La Guerrerense: The Most Famous Street Cart In the World For a Damn Good Reason
How is it possible that we haven't written about La Guerrerense in these pages? Sabina Bandera runs arguably the most famous street stand in the world. Andrew Zimmern was struck (momentarily) speechless; Anthony Bourdain called her seafood Michelin quality; she was invited to Singapore, where she set that famously picky city's food writers on (figurative) fire; at this year's Muestra del Vino in Ensenada, her table ran out of food in fifteen minutes flat as people stampeded to it.
Bill Esparza Sabina Bandera and Mariana Oviedo in Singapore
Doña Sabina is not exactly a stranger up on this side of the border, either; she was at the Los Angeles Street Food Fest multiple years in a row, she did a stint at John Sedlar's Playa restaurant before it turned into Petty Cash Taquería, and she had one of the longest lines at this year's Tacolandia.
Still, there is nothing like the original stand, where Sabina and her daughter Mariana Oviedo preside over a cart loaded down with the finest seafood in Baja California. Ceviche comes from a platform on one side, and Mariana presides over cocktails and conchas (seafood on the half shell) on the other. In the middle is Sabina, taking orders from behind a huge stack of Ball jars filled with homemade salsas, most made with produce from her own prodigious garden.
The menu that hangs above Sabina's head is just the starting point; it lists the various tostadas on offer. The erizo con almeja (sea urchin with Pismo clam) is the one that made Tony Bourdain's eyes roll back in his head, dressed with chilitos de mi jardín (peanut and chile oil), but the best one to me is caracol con lajas de caracol, sea snail ceviche with thick grey slabs of fresh sea snail on top, dressed with a little bit of salsa de piña. Even something as humble as fish salad reaches new heights in their capable hands.
The cocteles are excellent too, particularly if they have pata de mula, black ark clams that are as meaty as beef and much the same color. A pata de mula cocktail is an alarming shade of blood red, but you can practically feel the iron easing your anemia. Even shrimp cocktail will redefine what you think of when you order giant prawns in a fancy restaurant.
The stunning quality of Ensenada's seafood, though, is best shown off through their conchas, seafood on the half-shell. Pismo, pata de mula, whatever is freshest. Ask, too, what goodies there might be hiding behind the cart; after fifty years, the vendors know better than to deliver anything except the absolute best to La Guerrerense. One day there may be pen shell clams, another day there may be fresh callo de hacha (scallops). Your shell will be dressed with pico de gallo and slices of avocado; up to you to dress it from the row of salsas at the front of the cart.
Once you're done, you'll walk around to pay your bill, and your eyes will bug out at how cheaply you've eaten. A similar meal in the U.S., even at a truck, would cost at least $50; I usually fill up for change back from a $20. I've driven down to Ensenada just to have lunch there; you'll plan your next visit as soon as you're done.
La Guerrerense is located at the corner of López Mateos (1st) and Alvarado in Ensenada; it opens at 10:30 a.m. and is usually gone by 3:30 p.m.