A Big Picture Overview of the Contemporary Los Cabos Dining Scene
The Los Cabos dining scene has grown exponentially from its birth some 50 years ago, when the newly formed Mexican tourism trust Fonatur helped transform cape communities Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo from small fishing, ranching and farming towns into tropical travel destinations for U.S. and Canadian tourists.
Back then, fine dining was something of a foreign concept. Freshly caught seafood and a few regional Mexican specialty dishes were standard dinner fare after a day spent fishing or beachcombing. In today’s Los Cabos, both the dining and activities options are decidedly more cosmopolitan.
Los Cabos has not forgotten its roots – the region’s thriving farm-to-table scene, for example, is premised on fresh local ingredients – but it has allowed those roots to spread far and wide. What has emerged is a world-class culinary destination that boasts acclaimed chefs and creative fusions, as well as the fish tacos and Damiana margaritas that long-time Los Cabos regulars know and love.
Yes, Los Cabos has its share of famous chefs now. Enrique Olvera is the most celebrated of the group, with two restaurants – Pujol in Mexico City, and Cosme in New York City – currently ranked among the 100 best in the world. Olvera’s Manta premiered at The Cape Hotel in 2015 and has been garnering rave reviews for its Pan-Pacific fusions and Land’s End views ever since.
Modern Mexican culinary master Richard Sandoval’s global collection of restaurants now includes two in Los Cabos: Toro Latin Kitchen & Bar and La Biblioteca de Tequila.
Famed French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has taken the steakhouse concept to another level at SEARED, a benchmark showcase for Kobe, Wagyu and other fine cuts at five-star One&Only Palmilla.
Sidney Schutte earned two coveted Michelin Guide stars while helming Librije’s Zusje at the Waldorf Astoria in Amsterdam, but his epic 17-course pairing menus now come courtesy of Cocina del Autor, the signature restaurant at the new Tourist Corridor based luxury resort Grand Velas.
The local record holder for Michelin stars, however, is Martin Berasategui, who has been awarded eight total, the most ever for a Spanish chef. His Gastrobar is a highlight of Paradisus Los Cabos, the post Hurricane Odile rebranding of the resort formerly known as Meliá Cabo Real.
These globetrotting superstar chefs aren’t in Los Cabos all the time, but each makes regular visits, and their quality standards have helped to raise the bar for the region as a whole.
The now thriving farm-to-table scene was in large part inspired by the Baja Med movement that swept the peninsula a decade ago, when Tijuana-based chefs like Miguel Ángel Guerrero and Javier Plascencia gave classic Mediterranean cuisine a twist with fresh Baja sourced ingredients. That fusion proved incredibly influential and kick-started a locavore resurgence in Los Cabos. Local restaurants were suddenly touting not only freshly caught seafood, but fresh organic produce from local farming communities like Miraflores. The lasting legacy, however, has been the boom in farm-based restaurants like Flora’s Field Kitchen, Huerta Los Tamarindos and Acre. Those three restaurants are the current standard bearers for Los Cabos cuisine, and all are set amid acres of farm-raised crops in the small community of Ánimas Bajas, just outside of San José del Cabo.
Baja Med may have been the most influential regional fusion, but it wasn’t the first. Nick-San chefs Angel Carbajal and Masayuki Nikura pioneered local fusions in the 1990s with their unique blend of Japanese sushi with traditional Mexican ingredients. The result was so successful it generated a spin-off restaurant at the Shoppes at Palmilla, and two more on the Mexican mainland. Volker Romeike has also been a fusion pioneer, welcoming guests at Pitahayas for better than two decades with dishes whose provenance stretches from Mexico to Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. The innovative Pan-Pacific fusions Romeike introduced to Los Cabos have since been taken up and expanded by Enrique Olvera and Alex Branch at Manta, and Mariano Takinami at Templo, among many others.
Just as tourism in Los Cabos was built on sport fishing, the local cuisine has always been first and foremost about fresh local seafood. Virtually every restaurant in Cabo San Lucas offers some version of a “you hook it, we cook it” special, and a few even have their own fishing boats. Like just about everything else, however, seafood restaurants exist on a broad spectrum. Budget-conscious visitors will love Las Tres Islas, the epitome of a downhome marisquería, while upscale types may opt for the fresh market style seafood pleasures of El Farallón, whose tables are set on the edge of a cliff above crashing Pacific waves at an exclusive resort only accessible through the longest private tunnel in México.
Los Cabos’ success as a resort destination has translated to plenty of jobs, and as a consequence, the area has attracted workers from around the country. As the labor pool diversified, so too did the Mexican cuisine. There are now restaurants representing all 31 states, from Puebla and Oaxaca to Michoacán and beyond. Like Yucatán style cochinita pibil? You’re in luck. Pozole verde form Guerrero? No problem. Many of the best local restaurants offer a sampling of specialty dishes from around the country, and a few, like Los Tres Gallos, take their authenticity very seriously. Every delicious dish, every table, every chair, every place setting at the charming courtyard restaurant – named for a trio of film stars from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema – is made from scratch by talented Mexican artisans.
Los Cabos has become increasingly more cosmopolitan in recent years, with fine cuisine from around the world. But although the choices are eclectic, they’re still far from comprehensive. There are a dozen or more great Italian restaurants, for example, but hardly any from France or Germany. Japan and China are well represented, Vietnam and Thailand not so much. Nonetheless, diners weary of traditional Mexican dishes will find options aplenty. Italian-themed Salvatore’s in Cabo San Lucas is beloved by expats and visitors for their combination of quality and quantity, and owner Tim Galluzzo has since opened the best local burger joint, Sammy G’s, on the same block.
Few things in life are more satisfying than late-night tacos, and when it comes to taquerias, Los Cabos has an overwhelming abundance. La Lupita has raised this comfort food favorite to an art form at its location in San José del Cabo’s historic Distrito del Arte, but good cheap tacos remain the norm. Los Claros and Las Guacamayas, both of which originated in San José, now have locations in each of the cape cities. And those partying it up in downtown Cabo San Lucas can stumble over to Tacos Guss for middle-of-the-night sustenance, or power through a few tortilla-wrapped treats while standing on the sidewalk in front of El Gran Pastor. Those are the local favorites, but you can find your own on pretty much any block.
Beer & Wine
Bar licensing in Mexico is a throwback to the way it once was in the U.S. before Prohibition, when breweries would sponsor a liquor license if the owner agreed to carry their products exclusively. In Los Cabos, virtually every bar and restaurant carries beers from either Grupo Modelo (Corona, Modelo, Pacífico and Victoria being the notable brands) or Cuatémoc Moctezuma (Tecate, Dos Equis, Indio, Bohemia and the seasonal bock-style Noche Buena). If you’re a beer lover, it’s a good idea to pick a favorite from each group. That way you’ll never be disappointed.
Mexico’s history as a major wine producing country used to come as something of a surprise to tourists, but most visitors now know that Casa Madero (Est. 1597) is the oldest winery in North America and that Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe, in addition to being the country’s leading producer of table wines, offers world-class bottled options in both red and white. The best local restaurants showcase bottled treasures from Valle de Guadalupe (and other Baja wine growing valleys), but also feature international wine selections from the U.S., France, Italy, Chile and Argentina.
A decade ago the calling card for any traditional Mexican restaurant in Los Cabos was its collection of premium and artisanal tequilas. Nowadays, mezcal is the trendy national spirit. If you don’t know the difference between the two, local bartenders will be happy to explain it to you as they pour out a couple glasses of 400 Conejos, perhaps accompanied by a salt and chile roasted cricket and an orange wedge sprinkled with sal de gusano. All the top local restaurants have upgraded their mezcal menus, but for the best introduction we recommend one of the region’s growing number of dedicated mezcalerías. There are good ones in each of the popular tourist hubs, including La Damajuana in Cabo San Lucas, La Lupita Taco & Mezcal in San José del Cabo, El Refugio in Todos Santos, and La Miserable in La Paz.
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