Ensenada is Mexico’s seafood capital. One of the region’s most beloved tacos, the fish taco, can be found on every corner, but chefs are also well versed in the diverse regional seafood styles of Sinaloa, Sonora, and Nayarit. They revamp the barra fria (cold bar) using cultivated geoduck, abalone, and oysters, while offering refined versions of regional plates made with wild quail, lamb, spider crab, and a variety of fish. Meanwhile, seafood carts boast products worthy of Japan’s Tsukiji market, such as callo de hacha (pen shell clam), sea urchin, Pismo clam, and the rare chocolate clam, all prepared with vegetables and sauces, alongside heaping tostadas topped with a seafood tower’s worth of oceanic products. Many carts are run by steadfast, traditional cooks, like La Guerrerense’s Sabina Bandera, who has become one of the most famous street vendors on the planet.
Around 2000, the wealth of local seafood, produce, olive oil, and food-friendly wines from the nearby Valle de Guadalupe attracted chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris to open their seminal Ensenada restaurant, Manzanilla. Their kitchen has helped popularize modern Baja cuisine here but also in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and beyond. Now, Ensenada’s upscale seafood producers, iconoclast chefs, and food carts influence contemporary Mexican seafood all over the world. Here’s where to eat in Mexico’s popular tourist port.
Update, June 2021:
As Mexico begins to welcome more travelers following the worst of the pandemic, Ensenada is open and ready to serve visitors with its bounty of seafood and regional cuisine. Before the pandemic, the restaurant landscape of the city was at its strongest in decades. With interest in Baja tourism from the U.S. picking up, along with a young local crowd buzzing around a vibrant new bar scene at spots like Bodegas de Santo Tomás, Ensenada could quickly reclaim its place at the forefront of the Baja boom.
Note: The inclusion of restaurants offering dine-in service should not be taken as an endorsement for dining inside. Studies indicate a lower exposure risk to COVID-19 outdoors, but the level of risk is contingent on social distancing and other safety guidelines. Check with each restaurant for up-to-date information on dining offerings. For updated information on coronavirus cases and travel restrictions, please visit the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than 200 pesos (Less than $10 USD)
$$ = 200 - 700 pesos ($10 - $35 USD)
$$$ = 700 - 1,500 pesos ($35 - $75 USD)
$$$$ = More than 1,500 pesos ($75 USD and up)
Bill Esparza is a James Beard award-winning freelance food and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Roads & Kingdoms, Food & Wine, Los Angeles Magazine, CNN Parts Unknown, and GQ Mexico. He is a regular contributor to Eater and Eater LA.Read More