La Paz has become a culinary destination of sorts, with outstanding meals to be found in every price category, from street-side tacos to fresh seafood and gourmet cuisine.
A new generation of chefs up and down the peninsula is working hard to define a distinct identity for Baja regional cuisine, which centers around fresh seafood prepared with a Mediterranean influence. La Paz enjoyed its first such restaurant debut with the opening of Las Tres Virgenes (Madero btw Constitución/Hidalgo, tel. 612/165-6265, 1–11:30 P.M. Tues.–Sun., mains US$10–30) in 2006. Its name refers to three mountains, one of which is a dormant volcano, visible in the distance on the drive from San Ignacio to Santa Rosalía. Think tuna tataki, rose-petal quesadillas, venison tostadas, and damiana crème brûlée, and you’ll have a good idea of what culinary delights the menu holds in store. Wines are reasonably priced. In 2010 the chef/owner began serving a lunch menu from 1 to 4:45 P.M.
Carlos’n Charlie’s (Paseo Obregón at 16 de Septiembre, tel. 612/122-9290, www.carlosandcharlies.com, noon–1 A.M. daily, mains US$6–17) is part of the same chain as El Squid Roe and Señor Frog’s in Cabo San Lucas, but the atmosphere is less touristy and zany, so it attracts some local and visiting Mexicans as well as foreigners. The menu features traditional Mexican dishes, plus some local specialties, such as a ceviche paceño. There is outdoor seating on a terrace facing the malecón, where you can often catch the afternoon breeze.
Off the beaten track, El Zarape (Av. México 3450, btw Oaxaca/Nayarit, tel. 612/122-2520, www.elzarapelapaz.com, 8 A.M.–10:30 P.M. daily, mains US$10–15) does traditional Mexican dishes right: On Saturday evenings, the kitchen prepares a buffet of cazuelas (large, open clay pans) filled with moles and other dishes from central and southern Mexico. Sunday buffet is served 1–6 P.M. (US$10). The daily breakfast buffet is also a good bet for traditional foods (8 A.M.–noon, US$10).
Corazón Café (formerly El Aljibe, Revolución 385 at Constitución, tel. 612/128-8985, 8 A.M.–11 P.M. Mon.–Sat., mains US$15) specializes in Comida Mexicana, or traditional fare. The play chalkboard and kitchen in one corner of the restaurant provide entertainment for little ones. Sit indoors under open-sky seating or out in the courtyard. Walmart’s Christy Walton, who lives in town, has provided funding for the business as well as the restoration of the small park across the street.
Ultra-fresh fish is the theme at Restaurant La Costa (Navarro and Topete, no tel., 10 A.M.–11 P.M. daily, mains US$10–15), a waterfront palapa restaurant near the Marina de la Paz.
From ceviche de pescado to huachinango and albondigas de camerones, air-conditioned Restaurant La Mar y Peña (16 de Septiembre btw Isabel la Católica/Albañez, tel. 612/122-9949, noon–10 P.M. daily, mains US$10) serves one of the widest ranges of fish and shellfish entrées anywhere in Baja. In fact, it is the wholesale supplier to most of the other restaurants in town. The decor is casual, the margaritas are fresh, and credit cards are accepted.
Long ago a well-kept secret, Bismark II (Degollado at Altamirano, tel. 612/122-4854, 8 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, mains US$10–20) has become a mainstay within the local expat crowd. Lobster, abalone, and carne asada are its hallmark dishes, but the ceviche is also worth a try.
On the malecón, Bismarkcito (Paseo Obregón, near Constitución, tel. 612/128-9900, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10–15) is a waterfront offshoot of its parent restaurant and appeals more to visitors. The menu includes all manner of seafood cocktails, and fish and shellfish entrées; Peñafiel brand Mexican sodas are a treat.
The popular Mariscos Moyeyo’s (corner of Paseo Obregón and Héroes del 47, no tel., lunch and dinner daily, mains US$5–15), just past El Moro hotel, packs a crowd on weekend afternoons, when locals stop in for towering seafood cocktails. The floor is sand and the tables and chairs are plastic. It takes a dozen servers to keep the fresh catch flowing. The restaurant has occasional live music.
Near the Posada las Flores on Obregón, Las Brisas del Mar (Paseo Obregón at Militar, tel. 612/123-5055, lasbrisasdelmbcs [at] hotmail [dot] com, dinner daily, mains US$13–27) serves seafood cocktails, fish a la parilla, empanizado, shrimp, lobster, and red meat from Sonora.
The owners of Rancho Viejo have expanded with Mariscos La Palapa (Pineda at Obregón, tel. 612/126-1886, 7 A.M.–midnight daily, lunch/dinner mains US$8–20), a two-story restaurant that overlooks Marina de La Paz. Order ceviche or a seafood cocktail to start, followed by a plate of arranchera tacos. Enjoy patio seating in the second-level bar, where a pitcher of margarita costs US$35.
The secret to the tacos at Taco Fish La Paz is a tempura batter (Márquez de León at Héroes de Independencia, 8:30 A.M.–4 P.M. Tues.–Sun.). See if you can tell the difference.
In an open-air restaurant across from Las Varitas nightclub, Kampei Sushi Bar (Independencia btw Dominguez/15 de Marzo, tel. 612/128-8757, caballero_sk8 [at] hotmail [dot] com, 1–11 P.M. daily) makes nigiri sushi (US$2–3 per order), maki rolls (US$4–8 per roll), and sashimi (US$7–10) at reasonable prices. The bar is filled with locals in the evening.
Owned and run by an Italian-Chinese husband-and-wife team, Caffé Milano (Esquerro 15, btw Callejón de la Paz/16 de Septiembre, tel. 612/125-9981, www.caffemilano.com.mx, 1–11 P.M. Mon.–Sat., mains US$6–18) prepares traditional Italian fare that wows discerning diners from around the globe. Start with an order of fried oysters with caviar and move on to a homemade pasta or a hearty main dish like frutti di mare. Homemade limoncello is a fitting way to end the meal. Look for the tall, light blue wooden doors.
Decorated in pastel colors and original artwork, La Pazion de la Pazta (Allende, adjacent to Hotel Mediterrané, tel. 612/125-1195, 7 A.M.–11 P.M. Wed.–Mon., 7 A.M.–3 P.M. Tues., mains US$10–15) prepares a mix of Italian and Swiss dishes, including pastas, pizzas, and fondues. Choose from an impressive list of wines from Italy, the United States, Chile, and Baja.
The former Toscana Pizza Gourmet has changed hands to become Alforno Pizza (Dominguez and Constitución, tel. 612/122-1444, 5–11 P.M. Mon.–Sat., mains US$10–30). The menu includes some pasta dishes as well as a handful of gourmet pizzas and several wines by the glass to complete the meal. Dine at six pine picnic tables outside or at window counter seating inside.
Two blocks from the malecón, Il Rustico (Revolución de 1910 btw Rosales/Bravo, tel. 612/157-7073, 2–11 P.M. Wed.–Sat. and Mon., 2–11 P.M. Sun.) serves tasty thin-crust pizzas with creative toppings.
On the east side of the malecón, Kiwi Restaurant Bar (Paseo Obregón btw 5 de Mayo/Constitución, tel. 612/123-3282, 8 A.M.–midnight Sun.–Thurs., until 2 A.M. Fri. and Sat., mains US$6–15) has good views and a menu of passable seafood, Mexican, and international dishes. The people-watching is better than the food, but this is not a bad choice for lobster.
At the Hotel Perla, open-air La Terraza (Paseo Obregón 1570, tel. 612/122-0777, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, mains US$10–20) serves everything from seafood and Mexican fare to steak and Italian dishes. The crowd is a mix of visitors and locals and the prices are reasonable.
Near the plaza and across from Baja Bed and Breakfast, Buffalo BAR-B-Q (Madero 1420, tel. 612/128-8755, 6 P.M.–midnight Mon.–Fri., 2–10 P.M. Sat.–Sun., mains US$10–20) continues to earn praise from locals and visitors for its steaks and burgers, made of Angus and Sonora beef. Owner Carlos Valdez is passionate about wine, and the restaurant’s wine list shows it.
But by the end of his first year in business, Carlos’s little brother had proved with Buffalito Grill (Madero btw Ocampo/Nicholas Bravo, tel. 612/140-1142, buffalitogrill [at] gmail [dot] com, 2–11 P.M. Tues.–Sun., 6–11 P.M. Mon.) that he has the chops to live up to his older brother’s establishment. Locals now rave about the little brother’s fries, juicy burgers, and casual ambience.
An upscale option on the waterfront near the Marina de La Paz, El Patrón Bar & Grill (Plaza Vista Coral, tel. 612/125-9977, www.elpatronbarandgrill.com, 1–11 P.M. Sun.–Wed., 1 P.M.–midnight Thurs.–Sat., mains US$15–40) serves lamb, Sonora beef, grilled fish, tequila shrimp, and Cornish game hens in a casual indoor/outdoor setting. Prices reflect the waterfront location.
The yachting crowd frequents The Dock Café (Topete/Legaspy, tel. 612/125-6626, 8 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, mains US$10–15) inside the Marina de La Paz. This casual diner prepares a long list of American standbys, including fried chicken, burgers, fish-and-chips, bagels, salads, and steaks—and even homemade apple pie.
Restaurant Grill Campestre (Km. 5.5, Mexico 1, tel. 612/124-0454, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10–15), opposite the Fidepaz building, is popular with gringos and Mexicans alike for barbecued ribs, Cobb salad, and other American specialties.
A number of decent Chinese restaurants have opened around town, serving unique Mexican-Chinese fare at inexpensive prices. For example, Jeon-San (Revolución 1440, btw Reforma/Independencia, tel. 612/122-0606, noon–8 P.M. daily, myli.wv [at] gmail [dot] com, mains US$7) offers à la carte plates and combinations, all in large portions and delivered with friendly service.
These days, local foodies prefer the simple Lonchería Nuevo Oriental (Marcelo Rubio btw 16 de Septiembre/Reforma, no tel., 1–6 P.M. Tues.–Sun., mains US$5–10).
Antojitos and Fast Food
It’s easy to find Rancho Viejo (Legaspy, a half block from the Marina de La Paz, tel. 612/128-4647, 24 hrs. daily, dinner mains US$12–17) from the smell of the grill wafting up the street. Sit at a picnic table on the sidewalk or in either of two dining rooms inside to get away from the smoke. Tacos de arranchera, carne asada, or pastor arrive with the usual tray of fresh condiments. You can also order by the kilo. Service is prompt and friendly, and you can’t beat the prices. Rancho Viejo has expanded to include a new space next door and has also opened a satellite location on the malecón, near Carlos’n Charlie’s and the Thrifty Ice Cream shop. Instead of staying open ’round the clock, this one closes at 3–4 A.M.
A half block from the malecón on 16 de Septiembre, Restaurant Pichos (no tel., 8 A.M.–11 P.M. Tues.–Sun., mains US$3–6) serves delicious tortas, licuados, tacos, burgers, and chilaquiles. The Hamburguesa Mexicana comes with carne asada instead of ground beef, bacon bits, cheese, sliced avocado, tomato, and shredded lettuce, all on a lightly toasted bun. Two people can easily have lunch here for less than US$10, including sodas.
Street vendors open in the afternoons around the plaza and along Calle 16 de Septiembre. They typically sell hot dogs, tacos, stuffed baked potatoes (papas rellenas), burgers, and seafood cocktails. One of the best for fish and shellfish tacos as well as aguas frescas is Super Tacos de Baja California Hermanos González on Calle Esquerro (no tel.). There is a second location on Degollado at Madero, next to Pensión California, and a larger restaurant location on Degollado at Mijares.
Taquería Los Superburros (Abasolo btw 5 de Febrero/Navarro, no tel.) is another popular choice for cheap eats.
Loncherías in the Mercado Municipal Francisco E. Madero (Revolución de 1910 and Degollado, no tel.) serve a good mix of antojitos and comidas corridas.
La Cochinita (Forjadores and Veracruz, tel. 612/122-1600, 10 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, mains US$5–10) is an only-in-Mexico option for Japanese fast food. A second branch is located on Calle Mutualismo, next to Bar El Misión.
The espresso business is booming in La Paz. Several chains now have multiple locations, and new ones seem to open every month. Starbucks look-alike 5th Avenida Coffee has wireless Internet in various locations, including 5 de Mayo on the plaza and Avenida Abasolo near the Marina de La Paz.
Café Exquisito has a malecón location with sidewalk tables (Paseo Obregón, south of La Fuente, 6 A.M.–10:30 P.M. Mon.–Sat., 8 A.M.–10:30 P.M. Sun., drinks US$1–3), plus two drive-through espresso stands north and south of town on Mexico 1 and one more at the airport.
Café Combate has at least two locations in town: Serdán between Calles Ocampo and Degollado, and on Calle Bravo at the southeast entrance to Mercado Bravo.
Aside from these chains, air-conditioned Caffé Gourmet (Esquerro and 16 de Septiembre, tel. 612/122-6037, 8 A.M.–10 P.M. Mon.–Sat.) has a counter full of sweets to go with your coffee, plus a selection of smoothies, Italian sodas, cigars, and liquors. Breakfast is served until 3 P.M. There is a nonsmoking section in the back and a newer second location on the malecón.
Also air-conditioned, Mareiros Café (Paseo Obregón, no tel., 8 A.M.–11 P.M. Mon.–Sat., 9 A.M.–5 P.M. Sun.) has sandwiches and salads to go with its full menu of hot drinks. There is outdoor seating and Internet access.
Hotel Mediterrané Café (tel. 612/125-1195 ) opens at 7 A.M. daily. It serves excellent espresso drinks made from imported Italian Illy brand coffee, as well as cocktails, beer, and wine. There is air-conditioning, wireless Internet is free, and a desktop computer is available.
Café Gourmet (Km. 2, Carr. a Pichilingue, tel./fax 612/122-4084, www.clubelmoro.com, 7 A.M.–4 P.M. daily, mains US$5–15), attached to the El Moro hotel, is a good place to stop for breakfast on the way to Pichilingue.
El Quinto Sol (Domínguez and Independencia, tel./fax 612/122-1692) prepares vegetarian tortas, comida corrida, pastries, salads, granola, fruit and vegetable juices, and yogurt. You can also stock up on healthy foods in the attached store.
Breads and Sweets
A day in La Paz isn’t complete without an icy treat, and the downtown area has lots of options for nieves (Mexican-style ice cream), paletas (popsicles), and the like. La Michoacana (no tel.) is a chain with branches on Paseo Obregón and Calle Madero.
But the most popular stand in town by far is La Fuente (Paseo Obregón btw Degollado/Muelle, no tel.), known for its long list of flavors, some of which are quite unusual. Look for a polka-dot tree in front of the entrance.
A couple of dulcerías (sweet shops) are located at the intersection of Calles Ocampo and Serdán. Dulcería Perla (no tel.) sells traditional and modern Mexican candies, while Dulcería La Coneja (no tel.) on the opposite corner makes piñatas.
Run by an accomplished pastry chef from California known in La Paz as “the bread guy,” Pan D’Les Bakery (Madero btw Ocampo/Degollado, tel. 612/119-8392, loaves US$3 and other treats US$1–2 each) combines domestically sourced flours, yeast, salt from the Sea of Cortez and local water to make handcrafted artisan breads that reflect the colonization period in Mexico’s history. Each day of the week brings a different special loaf (US$3 each)—rustica and ciabatta on Monday, multigrain and sourdough on Tuesday, and so on. For a sugar fix, order muffins, cookies, scones, cinnamon buns, and other irresistible treats. Chef/owner Les Carmona also writes an informative blog, Eating through La Paz (http://eatingthroughlapaz.blogspot.com).
Vendors in the Mercado Municipal Francisco E. Madero (Revolución de 1910 at Degollado) sell fresh fish, meats, fruit, vegetables, and baked goods, and there is a tortillería at the corner of Revolución de 1910 and Bravo.
The government-subsidized ISSSTE Tienda (Revolución de 1910 at Bravo) has the lowest prices but limited inventory.
La Paz has two large Chedraui (formerly Centro Comercial California/CCC) stores (Abasolo at Colima s/n, tel. 612/146-2263, Isabel La Católica 1915 at Bravo, tel. 612/129-3810). They stock U.S. and Mexican brands, but prices are relatively high.
Supermercado Arámburo also has three branches in town: 16 de Septiembre at Altamirano, Madero at Hidalgo y Costilla (tel. 612/122-1599), and Durango 130 Sur (btw Ocampo/Degollado), plus another on Boulevard Forjadores at Cuauhtémoc (tel. 612/123-9210).
For big-box stores with groceries and more, head to Plaza Ley on the eastern edge of town (Las Garzas at Teotihuacán), Walmart (Lázaro Cárdenas 2200, tel. 686/568-0579), or Soriana (Forjadores de Sudcalifornia at Luis Donaldo Colosio s/n, tel. 612/121-4771) and City Club (Forjadores de Sudcalifornia at Luis Donaldo Colosio s/n, tel. 612/165-4990), which are in a shopping plaza on Boulevard Forjadores at the corner of Luis Donaldo Colosio. The Mega chain was building a new store at press time.
Sabores de México (Madero btw Constitución/5 de Mayo, no tel., www.saboresdemexico.mx) specializes in organic foods made only in Mexico, such as pure vanilla extract, sea salt, olive oil, and the like.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays a recently established farmers market takes place 9:30 A.M.–noon in the small park at the corner of Constitución and Revolución, across from the post office and Corazón Café. Enjoy fresh produce and organic foods at the twice-weekly local food fest. In addition to seasonal fruits and veggies, you can find fresh mozzarella, eggs, young chickens, jams, and flavored sea salts (without the added fluoride and iodine).
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition