Chef Mario Medina opens four new restaurants at Rosarito Beach resort
By W. Scott Koenig
When I first met chef Mario Medina, he was executive chef at Finch’s Bistro in La Jolla, California. At Finch’s, Mario turned out hearty seasonal plates of European bistro cuisine with just a touch of Mexican panache. Think St. Tropez scallops in a tamarind glaze accompanied by roasted chayote. Or boeuf roti with a side of stuffed and fried flor de calabaza (squash blossoms).
After Finch’s, Mario worked in kitchens at Bernini’s Italian restaurant in La Jolla and The Main Course — a tony steakhouse in Ramona, California. He adhered closely to both genres and little of his Mexican heritage – Mario’s parents are from culinary capitals Puebla and Mexico City – was on display. Though his food at both restaurants was top notch, Mario was hungry to get back to his south-of-the-border roots.
A recent move marking his return to Mexico has allowed the chef to do just that. In August it was announced that Mario would be working with the Las Rocas Resort & Spa to open not one, but four new restaurants at the well-known Rosarito Beach resort.
Although Las Rocas has always served Mexican breakfasts and a Sunday brunch buffet – as well as dinner at its onsite restaurant El Meson – the fare was serviceable at best and not nearly as enticing as dining options available elsewhere in the northern peninsula as Baja California surged with a culinary renaissance that began in 2010.
“The new restaurants will promote the cuisine of Baja California.”
– Mario Medina, Executive Chef, Las Rocas Resort & Spa
“With these four new proposals, I want to promote the cuisine of Baja California,” the chef shared during a recent visit where we sampled several dishes from the new menus. “I’ll work with clams, octopus, fresh fish, ranch cattle and other ingredients that exemplify the best in the region.”
Úrsula Parrilla del Valle will be Mario’s flagship restaurant at Las Rocas. The eatery will focus on steakhouse cuisine, seafood entrées and Baja California wines from the Valle de Guadalupe.
La Palapa, the resort’s cozy cliffside eatery with vast views of the Pacific, will offer seafood dishes and Baja California artisanal beers. A Gringo in Mexico is fond of saying “Everything tastes better under a palapa,” and the food we sampled here should live up to that promise.
Olé will be located on the hotel’s second story terrace, adjacent to its cantina. Tapas and tacos will be on the menu here as well as Los Javis mezcal and craft cocktails.
Café Del Mar will continue to offer Mexican breakfasts and Sunday brunch, but prepared and plated with Mario’s deft touch. According to the chef, “The menu will be Mexican, but not Mexican. Traditional, but not traditional. We’ll offer short rib and crab benedicts, my signature beef birria omelet, a cactus Azteca omelet and traditional huevo rancheros (eggs in ranchero salsa).”
In addition to the four new restaurants, Mario plans to offer a “chef’s table” in an intimate space beneath La Palapa where the food promises to be as amazing as the ocean views. Mario says, “The chef’s table will be by reservation only for groups up to 18. We will also have an invited chef from the region do a special tasting menu once a month, with a focus on Baja California cuisine, wine pairings and mixology.”
“Resort improvements will result in a better guest experience.”
– César Rivera, General Manager, Las Rocas Resort & Spa
Though the Las Rocas Resort & Spa was once a gem on Baja California’s coast, it’s no secret that the seaside property has seen better days as structures, rooms and amenities have become a bit rough around the edges. According to the resort’s general manager, César Rivera, a yearlong renovation, just begun, will improve the property and provide a better overall guest experience. Our room at the resort had just been upgraded and featured comfortable furnishings as well as several artistic, decidedly Mexican touches.
The spa at Las Rocas, operated by César’s daughter Paulina Rivera is a great way to unwind and enjoy a variety of wellness and beauty services while staying at the resort. A Gringo in Mexico has enjoyed therapeutic massages at the resort in the past and received a “pedicure with a view” – as the mani-pedi room is walled on its western side with windows on the Pacific – during our most recent visit.
With chef Mario Medina’s new culinary proposals and the resort’s commitment to continuing property improvements, the Las Rocas Resort & Spa may just shine as brightly as it once did while delighting discerning diners and continuing to offer one of the best ocean views in Rosarito.
The Las Rocas Resort & Spa is located at Kilometer 38.5 on the Tijuana-Ensenada Carretera Libre (free road), Rosarito Beach, Baja California, 22710. For resort or dinner reservations, contact the hotel at www.lasrocas.com or call toll-free from the US at 1-866-445-8909.
Disclaimer: A Gringo in Mexico received complementary lodging, meals and drinks during our visit in August. No other compensation was received from the resort for the writing of this article. The author has been a paying guest at the Las Rocas Resort & Spa at least a dozen times since the 1990s and would return again – especially after improvements and the opening of the new restaurants – on his own peso.
San Diego-based lifestyle 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 has written for Discover Baja Travel Club, Destino Los Cabos, DiningOut San Diego and SanDiegoRed. Scott organizes and conducts professional and private culinary tours of Baja California and has assisted with film and video productions in the region. He has worked with the Food Channel, the BBC, KPBS and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).