Cabo San Lucas Drinking and Dining Video Source: Breathless Resorts
Drinking & Dining CaboViVO Style
México is home to one of the world’s great culinary traditions, a wholly original and remarkably varied cuisine whose bedrock elements, such as the tortilla, can be traced far back beyond the Spanish colonial period and the so-called Aztecs (they called themselves Mexica) into the distant mists of early Mesoamerica.
Despite its age, this cooking tradition remains remarkably vibrant, thanks in large part to the many regional variations on recipes for signature sauces like mole, stews like pozole, and cured meats like cecina.
Los Cabos, as it has evolved from small farming, ranching and fishing communities into an area capable of sustaining cosmopolitan cities like Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, has welcomed transplants from around México, and thus its restaurants now serve as a delicious repository, a living library, for much of this collected cultural knowledge.
But let’s be clear: Baja California Sur, the state in which the municipality of Los Cabos resides, has its own cultural and culinary traditions, and where the latter are concerned the operative word is seafood.
Bounded as it is by two enormous and enormously abundant bodies of water – the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California (more commonly known regionally as the Sea of Cortés) – Los Cabos has always sourced the majority of its food from the sea. Virtually every restaurant in The Capes Region showcases freshly caught fish on a daily basis, and the vast preponderance offer some sort of “you hook it, we cook it” special, whereby local and visiting anglers can have their catch cooked to order with a choice of fixings. Fish tacos are served up on every block.
Marlin used to be a local delicacy, but conservation efforts have taken this traditional staple off the menu at all but a very few eateries. The same is true for totuava (or totoaba), although this mouthwateringly delicious fish from the northern Gulf region is now sometimes raised in commercial fish farms.
The seafood options, however, are still varied and delicious. The local tuna is spectacular, so too the dorado (the local name for mahi-mahi, or dolphinfish) and shellfish like shrimp and clams. Among the foremost local delicacies, in fact, are almejas, AKA chocolate clams; which are named not for their flavor but the distinctive color of their shell.
Tijuana chefs like Miguel Angel Guerrero and Javier Plascencia helped pioneer the peninsula’s first internationally recognized culinary movement, Baja Med, at restaurants like El Taller and Misión 19. Baja Med – a fusion of regional ingredients with Mediterranean influences – was profoundly influential during the first decade of the 21st century, and resulted in a peninsula-wide refocusing on local sources of food, from organic produce and cheeses to sustainably harvested meats and seafood.
Although the fundamental principles of Baja Med remain, many of Los Cabos’ most gifted chefs have shifted focus in recent years towards a more pan-Pacific approach. Volker Romeike at Pitahayas was an early proponent of Pacific fusions, as were Angel Carbajal and Masayuki Niikura at Nick-San; and they have since been joined by chefs like Enrique Olvera (at Manta, the signature restaurant at The Cape: A Thompson Hotel) and Mariano Takinami (at Templo).
It is expected that great Mexican food will be readily available to tourists, and the proliferation of sushi restaurants is explicable given the region’s tremendous seafood bounty…but how can one account for the dozens of great Italian restaurants in Los Cabos? Cabo San Lucas, improbably, has more first-class Italian restaurants than Rome has hills. Other international cuisines are represented less noticeably, but those who tire of tacos (we must be fair and not pity them too much) have plenty of cuisines from which to choose, including multiple Chinese restaurants, and at least one good Indian curry purveyor.
Beer & Wine
The Baja California peninsula is in the midst of a beer and wine renaissance. México, although not considered a traditional wine making country by most Americans, is in fact the home of the oldest winery in North America – Casa Madero in Coahuila’s Valle de Parras dates back to 1597 – and has been a consistent producer ever since.
Valle de Guadalupe, located outside Ensenada in northern Baja, has drawn frequent comparisons of late to Napa Valley in Alta California, a comparison that is not very apt in terms of the wines themselves – each has very distinctive terroir and a few benchmark varietals – but certainly offers a clue to Valle de Guadalupe’s status nationally. It is easily the premier wine region in México, and it and other neighboring Baja wine valleys now produce over 90% of the country’s table wines.
Simply put: the rapid growth of Valle de Guadalupe over the past 25 years has not only transformed tourism along the state’s Ruta del Vino, but has played a profound part in shaping the peninsula’s emergent culinary movements.
Nobody, of course, is surprised to find excellent beer in México. Brands like Corona and Pacífico are stocked on grocery shelves around the world. Even Tecate, Baja’s biggest brand, has international distribution. But when it comes to craft beer, it is only in the past few decades that Baja has begun to distinguish itself. Although Tijuana and Ensenada are both still miles ahead, visitors to the cape cities will find multiple locations for the state’s first microbrewery, Baja Brewing Company, as well as freshly fermented goodness – courtesy of a partnership with Tijuana’s Rámuri – at La Pintada in downtown San Lucas.
If San José del Cabo is now the fine dining center of Los Cabos, Cabo San Lucas remains its undisputed party hub. In fact, the word nightlife itself is insufficient when it comes to San Lucas, where beachfront cantinas typically get the party started well before noon. Twenty years ago, there was a beach scene and a downtown scene, with the latter revolving around the twin spokes of Cabo Wabo Cantina – the bar and restaurant founded by Sammy Hagar and his Van Halen bandmates in 1990 – and El Squid Roe, famed for its multi-level madness and thumping, high-energy music.
That distinction between beach and downtown party districts still exists, but modern Cabo San Lucas has grown much more sophisticated. Today, the Land’s End city offers nightlife options that range from beachfront cantinas, brew pubs and sports bars to martini lounges, jazz clubs and wine bars. Even San José, traditionally more staid, has seen a bit of a late night revival thanks to clubs like Mixology.