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Los Cristales at Las Olas Grand Hotel

Carretera Libre Tijuana-Ensenada, Baja

Our journey begins at the border. It is six o’clock in the evening.

The mission: find the historic Calafia Hotel — the one that hangs off a cliff south of Rosarito. Fill yourself up on its happy-hour freebies. The problem: I’m starting way late. The decision: carry on anyway.

I’ve got about $25 on me. In Tijuana I get one of the gold-and-white taxis de ruta on Madero that can take you down to Rosarito for a couple of bucks. At this hour, it’s about a 40-minute drive.

In Rosarito I swap chariots. Now I’m in a li’l country bus, heading south. It’s 7:30 p.m.

I jump out at a side road that looks like it heads for a cliff. Milestone reads “Calafia, km 34.5” Guess that’s how far we are from Tijuana.

Milestone on the road to Calafia

Bus pulls away and suddenly it’s silence except for the whoosh of cars and a distant crash of waves. Realize I’m on a high promontory that juts out into the ocean. I walk south through the dark till I come to a dimly lit arch painted with the words: “Hotel Calafia Restaurante/Bar.”

But something feels wrong. There are no real lights, only a flood lamp that shines on a ghostly church front.

“Misión San Diego de Alcalá, 1769” is painted up top. It’s the façade of San Diego’s mission. Huh. What’s up with this?

I wander down through the buildings till I find a lone security guard.

“They have reproduced many of the missions here,” he says when I ask. “This was the division line between the Dominican and Franciscan control of the California missions.”

“How come it’s totally deserted?” I ask.

“We are only open Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” he says.

Great. This is Wednesday. So now here I am, stuck alone on a mountain without hope of a meal and no civilization in sight.

I crunch back toward the arch, and only then do I notice this giant new building that tumbles down the hill to the rocks below.

“Las Olas Grand,” says a sign on the wall. Think “olas” means “waves.” Then it says, “Restaurante Los Cristales.”

I go in through a parking entrance. Lone guard there says, yes, they have a restaurant, and it’s open. He directs me along marble corridors to an elevator.

Elevator swoops down six floors. I walk out to…whoa! Surreal. A floodlit white artificial beach and a pool set below two ginormous cliffs with waterfalls pouring down them. It’s like choppering into a 007 scene, deserted except for two kids with echoey voices playing in the sand next to a volleyball net. A hidden sound system plays cool jazz.

I walk a wood-and-rock path toward a rock promontory and a low, modern building. Next weird thing I see: hardbody gals on treadmills, sweating away inside a glass-walled fitness center — with the white teeth of waves crashing right in front of them. Then, on the right, a door. “OPEN,” it reads.

Jesus, the waiter

And now I walk into this ultra-chic space. A bar, a dozen tables, mirrored walls, and, just like the fitness center, waves coming at you from behind glass walls. You expect to see sharks gliding along.

Two couples sit at the bar, and a happy group of six gringos laughs over cocktails at a window-side table. I dunno. I kinda feel like Jody Foster arriving at that beach in Contact.

Gal at the desk shows me a menu. Heart sinks at the price of what she says is the most popular dish, parrilladas. It’s that Argentinian-type mixed grill of meats or seafood, or both, and it’s, uh, $55, $60.

I pick a table near the happy crowd. The waiter, Jesús, comes up. “Something to drink?”

I check the rest of the menu. Margaritas and tequilas start at $5, house wines go for $6 a glass. But prices can reach, hey, $176. That’s for a Balché. That turns out to be a fermented honey drink of the Mayans, according to Jesús. Except, oh, downer: he says this one is a bottle of cabernet sauvignon just using the name.

They do, however, have draft beers for $1.50. Now we’re talking. I order one of those and also, on impulse, one of the soups that sounds kinda cool: Crema las olas. “Cream waves.” Tatemado peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, avocado, and king crab, $7.50.

Crema las olas soup

Jesús brings it in a big bowl, the avo and crab in the middle. It’s totally delish. The herby-tomatoey flavors are different from any tomato concoction I’ve had in Alta California.

So now I’m thinking, Can I afford something solid? They have pasta for $7. Any pasta with, say, pesto or Alfredo. Not exciting, but cheap. Main courses like steak are around $15. But pepperoni pizza’s $7, and a hamburguesa del chef is $8.50.

Table next door says to get the camarones glaseados, citrus-glazed shrimp with chiltepín chili. Problem is, that’s $16. No can do.

Oh, what the heck. I order the hamburguesa. When it comes, it’s a biggie. Stick fries, two fat onion rings, and a burger stuffed with romaine lettuce, pickles, tomato, two cheeses (provolone and cheddar), bacon, and an eight-ounce beef patty. Plus, nice crispy toasted bun. Nothing ’specially Mexican about it, but it’s a nice, squelchy challenge.

Mr. Vallejo, the taxi driver who took pity on me

Full? Yes. Mission kinda accomplished. But you don’t even want to know about the trip back. The total at Los Cristales was $20.27, not counting a tip. That left $1.85 to get home. Oh, man. The waiting for hours up on the road in the dark, the tripping, the fall in the ditch…

A community bus finally appears, 90 cents. Then, at Rosarito, the kindness of Mr. Vallejo. Took me in his taxi de ruta from Rosarito to downtown TJ for my last 85 cents, rather than the $1.50 I should’ve given him.

I get across the line and onto the trolley and let out a big whew.

  • The Place: Los Cristales, at Las Olas Grand Hotel, Carretera Libre Tijuana-Ensenada at Km 28.5 Cuenca Diaz, Rosarito, 619-713-7715 or 011.52.661-612-5227
  • Prices: Draft beers, $1.50; crema las olas (soup) with tatemado peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, king crab, $7.50; pasta with e.g. pesto or Alfredo sauces, $7; pepperoni pizza, $7; hamburguesa del chef, $8.50; tenderloin steak with mash, $15; citrus-glazed shrimp with chiltepín chili, $16; parrilladas, Argentinian-type mixed grill, $55
  • Hours: 2:00–10:00 p.m., Tuesday–Friday; 9:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Saturdays; 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Sunday; closed Mondays
  • Buses: Popotla, Calafia taxis de ruta
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Roadside, at kilometer 34.5 roadside marker (and, yes, it’s different from the Los Cristales official address, above)
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Comments

Javajoe25 May 25, 2013 @ 7:49 p.m.

Sounds like a long way to go for a burger and a beer, Ed. I guess when you throw in the "Cream Wave" crab soup, the hours in the dark and the fall in the ditch, it starts to become a worthwhile adventure. Fortunately for you, the taxi drivers like your face, so you get to make it home too. Can't wait to hear about your next adventuroso.

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Ed Bedford May 28, 2013 @ 1:10 p.m.

Yes, as the lovely Carla pointed out when I got home, sometimes I can be dumb, stupid and stubborn all at the same time. But the burger was that much more delicious. And it's amazing the good people you find when you have to go to Plan B

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Ianmei May 29, 2013 @ 7:42 p.m.

Hey dude you are funny, the part where (Now we're talking) on 1.50. Beer,you get very good deal on everthing make me laugh,and then, what the heck, mission acom- Nice trip come to ensenada you will find very good thing of course it will cost much for the trip,(great reader lines) if you come let me now i show you the seafood in ens

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Ed Bedford May 30, 2013 @ 8:57 a.m.

Hey there Ianmei. Thanks! I'll let you know. First gotta soft-talk the beautiful Carla. Maybe she should come too. If you can't beat them, have them join you! (As the old saying kinda said).

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jenjen May 30, 2013 @ 9:50 a.m.

I think it's great to cover new and interesting spots in Baja. However, maybe next time actually set aside some money for the travel cost so you don't have to all-but-stiff a cab driver out of his fare so you can spend $20 on food. I wonder if he even made that much all day.

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Ed Bedford May 31, 2013 @ 2:23 a.m.

Point taken, jenjen. Hopefully I'll see him again and give him a fat tip. But believe me, I get the rich-tourist-exploiting-the-goodwill-of-the-less-well-off-after-splurging-all-his-cash-on-burgers-and-beer thing. Bottom line: a nice guy helped me out. Bottom bottom line: I shouldn't have put him in that position. Still, I think it's better to go and make mistakes than not to go at all.

1

Ken Harrison May 31, 2013 @ 4:30 a.m.

My worst fear, getting stuck in MEX with only $1.85.

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Ianmei June 2, 2013 @ 11:53 a.m.

Don't worry the are all invited and free to come, we have the baja 500 allready but more festivals like today fiesta del hongo(diferent dishes from from diferent restaurants in outside whether) nice weekend....

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