The delightful food scene is now driven by big-name chefs and their love of small-scale ingredients.
The road from Cabo San Lucas to Todos Santos is lined with surfing beaches on a particularly rugged stretch of the Pacific coast on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. I was told that Todos Santos was a “magical town,” and while I never completely wrapped my head around the idea, it refers to a specific designation (”Pueblo Mágico”) awarded by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism to places with natural, cultural or historical significance.
When I stepped out of the minivan, I initially saw something more modest than what I expected: a handful of restaurants, shops selling tourist knick-knacks and the Gringo Gazette (catchline: “No Bad News”), a beautiful palm-lined town square, and narrow streets with quaint, low-slung brick and stone buildings. I also found small street stalls dishing up the Baja region’s unofficial signature dish: fried whitefish on small flour tortillas, topped with guacamole cream, carrot-cabbage slaw and wedges of lime.
It wasn’t until we got back on and then off the minivan, arriving on the outskirts of Todos Santos, that I realized why this trip was regarded as a pilgrimage. Jazamango, the restaurant founded by famed James Beard Award-nominated chef Javier Plascencia, emerged like an oasis: a small but verdant patch of agricultural production in the midst of an arid, mountainous backdrop.
The restaurant’s one-acre garden was crammed with produce, including terraced gardens lined with sweet potatoes and cucumbers, small sturdy trees bearing limes, grapefruits and mangos, and all manner of perfect, emerald-green herbs. I toured the property with the head engineer, Miguel, and heard about the drip irrigation systems, the free-range chickens used for pest control, and the woodpeckers that love to eat ripe papaya.
It was almost impossible, walking through the gardens, to keep my hands to myself. I wanted to touch everything, to track every enticing aroma, to rip fragrant mint leaves off the plant and shove them into my mouth.
Plascencia moved here from Tijuana because he fell in love with the Baja landscape and the promise of just-picked ingredients. Now, about 60 to 70 percent of the food at the restaurant comes from the surrounding land. Plascencia has since opened a second Los Cabos restaurant, Puerto Raíz, an entirely al fresco property that includes multiple gardens and an orchard to furnish his “Baja Mediterranean” cuisine.
Since opening in 2017, Jazamango has served as both a personal mission and a template for the future of food across the region. All over Los Cabos, a delightful food scene is now driven by big-name chefs and their valiant attempts to cultivate small-batch, sun-ripened ingredients and build local supply networks in a corner of Mexico that’s rapidly evolving from a party hot spot to an elegant, well-rounded destination — and the kind of peaceful yet sophisticated getaway people are craving as we dream of post-pandemic travel.
As chefs both engage with and remake the landscape, they’re crafting love letters to individual pieces of produce. Chef Tadd Chapman, who moved to Los Cabos from Vancouver Island and opened several restaurants, including Don Sanchez and Habanero’s, now spends a considerable amount of time posting pictures on social media of heirloom tomatoes.
For Chef Fabio Quarta, who recently arrived to helm the culinary program at the new Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas, the local seafood offers crucial inspiration and anchors his food in a strong sense of place. “The tuna we have here is some of the best in the world,” says Quarta. “And the smaller fish, like the snapper, is unbelievable. It’s a huge advantage for us.”
The food being created in Los Cabos is broadly wonderful, but even better, most of these places encourage interaction with the land; before settling down for lunch or dinner in a number of venues, guests can wander through the grounds to smell the fragrant herbs or marvel over the maturing guavas. The Four Seasons recently launched a water-based version of this focus on terroir with their “Catch Your Own” dinner program, where guests can board a fishing boat and venture into the Sea of Cortez to snag their own sailfish, snapper or marlin.
When I visited Acre, a farm-to-table restaurant and hotel built on a mango orchard in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains, the growing season was in full swing as workers shook the dirt off freshly harvested carrots and beets, and twisted ripe citrus off sun-tilted trees. A handful of peacocks and a donkey named “Burrito” roamed the expansive grounds.
Our chef prepared a dish of fried green tomatoes, topped with whipped chevre and a sticky sherry vinegar-honey reduction with crispy basil. For a grilled vegetable dish, he dispatched a gardener to collect baby zucchinis, cherry tomatoes, carrots and broccoli.
“We have seen some areas transforming from empty lots to farm-to-table destinations in just one to two years,” says Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. In addition to maintaining their own gardens, he says that chefs are developing more intimate relationships with local farmers. “They can go and ask for any kind of produce they want.”
The transformation of Los Cabos into more of a luxury destination with a rapidly growing number of five-star hotels — including the aforementioned Four Seasons, Viceroy Los Cabos, and Paradero Todos Santos — has also drawn both chefs and travelers with a keen interest in food quality and provenance.
Back at Jazamango, as the sun was hitting its midday peak, we retreated from the gardens to an elegant dining area shaded by a taupe sail, where a succession of dishes arrived. There was a spicy tuna crudo in a matcha sauce topped with peanuts, chilies, small flowers, avocado mousse and salty, crispy chicharrons. There was a salad of sweet beets paired with firm lentils, acidic grapefruit and aged goat cheese. And there was a seared yellowtail with delectably crispy skin in a butter sauce, with smoked eggplant puree, fresh fennel and purslane.
Each dish was accompanied by an explanation of its connection to the land and sea at our feet, and we couldn’t help but send small appreciative nods in the direction of that miraculous little garden. It was a moment of heightened gratitude — for the culinary talent, for the ingredients, for the hot sun and for the vision required to bring it all together.
Writer Sarah Treleaven traveled as a guest of the Los Cabos Tourism Board, which did not review or approve this article. The federal government recommends Canadians avoid non-essential travel. This article is meant to inspire plans for future travel.