Exploring Baja California, Mexico: Puerto Nuevo aka The Lobster Capital of Baja

"Exploring Baja California, Mexico" is part of a series recap. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the series here: Mexico Trip Recap

Puerto Nuevo is a small coastal town that sits between Ensenada and Rosarito, about a 40 minute drive from the San Diego/Mexico border. The town, known as the "Lobster Capital of Baja," is famous for serving freshly caught spiny lobsters, fried in lard. It may sound simple, but there's a secret method to cooking this lobster that keeps people coming back for more. 

There are over 30 restaurants in Puerto Nuevo that serve lobster, but the most popular is Puerto Nuevo I or Restaurant Nuevo. The family who operates the two most popular restaurants also owns many of the restaurants nearby, including Grana's Place, which is where we went. According to Baja Times, "The first really commercial lobster restaurant was started in 1955 by Rosario Grana, and it still is serving Lobster Puerto Nuevo in the same spot, which is on the very first southwestern corner of the main street of the town."

Our waitress recommended two orders total; each order comes with three lobster halves, which ended up being the perfect amount for us. The lobsters are served with a spread of beans, rice, chips, salsa, drawn butter and basket of warm and fresh, homemade flour tortillas. The tortillas are perfectly soft, moist and pliable with silky layers,  easily the best that I've ever had in my life. I have the exact same sentiments with the rice and beans - it's on point. 

The lobsters are pan-fried in lard, so the meat stays sweet, soft and tender. The secret is in the lard. David Nelson of LA Times says "these places use lard as the cooking element and reuse it through the day until it has become an unimaginably rich emulsion of fat and lobster juices." The volume of lobsters results in lobster juices overpowering the lard, so you get lobster that's essentially fried in its own juices. It's ridiculously effin' good; I'm obsessed with these spiny creatures.  

In total, we paid $25 per person in cash. The price varies at restaurants based on season and size of the lobsters, so expect an order to be anywhere from $15 to 30 per person. The restaurants in the area are usually open from 10am to 8pm on weekdays, some restaurants stay open until 11pm on Friday and Saturdays. If you go during the weekday like we did, the entire town is pretty dead, which is in some way a good thing because the restaurants have lines out the door on weekends.

I've come to the conclusion that life is so much better when there's a plate of Puerto Nuevo-style lobsters in front of you, waiting to be devoured. 

Puerto Nuevo Shops

There's not much in a town that's taken over by restaurants, but I would highly suggest stopping over after eating lobsters to check out Paleteria Y Neveria Ice Cream, a popsicle and ice cream shop. 

I had the strawberry cheesecake, which was splendid. I also really loved the pistachio flavor as well. I don't think you can go wrong with any flavors here. It's creamy and tastes like ice cream on a stick, rather than an icy popsicle. 

I felt like a kid - the selection of candy and treats at this shop was unreal. My biggest regret is not grabbing a bag of De La Rosa or the chili mango pops.

In addition to candy, there's dried fruits, many of which are coasted in sugar and covered in chili, along with shelves of vanilla extract. 

The shops are, kind of, fun to check out. I scored a backpack for $14, which I am pretty sure is the tourist's price, but I didn't mind. I couldn't help but to admire the creative jewelry for sale. If you enlarge and look closely, you'll spot stone fruit pits, acorns, and other uses of seeds and nuts, beautifully dyed and handmade into a necklace or bracelet. I'll need to grab some on our next visit. 

I'll see you again soon, Puerto Nuevo! 

You can visit this link for maps and directions on how to get to Puerto Nuevo: http://www.puertonuevolobster.com/puerto-nuevo-map.htm

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Exploring Baja California, Mexico: Ensenada’s Best Seafood-Centric Carts

"Exploring Baja California, Mexico" is part of a series recap. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the series here: Mexico Trip Recap

If you're in Ensenada and hanging out at Papas and Beer, you're missing out on what this little seaside port town really has to offer - cheap, fresh locally caught seafood and, of course, a variety of glorious street eats. When you look past the tourist traps and big titty shot glasses, Ensenada is full of charm that awaits exploration. 

The very first time I went to Ensenada was back in November 2009. I was on a cruise ship celebrating two friends' birthdays and we paid for an incredibly boring excursion that included a lame history walk paired with a margarita stop at Mango Mango, where we learned how to make guacamole. To this day, I still look back and shake my head, shamefully, asking myself why the heck I decided to go along with it and pay for a guacamole lesson instead of immerse myself in the culture that Ensenada truly has to offer. 

So, on our recent visit that's exactly what we did. We ate like locals and explored beaches and markets where no tourists were in sight. In this post, I'm walking through our experience at three of the best seafood-centric carts in Ensenada. 

This is our "Hello from Baja California, Mexico" digital postcard. The drive to Ensenada from Popotla was breathtaking! The scenic views of the coast and cliffs were so beautiful that we had to pull over to take a photo. 

Ensenada's Best Seafood-centric Carts

La Guerrerense

Location: Calle Alvarado y 1era., Centro, Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
Website: http://laguerrerense.com/index.html

La Guerrerense has been in operation for over 50 years and is the most popular seafood cart in Ensenada to both locals and tourists, serving fresh seafood on tostadas. 

They've been featured in multiple media outlets and popular television shows, like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations because of their many unique seafood options: fish, shrimp, octopus, pismo clam, sea urchin, sea cucumber, sea snail, fish pate, and more.

We paid 123 pesos ($8) for three tostadas: [1] fish, [2] sea urchin and pismo clam, and [3] sea snail. 

It was love at first bite - the fish tostada was satisfying and flavorful. 

The sea urchin tasted like it was conserved, salty and silky, then topped with supple pink pismo clams and buttery avocado. 

The sea snail tostada was our least favorite and reminds me of a bland steamed and meaty abalone. 

There are also 16 different homemade hot sauces offered at the cart, but we were only able to try a few that we could get our hands on because people were hogging up the space. My favorite is the ‘Chilitos de Mi Jardin’ made with dried chiles, garlic and peanuts, which has earthy and smokey characteristics. 

I'd love to go back again to try out the rest of their options. The sea cucumber and fish pate is on top of my list for next time. 

Mariscos El Guero

Location: Alvarado, Zona Centro, Ensenada, B.C., Mexico

You know a food cart is worth trying when you see locals surrounding it. El Guero offers raw seafood that's fresh, clean, and made to order. 

Upon our arrival, we were confused and did not know how to place an order. There was no menu, so we had to observe and see what other people were eating. Patrick was able to flag a floating worker to ask him how it works.  It turns out that there are specific stations for tostadas, cocktails and shucked oysters. 


The workers at the cart are shucking oysters and clams all day, and chopping up all sorts of seafood.  

I saw a station filled with chopped shrimp, fish, clams, mussels, scallops, and octopus. I knew this was something that my life would be incomplete without trying, so we ordered a plate of the tostada mixta. 

The tostada mixta is what dreams are made of. The seafood was piled on so generously that we couldn't even finish it. Instead of a large tostada, we were given a bunch of small ones that are better used for scooping and sharing.

I couldn't believe my ears when Patrick told me that the plate of seafood was only 100 pesos ($6.46). 

Tacos de Pescado Los Originales

Location: Avenida Gastélum & Avenida Benito Juarez, Ensenada, B.C., Mexico

"There is speculation that the Japanese fisherman working off the coast of Ensenada introduced the locals to tempura, hence the battered and fried fish," says Bill Esparza on an interview on KCRW's Good Food.

There are dozens of fish taco stands in Ensenada, but many of them don't care about the quality of ingredients they use. Esparza says that the best stands are the places that use dogfish or angel shark and that it's important to check out a stand's produce and salsa add-ons for quality. He created The Ultimate Guide to the Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada and marked Tacos de Pescado Los Originales as the one spot he would drive across the border for. So, of course, we had to check this place out. 

We arrived at 5pm on a Sunday, so the add-on options were a bit picked over. There's a huge mayo bottle with a community fork in it, fresh shredded cabbage, five different salsas and toasted chile de arbol.

The price of a fish taco is 66 pesos ($4.30) each. It was completely worth it for a generous piece of cazon (shark), battered and fried in pork lard until beautifully plump and crispy. 

It's unlike any fish taco we've ever had before. The shark meat has a firm texture that resembles chicken, but with a lovely flakiness. I don't know if this is best fish tacos spot in Ensenada, but it was so good that I was craving for it again the next day. 

There are many places to try, but so little time. I would love to go back to Ensenada again just for the seafood carts and fish tacos alone. 

A huge thanks to our friend, Sandy (Foodhoe), for her amazingly-documented blog post that we used as a guide: Baja Road Trip: epic seafood in Ensenada.

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Exploring Baja Calfornia, Mexico: Popotla - Gigantic Spider Crabs, Live Caviar Extraction, Seafood Cocktails, and 100% Elote Tamales

"Exploring Baja California, Mexico" is part of a series recap. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the series here: Mexico Trip Recap

Last week, I ate a freshly caught, gigantic spider crab at a little fishing village in Mexico and it was effin' amazing. 

Mexico has climbed its way to the top of my favorite places list. The bright culture, artistic charm, relaxing vibe, and most of all, the affordable fresh seafood has got me hooked like rock cod on a fishing pole. 

Before our trip, the thought of traveling to Baja California, Mexico never really crossed my mind until after my friend, Sandy (Foodhoe), raved about it after visiting a couple of times for fresh seafood. I was inspired by her and determined to have the same experience as she did. Thanks to her two amazingly-documented blog posts, a seafood feast in Popotla, BC and Baja Road Trip: epic seafood in Ensenada, we had an incredible trip filled with the freshest seafood that anyone could possibly hope for. 

Our first stop was Popotla, a small fishing village located south of Rosarito Beach, right next to Fox Studios, where the famous movie Titanic was filmed. 

As soon as we drove past the arches and into Popotla, a security guard stops to greet us to ask about our intentions. We continue to drive along the the dirt path road and a swarm of people suddenly rush over to our car to tell us where to park and try to get us into their restaurants. I don't know how many times we had to say, "No. Gracias."

Because of this, I would strongly advise anyone visiting to not drive all the way through and to instead park parallel to the dirt road, immediately after passing the arches - it's free. It was our first time visiting and we didn't know any better, so we paid to park in the lot on the left side. It was legit - they gave everyone a little dashboard ticket as proof of payment.

Once parked, we pass through all the restaurants to head over to the beach, constantly saying "No. Gracias." to everyone trying to get business from us. We were on a mission to find and pick out our own crab and have a feast on the beach. 

The beach is full of vendors and fisherman selling fresh, locally caught fish by the hour. This is seafood heaven right here! There was a very diverse selection - grouper, snapper, bass, cod, corbina, halibut, yellowtail, shark, urchin, crabs, clams, mussels, and oysters. 

The seafood selection on this table is really impressive - check out that dogfish shark sitting on top of the pile of spider crabs. The fish on the table were still alive and breathing.  It's no surprise that pretty much anything goes in Mexico! 

A Live Sturgeon Caviar Extraction

We witnessed a fascinating extraction of caviar from this huge beautiful sturgeon. If you click the photo to enlarge and look closely, you'll see the egg pouch and some of the eggs. The roe was sold the moment it was extracted. I was insanely jealous and wanted a spoonful to taste. 

I never knew how beautiful a sturgeon's patterns were until I saw it laying there. The pattern of the fish is almost like a sacred geometric tattoo. 

Hello Gigantic Marcianos (Spider Crabs)!

The main reason why people come to Popotla is for the spider crabs. These huge monstrous looking crabs are plentiful and sold at numerous stalls. We did a walk through all the vendors, picked out a gigantic crab, purchased it and got paired up with a restaurant to have it fried up.

That huge crab is going to make someone very happy.  

A table full of spider crabs and jars filled with sea urchin. 

This is the gigantic spider crab we selected. It's about to get broken to pieces, fried up and devoured. The prices vary by size. For the crab we selected, the price was 183 pesos ($12). While that's cheap for us, I'm willing to bet that's the price charged to tourists.

Our spider crab was cracked alive right in front of us. The edge of the table was used against the crab's head nook to detach the body. I was hoping they could do something delicious with the crab's tomalley, but they discard that part and told us that it's not something they eat. It's such a shame to throw away my favorite part of a crab. 

The Amazing Fried Spider Crab Feast

Our fish vendor paired us up with Mariscos Espana, one of the oldest established restaurants in Popotla that offers beach-side seating with a phenomenal view. On Saturday afternoon, the place was completely empty, so we had the place to ourselves. 

While waiting for our spider crab to get fried, I spend some time taking photos of Patrick. I caught him mid-way laughing at something I said to him - this was my favorite shot. 

We sat down to enjoy a couple of beers, house made chips and salsa while admiring the view. In about 15 minutes, our server comes out with a huge plate of fried crabs and a jolt of excitement runs through my entire body. 

These heavenly crab parts are deep fried and finished with garlic butter. 

The claws are gigantic, nearly as big as my hand. We used a wooden board and a large rock, about the size of a big avocado, as a tool for cracking the crabs. (Hint: The trick is to do it on the edge of the table where the leg is).

We also requested for salsa diabla, made primarily with Guajillo peppers, which goes wonderfully with the crab. The combination is orgasmic - lovely savory sweetness from the wonderfully meaty crab meat paired with a smokey chile sauce that really opens up the brightness of the crab. 

This crab is truly the best I've ever had in my entire life. There's nothing that even comes close to the wonderful texture and flavor of a spider crab. Our bill at the restaurant was about 229 pesos ($15) for the chips and salsa, two beers, and preparation and frying of the spider crab. It seems like these restaurants charge the frying price based on weight of the seafood you bring in. 

In total, this experience cost us only 412 pesos ($27). I wanted to come back again for dinner and still cannot stop obsessing over how delicious it was. 

Magical Seafood Cocktails

Shellfish and seafood cocktails are also very popular in Popotla. Shortly after we finished our crab feast, we went to explore what the other vendors were offering and spotted a table specializing in exactly that. I was full, but I had to get something. 

Inside this plastic cup is a magical cocktail mix of mariscos for only 91 pesos ($6- fresh oysters, chocolate clams, blood clams, octopus, and shrimp that's wonderfully savory and briny. 

100% Elote Tamales: Where Have You Been All My Life? 

There are many different types of tamales, but I've never had the type made of fresh corn kernels. Tamales Popotla has introduced a new world to me - a tamale with a texture that's fluffy, almost cake-like and each bite is like eating a mouthful of rich, wonderful corn. It's almost like cornbread meets masa dough. I would highly recommend the two we tried, sweet corn and cheese with chilies. It's priced at 15 pesos ($1) each.

As we were leaving, I was mesmerized by this ice cream cart and had to get a popsicle. Luckily he wasn't around when I was a kid because my allowance would go straight to him. 

Our visit to Popotla was truly an amazing experience and I cannot wait to visit again. If I lived in San Diego, I would cross that border frequently for Popotla's seafood. I'm still dreaming about that crab! 

You can thank Sandy (Foodhoefor Popotla's GPS coordinates: 32.282065, -117.034997

Popotla opens daily from around 9:30 until mid-day, restaurants may keep later hours. (Source: Bill Esparza of OC Weekly)

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