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Posted by on Jan 31, 2016 | 66 comments

Laja: First Taste of Baja Med Cuisine

What do you think about when you hear the words “Mexican food”?

I am sure you get delicious mental pictures of tacos, tortas and tamales. Oh, and let’s not forget about a huge burrito stuffed with carne asada, rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream and salsa.

Whatever your idea of Mexican food is, I am sure you get a mouth watering feeling when you think about it.

But, let’s put this entire Mexican food thing into a different perspective.

Mexico covers an area of two million square miles (760,000 square kilometers).  It has a population of over 125 million people, including numerous indigenous groups.

My point: it is very difficult to say “I know Mexican food very well” when we are talking about a country so big and varied.  We foreigners (and to be fair, some natives too) have only explored the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this country can offer in terms of food.

I think that is why I love Mexico so much.

Since I do not live that far from the border between California and Baja California, I have been able to try a lot of specialties unique to the area.  I have had my share of fish tacos, fish ceviche tostadas and lobster pan fried in lard.

On the other hand, I have not ventured at all in the type of concept the northern part of the peninsula is famous for: Baja Med Cuisine.

If this is the first time you hear this term, here is how Wikipedia defines it:

Baja Med is a fusion cuisine of Tijuana and elsewhere in Baja California, Mexico, combining ingredients of Mexican cuisine, such as chicharrón and cotija cheese, with those of Mediterranean, such as olive oil, and Asian cuisine, such as lemongrass. Baja Med dishes showcase the fresh produce and seafood of Baja California.

Maybe it is easier to grasp the concept with a few examples. Restaurants may serve risotto topped with salt-cured cactus and charred octopus or slow-cooked short ribs bathed in fig syrup on top of a black mole sauce.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first taste of this cuisine at Laja, one of the restaurants that embodies the concept in one of the most pure ways.

Laja, located in the Guadalupe Valley, serves four and eight-course prix-fixe menus, which change weekly.  The restaurant has its own garden and the rest of their ingredients are sourced from farms, vineyards and fields from the peninsula.  The restaurant has been named one of the best of Mexico and Latin America.

Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

My husband and I chose opposite four course menus.  In that way, we had the opportunity to try all the dishes of the week.

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Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

We started with a lettuce and roasted turnip salad.

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

We continued with a white turnip soup served with cauliflower from the garden and pancetta.

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

Things started to get interesting when we were served roasted octopus in turnip sauce.  I loved the presentation of this dish.

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

Then, we had ravioli stuffed with salsify (a root very similar to parsnip) and served with a spinach and parmesan cheese sauce.  To be honest, I didn’t realize what I was eating until now (since I am translating the menu from Spanish to English).

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

Things got from good to great when we got a plate with swordfish, peas, radish puree, cauliflower and fennel.  I haven’t had swordfish in such a long time.  I didn’t remember how much I like that fish.  The radish puree was great.

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

I got excited when the oven cooked quail arrived.  It was served with broccoli rabe and young onions.  The quails are raised in local farms.  I tried to get them every time I go to the area.

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

It was time for dessert.  First, we got grapefruit sorbet with oranges and black olives.  This dessert had a lot of things I do not like.  However, everything worked together very well.  I am glad I tried it.

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

The other dessert consisted of choux pastry (prepared like a churro), banana ice cream and chocolate cream.

Laja, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

I enjoyed every single moment of this experience.  The staff was extremely nice and accommodating (we brought three of my friends’ kids).  At the end of the meal, the chef stopped by the table to say hi.  He even gave us tips on how to cooked octopus properly.

I did not have plans to write about this experience but figured out it is a good opportunity to showcase another side of a country I love so much.

Other Baja Med Restaurants

  • Chef Javier Plascencia’s restaurants (just Google his name, San Diego, Tijuana and Guadalupe Valley)
  • La Querencia (Tijuana)
  • El Taller (Tijuana)
  • Manzanilla (Ensenada)
  • Contramar (Mexico City, same chef as Laja)
  • Merotoro (Mexico City, same chef as Laja)
  • Corazon de Tierra (Guadalupe Valley)

What do you think of Baja Med Cuisine?

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66 Comments

    • You are not going to believe this but I was a bit hesitant of eating here because I wasn’t hungry at all when I arrived to the restaurant. I was with friends and we were eating all day. We just didn’t want to miss the experience of eating at Laja. i am glad we decided to give it a try.

  1. Very true, there’s a whole world of Mexican cuisine outside of tacos. We went to Ensenada in Baja MX years ago and sat at restaurant. We had fish vera cruz and octopus salad. So much different from the tacos and burritos and carnitas that we are so used to.

    Someday my goal is to travel around MX and taste every state’s offering.
    Photo Cache recently posted..Genoa: Exploring On Foot & Discovering ColumbusMy Profile

    • Ensenada is one of those places were you can get extraordinary food. Yes, you can get tacos and burritos but the filling are unique. I would like to travel around Mexico extensively too.

  2. Dan and I really enjoy trying new cuisines, and those from Mexico are among our favorites. One of our goals is to visit every one of Mexico’s 31 states and learn about their specialties so we can bring the flavors home.

    Baja Med is new to me. Since Mexico isn’t in our current plans, we’ll have to google some of the recipes and try to make them.
    Linda Bibb recently posted..Buying a Claddagh Ring in GalwayMy Profile

    • I have ate things in Mexico that are beyond words. The flavors are so deep and intricate that you wonder how long it took the cook to master them. I would like to go to all of Mexico’s states too.

    • Not a lot of people expect this when they think about Mexican food.

  3. Thanks for sharing such a fantastic post

    • Your welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

    • It was really good. I am glad one of my friends convinced the group to try the restaurant.

  4. Wow, that looks like an amazing meal! I love octopus, so that dish appealed to me right away. And the sorbet with black olives – I’ve never seen a combination like that for dessert!

    I’m from NJ, so I’m a long ways from Mexico and I’m in that grouping that thinks guacamole and burritos right away when I think of Mexican food. But I would love to learn more about their cuisine. Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Sara @ Simply Sara Travel recently posted..2015: A Year of WanderMy Profile

  5. Wow, that looks like an amazing meal! I love octopus, so that dish immediately appealed to me. And that sorbet with black olives is quite a unique pairing! Not sure how I would feel about olives with dessert, but it sounds intriguing.
    Sara @ Simply Sara Travel recently posted..2015: A Year of WanderMy Profile

  6. I LOVE Baja Mexican cuisine. I actually prefer it over the more traditional heavy dishes people usually think of when they think Mexican. The restaurant looked lovely and I love the way they plated the dishes- so pretty!!
    Mama Munchkin recently posted..How Kids Make You Grateful- Gratefulness ChallengeMy Profile

    • I agree with what you say. The food in Baja is fresh and the preparation does not involve lard or heavy sauces. Plus, is very varied. You can try a lot of different things.

  7. What a beautiful area, and the food looks delicious.
    Al recently posted..Rocky BeachMy Profile

    • The area is gorgeous. This was my second time in the valley. I still need to explore way more.

  8. What a mouth watering post. I’d never heard the med term. But I love all encompassing Mexican type foods. I even put bottled mole sauce into my mid-western style beef stew. Just mole and beef broth. It really tastes great.

    • Sharon, that is the way to go. I bought mole paste in Oaxaca and I just had to add chicken or beef broth (and the protein of my choice). I was so good!

  9. That’s a really good point! I love Mexican food, but to me, that’s the food from the area where my Dad is from, which is very north. That, blended with the “Tex-Mex” cuisine that is popular in my area of the States, and that really only leaves a certain TYPE of Mexican food!

    This food doesn’t look anything like what I picture “Mexican Food” to look like, but it looks absolutely delicious regardless!
    Sara @ SARA SEES recently posted..Irish Life #9 // recap & photosMy Profile

    • In Baja, the seafood is great. If you are a seafood lover, you will fall in place with the food of the region.

  10. Omg I’m literally drooling!! I admit, I’m one of those people who think Mexican food is tacos, enchiladas, etc. (I’m from SoCal as well). This looks nothing like the Mexican food I know of! It’s almost like European or new American!

    But speaking of Mexican… I’m seriously craving it right now. It’s so so difficult to find good authentic Mexican food in other countries!
    Anna recently posted..A Lyonnaise bouchon experience at Daniel et DeniseMy Profile

    • When we are talking about Mexican food, I do not discriminate. I like all the stuff that is so typical of Southern California. But, the Baja trend is becoming big and I like it too. I know what you mean about not finding good Mexican in other countries. I didn’t know anything about Mexican food when I lived in Puerto Rico (very hard to find something that resembles Mexican food in there).

  11. I’d never heard of Baja Med cuisine before – like you said, I have a fairly traditional idea of Mexican food (although I do love that) but this sounds amazing. Baja is somewhere I’d love to visit, particularly for the marine life, but I shall need to try this if I make it over too. Thanks for linking up to #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted..My family travel wish list – with a side of luxuryMy Profile

    • Cathy, I would like to visit more of Baja because of its natural wonders. It is truly a magical place. The food adds another dimension to a visit.

  12. A great reminder that countries are not based on a single food alone – especially nice to branch out and not eat just the traditional as well. Beautiful photos – made my mouth water!
    Jackie Smith recently posted..Oh Man! It’s Oman!My Profile

    • You are right Jackie. Resorts or hotels will serve you what is considered standard for Mexican food. I think that is why it is important to get out and try to taste what is traditional from the area.

  13. Baja Med sounds like an amazing mix of flavors and cuisines! Although I’m not a huge fan of quail or seafood, I’d be intrigued to sample and savor this food. Everything looks amazing!
    Brooke of Passport Couture recently posted..January 2016 BooklistMy Profile

  14. Wow I’m not even sure I knew what Baja-Med cuisine was before reading this! I also never thought about Mexico having such a diverse range of foods! You make a great point that it is a huge country and there has to be lots of variations of the “Mexican food” I know and love. I’m sure I would love all of this! Although the black olives in the sorbet, does throw me off a bit… I trust you though if you say it was good 😀

    • Lauren, thanks for your comment. I didn’t even noticed one of the desserts had black olives (it was like a bit of jam). I am telling you, I ate everything on the plate and didn’t know what I was eating

  15. Well this was a great selection. I would never have thought of black olives as a dessert ingredient. Things are changing in the dessert world as you can now get icecream in Australia that is a mix of caramel and vegemite flavours. If you’ve ever tasted vegemite you will know just how weird that is. But is seemed to work.
    budget jan recently posted..Dubrovnik Planning Tips and PhotosMy Profile

    • Oh Jan! Vegemite and caramel! I guess some people may like the combination. But, it is true, chefs are looking into using regional ingredients and applying classic techniques to them.

    • You know, we couldn’t miss any of the dishes. Both menus sounded good!

    • The ravioli melted in my mouth. As I mentioned, they were stuffed with salsify. I had no idea of what that was until I wrote this post.

  16. Baja Med – what an excellent combination! Every single dish looks delicious…particularly the octopus. Fab trip…thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • I am a sucker for octopus. The chef gave us insight on how to cook octopus properly.

    • Thanks Corinne. We are on the same team then!

  17. The food at Laja restaurant doesn’t look anything like the Mexican food I know. It’s a totally different category. This one surely will not make me burp. Ha,ha,ha!
    Anda recently posted..The Weekly Postcard: Hohenschwangau CastleMy Profile

    • Ok, I get what you are saying. You will get no heartburn either ;0)

  18. ah your posts always make me drool Ruth! The Baja Med cuisine sounds interesting! After all California reminded me of the Mediterranean a lot!
    Anna recently posted..Exploring ChaniaMy Profile

    • Thanks Anna! We are so lucky to live in California. The weather is good 99% of the time.

  19. Interesting. I’ve always love all of the fresh seafood and produce used in Baja, which makes it one of my favorite culinary regions of Mexico. And I’ve seen similar dishes in Baja, but never heard the term Baja-Med. Must find and try some of these dishes. You know, “for research.” 😉 #TheWeeklyPostcard #WeekendWanderlust
    RobRob@TravelLatte(.net) recently posted..Travel To Do: The Live Music Hotel of the World?My Profile

    • Yes, Rob, I believe you when you say you are going to get some recipes for “research.” The Baja Med term is relatively new. I think it has been around 10 years or less.

  20. The way you combine food and travel always inspires me here Ruth and this whole post was making my mouth water! Mexico has always been a place I’ve long wanted to visit and I often forget how much land the area covers so of course there must be so many amazing dishes to sample too – loved this post. The desserts were my favourite! – Tasha
    Natasha recently posted..The Favourite Five: Project 365 – January!My Profile

    • Tasha, thanks for your kind words. Mexico is a great country. You will not regret visiting it. It is always nice to have an interesting and tasty dessert to finisha good meal.

  21. That all looks so good! I have never heard of Baja Med. I was surprised at how many root vegetables the dishes you mention included. Not something I associate with Mexico at all!

    • I know! I was surprised to taste so many vegetables. My friends said they are not used to veggies but they liked these. The good climate let these chefs and cooks sow a lot of things.

  22. Mmmhmm, this looks all so delicious. I have to admit that I didn’t know Mexican cuisine at all (!) until I met my husband 12 years ago. To be fair living in Germany it is easier to get Spanish, Greek etc. etc. cuisine. But still, it was and is an eye opener. And, guess, what – tonight we are going to make fajitas 🙂
    Claudia | ImagesByCW recently posted..Ink and acrylic painting of a flower with an added quoteMy Profile

    • Claudia, that is great! I think a lot of people are surprised when they try Mexican food. They cannot wrap their heads around food so good. But, it makes sense, since this is a millenary cuisine. Time has perfected it.

  23. I’m familiar with Tex-Mex, some Yucatan dishes, and California-style Mexican food, but this is the first I’ve heard of Baja Med. Sounds like a delicious fusion. The prix fixe meal looks yummy. Although as with other prix fixe meals I’ve had, some dishes look more appealing to me than others. Overall, it looks like a wonderful meal.

    • Michelle, I feel the same way about prix fixe menus. But, I think it is a good way to try many flavors and combinations in one meal. It is hard when you order a big dish (when that is the only option)and it is not what you expected.

    • I can understand why!

  24. Mmmmmmmmm! It all looks so good! We really enjoy the Mexican food that we are able to get here…although it’s limited to pretty stereotypical care. There used to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall place in Hattiesburg that had a bigger variety that we loved but it closed a couple of years ago.

    Thank you for joining us at Photo Friday for our anniversary edition!
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    • No so good that here are not a lot of Mexican options close to you. I’ll bet that would be a good business.

  25. Looks so yummy! Thanks for this share, like it 🙂

  26. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post

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