As the youngest state in Mexico, Baja gets left out on most travelers’ paths through that country. As someone who’s visited before – I spent a weekend at an eco-lodge on the Sea of Cortez – I know how incredible the dining scene is at some of the smallest, most easily overlooked restaurants in this part of the world. That’s why it was so exciting to see that Anthony Bourdain spent a week in Baja, proving the same on camera.
Anthony Bourdain visits Baja in Season 8, Episode 7 of No Reservations. This is the only time he visits this region during any of his shows. If you want to follow the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain in Baja, you’ve got your work cut out. This is one of the most ambitious culinary routes of any episode – and will convince you that this part of Mexico is well worth the trip… and the hangovers that might come with it.
Synopsis of the Baja Episode of No Reservations
While all of his TV work was focused on the food, this particular episode – when Anthony Bourdain is in Baja – feels like a real celebration of culinary culture.
Tony starts his visit crossing the border into Tijuana; this is the primary destination he visits in Baja and I was so enamored that I wrote an entire post about that city even though it doesn’t have its own episode. After eating, drinking, and riding around in a pink limo through town, Bourdain heads out of the city down the Pacific coast to visit Ensenada, Rosarito, and the Valle de Guadalupe.
While he certainly doesn’t cover all of Baja, Tony does sample a wide range of Mexican food – and specifically Baja food. In the process, as he usually does, Bourdain also challenges our assumptions about this oft-overlooked part of our southern neighbor.
Where Anthony Bourdain Ate in Baja
After tucking into a sandwich at a food stall near the Tijuana border, Tony takes us on a whirlwind tour of Baja California. At the time of writing, this is the destination where Bourdain visits more places than any other episode!
1. Mission 19 (Tijuana)
He starts at Mission 19, an upscale cocina making fresh interpretations of Mexican food – especially Baja food. There he tries sous vide lengua (beef tongue), with fresh chopped peppers, red wine, and extra virgin olive oil. It’s topped with Morcilla (Mexican blood sausage – a Bourdain fave), radishes, arugula, and garlic chips.
2. Dandy Del Sur (Tijuana)
Next, Tony meets up with another Tony – Tony T – to leran a bit more about Tijuana’s food scene. They enjoy beers at Dandy Del Sur, a local watering hole, before moving on to a slightly hipper option across the street.
3. La Mezcalera (Tijuana)
That spot is La Mezcalera, a small-batch mezcaleria (Mezcal bar) where Tony and Tony T tuck into a mezcal tasting flight and chapulines, seasoned with lime, chili, garlic and salt. This bar is decidedly hipster-friendly and almost all of the patrons are locals – at least that was the case before Bourdain put this place on the map.
4. Las Ahumaderas (Taco Alley) (Tijuana)
Next, by way of bright pink limo, the two Tonys make their way to Las Ahumaderas – Taco Alley. There they tuck into tacos campechanos made with different meats including chorizo (my fave!). It’s possible the place they eat is called Tacos El Paisano, but I’m not 100% sure on that.
5. Unknown Lunch Spot (Tijuana)
After all that mezcal, tacos, and a late night, Bourdain starts his day dining with locals at an unknown lunch spot; literally we never learn where it is! There he enjoys a Michelada – a little ‘hair of the dog,’ which is the perfect hangover cure – plus pescado empapelado, bacon-wrapped shrimp skewers, and batter fried and sweet shrimp (which Tony correctly identifies as influenced by Chinese cuisine).
6. Kentucky Fried Buches (Tijuana)
After another day spent exploring Tijuiana – and undoubtedly taking down some tequila – Bourdain is in need of more alcohol-absorbing food and heads to Kentucky Fried Buches. This place specializes in fried chicken necks – buches – on tortillas with fresh salsa, which Tony claims are great after a few drinks. I’ll take his word for it!
7. Tacos Lily (Ensenada)
After (over)indulging in Tijuana, Bourdain heads out to Ensenada, which is about two hours south down the Pacific Coast. He meets up with another local guide at Tacos Lily. This taco spot makes some of the best fish tacos – according to both locals and Bourdain – which I believe they said are actually made with shark meat; add all the topics you want from the bar and pair it with shrimp cocktail, just like Tony does.
8. La Guerrerense (Ensenada)
Next, Tony heads to the highlight of the episode: La Guerrerense. At the time of the episode, this was a food cart in Ensenada; now it’s a full cocina!
The specialty at La Guerrerense is tostadas, and Bourdain is blown away by all of the ones he tries:
- Sea urchin and pismo clam with lime, chili sauce, avocado, peanut sauce and garden chiles
- Scallop and sea snail with purple onion, sea salt, lime, and chile sauce
- Salt cod with olives, onion, chiles, and special chile sauce
- Octopus on red snapper ceviche with lime, salt, and chile sauce, avocado
I’m sold on visiting Ensenada after this segment of the show!
9. Food Stands (Rosarito Beach)
Heading back toward Tijuana, Tony stops at Rosarito Beach. Here, beach food stands offer fresh seafood and shellfish that’s literally straight from the sea. Bourdain orders two insanely hugh lobsters, Porto Nuevo-style with rice and beans.
10. Corazón de Tierra (Valle de Guadalupe)
Heading inland, Tony makes a stop in the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s wine country. As he learns, this region has a similar climate to the Mediterranean, hence the incredible wines. At Corazón de Tierra, Bordain enjoys a delicious meal featuring dishes including roasted tuna belly with dikon garnish with kohlrabi, nasturtium, and lemon garnish and a delectable-looking black bean glazed leg of lamb with swiss chard, carrot, radish, and turnip.
Unfortunately, Corazón de Tierra is now permanently closed, but it looked too good to skip putting on the list!
11. Beach Barbeque
For one local meal – he always has at least one – Bourdain meets up with a few chefs for a beach barbeque and riding motorbikes on the sand. They feast on charcoal-grilled oysters in the half shell with chipotle sauce and grilled and raw Bluefin tuna with salsa.
12. Unknown Breakfast Spot
As the episode ends, Bourdain enjoys one last meal at an anonymous restaurant. Fighting a mighty hangover, he enjoys Mexican coffee and chicken enchiladas with an incredible-looking mole; they also serve chapulines, but Tony uncharacteristically turns them down as they turn his stomach in turn.
Baja Food Tours You Might Enjoy
As you can tell, Baja is an incredible culinary destination – even though it’s often overlooked for spots north of the border or in mainland Mexico. While Tony doesn’t visit all of the Baja peninsula (he stays in Baja California and doesn’t visit Baja California Sur), here are some food tours from the southern tip to Tijuana that you might try on your own visit:
Have any questions about the spots visited by Anthony Bourdain in Baja? Let me know in the comments!