Whether you’re a casual tourist or a highly discerning foodie, there’s no denying that the food in Baja California is superb from the street tacos to fresh seafood delicacies and fine dining. Mexican cuisine was given a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity designation and Baja California cuisine has specifically made a name for itself over the past few years for using fresh and local ingredients and adding a Baja twist to traditional Mexican recipes and dishes. When you can’t be in Baja, here are a few of our favorite cookbooks for bringing Baja cooking into your own kitchen at home.
Why We Love It: Written in both English and Spanish, this book features beautiful photography and design as well as favorite recipes. Family stories and explanations about Chef Plascencia’s creations reflect the love for his homeland, respect for ingredients, and pay homage to the cultural exchange experienced in his native Tijuana. This book is truly a tribute to the soul of Baja.
DBTC Insider Tip: Unfortunately, this cookbook can be a bit hard to track down from the U.S. It’s available for purchase at most of Plascencia’s restaurants. The gift shop at Finca Altozano restaurant in Valle de Guadalupe is one place you can usually find it.
Chef/Author: David Castro Hussong (of Fauna restaurant in Valle de Guadalupe)
Why We Love It: Inspired by the incredible local landscape and his food from the award-winning restaurant Fauna, Ensenada native and star chef David Castro Hussong conducts an exploration of Baja cuisine in this book. The cookbook features 60 recipes ranging from street food such as Grilled Halibut Tacos and Chicharrones to more refined dishes such as Grilled Steak in Salsa Negra and Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa. Each chapter features gorgeous photographs of the region and profiles of top food purveyors, bringing the spirit of Baja right into your kitchen.
DBTC Insider Tip: Fauna is one of the top restaurants in Mexico and shouldn’t be missed, but if you’re looking for a more casual experience, the new Bruma Wine Garden is an al fresco dining experience under the olive trees with food by Chef Castro and Bruma wines from enologist Lulu Martinez Ojeda. Open for brunch through dinner Thursday to Sunday.
Chef/Author: Noel Morales and Rachel Glueck (from El Refugio Mezcaleria in Todos Santos)
Why We Love It: From the owners of beloved El Refugio in Todos Santos, this book pays homage to the indigenous peoples of Mexico and their culinary and cultural traditions. Morales (born of Aztec and Omec blood, grandson to a mezcalero), shares well-known plates such as birria and barbacoa, and beloved market foods like tlayudas and tacos al pastor, as well as a few of his own vegetarian and seafood creations. The Native Mexican Kitchen offers its readers the ability to recreate the flavors of centuries-old dishes in a modern kitchen. Signature mezcal cocktails and decadent desserts adorn these pages, while the Medicinals section includes teas, tinctures, and baths of traditionally used herbs for a variety of ailments, such as colds, muscle tension, and infertility. Personal stories of mezcaleros, traditional cooks, and native healers are accentuated by 130 stunning photographs and are woven through with mouth-watering recipes.
DBTC Insider Tip: The El Refugio Mezcaleria has a new location in Todos Santos in a hidden garden behind the Tecolote bookstore. They also offer cooking classes and mezcal tastings. Visit their website for more information.
Chef/Author: Marcela Valladolid
Why We Love It: Food Network host Marcela Vallalodid grew up in Tijuana with a foot on either side of the border and her vibrant cross-border life is reflected in her cooking and recipes. This book captures a culture centered around food, loved ones, and gatherings with mouthwatering recipes and in vibrant photography, all shot at Valladolid’s home. Mexican food really is simple at its core, if you have some extra time for slow roasting meats or to prepare a few salsas, and the results are sure to impress. Recipes like coke-braised pork tacos and octopus ceviche are accompanied by drinks and desserts for special occasions, including strawberry layered tres leches cake.
DBTC Insider Tip: Follow Marcela on Instagram for recipes, tablescapes, and more entertaining ideas. She does an incredibly popular cooking class with her sister over Zoom that you can also find out more about on her website.
Chef/Author: Diana Kennedy
Why We Love It: While not specifically about Baja cooking, it’s hard to mention Mexican cookbooks without bringing the great Diana Kennedy into the mix. Probably the most important foreigner in the Mexican food scene, Kennedy has been decorated with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor bestowed on foreigners by the Mexican government. In this, her classic book that is now back in print, she brings over 200 recipes to her readers as the result of more than fifty years of living, traveling, and cooking in Mexico. Aficionados will go to great lengths to duplicate the authentic dishes and to bring the unmistakable flavors of Mexico’s bold cuisine into their own kitchens and Kennedy tells them exactly how to do it. With her outsider’s background and insider’s perspective, Kennedy shares the secrets of true Mexican flavor: balancing the piquant taste of chiles with a little salt and acid, for instance, or charring them to round out their flavor; broiling tomatoes to bring out their character, or adding cumin for a light accent. Kennedy lives much of the year in her ecological adobe house in Michoacan, Mexico, which also serves as a research center for Mexican cuisine.
DBTC Insider Tip: A documentary on Kennedy’s life was released in 2020 and is a fascinating watch. Find out more and how to stream it at www.dianakennedymovie.com