Written by Nadia Ibanez, Photos by Adam Stuckey
After starting a new job and settling into my new apartment, I was long overdue for a weekend getaway. Luckily, Adam and I managed to find the time to plan a visit south of the border. While we were slowly learning our way around Tijuana, we decided to delve deeper into Mexico and conjure up a trip to Ensenada.
WHERE TO STAY
We were introduced to Hotel Coral and Marina at the recent Latin Food Festival in San Diego. Deemed “the best hotel in Ensenada,” we knew then and there that we had to experience this beachside resort for ourselves.
Perched on the Bay of Todos Santos, minutes from downtown Ensenada and within earshot of the Port, Hotel Coral is amidst all of the city’s land and sea offerings. With nearly 150 ocean view suites, outdoor and indoor pools and Jacuzzis, an onsite spa, watersport rentals, and a fantastic bar and restaurant, Hotel Coral is perfect for business and leisure travelers who want to enjoy the city without lifting a finger. Whether you want to plan a whole day wine tasting in the nearby Guadalupe Valley, need a taxi to explore downtown, want to check out the seafood market, or need local restaurant recommendations, the staff at Hotel Coral will go above and beyond to cater to your every whim.
WHERE TO EAT
Bistro & Cava – Hotel Coral & Marina was not only our home for the weekend but also provided delicious meals throughout our stay at Bistro & Cava. If you want a taste of everything Ensenada, go for the daily breakfast buffet where you’ll get your pick between handmade corn tortillas with all of the quesadilla fixings, a variety of typical Spanish dishes, an omelet bar, traditional Spanish breakfast pastries, and so much more. You cannot miss Sunday brunch at Bistro & Cava. In addition to its standard breakfast options, Sunday brunch goers can taste ceviches, seafood paella, freshly fried fish tacos, roasted meat on a spit, and so much more. Be prepared to eat yourself silly when you visit Ensenada – the seafood and traditional dishes are out of this world.
We also had the chance to sample the dinner menu at Bistro & Cava, which was equally outstanding. Take your pick from seafood and meat dishes, or let the chef lead you in a tasting menu. We loved his tuna tartare, enormous molcajete, and pretty much anything that came from the sea. Even if you’re not a hotel guest, make sure to check this restaurant out.
La Guerrerense – Before even crossing the border, food recommendations were coming left and right and all pointed into the direction of La Guerrerense, a street cart serving some famous seafood tostadas. Once we found the cart in the middle of downtown Ensenada, we waited a moment, watched locals order, and followed suit. While I couldn’t tell you everything I ordered, I highly suggest you ask about popular menu items, follow your eyes and nose, and go for the specialties. (And if you’re daring enough, order the award-winning sea snail tostada) You won’t be disappointed — there’s a reason why some call this the best food cart in the world.
While I apologize for devouring my tostadas before even taking a single photo of them, I encourage you to go La Guerrerense and experience it for yourself. Only after your first bite will you understand why I couldn’t put my plate down to take a photo.
Malva Cocina de Baja – Malva Cocina de Baja is a fine example of how winemakers and regional chefs have carried the farm-to-table concept to the already progressive area. Executive Chef and Owner, Roberto Alcocer, mans the Swiss Family Robinson-styled restaurant, which serves locally-sourced Baja dishes with a twist. Floating above the Mina Penélope winery, we were honored to have Chef Alcocer guide us through his tasting menu.
While the restaurant may look and sound unassuming to the average wine-goer, Malva and its team work to showcase local ingredients wherever possible. Along with locally-sourced seafood, Chef Alcocer is raising a few families of goats and chickens onsite (for their meat and milk), further showing patrons that their food has its roots in Ensenada.
Our favorite dishes from Malva include the escolar with an onion ash in a corn cream served with sliced radish and lemon confit, grilled oysters with a drizzle of rich olive oil, braised goat, and goat’s milk ice cream with homemade dulce de leche and a marzipan crumble. A meal in wine country isn’t complete without a wine pairing at the Julio 14 from Mina Penélope made for an even more well-rounded lunch.
The entire space and concept at Malva is definitely something to fall in love with. We’ll definitely be back soon and can’t wait to see Chef Alocer’s concept and passion prosper.
WHERE TO DRINK
Valle de Guadalupe – I’ve had my fair share of wine tasting tours throughout southern California, but I would have never guessed that the quality and abundance of winemakers found in the Valle de Guadalupe would be as significant. Our hotel set up a wine tour for the afternoon and we were able to squeeze in a few winery stops, all of which had their own distinct style and finesse.
Among the winemakers in Ensenada talked about how they brought in regional, natural resources to design their winery. Fernando Perez Castro, owner of Hacienda La Lomita, shared the story of how he carved out caverns in the natural hillside to hold their aging wine, while the winemakers at Las Nubes repurposed the rock and stone found after the demolition of the landscape back into the décor of their property. Go for a glass of Pagano at Hacienda La Lomita, which emphasizes the free-flow, gravitational approach to winemaking, if you’re looking for cherry, coffee and blackberry notes. Las Nubes has delicious, cloud-inspired wine blends and I especially enjoyed Cumulus, a Grenache and Tempranillo blend. Pay them both a visit and you’ll just get a small glimpse into what the Valley has to offer.
Hussong’s – If you really want to liven up your night, head downtown and go straight to Hussong’s. Established in 1892, Mexico’s oldest cantina serves up a mighty margarita. Rightfully so – one of Hussong’s bartenders created the first margarita in the 1940s. If you really want to drink like the locals, order your margarita with sangrita, a back of tomato and orange juice mixed with hot sauce. The “palate cleanser” will definitely help with the bartenders’ heavy tequila pours.
Ultramarino – If local craft beer is more your scene, head over to Ultramarino. Just a couple blocks away from Hussong’s, Ultramarino offers local beer at a great price. There were a number of beers on tap so pick your poison with some help from the bartender. If you need something to soak up the booze, order up some oyster tacos and ceviche.
We had an amazing weekend in Ensenada and barely reached the surface of all of things to do and see in town. With only a mere 70+ miles in between the San Diego border and Ensenada, we’ll definitely be visiting more frequently. (We must give a HUGE thank you to everyone at Hotel Coral for their generosity and hospitality. We’ll surely be seeing you soon!)