Popotla, Baja California: Seafood Cocktails and Dreams

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
Bill Esparza
Fishermen sell their catch at Popotla, B.C.

In 1988's campy bartender melodrama, Cocktail, Brian Flanagan and Doug Coughlin both shared the same dream--to have a place of their own, and live it up like kings. Baja California has been my place to pursue such lofty desires; it's a place where a middle-class guy like me can "make it rain." It's only been the past 3 years that the US media has caught on to the wealth of food products and local cuisine, but they're making up for lost time just swallowing up every delicious find, and every tasty tale from the streets of Baja to its finest dining rooms. But just when you thought Baja couldn't surprise, along came Popotla, the sleepy fishing village that has been my latest obsession as of this past summer.

Popotla may be the most underutilized treasure in Baja California--the locals go to the beach restaurants at the entrance, geared towards Mexican families who go for the pescado zarandeado, Baja lobster, and shrimp cocktails. Down on the beach, Bajacalifornios stick to fried fish, which is done with fresh catch from the fisherman, which is fine, but they're missing out on something bigger. On this beach, the famed Baja lobster dish is a yawn compared to the ease at which you can acquire deep-fried spider crabs, cracked open alive right in front of your eyes, and paired with a spicy a la diabla sauce, or a mojo de ajo. Sea urchin, abalone, pismo clam, black clams, red clams, enormous "huarache" oysters, rare chocolate clams, and sea snail are so cheap it'll have you screaming "whaat" in your best Little John.

The morning catch arrives and is cleaned and ready to go into ceviches, cocktails, and anything your heart desires--this is a place to live out your seafood fantasies and wash it down with a cold Pacifico.

Bill Esparza
Tamal de camaron

Popotla is located just south of the Fox Studios just south of Rosarito Beach, and this place gets packed on the weekends, so parking on the dirt road leading to the beach can be tricky getting out. When you reach all the barkers shoving menus in your faces, you should smile and keep moving towards the beach, but not before having a shrimp tamale from Los Originales Tamles de Popotla, a plywood tamale shack on your left as you begin the row of beach restaurants. All the tamales are good, but the shrimp tamal is a must, with a spicy shrimp stew in the center that moistens the flavorful masa.  

Did I mention you should bring a crew?--you'll need help with all this. 

Bill Esparza
Huarache oyster at Los Compadres de Sinaloa

Bill Esparza
Chocolate clams at Los Compadres de Sinaloa

Start off with raw shellfish, ceviches, and cocktails, and for this you only need one stand: Los Compadres de Sinaloa. Walk past the boats, fish mongers, shellfish stands, and junk food vendors where you'll find an attractive coctelera huddled behind a wall of the typical seafood hot sauces ready to serve you. El Compadre takes care of all the shucking and cracking of live shellfish to be served au natural, or he hands it off to Erika who'll take care of any preparations. Huarache oysters are the ultimate oceanic treat--yourself--right entry into this gourmet seafood buffet. 

Bill Esparza
Pata de mula, or "mule's foot" clam at Los Compadres de Sinaloa

Get a plate of black and red clams, the famously strong flavored shellfish known as pata de mula, or mule's foot. The bitter liquor is for true seafood aficionados who don't shy away from extreme flavors. 

Bill Esparza
Erika at Los Compadres de Sinaloa

One visit, I purchased a fine curvina from a boat and brought it over to be marinated for about 20 minutes for one of the nicest traditional ceviches de pescado I've had in a while. If you have a big enough group you can grab a large yellowtail tuna and bring it over. Erika didn't even charge me for the ceviche service. 

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