Chef Carlos Valdez: El Rey del Baja California Sur

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
Chef Carlos Valdez

For decades Baja California Sur has been defined--unfairly-- by the OC on the Sea of Cortez tourist spot: Cabo San Lucas, where American spring breakers go to suck down margaritas, eat nachos until they burst, perform graceless acts at wet t-shirt contests, and develop pre-melanoma lesions under the warmth of the Baja sun. During the 3-year media blitz that has descended upon Baja California, the southern half of the peninsula has stayed on the sidelines, or so it would seem.

I first visited Buffalo BBQ in La Paz back in 2009 and was impressed by the thick cuts of Sonoran beef cooked on a Santa Maria style grill, and the excellent hamburgers, but the menu lacked depth--most of the interesting items were off menu. In the years since my initial visit, Sonoran-born Chef Carlos Valdez has has come up in a major way. On a recent visit to Buffalo BBQ I was surprised by an expanded restaurant and a revitalized master chef of the Sonoran grill and Baja cuisine, a style he calls BajaSon. Chef Carlos Valdez is the best Baja chef you haven't heard of, and is set to reign in Baja California Sur. 

Chef Carlos Valdez comes from Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, where carne asada is as serious as  mole in el Valle de Oaxaca, carnitas in Quiroga, Michoacan; or  barbacoa in Tulancingo, Hidalgo. Sonora also has the distinction of being the greatest surf and turf culture in Mexico, which a huge cattle industry of healthy Angus steer, and the seafood treasures from the Sea of Cortez.

Valdez began a Sonoran style surf and turf restaurant 10 years as a frustrated civil engineer longing to be a professional grill man in La Paz, which is the most exciting food destination in Southern Baja California. He has never had any formal training--he's completely self taught.

Santa Maria style grill at Buffalo BBQ

He mans his custom Santa Maria style grill like a ship's captain orchestrating a daring maneuver at sea, dramatically adjusting the heavy grate. With stern vigilance, he breaks away from socializing frequently to give his young chef instructions as a massive 2 kilo cabreria(bone-in, beef tenderloin) is set down, one of his favorite Sonoran cuts of steak. Valdez's beef comes from a small family ranch in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora called Rancho Los Olvidados, where natural Angus steaks are cut to Valdez's specifications.   

Bill Esparza

Bill Esparza
Ceviche of 5 clams

Valdez's seafood cocktailing skills are among the best in all of Baja. Buffalo BBQ's ceviche of 5 clams is an explosive combination of local clams with a smooth and peppery citrus and amaranth potion --Valdez rattled off the nearby islands where some of the clams came from in the Sea of Cortez--including geoducks, reinas, chocolatas( a local delicacy), blancas islenas, and roñosas. Baja chefs are the best high seafood cocktailers in Mexico, and this ranks high among the most memorable ceviches I've encountered.

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