In the early 2000s, Mexico’s wine country was a charming destination for huevos rancheros, the odd Moroccan-Mexican restaurant, Molokan museums, a couple of nice bed-and-breakfasts, and a handful of boutique wineries. The Wednesday farmers market at Rancho El Mogor featured a half dozen baskets of produce and a gentleman selling the pizzas he cooked in a clay oven. In summer, especially during the annual Vendimias wine harvest festival, chefs brought out the campestres (country grills) to carry on the open-flame cooking traditions forged in northern Mexico in the aboriginal fires of the Kumiai.
But romantics like chef Jair Téllez (of Laja) and oenologist Hugo d’Acosta (of wineries like Casa de Piedra, Paralelo, and La Escuelita) conceived of something more for the region: garden-to-table, wine-driven, world-renowned kitchens. Meanwhile, the architects Alejandro D’Acosta and Claudia Turrent dreamed up distinctive, modern, recycled designs for wineries like Casa de Piedra, Vena Cava, Bruma, and Paralelo.
Today the area is home to well over 100 wineries and has become a favorite travel destination for people from both sides of the border. The wine, along with Baja seafood and produce, has also attracted the best chefs in Mexico, who cook on Santa Maria grills, in cajas chinas, and in wood-fired clay ovens. Local specialties like grilled quail, roasted pig, oven-roasted lamb, fresh-shucked oysters, and the ubiquitous fish of the day provide plenty of material for Valle de Guadalupe chefs, while the luxury seafood industry and restaurant gardens offer a wealth of ingredients. Those wineries are producing world-class wines to pair with sea urchin, abalone, Pismo clams, yellowtail, and geoduck, and everyone cooks with their own olive oil. Two decades after that transformation began, here are the essential places to eat in Valle de Guadalupe.
Update, June 2021:
Due to early, proactive safety measures and the widespread availability of outdoor dining in Mexico’s wine valley, Valle de Guadalupe was relatively well positioned to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The losses of Corazón de Tierra, Origen, Traslomita, and El Pinar de Tres Mujeres were blows to the area, but the majority of restaurants have remained strong. The growth of hotels and restaurants over the past few years has positioned the area for a rebound, and as the tourist season approaches, things are as busy as ever, even with mask mandates and temperature checks still in place at restaurants.
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)
For updated information on coronavirus cases in Mexico, please visit mx.usembassy.gov.
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