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Christmas in Baja: How our Favorite Chefs and Traditional Restaurants Celebrate La Navidad

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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Bill Esparza
Break out the vino mexicano, it's Christmas in Baja California


Baja California is a state that has one of the closest relationships with the United States, especially with us Alta Californios--the cross border culture is alive with tourism, shopping, commuters going both ways, and industry. Many of the chefs have a cross border lifestyle having raised their children on both sides of the border, so items like turkey, and ham--traditional U.S. holiday foods--end up on the Christmas menu. Yes, Christmas, because in a still very Catholic Mexico, Feliz Navidad is spoken.

Take some Mexican and U.S. traditions, and throw in the cache of Baja ingredients from land and sea, and you've got yourself Christmas in Baja California. Here is how 4 star chefs and traditional restaurateurs will be dining with their families on la Nochebuena and la Navidad.

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San Felipe, Baja California: Beyond Spring Break, a Relaxing Fishing Village Still Flourishes

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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Bill Esparza
Almejas blancas, a specialty of San Felipe


Before I ever visited San Felipe, I dismissed it as a Spring Break destination for those unwilling to pay for a flight to Cancun, or Cabo--in other words, the Laughlin of Spring Break in Mexico. And then there was that Rubio's connection. What I found in Baja's northernmost city on the Sea of Cortez was a quiet, relaxing fishing village that had many expat retirees, but wasn't over-developed. 


San Felipe is very hot--it's part of the municipality of Mexicali, which is one of the hottest regions of Mexico, but during the months of October through March, San Felipe has excellent weather and beaches. It's a great place to pick up fresh seafood products right from the fisherman's wharf for grilling on the beach--it's the land of abundant shrimp and white clams. San Felipe is the perfect weekend getaway for relaxation, to take in the unique local attractions, maybe catch the Baja 500, and some solid Baja Cuisine--here's a guide to the best eats in San Felipe.
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Verde y Crema, Tijuana: Chef Jair Téllez's Second Wind

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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In 2009 to 2010, during Baja California's darkest hours, where tourism evaporated due to the big scare of the H1N1 pandemic, the escalation of Mexico's drug war between the government and various cartels, and the full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative--Chef Jair Téllez found himself at a crossroad. The story of Tellez and Laja was prologue to an epic tale of Mexican food and wine that is still being written--his legacy was secure. In 2001, Laja moved the Valle de Guadalupe a quantum leap forward from prune juice and huevos rancheros to a world famous farm-to-table movement for an emerging wine region. 

But after a nice run, the bad new scared off the U.S. tourists, the chilangos were still a couple of years away from turning the Valle's economy around, so Téllez's attempt to find an audience in Ensenada at Restaurante del Parque lasted only months before he threw in the towel. Fast forward to 2013, where Téllez's red hot MeroToro in D.F. and Laja both placed on Latin America's 50 Best(he's the only chef to get 2 spots), he was recently named GQ Mexico's chef of the year, and now the triumphant Téllez has his sights on Tijuana with his new, chic,urban concept, Verde y Crema.     

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If You Build it, He Will Come: Enrique Pelayo Torres' Attempted Rape of the Valle de Guadalupe

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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Enrique Pelayo Torres, Municipal President of Ensenada (PRI)


Perhaps I spoke too soon when I wrote about the sustainable growth of the Valle de Guadalupe in last year's Weekender for Los Angeles Magazine. Coming off of the biggest Vendimias, or wine harvest festival season to date which also saw a few hotel openings, the government of Enrique Pelayo Torres, Municipal President of Ensenada and its 26 boroughs (the Valle de Guadalupe is included) wants to move Mexico's premier wine country into warp drive, in a land whose success has come from the spirit, vision, and labor of the regions vintners, and award winning chefs. 

Without asking the people that live and work in the Valle de Guadalupe, Torres, like a thief in the night, has attempted to subversively push through an aggressive land reuse program titled the Sectorial Program for the Urban Touristic Development of the Wine Producing Valleys.This pinche cabron from the PRI plans to dedicate 48% of the Valle soil to fancy condos and recreation, like the golf course Torres is already working on, in an all too predictable Mexican pattern of build first and think later that has ruined many great cities in Mexico. If you've enjoyed the unspoiled country that Anthony Bourdain had referred to as "the New Tuscany", now is the time to act.     

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MAP: How to Beat the Four-Hour US-Mexico Border Wait at San Ysidro on a Sunday (A Tijuana Sí! Special)

Categories: Tijuana Sí!

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We've reached a tipping point in Baja tourism; people have finally started to discover that Baja is there, it's safe, and it's chock full of things to do. Unfortunately, this means that the lines to cross back are longer than ever. People over at Baja Nomad have reported four-, five- and even six-hour crossing times as CBP works feverishly to add more capacity to the world's busiest border checkpoint and as the U.S. issues heightened security directives due to people who want to blow us up.

It will get better, and soon; the ongoing project, which also involved moving the Mexico-bound checkpoint a third of a mile to the west, will result in a maximum capacity of 64 cars at a time at San Ysidro when they're done, but unfortunately during construction, the lines just keep getting longer and longer. It's the sort of thing that could cause even the hardiest Baja traveler to stay NOB (that's North of the Border).

This week, Tijuana Sí! is going to take a break from food and drink coverage and talk about how to get across the border in the most expeditious way possible. This information was correct and current as of the date of publication, but there's construction everywhere and they have switched which side the Ready Lanes are on more than once. That is to say, your mileage--or kilometrage--may vary.

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Cocina de Baja Reunida: The Third Annual BC Culinary Fest Comes to Tijuana Oct. 24-27, 2013

Categories: Tijuana Sí!

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Two years ago, Javier Plascencia started the BC Culinary Fest in Tijuana to celebrate the renaissance of Baja's culinary scene, and as a one-stop shop to introduce curious people to the wonders being created just south of the border. Curious Mexicans and norteamericanos wandered through the windswept patio of El Trompo, the Tijuana children's museum, eating everything from paella to border dogs, from just-made requesón to aged wine.

This year's festival, the third, is from October 24-27, based at CECUT, the golf ball-shaped cultural center in Tijuana. Previous years had events from Mexicali to Bahía de los Ángeles; this year, chefs from all over the state as well as from Guadalajara and Mexico City will come to Tijuana.

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National Taco Day, Baja Edition: 5 World Champion Tacos to Tackle South of the Border

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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Bill Esparza
Seafood taco Mecca at Mariscos El Mazateño


All this taco talk from those crazy New Yorkers has got me thinking about my upcoming trip to Baja for the 3rd Annual Baja Culinary Fest, October 24-27, where some of the best tacos in Mexico can be savored from the taquerias to carts and to beach shacks. Certainly, the best seafood tacos in Mexico are in Baja California.


Baja could give D.F. a run for its money in terms of taco culture, creativity, and flavors. Mexico City could be compared to the '85 Chicago Bears of tacos, and Baja--mostly Tijuana and Ensenada--would be the '72 Dolphins. If Mexico is the NFL of the taco lifestyle, then L.A. and the O.C. are the Division 1 college football equivalent of taco madness; we're Cornhuskers! New York City tacos?=High School football. But, enough of that; let's go to the source, Baja California,for a tour of some of the best pinche tacos on the planet, just a 2 hour drive south from La Naranja.  
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Rancho Pescadero, Pescadero, B.C.S: Hotel Baja California

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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Bill Esparza
Rancho Pescadero, B.C.S.


I must admit, the first time I set my eyes on Rancho Pescadero, I thought that any moment, Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize might walk up from the beach in white suits glowing in the bask of the sun, and escort my wife and I to our room. There are certainly more expensive resorts in Cabo, but just to the north of Margaritaville is Rancho Pescadero, a remarkable, romantic getaway in the sleepy commercial fishing village of Pescadero, an Oasis between the Sierra Laguna mountains and the Pacific Ocean. 


There's nothing but you, that special someone, and the sand beneath your toes--you won't be startled out of bed by Sammy and the Waboritas playing "I Can't Drive 55"--and it's just a 30 minute drive from the Cabo Airport. The intimate resort is my favorite place to stay in the entire peninsula to truly getaway, sip some of the house tequila before turning in, and lounging on the rooftop canopy bed with a glass of wine from the Valle de Guadalupe. There are plenty of nice places to dine in Pescadero and nearby Todos Santos--Rancho's Chef Rodrigo Bueno is excellent, too, but the resort itself is the destination.  
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La Guerrerense: The Most Famous Street Cart In the World For a Damn Good Reason

Categories: Tijuana Sí!

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Bill Esparza
Sabina Bandera and Mariana Oviedo in Singapore
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.

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.

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Vendimias 2013: Annual Paella Contest Closes the Regions Biggest Wine Harvest Festival to Date

Categories: Tijuana Sí!
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The Valle de Guadalupe was hotter than ever this summer, especially in the month of August during the annual Vendimia (run by Provino), or wine harvest festival. This is one part of Baja that isn't sweating the lack of U.S. tourists at all, because you simply couldn't get a room the entire month--everything is booked--I drove around to 4 hotels in Ensenada the first weekend of the Vendimia before finding a room for one night--with hourly rates!. A woman at my table attending Corazon de Tierra's G-8 dinner had to get a room all the way back at La Fonda in La Mision, 30 minutes away, down a dark winding country highway. 

Chilangos, tapatios, regios and the local elite loaded with cash and an appetite for all things Baja--not to mention THE best chefs in Mexico--are pouring into Mexico's premier wine country to throw dollars in the air like rock stars, snatching up any and every event--no questions asked. Anybody got tickets for...sorry, it's sold out! 3 weeks and 41 events later, we are stuffed, glowing, hungover, and have had to toss a few wine stained shirts and blouses. Next year will be even bigger, so, here's what happened while you[tourists] were away.  

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