Last week, I am invited to Rosarito, Baja, Mexico to judge at Sabor de Baja, an annual end-of-summer culinary competition featuring 19 of Baja’s top chefs. That event will be documented in a separate post, but for now, I want to talk about some of the wondrous meals we eat on this trip. On this day, we joined San Diego-based blogger Scott Koenig of A Gringo in Mexico, and his family for lunch at a locals-recommended spot in Rosarito.
With a rudimentary hand-drawn map as the only guide, we follow the directions as best as we can. Even though we are lost for a few minutes, SIRI cones to the rescue and finally, directs us to Mariscos El Meno, located in a residential neighborhood off a little side street.
The restaurant is a converted house with several tables and chairs set up in the dining area. Chef Manuel Amador is behind the counter cooking away, while his daughter Vanessa runs front-of-the-house operations. Their English is extremely limited, and between the four of us, and a kid, only Scott is able to converse somewhat smoothly. We munch on crispy tortilla chips dipped in salsa while I resort to Google for words here and there to ask questions about the menu I’m confused about.
**all prices listed in pesos — at time of visit, the exchange rate is USD1 to 17 pesos**
After a lot of hand gestures and chatter, our first item of Ceviche arrives. It isn’t on the menu, but we are told it is white clams. There are four clams but both sides of each clam is filled to the brim, thus, presenting us with enough for eight. There are large chunks of sliced and diced clams with cucumber, red onions, tomatoes and cilantro. It is ketchup heavy and a little too sweet for me. I add some fresh lime and a pinch of salt. I love the texture on the clams, chewy but very tender.
I am unfamiliar with Campechanas (90 small/100 medium/120 large), but with the help of Google, find out that it is a seafood cocktail with oysters among other things. I ask in broken Spanish if it is possible to get it without oysters — due to my allergy — and surprisingly, Vanessa nodded. I am still skeptical when the tall glass arrives at the table, so I ask the others to make sure there is no oysters before I proceed. In the glass is a seafood mix of octopus, shrimp and fish in a chilled broth of lime juice, a hint of ketchup, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, avocado and cilantro. This is perfectly seasoned and really refreshing. Put a scoop on top a saltine cracker and eat!
I love Agua Chiles (130) here in the US, but want to try it here. We are given the option of either “red” or “green” so we choose “verde” or green. The bowl arrives with raw shrimp in a liquid of lime juice, chiles, and possibly, pureed cilantro. There are chunks of cucumber and sliced red onions. It is so delicious with the ideal balance of acid and salt. I am hooked.
Next is Tostadas de Ceviche (40), marinated fish atop crunchy fried tortillas. It is once again seasoned to perfection with a good amount of lime juice and salt. My friend is absolutely in love with this item.
Since we are in Baja, it is only fitting we eat some Baja fish tacos. Of course, they are just called Tacos Pescado (35) as the “Baja” is redundant. The tender, moist, flaky white fish is coated with a crispy batter and topped with a shredded cabbage salad, a pinch of pico de gallo, and a mayo-based sauce. It is one of the best fish tacos I have ever eaten. In fact, I am salivating while writing this.
However, it is Filet Especial (150), a house signature dish of Cabrillo fish fillets stuffed with shrimp and cheese, then rolled and doused with a brown mushroom sauce that blows me away. It is delicate and sublime, rivaling some dishes I have eaten in top restaurants around the world. The accompanying Spanish rice is so fluffy and flavorful I order another side of it. This is definitely a must-order!!
This is all we order, but then, Manuel sends Vanessa out with a soup of tuna fins — Caldo de Aleta Atun — another house special. It is a tomato-based soup dotted with bits of tuna and gelatinous tuna fins. The soup has absorbed all the flavors of the tuna, leaving the bits of tuna themselves flavorless, however, it is the tuna fins I am enamored with, reminiscent of sea cucumber in texture. The broth itself is similar to a seafood soup you’ll find at any Mexican restaurant, and is packed with flavor.
Then comes the Tacos con Papas, a vegetarian taco with soft potatoes with cheese, crema and salsa. I am so stuffed by now but still manage to share one with my friend. They are good! Very good.
But wait, there is more! Tacos Gobernador (75) is a shrimp and cheese taco that’ll make you weep you didn’t have more room in your stomach to eat it. I am only able to take one bite. This is one I will order on my next visit.
If you are adventurous enough to find your way here, I promise you it’ll be well worth the trip. Manuel and Vanessa will welcome you into their space like you are a family friend and feed you till you burst!
Our check at the end of the meal? USD60! Crazy right?
Mariscos El Menos
Calle Marte R. Gomez No. 103
22870 Rosarito, Mexico