For many travelers, San José del Cabo has become a culinary destination. 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 by the kilo, you can find it all in and around the streets of San José.
Traditional and Contemporary Mexican
San José del Cabo is the epicenter of a culinary trend in Baja called alta cocina mexicana, or gourmet interpretations of traditional Mexican dishes. One of the trailblazers in this category was Tequila Restaurant (Doblado 1011, west of Mijares, tel. 624/142-1155, www.tequilarestaurant.com, dinner daily, mains US$20 and up). The setting is cozy, and the menu suggests Asian, Mexican, and Mediterranean influences. The restaurant cooks with organic produce, and the tequila menu is, of course, top-notch.
A member of the Slow Food movement emphasizing locally grown and prepared foods, Don Emiliano (Mijares 27, tel. 624/142-0266, 6–11 P.M. daily, mains US$20–36) is run by a well-known chef from Mexico City, Margarita C. de Salinas. Try the six-course tasting menu paired with Mexican wines or order à la carte.
European-inspired Mi Cocina (Mijares 4, tel. 624/146-7100, 6–11 P.M. daily, mains US$20–30), inside Casa Natalia, serves creative fare at high prices in an intimate and contemporary garden setting.
Next to the plaza, La Panga Antigua (Zaragoza 20, tel. 624/142-4041, www.lapanga.com, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$20) offers colonial ambience, with a courtyard, lounge bar, and wine cellar. A menu of contemporary Mexican cuisine with a focus on seafood is prepared by a chef who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Chilies in all their forms take center stage at El Chilar (Juárez 1497 at Morelos, tel. 624/142-2544, 3–10 P.M. Mon.–Sat., mains US$10–30). An Oaxacan chef prepares an ever-changing menu of Mexican specialties at this small restaurant located near the Telmex tower. Cash only.
In the art district, Restaurant Bar Jazmín (Zaragoza and Obregón, tel. 624/142-1760, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, mains US$13–40) serves huachinango (whole red snapper) and carne asada a la tampiqueña on sizzling hot platters. The atmosphere is casual, and the menu includes licuado and chilaquiles for breakfast and tortas, tacos, and fajitas for lunch and dinner. Credit cards, including American Express, are accepted.
If you don’t mind the strip-mall setting, Habañeros Gastro Grill and Tequila Bar (Mijares in Plaza La Misión, tel. 624/142-2626, www.habanerosgastrogrill.com, 11 A.M.–10 P.M. Mon.–Sat., lunch mains US$7–15, dinner mains US$10–30) has some creative Mexican fusion dishes in store. Try the chipotle tequila BBQ 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 100 different kinds of tequila to go with your meal.
Another art district option for straightforward Mexican is Salsita Cocina y Cantina (Obregón 1732, tel. 624/142-6787, www.salsitascocinaycantina.com, 7:30 A.M.–11 P.M. 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), clamatos, and chiles rellenos.
In the same vicinity, a long-popular Cabo San Lucas restaurant, Mi Casa (Obregón 19, tel. 624/146-9263, www.micasarestaurant.com, mains US$20) has expanded with a second location in San José. Start with stuffed clams or the traditional tortilla soup and then move on to cochinita pibil or the signature El Mole Poblano.
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, 8 A.M.–10:30 P.M. daily, mains US$10–23) for their first meal. They can take in the scene on Boulevard Mijares as they down their first limonada, cerveza, or margarita. Inside and in the garden dining area behind the building, a regular clientele visits the restaurant for American-style fare and nightly live music and dancing. The menu is vast; the prices are for tourists.
Breakfast is a good value at the understated Posada Terranova (Degollado, south of Zaragoza, tel. 624/142-0534, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. 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.
Mariscos Mazatlán II (Km. 35, Mexico 1, tel. 624/143-8565, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10–14), near Soriana on the way to the airport, is a favorite among expats for fresh fish at reasonable prices in a non-touristy atmosphere. Look for an orange and blue palapa-roof building with outdoor seating on the west side of Mexico 1. There is also a sister location in Cabo San Lucas.
American and International
El Tulipán (The Tulip Tree, Doblado at Mijares, tel. 624/146-9900, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10–20), below Shooter’s Bar, serves casual fare such as burgers, steaks, salads, and pasta dishes. Booth seating and the varied menu make it a good place for young kids.
Regulars praise the lamb dishes at Baan Thai (Morelos and Comonfort, tel. 624/142-3344, noon–10:30 P.M. daily, 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, morgans [at] prodigy [dot] net [dot] mx, 6 P.M.–midnight daily, dinner till 10 P.M. only, closed Sept., mains US$20 and up) begins with a basket of homemade bread. A variety of wines from around the world complement the menu of Mediterranean entrées.
Morgan’s Encore (Morelos and Obregón, tel. 624/142-4727, 6 P.M.–midnight daily, dinner till 10 P.M. only, closed Sept., mains US$20–40), near the El Encanto Inn, can accommodate large groups in its main open-air dining area. The menu includes seared scallops, grilled fish, shrimp fettuccine, and spaghetti and meatballs. This is also the kind of place where you might happily order a couple of the creative starters for your main meal.
In a relatively new plaza behind the Casa Paulina interior design store, Voila! Bistro (Plaza Paulina on Morelos and Comonfort, tel. 624/130-7569, www.voila-events.com, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10–30) serves a few wines by the glass as well as soup, salads, and entrées like rib-eye steak.
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, 2–11 P.M. daily, mains US$10–20). The menu includes bruschetta to start and tiramisu to finish.
Every table seems to have its own private corner at elegant Local Eight (Plaza la Misión, Mijares, tel. 624/142-6655, www.localeight.com, dinner daily, mains US$15–25), where you dine in a second-story garden terrace located about midway between downtown and the hotel zone. Mediterranean loosely defines the cuisine, but flavors come from all over the world, with entrées ranging from Arabian snapper to gazpacho to pork tenderloin served with a tamarind sauce and fried plantains. An extensive wine list features bottles from Mexico, Chile, California, France, and Germany. Sink into the comfortable cushions, admire the unusual colored lights, and enjoy the relaxed ambience for the evening.
In Plaza La Misión, chef/owner Pasquale Matero 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, www.pasqualescabo.com, noon–11 P.M. Mon.–Fri., 2–11 P.M. Sat.–Sun., mains US$9–18).
Many restaurants in San José serve excellent seafood. Pier 19 Seafood & Bar (Zaragoza s/n btw Morelos/Guerrero, tel. 624/130-7453, 11 A.M.–5 P.M. lunch, 6–11 P.M. dinner) is one of only a few 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. Live music plays on Wednesday nights.
New American and contemporary Mexican themes shape the menu at H Restaurant (Obregón 1505, tel. 624/105-2974, www.hrestaurant.com.mx), located in a two-story colonial in the Historic Art District. That translates into starters such as tortilla chowder gratinada 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.
Breakfast 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, www.frenchrivieraloscabos.com, 8 A.M.–11 P.M. 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 7:30 A.M. 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 8 A.M.
In the art district, Casa Dahlia Gallery (Morelos btw Obregón/Zaragoza, tel. 624/142-2129, www.casadahlia.com, 10 A.M.–3 P.M. and 6–9 P.M. Mon.–Fri., 10 A.M.–3 P.M. 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, San José del Cabo, tel. 624/105-2989, elarmario [at] gmail [dot] com, 10 A.M.–8 P.M. 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.
Mi Ensalada is a corner café at the end of Plaza La Misión on Boulevard Mijares. Sit inside or out on the shaded patio while you enjoy a latte and update your Facebook wall.
La Michoacana, on Zaragoza opposite the church, is the place to go for paletas and other frozen treats. There is another location on Doblado at the intersection with the highway.
Pueblo La Playa and La Playita
On the road to La Playita, near the sportfishing panga area, Tommy’s Barefoot Cantina (tel. 624/142-3774, www.tommysbarefootcantina.com, noon–10 P.M. Thurs.–Tues., mains US$7–30) is owned by the gregarious TJ, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area; he entertains a well-heeled clientele with a slice of the old Baja. The menu consists of fresh seafood, American-style beef, and a variety of Mexican staples. This is a good place to go in the afternoon, when the fishing boats return with their catch. There is also live music and dancing on the weekends during the high season.
The friendly husband-and-wife team that previously ran Mariscos El Puerto has moved a few doors closer to the beach to open La Marina Restaurant (hotel tel. 624/142-4166, 9 A.M.–5 P.M. Tues.–Sun., mains US$5–10). The same colorful checked tablecloths are now clustered on a shaded patio next to the La Marina Inn lobby. Ceiling fans keep the air moving on hot afternoons. On a recent visit, the wahoo filet was extremely overcooked, but the arranchera tacos, served with the same signature tray of fresh condiments, were fantastic. The restaurant and hotel are located across from the panga marina, next to Tommy’s.
For a quick bite to eat in La Playita, order a torta or some tacos at La Pasadita (no tel., mains US$3–5), next to Lilly’s salon on the way to the beach. The decor is barebones—a palapa roof with a dirt floor and live chickens running about—but the food is tasty and cheap. La Pasadita is open for dinner only, and days vary; if you see the sand in front of the restaurant hosed down, that’s a likely sign it will be open for business that evening.
At the main Puerto Los Cabos Marina (not to be confused with the panga fishing area at La Playita) The Container Bar-Restaurant (tel. 624/105-6211, 8 A.M.–9 P.M. Tues.–Sun., mains US$3–7) is a refurbished shipping container with a wooden deck that is perched on a hillside with nice views of the marina below. It has a full bar, and margaritas cost US$8. Prices are in U.S. dollars. Follow Boulevard Juárez over the bridge and take the first right turn into the marina and stay on this dirt road up and over the hill until you see the marina and restaurant on your left.
Beyond Puerto Los Cabos on the lower part of the East Cape, Buzzard’s Bar and Grill (Laguna Hills, U.S. tel. 951/302-1735, www.buzzardsbar.com, 8 A.M.–8:30 P.M. Mon.–Sat., 9 A.M.–2:30 P.M. Sun., mains US$10–20) makes a tasty platter of coconut shrimp as well as a popular eggs Benedict for Sunday brunch. Dinner entrées are served all day, but the side dishes may not be ready until 5:30 P.M. To find Buzzard’s from downtown San José del Cabo, follow the road to La Playita and turn left at the first traffic circle, following the coastal road (it reaches the coast at Buzzard’s) and signs for Laguna Hills.
Playa Costa Azul
For casual, beachfront dining, head to Zippers (Km. 28.5, tel. 624/172-6162, 11 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, mains US$10–20), where you can watch surfers try to catch the waves out front while you dine under the shade of a palapa roof. The menu is a mix of Mexican and pub fare. Cash only.
Mama Mia, at the Worldmark Coral Baja resort (Km. 29.4, tel. 624/142-3939, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$7–14) offers casual beachfront dining with friendly and attentive service. Juicy burgers come with grilled onions and lots of pickles. Chicken fajitas are accompanied by the requisite basket of warm tortillas and a healthy serving of guacamole. The menu features many organic ingredients.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition