The two-piece sushi arrives first. There is nothing spectacular about it.
Between Tijuana and Rosarito, semi-upscale, gated communities catering to American ex-pats and retirees line the Baja coast. One of these communities, San Antonio del Mar, has been the subject of a lot of chatter lately because of a new sushi joint featuring reggae music as nightly entertainment. Sushi and reggae — how much more Mexican can you get?
Just west of the main highway at the San Antonio exit, Mata Ashta sits in the end of a multi-unit complex at the entrance of the gated gringo community. The cobblestone road is a little too rough for my motorcycle, and I’m forced to park at the curb of a playground across the street.
The food is overpriced, the service is shoddy, and the limited selection of drinks does not help
Though northern Baja is saturated with seafood restaurants, the sushi variety has not really taken hold. This place seems to have a draw. The dining area is buzzing, so I opt for a seat at the bar. The bartender takes his time coming around and is slow with both the beer (a Pacifico at $3.50) and a menu.
I balk when the menu finally does arrive — it is in English, and the prices are in dollars. This is a red flag in Baja, a sign of paying a premium for the comforts of home. Appetizer prices range from $3.50 for a small portion of pickled cucumber salad to $15 for sashimi salad, and run-of-the-mill sushi rolls range from $6 for a California to $12 for a Caterpillar. If I can get the same prices in Ocean Beach, I’m being had in Baja.
Two small pieces of boiled pork, two halves of a boiled egg, and two boiled mushrooms. Not worth waiting for.
Live reggae music flows from the patio as I sip the beer and wait for the grub. The two-piece sushi arrives first, two bits of tuna over rice. Mago, they call it. The tuna is flavorful, and there is no question that it is fresh. But there is nothing spectacular about the dish.
I feel compelled to nurse the pieces of sushi, as I suspect the main course won’t be following soon. And I am right. I finish the sushi and adjourn to the patio to take in the last of the day’s sunshine to the tune of Tijuana-style reggae. I enjoy two full songs before the barkeep lets me know that the food has arrived.
A bowl of Japanese ramen waits, and I’m hoping for something of substance. But all I’m presented with is a bowl of hot water and noodles with two small pieces of boiled pork, two halves of a boiled egg, and two boiled mushrooms. At least the sunset is appetizing.
1033 Av. Estero, San Antonio del Mar, Tijuana, BC
It’s unfortunate that this place has taken hold in the mind of so many locals. The food is overpriced (a spicy tuna roll is $7.50), the service is shoddy, and the limited selection of drinks does not ease the experience. The live music is enjoyable, and I don’t doubt that it could be fun to drop in for a drink and a tune. But keep your sights on the appetizer menu.
Mata Ashta is a bastardization of the Japanese phrase mata ashita, which means “see you tomorrow.” I can assure you, if they see me tomorrow it will be for the entertainment or a refund. It won’t be for the food.