Baja California Sur capital is a mariscos mecca
By W. Scott Koenig
La Paz is ground zero for mariscos (Mexican style seafood) in Baja California Sur. Most local restaurants buy from aquaculture farms, fishing cooperatives, the town’s seafood market, or directly from Sea of Cortez fishermen—who stop by every morning with the catch of the day. Even seafood pulled from the Pacific Ocean here is super fresh, given that the shipping distance between the two peninsular coasts is only 50 miles long. Mariscos are served in just about every corner of Baja California Sur’s seafood-hungry capital of 250,000.
There are several restaurants doing “elevated” mariscos—the acclaimed Las Tres Virgenes and chef Carlos Valdez’s new Tatanka Baja Fish and Steakhouse spring to mind. But for the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on casual spots. Those places where you can walk in wearing sandals and shorts, buy a bucket of Pacificos, slurp some local oysters, and just kick it for a few hours. A couple of these spots are located on La Paz’s beautiful beaches, which can result in a leisurely day spent swimming, eating, drinking and repeating. ¡Buen Provecho!
Mariscos El Toro Güero
We’d passed the busy El Toro Güero on the way from our rental home in El Centennario on the way to La Paz several times during a trip in 2016, and finally stopped to see what was happening in this block-long, palapa-shaded restaurant. This popular Baja California Sur chain prepares and serves dozens of traditional Sinaloan and Sonoran seafood specialties.
My wife ordered and loved the Kahlua shrimp—a half dozen of the jumbo variety topped with a thick coffee liquor and finished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. I tend to shy away from having sweet ingredients anywhere near my seafood and preferred the excellent oysters Rockefeller and one of the best huachinango frito (Sea of Cortez fried red snapper) preparations I’ve ever had. The fish is perfectly battered and crispy on the outside and contains plenty of flaky, moist and succulent flesh on the inside.
Mariano Abasolo, Pueblo Nuevo, (612) 122 7892, www.facebook.com/MariscosToroGuero
La Luna Bruja Bar & Restaurant
Imagine a small, tranquil, deserted white sand beach with calm, clear blue water—perfect for a quick dip or snorkeling with colorful schools of fish. Manta rays playfully leap on the horizon, smacking their wings on the calm Sea of Cortez surface as they re-enter. There’s a restaurant on the beach with patio doors open to the sea, a row of tables anchored in the sand in front and the smell of grilled fish wafting in on a warm desert breeze from the back.
This is restaurant La Luna Bruja (The Moon Witch), and a sign at the front informs that it’s the “Home of Pescado Zarandeado,” a Sinaloan cooking method where a whole fish is butterflied, coated in mayonnaise and guajillo or chipotle chili sauce, then grilled in a basket over a wood fire and typically served with onions and a salad. The signature dish is very good, as are the ceviches (diced fish “cooked” in citrus) and aguachiles (shrimp “cooked” in citrus and a serrano chili salsa). The entire scene is my personal ideal of paradise.
Playa Pichilingue, Calle Pichilingue Km. 18, (612) 122-2598, www.facebook.com/Lalunabruja
Mariscos Los Laureles
Every traveler knows that in order to find the best restaurants in a new place, simply look for the one that’s packed with locals. Mariscos Los Laureles—located in the center of La Paz’s malecón (beach front)—is one such place. The inside dining room is usually bustling with rowdy, hungry locals watching a fútbol (soccer) match on television. The small front patio is mas tranquilo and is a great place to people watch on the busy boardwalk.
The pescado zarandeado here is also excellent—a filet size portion is served for one, or you can order a whole fish, price based on weight, for the entire table. The chocolate clams, as elsewhere, are served live here, just squeeze on a little lime and the clam squirms before you slurp down the clean, meaty bivalve. Clamatos (tomato and clam juice) can be ordered with local cockles added to the refreshing Mexican classic cocktail with a cold Tecate roja (red) on the side.
Alvaro Obregon Y Salvatierra, (612) 128-8532, www.mariscosloslaureles.com
La Palapa Azul—partly built from an old boat–is one of two restaurants on La Paz’s largest and most popular beach, Playa Tecolote. Just down the sand a bit, the Restaurant Bar Tecolote also serves very good mariscos, but we enjoy the smaller, more intimate atmosphere at La Palapa Azul. Arturo, the owner, knows several of the fishermen who bring their haul of fish and chocolate clams directly from the Sea of Cortez to the beach then to the restaurant every morning.
For a day of swimming, wave running, or just relaxing in a beach chair, the excellent ceviches here are in order, along with—again—a bucket of cold ones. The fish tacos, tacos de Gobernador (a flour tortilla stuffed with queso and local shrimp then lightly toasted on the griddle), and seafood cocktails are also outstanding. Each meal comes with an amazing view of La Paz’s largest island, Isla Ispíritu Santo, in the distance.
Playa Tecolote, Km. 25, (612) 165-1428, No website or Facebook page
Mariscos El Molinito
I was anxious to revisit El Molinito in 2017, located at the quiet northern end of La Paz’s malecón as they’d changed management since my last visit and now partner with the locally popular Mar y Pena restaurant. Happily, we found that the food was just as good as we remembered, the service still attentive and friendly and the view of the bay of La Paz just as breathtaking, especially at sunset.
El Molinito’s lengthy menu includes seafood cocktails, tacos de mariscos, oysters, and a plate of La Paz’s ubiquitous chocolate clams, a local delicacy. Additionally, the restaurant offers wild-caught fish served a number of ways, including as a filet, empanizado (coated in breadcrumbs and fried) and Vera Cruz style with salsa, onions, and green olives. The catch of the day is the dish to ask for here. During my last visit, I enjoyed a filet of marlin that was as delicious as it is rare to find (unsmoked) on most Baja California Sur menus.
Carretera Escenica a Pichilingue Km 2, 612 128 4747, www.mariscoselmolinito.com.mx
During our first visit, I was skeptical of Tailhunter International’s restaurant. The core offering of this expat-owned business is sportfishing tours marketed to anglers arriving from the US and Canada. And the dual entendre its name implies would rankle stateside supporters of the #metoo movement. But rather than deterred, I should have been encouraged by the affiliation with sportfishing. Everything we’ve had at Tailhunter International was most likely just swimming in the sea that morning, thoughtfully-prepared, and delicious.
The fun, Jimmy Buffet-influenced interior—think myriad mounted fish trophies and a mélange of signs pointing toward Cabo, Ensenada, and other Baja peninsula destinations—is slightly camp, but not over the top or in any sense “manufactured” like a Rain Forest Café would be. Seating on the second story balcony affords a great view of the La Paz bay and the malecón, below. The fish tacos are fried to perfection, and the catch of the day can be ordered as ceviche that’s as fresh as you’ll find anywhere. The yellowtail ceviche I enjoyed during a recent visit was sublime.
755 Paseo Alvaro Obregon, (626) 638-3383, www.tailhunter-international.com
San Diego-based food and culture writer W. Scott Koenig is founder of the blog AGringoInMexico.com, author of the book 7 Days in The Valle: Baja California’s Wine Country Cuisine and writes columns for DiningOut San Diego Magazine, SanDiegoRed.com and DiscoverBaja.com. Scott is regional expert for Baja California at ExtremeFoodies.tv (formerly FoodieHub), an international culinary site curated by over 275 experts.