimp Extravaganza consists of seven different preparations, including coconut, Parmesan, gingered tequila tamarind, and “frazzled.” The Sushizza blends the flavors of sushi rice, cream cheese, and tamarind. Choose from 120 different kinds of tequila to go with your meal.
Chef Tadd Chapman has opened Don Sanchez Restaurant (Blvd. Mijares s/n, Edificio Eclipse Loc. 1 and 3, tel. 624/142-2444, 11am-11pm daily, mains US$15-35) on Boulevard Mijares, a few doors down from the Tropicana. Fresh salsa is made to order at your table, so you can get it as spicy, or not, as you like it. Main dishes fuse together a variety of flavors from around the world. Start with the Organic Aztec Salad of baby greens, strawberry chipotle vinaigrette, strawberries, grilled quince, pine nuts, goat cheese, quinoa, and fresh herbs. Or try the tempura oysters, served with a mango relish, ginger, and tamarind ponzu sauce. For main courses, the Baja Cioppino is a seafood lover’s delight. And the filet sous vide is a six-ounce cut of grass-fed beef from Sonora seasoned with garlic, rosemary, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Gluten-free dishes are labeled on the menu. Aside from the creative cuisine, the real reason to visit is the wine. The cellar at Don Sanchez is stocked with more than 300 labels, many of them from small-production vineyards in the wine country of Northern Baja.
An art district option for straightforward Mexican is Salsita Cocina y Cantina (Obregón 1732, tel. 624/142-6787, 7:30am-11pm daily, mains US$10-20), in a pretty aqua and white building just behind the plaza and a block from the Cultural Center. Order shrimp tacos, tamales, enchiladas, carne en su jugo (beef slow-cooked in its juice), and chiles rellenos.
The owner of Salsita Cocina y Cantina has opened another eatery across the street with a tapas theme that’s aimed to appeal to local residents. La Osteria (Obregón 1907, tel. 624/146-9696) opened its courtyard doors in October 2012, serving small plates such as a crostini platter, Mexican cheese plate, and chopped salad for US$7-10.
New American and contemporary Mexican themes shape the menu at H Restaurant (Obregón 1505, tel. 624/105-2974), a small eatery with just 10 tables, located in a two-story colonial in the historic art district. That translates into starters such as tortilla chowder and entrées such as seafood cannelloni and flounder encrusted in sunflower seeds. Chef Luis Herrera Thatcher is originally from Mexico City, trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and has recent experience as executive chef at Club Golf de Querencia and the Club Ninety Six beach club.
Also in the art district, a long-popular Cabo San Lucas restaurant, Mi Casa (Obregón 19, tel. 624/146-9263, mains US$20), runs a second location in San José. Start with stuffed clams or the traditional tortilla soup and then move on to cochinita pibil (pork marinated in a strongly acidic citrus juice and roasted while wrapped in banana leaves) or the signature mole poblano (a complex Mexican sauce made of more than 20 ingredients, featuring a combination of ancho, pasilla, mulato, or chipotle peppers). The courtyard setting is a plus. Wines are generally overpriced here.
First-time visitors to San José del Cabo often grab a sidewalk table at the Tropicana Bar and Grill (Mijares 30, tel. 624/142-1580, 8am-10:30pm daily, mains US$10-23) for their first meal. They can take in the scene on Boulevard Mijares as they down their first limonada (lemonade), cerveza, or margarita. Inside and in the garden dining area behind the building, a regular clientele visits the restaurant for Americanstyle fare and nightly live music and dancing. The menu is vast; the prices are for tourists.
Other Food in Centro Historico
American and International
Named for the large tulip tree growing in the center of the restaurant, El Tulipán (The Tulip Tree, Doblado at Mijares, tel. 624/146-9900, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10-20), below Shooters Bar, serves casual fare such as burgers, steaks, salads, and pasta dishes. Booth seating and the varied menu make it a good place for kids.
Regulars praise the lamb dishes at Baan Thai (Morelos and Comonfort, tel. 624/142-3344, noon-10pm Mon.-Sat., 4pm-10pm Sun., mains US$10-25). You can also order pad thai, wok-tossed salmon, and an assortment of curries. In business for many years, this restaurant draws patrons from the East Cape and beyond for a refreshing change from everyday Mexican cooking.
Dinner at Morgan’s Restaurant and Cellar (Hidalgo and Doblado, tel. 624/143-3825, email@example.com, 6pm-midnight daily, dinner till 10pm only, closed Sept., mains US$20 and up) begins with a basket of homemade bread. Wines from around the world complement the menu of Mediterranean entrées. Steaks come with heirloom veggies and foie gras butter. Coconut shrimp are as tasty as the red meat. A meal here is about sitting around the flaming grill in a warm and rustic patio setting.
Morgan’s Encore (Morelos and Obregón, tel. 624/142-4737, 6pm-11pm daily, dinner till 10pm only, closed Sept., mains US$20-40), near the El Encanto Inn, is more intimate, but it can accommodate large groups in its main open-air dining area. The menu includes lobster ravioli, seared scallops, grilled fish, shrimp fettuccine, and spaghetti and meatballs. Consider ordering a couple of creative starters for your main meal.
In the plaza behind the Casa Paulina interior design store, Voila! Bistro (Plaza Paulina on Morelos and Comonfort, tel. 624/130-7569, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10-30) serves a few wines by the glass as well as soup, salads, and entrées like halibut in a mussel sauce and sea bass encrusted with pistachio and macadamia nuts. The jalapeno margarita is a memory-maker.
You can watch the staff make your personal, thin-crust pizza from a patio table at La Dolce Ristorante Italiano & Pizzeria (Plaza Mijares, Hidalgo and Zaragoza, tel. 624/142-6621, 1pm-11pm Tues.-Sun., mains US$10-20). The menu includes bruschetta to start and tiramisu to finish. This place has been around for years and continues to please with friendly service and reasonable prices.
In Plaza La Misión, chef/owner Pasquale Matera and his wife, Alicia, serve thin-crust pizza, osso buco, and other Italian delights at Pasquales Pizzeria and Ristorante (Plaza La Misión, Loc. 6, tel. 624/142-0496, noon-11pm Mon.-Fri., 2pm-11pm Sat.-Sun., mains US$9-18). Many restaurants in San José serve excellent seafood. Pier 19 Seafood & Bar (Zaragoza s/n, btwn. Morelos and Guerrero, tel. 624/130-7453, 11am-5pm lunch, 6pm- 11pm dinner) is one that stakes its reputation on it. The owners were brave enough to open during the depths of the global recession. The raw oyster bar is reason enough to give it a try. Ceviche and aguachile (ceviche in a watery, chile-based broth) are not to be missed. Live music plays on Wednesday nights.
Breakfast, Ice Cream, and Cafés
It’s hard to resist the strong coffee and sweet pastries once you’ve discovered the French Riviera (corner of Hidalgo and Doblado, tel. 624/142-3350, 8am-11pm daily, breakfast mains US$5-10, lunch mains US$10-15). Order to go from the counter or grab a table for a full breakfast. Early risers note: Though the posted hours say the place opens at 7:30am and the staff will let you wander in and take a seat, you likely won’t get served even a cup of coffee until they are fully ready, closer to 8am.
In the art district, Casa Dahlia Gallery (Morelos btwn. Obregón and Zaragoza, tel. 624/142-2129, 10am-3pm and 6pm-9pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-3pm Sat.) serves coffee and tea in a pleasant garden behind a 100-year-old adobe building and has wireless Internet.
Next to the store of the same name, El Armario Café (corner of Morelos and Obregón, tel. 624/105-2989, firstname.lastname@example.org, 10am-8pm Mon.-Sat.) offers reasonably priced light fare, such as yogurt with fresh fruit and granola for US$2 and a baguette sandwich with chips and limonada for US$5.
Breakfast is a good value at the understated Posada Terranova (Degollado, south of Zaragoza, tel. 624/142-0534, 7am-10pm daily, mains US$5-18), a family-run restaurant inside the hotel of the same name. It has indoor and outdoor tables, and the menu covers all the basics of Mexican food.
Roughly across from the Casa de la Cultura, Café Calafia (Blvd. Mijares 2, tel. 624/130-7145, email@example.com, Mon.-Sat. 7:30am-9:30pm, breakfast mains $2-5) is an espresso and coffee bar that also prepares fresh fruit juices, frappes, homemade granola, salads, panini, and desserts.
La Michoacana, on Zaragoza opposite the church, is the place to go for paletas (popsicles) and other frozen treats. There is another location on Doblado at the intersection with the highway.
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Los Cabos.