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Matthew Suarez combs Ensenada for best seafood carts and breweries

Farther down the road from Hussong's

Views from Pacific Brews and Cerveza Semanario by El Sauzal
Views from Pacific Brews and Cerveza Semanario by El Sauzal

“I always say that Mexicali is hell, Tijuana is purgatory, and Ensenada... well, Ensenada is paradise!” says Jesús “El Chino” Hernández, who runs Trophy Tacos, an experimental seafood tacos cart in a corner of Colonia Independencia, a neighborhood near downtown Ensenada. Chino then opens the lids of his cart and excitedly shows me all his creations, things like the mermaid’s kiss (a medley of seafood with alfredo sauce), mackerel casserole (with chiles tatemados), the Hawaiian (bacon-wrapped shrimp topped with pineapple), and atun al pastor (adobo style tuna).

I found the latter to be surprisingly good; the rest can be a hit or miss or just strange, depending on your palate. Also, Chino insists on putting white rice on his tacos, though I noticed all his customers asking him not to. Chino, who is 52 years old, used to cook exclusively for his family while working as a head waiter at a steakhouse. Five years ago, he decided to start serving his creations on this potholed-filled street. Really though, all the streets in Ensenada are full of potholes, and many of them have a fresh mariscos cart on the corner.

That’s one reason why I use any excuse I can to escape to Ensenada: it really is a paradise of seafood. Another reason is the beer: Ensenada was the city that won the most awards in the Copa Cerveza MX 2021, with 22 medals — 8 of them gold. The drive to Ensenada is a pleasant one, just 78 miles south of San Diego. Once across the border, head west to Playas de Tijuana along the border wall; before hitting the beach, turn south towards the toll road to Ensenada. There are a total of three toll booths on the almost immaculate road (immaculate by Mexican standards, anyway). Two are $2 and the last one is $2.20. Pay with cash and with one type of currency. Bigger cars pay more.

La Guerrerense has its line of beers brewed by Cerveza Cardera, all with sea names like Jaiba IPA, Pulpo pale ale, and Abulon blond.

There are things to see on the way. Rosarito is good for a quick gas pitstop (and not much else). You can head to Puerto Nuevo just a few minutes south if you want a touristy lobster spot (or Popotla for a less touristy spot). Just a mile south of that, there’s Baja Studios, where Titanic was filmed (among others). Six miles further south, there is Christ of the Sacred Heart, a bad replica of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. Fifteen miles south of Christ, there’s the Devil’s Castle, a private oceanside gothic mansion. There’s an exit before Playas La Misión that takes you to Valle de Guadalupe for fine dining and vineyards. There is usually pitaya (dragon fruit) ice cream and other artisanal goodies at this exit. But today, we’re going to ignore the road to Valle and continue our journey south. Some 20 miles before we reach the city, there is a stranded, decomposing fishing vessel named Vicmar in the ironically named Bahía Salsipuedes (Leave-if-you-can Bay).

Given views of the Pacific Ocean almost the entire way, the drive soothes me. Perhaps it’s because I’m leaving all my stress behind, or perhaps it’s because I know that when I get to my destination, I will be met with a barrage of seafood and beer. When Neil Diamond sings, “The world is moving much too fast, let’s slow it down, and make it last,” in his song “In Ensenada,” he’s talking about making love, but I’m happy to apply the same sentiment to dinner.

Ensenada has some of the best craft breweries in Mexico, places like Wendlandt, Agua Mala, and Cardera, as well as the Ensenada Beer Fest, one of the biggest such festivals in the country. It is also home to some of the best seafood in Mexico, places like La Guerrerense, which was blessed by the late Anthony Bourdain. I make it my mission to try different places for both on every visit. Locations here are listed from North to South. Most places sell pints for $3-4 and $2 during happy hour and other specials. Most places sell tacos or tostadas from $2-4, with specials ranging anywhere from $7-15.

EL SAUZAL

Wendlandt Tasting Room

Located in El Sauzal, a few miles before the port city proper, your first (or last) stop on your Ensenada beer and seafood journey is an auspicious one. Brewing since April 20, 2012, Wendlandt was awarded the best brewery in Mexico in both 2015 and 2019. A handful of huge fermentation tanks (80+ BBLs) alongside smaller tanks are lined up at the entrance of the big warehouse that brews over 100,000 liters per month. The taproom is three stories high, and seems to get larger with every visit. The first floor offers an open patio with colorful paintings of Wendlandt’s main line of beers; this is where they host events. The second floor contains the restaurant, merch store, beers to go, and views of the facility. The third floor is a terrace with ocean views.

Their food menu includes hummus toast, Philly cheesesteak, chicken sandwiches, and more, but when I’m in Ensenada, seafood is my main target. Their tostadas of the catch of the day — served with a mix of chiles, salsas, ginger, scallops, and more — pair great with any of their lighter beers (like la Veraniega). Their award-winning line of main beers is available all over Mexico, and can be found in San Diego bars and restaurants (and on Amazon). Seasonal beers tend to be special. On my last stop, I got the last three cans of their “Someone Somewhere,” a tropical hazy IPA with guayaba, mango, and passion fruit. Wendlandt is the whale in the ocean of Ensenada beer. The only bad thing I could say about them is that their surroundings stink (industrial fisheries and canneries are on the perimeter).

Cervecería Semanario

Just over a mile away, but still in El Sauzal, is Cervecería Semanario. The space is warehouse-like, with ocean views and cliche neon signs: “Beer Vibes Only” and “Once upon a beer.” Though they only started brewing in 2019, the wall already shows a handful of awards from Ensenada Beer Fest and others. Every time I visit Ensenada, someone informs me of a new brewery; this taproom opened in October of 2021. Despite their slogan of “Let us surprise you with our styles,” all the beers offered were pretty standard: stout, Belgian ale (their best), strong porter, and an IPA. Nothing was particularly wrong with any of their beers, but there wasn’t anything special, either. Ensenada’s ocean of beer has space for both whales and little fishies. Semanario is a small fish with a huge potential to grow.

Wendlandt is the whale in the ocean of Ensenada beer.

Pacific Brews Collective

Right next to Cervecería Semanario is Pacific Brews, a school of other tiny fish (as in breweries). The view and space are the same as its neighbor, but instead of cheesy neon signs, there is a rusty fermentor and evidence of firepits surrounded by old picnic tables. And as the name implies, the building holds a large collection of breweries, many of which are still home brewers. The list includes: SciHop Brewery, San Buto Cerveza, Cervecería Capau, Cerveza Once Perros, Cachonda Cerveza, My Fuckn Beer, Cachimbón, and more.

Just a couple of years ago, the same space was known as Collective Baja Brews, and it held numerous breweries like Old Mission, Escafandra, Paralelo 28, Chivo Gruñon, Lúdica, and others. The rebrand now includes food by Dr. Pizza and a seafood spot named Minke. I got eight samplers from different breweries. A sour guayaba beer named Heart Breaker by My Fuckn Beer was my favorite, while most of the rest proved to be standard fare and a couple were plain bad. I got two seafood tostadas to go with the beer: panzona tostada with shrimp, octopus, clam, and black sauce; and tostada de jurel (yellowtail) covered in salsa matcha. I’m guessing the collective will most likely change breweries and restaurants as home projects come and go.

Agua Mala Cerveza Artesanal

Not even half a mile south sits Agua Mala, one of the other whales in Ensenada. It has been brewing and winning awards since 2010, and was founded by Nathaniel Schmidt, a Chilango marine biologist and a graduate from Humboldt State who started homebrewing in 2005. Their Astillero IPA won silver in the World Beer Cup in 2014 (beating Lost Abbey), and the original recipe was recently replicated. Agua Mala, though it translates to “bad water,” really means jellyfish.

Their slogan is “submerge and explore” — the connection between Ensenada brewers and the ocean goes deep. Their taproom is made out of recycled shipping containers painted with jellyfish and other sea creatures that resemble their line of beers (the names of which are all ocean-related). It has ocean views, but the place feels more like you are in a jungle. Eats-wise, they feature fresh seafood. On my latest visit, I got the tiradito de atun: $9 for a plate of tuna drenched in serrano oil, cherry tomatoes, dashi, ginger, and Persian cucumbers, a combination that brought me delight. I accompanied it with Fugu, their Japanese rice lager. Just like Wendlandt, Agua Mala can be found in bars and restaurants in San Diego.

Transpeninsular Brewery

Time to drive south out of El Sauzal and into the city, but before you arrive in downtown Ensenada, you’ll find Transpeninsular. There are plenty of signs that make it obvious how to find it. The brewery greets you with SoCal punk, as Blink 182, Sublime, Ramones, and similar bands blast their music through the speakers. The walls are decorated with surfboards, street signs, and Baja pictures. The space boasts two stories, a big balcony with views of the harbor, a stage for live bands, and even a children’s playground. It feels more like a brewery in Oceanside or any other California beach town.

The food menu is extensive, American, and, kid-friendly. All their beers are crisp, clean, and approachable. It all makes sense, given that it was founded in 2017 by San Diegan Collin Corrigan. Transpeninsular quickly established itself as an Ensenada big fish with its consistent beer quality and a mindset that pleases everyone, plus superb cleanliness. All their beers have names related to traveling Baja, with some gringo twist. I often go for the Carretera 3 IPA and their freshly shucked oysters.

Agua Mala’s tiradito de atun: $9 for a plate of tuna drenched in serrano oil, cherry tomatoes, dashi, ginger, and Persian cucumbers, a combination that brought me delight.

DOWNTOWN

Ensenada is Baja’s oldest city and one of Mexico’s most important ports. Cruises arrive from different parts of the world. The tourists there are different from the ones that visit Tijuana. Once I reach downtown, I usually meet up with friends, especially my friend Kelvin, a local guitarist who plays in several bands and acts as a tour guide. “I heard good things about that place,” says Kelvin as he drives through Ensenada and surveys the seafood stands that appear everywhere.

Like a true Ensenadense, Kelvin grew up without meat, eating only seafood (and the occasional chicken). “I have a friend that works there, let me see if they can hook it up,” says Kelvin when I inquire about a new brewery. Also like a true Ensenadense, Kelvin knows people everywhere. Though Ensenada is small, I wouldn’t be able to find the majority of these places without Kelvin. Google maps is not very trustworthy.

Wendlandt Brew Pub

Near the port’s boardwalk, behind a pair of big wooden doors on a metal and brick building, is Wendlandt’s original location, from before they moved to their large space in El Sauzal. It’s a small, dark, and cozy space, perfect for a date. The menu is similar to its counterpart, with additions such as a variety of sliders and wings. On my visit, I got three tostadas: the marlin paté with yellowtail tiradito, smokey tatemado ceviche, and the yellowtail tiradito. I also got the fish tacos (you can skip those). Kelvin got the veggie tostada and couldn’t stop raving about how fantastic it was.

Armor Cervecería

Armor is located on First Street, the main tourist road of Ensenada. Created in 2016 by two cousins with a passion for beer, Armor is a portmanteau of their last names, Arjona and Morineau. The bar is located in what used to be The Bull Rock Bar; Kelvin has fond memories of attending cover band shows there and getting wasted on cheap beer when he had just turned 18. Now the stage features local stand-up comedy. The place is decorated with faux Medieval shields and other armory, and it has a balcony that overlooks the main drag. Even their flight of beers is a cool shield that holds five samplers: Mexican ale, hefeweizen, blonde ale, porter, and stout. Unfortunately, the beer wasn’t the best.

Freshly shucked oysters at Transpeninsular.

Hussong’s Cantina

Established in 1892, this is the oldest cantina in Baja, made legendary by bartender Don Carlos Orozco, who is reputed to have created the margarita in 1941. The cantina was founded by John Hussong, a German who emigrated to the United States in 1888, and a year later was lured down to Ensenada by the discovery of gold south of the border. Not much has changed in Hussong’s: locals crowd the bar, several groups of mariachi and norteño musicians play in different areas, drunks are everywhere, and sawdust and peanut shells cover the floor. The only real addition is that Hussong’s now has its craft beer brewed by Wendlandt. Featuring Hussong’s parrot and the Ensenada sunset on the label, the beer is a Mexican-style light lager (with only 3.8% alcohol) that local Ensenadenses who don’t drink craft beer will find very familiar.

La Guerrerense / Sabina Restaurant

Ensenadenses will tell you that La Guerrerense (by Sabina Bandera) is overrated, and that there are better seafood carts all over the city. Situated in the heart of downtown and made legendary by Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Baja, La Guerrerense is usually packed with tourists. Just around the corner sits Sabina, a spin-off of the original cart set up in a sit-down restaurant. But despite what locals think, there are many intriguing flavors here, and more than a dozen salsas from which to choose. I got a variety of seafood tostadas, including the fish pate topped with scallops and their award-winning sea urchin ceviche with clam on top. To pair with all the glorious seafood, La Guerrerense has its line of beers brewed by Cerveza Cardera. Keeping with the Ensenada trend, all their beers have sea names like Jaiba IPA, Pulpo pale ale, and Abulon blond.

Tostada de jurel covered in salsa matcha at Pacific Brews Collective.

Mariscos el Güero

After posting online that I went to La Guerrerense and loved it, Ensenadenses were quick to tell me I should try el Güero (and when I posted about el Güero, they suggested a dozen more places). The cart is located near the boardwalk on Alvarado Avenue (a block away from La Guerrerense), and serves seafood cocktails, simple ceviche tostadas, specialty tostadas, and shellfish. I got half a dozen ostiones encabronadas, which means angry oysters. I was presented with sizeable, chunky oysters covered with a very spicy habanero salsa. I got a couple of seafood tostadas: the güerita, a mountain of seasoned shrimp, clam, scallops, and octopus; and when I couldn’t make myself stop eating, a prepared Pismo clam. A small bar contains all sorts of salsas and dressings. I noticed locals opt to use ketchup, but I suggest you don’t.

Chikilla Craft Beer

Founded in Victoria, Texas in 2014 by Alfonso Estrada and Mayté Murrillo, Chikilla is a Mexican-American microbrewery with Ensenada roots. Their taproom is hidden on the side of Taka Sushi & Bento on Calle Moctezuma. The small space contains over thirty different styles, all brewed by Chikilla. The place is decorated with Texas memorabilia, including Buc-ee’s beer koozies. Chikilla offers VIP memberships that come with a mug with your name on it that you can take home or leave hanging in the bar. A drunken loyal customer of Chikilla by the name of Angel showed up to tell us it was the best brewery in Ensenada, and showed off his VIP membership while speaking of the wonders of all their beers. Kelvin usually complains about bad service in Ensenada, but beertender Mitchel Salgado, was knowledgeable and attentive to any questions we had about the brewery as he poured flight upon flight. A strawberry blonde and a raspberry porter left lasting impressions, while the rest were standard-good.

The food menu at Transpeninsular is extensive, American, and, kid-friendly.

Tacos Fenix

This small cart is located on the corner of Juarez (Calle Quinta) and Espinoza, and is one of Ensenada’s most popular spots for classic battered fish and shrimp tacos. It was late in the afternoon when I got to Tacos el Fenix, and it was still packed with people. Some were drinking LA Cetto wine out of tiny bottles; others drank Tecate; all munched on fish and shrimp tacos around the small cart. In a very Ensenada style, they serve you the basic taco of fish and/or shrimp, and it’s up to you to dress it from the open bar of standard salsas and toppings. Also in a very Ensenada style, there is no payment until after eating. They use the trust system — you let them know how many you ate.

A flight of Canneria Cervecería out in the patio.

Fauna Tasting Room

Around the corner from Tacos Fenix is Cerveza Fauna, one of the big players in the Baja beer scene. Fauna, however, is not from paradise, but hell. The original brewery is located in Mexicali, and none of their beers have a connection with the sea. Instead, they refer to the fantasy world, featuring werewolves, gnomes, fairies, and other magical creatures. Their taproom in Ensenada also disconnects you from the sea and brings you into a forest laden with craft beer, with walls painted to look like trees, and natural trees jutting up in the middle of the taproom. Their menu features some seafood, but it is focused more on pizzas and burgers. One of the big players in Baja, Fauna’s beers are always on the positive end of the spectrum.

Heisenberg Cervecería / Pasillo Central

Between Second and Third Street, on Avenida Ruíz, there’s a dark tunnel that leads you to a food collective with Mojk (vegan tacos), Wurst (hotdogs), Los Perches (burritos and quesadillas), and Heisenberg Cervecería. The space has a stage for ‘90s cover bands and stand-up comedy. Ensenada claims to have the highest number of scientists per capita in Latin America, and Heisenberg takes its name from both the scientist and the Breaking Bad character. Their logo is an Erlenmeyer flask overflowing with beer. The first time I had Heisenberg beer was at the 2013 Ensenada Beer Fest, and it left me with a good impression. Since then, I’ve seen their creations pop up at several beer festivals (and they have won medals to prove their quality). However, on my latest visit, their experimentation seemed to have gone wrong, and none of the beers were passable.

Doble C beers at Muto Restaurante.

Alta Baja Cervecería / Bodegas Santo Tomás

The Cava Miramar, known to locals as the Antigua Bodega de Santo Tomas, is an old wine warehouse on Sixth Street. It recently got refurbished to house a music and cultural center, plus a disco-style rollerblading rink, coffee shop, pizza parlor, an upscale bar named La Bête Noire, a big wine store, and Alta Baja’s bar and restaurant. Mixing the old architecture with modern lighting fixtures and avant-garde art, the restaurant sits on top of the warehouse; you arrive there after a long climb up an old spiral staircase. (It is not wheelchair accessible; most of Ensenada isn’t). When I visited, they had only three beers and were out of one. But I tried their Pata Salasa blonde ale and their Rapala American pale ale and found them both to be crisp and on point. Kelvin, who hates upscale places, was also amazed by the quality of their beer. They feature an impressive food and cocktail menu, but for cocktails, we went to La Bête Noire, a lovely space that focuses on the quality of the audio and ambiance. There, I paid $11 for horrible service and a disappointing cocktail made with Sierra Norte Mexican whiskey. It remains the worst thing that I’ve ordered in Ensenada. After eyeing the prices, Kelvin refused to order anything.

Everything at Muto was on point. I thoroughly enjoyed their tiradito King Kampachi drowned in spicy ponzu sauce.

Canneria Cervecería

Canneria is located on Fifth Street and Avenida Iturbide, outside the tourist area of downtown. Canneria, which means cannery in Spanish, started in October 2009. It’s a cramped, square space with a simple bar. There’s a narrow outside area with a couple of tables. The warehouse where they brew is in the back. I’ve bought their beers before for my YouTube beer show. Their labels attracted me with their ridiculous names and cartoony drawings, such as “Crazy Cows and Truckers on Crystal Meth.” There was no indication on the can as to what style of beer it would be, and it turned out to be a fairly standard milk stout. At their taproom, I got a flight of ten beers and I favored their Fluffylicious, a raspberry strong ale, and the Piquete with Cafe, a coffee porter.

Muto / Doble C

Doble C, written as //C, seems to avoid me. I first sampled their wares at a beer festival years ago — they won the best mid-size brewery in 2017 — but I haven’t been able to track them down since. They used to share space with a Japanese restaurant named Muto, but when I visited in June of 2021, they told me //C had left the building. Happily, Muto still carried their Golden Eagle, a clean, refreshing Mexican lager. On my latest venture in January of 2022, I was informed they had opened in a different space. When I got there, they were closed. On Facebook, they informed visitors that the new space was not available yet, but that they were back in Muto temporarily. It’s a great beer...if you can catch them. As for Muto and its range of fresh seafood available for sushi, everything there was on point. I thoroughly enjoyed their tiradito King Kampachi drowned in spicy ponzu sauce.

Tacos de Pescado Marco Antonio

Don’t let the name fool you: Marco Antonio sells way more than just fish tacos. A cartoony, mustachioed man welcomes you to what used to be a cannery for all sorts of seafood back in the 1960s. It now feels like a museum with a restaurant inside. The menu includes more than 23 different types of tacos, burritos, and tostadas, things like cilantro tuna, caguatun, machaca, quesamarlin, empanicrab, camarlin, and more. It works on a weird dynamic: there is only one line to order, as if it was school lunch. There is no payment when you order; it’s another place that uses the trust system. A free-for-all condiment bar lets you dress your tacos to your liking. Overwhelmed by my choices, I told the server to give me the most popular, and I got the Ramses, a simple battered fish taco topped with creamy chipotle shrimp. I followed with a carnitas de atún, caguatun, and a couple of camarlin burritos that tasted a bit like lobster (it was marlin and shrimp).

OUTSIDE OF DOWNTOWN

Cervecería Nórdica

As the name implies, Nórdica is a Viking-themed brewery, located north of downtown on Calle Carlos Pacheco. Their beers have names like Mjolnir IPA, Valkyria Scottish ale, Freya blonde ale, and Ragnarok black IPA. It’s a small space that blasts heavy metal to what seems like an all-male clientele. A Zakk Wylde concert was on the TV when I walked in, and it was followed by videos of women pole dancing. They had four beers on tap: an unnamed light lager, Valkyria, Mjolnir, and Freya. The unnamed lager was smooth and the Valkyria Scottish ale had a nice spice to it, while the other two were basic and forgettable.

Ramses and Machaca de Atún at Marco Antonio.

La Carreta Street’s Food

East of downtown is a seafood cart inside a metal shack decorated with surfboards and neon signs spelling out generic inspirational phrases in English (The Sky is the Limit, Stay Humble, Life is Better at the Beach, etc). It’s an upscale take on all the street seafood around town. The extensive menu has all sorts of tostadas, seafood cocktails, shellfish, tacos, quesadillas, ramen, and more. We got the Ensenada-Perú ceviche, the pulpo negro ceviche, marlin spicy quesadilla, pork chilorio and pulpo quesadilla, shrimp quesataco, and a marlin chun-kun (spring roll). The octopus plates were the best, and the cheese in the quesadillas was scrumptious (they use Real del Castillo). The only disappointing item was the shrimp quesataco. They carry local Ensenada beers as well as caguamitas Carta Blanca, and they offer an extensive cocktail menu.

Cervecería Cardera / Bruer Cerveza

Located in the middle of a residential area that feels like nowhere else in Ensenada is the shared warehouse space of Cardera and Bruer. The first time I walked into Cardera, there was a pair of older gentlemen with Spanish guitars playing boleros and singing in perfect harmony. I fell in love with the place immediately. The third time I went there, I was drinking with American friends when a lady approached me because she recognized me from my YouTube show. It was none other than the owner, Rebecca Ramirez, the RA in Cardera. The “Carde” part refers to her husband and head brewer, Armando Cardenas (it’s another brewery with a portmanteau name). Rebecca recognized me because Cervecería Cardera is my personal favorite, and I had been praising them constantly. Every single beer that I’ve tried from them leads me to think the same thing: This is freaking delicious. My favorite beer of all 2021 was their mango chamoy Berliner Weisse. La Dosis Perfecta (a perfect dose), a carajillo style stout, tastes exactly like what a carajillo should be: carajillo is the Latin version of Irish coffee, hot coffee with hard liquor added. In Mexico, they use Licor 43, a sweet Spanish liqueur made from a mix of 43 secret ingredients.

The extensive menu at La Carreta has all sorts of tostadas, seafood cocktails, shellfish, tacos, quesadillas, ramen, and more.

Brewing in the same space is Cerveza Bruer, the winner of three gold medals in the most recent Cerveza Copa MX: Sunset (American amber ale), Edison (light ale), and Tipsy (session IPA with cashmere hops). Just like Cardera, everything that Bruer does is of great quality. Never mind their multiple awards for past efforts: the breweries are always pushing new quality beers on every visit. And though I tend not to repeat places, Cardera and Bruer are a must-go during every Ensenada visit. Unfortunately, their menu doesn’t have any seafood, but instead offers American pub classics (chicken wings, onion rings).

Cervecería Cinco Raíces / Casco Beer

South of downtown, on the extension of the beach boardwalk, is a shared taproom between Five Roots (Cinco Raíces) and Helmet (Casco). It’s a cozy, neat space with romantic light and a hip atmosphere inside metal shacks. When I got there, they were getting ready for a comedy roast. The beer garden was busy, and the clientele seemed to be enjoying themselves. But I tried five beers from each brewery, and to put it bluntly, none were drinkable. Maybe their lines were dirty, because the brews sounded promising on paper. At least the service was good.

The shared taproom between Five Roots (Cinco Raíces) and Helmet (Casco) is a cozy, neat space with romantic light and a hip atmosphere inside metal shacks.

La Carreta de El Chava en el Boulevard

There are so many seafood carts in Ensenada that it can get confusing. Near Cinco Raices, I ended up in La Carreta de Don Chava en el Boulevard by accident. Kelvin suggested Mariscos Don Shava, another friend mentioned Mariscos Chava, and Google maps took me to this other Chava. This seafood cart has been around since 1980. They sell the classic ceviche tostadas or seafood cocktails. They sell oysters for 75 cents apiece and to my surprise, they were as good as many other more expensive places. I got a medium seafood cocktail campechano (a mix of all the seafood): $7 got me half a liter styrofoam packed to the brim with octopus, shrimp, clam, and oysters. It was lacking in flavor and character, but the multiple sauces set up on the table help you personalize it to your choosing. When leaving, I noticed a sign for an upcoming brewery next to the spot where I had parked.

La Jurelina is a modern fish market and restaurant sporting lively colors and experimental takes on seafood, with a seasonal menu that varies with the catch.

La Jurelina, Fish Co.

Two blocks away from Cinco Raíces, in a residential area, is La Jurelina, Fish Co. La Jurelina, meaning female amberjack, is a modern fish market and restaurant sporting lively colors and experimental takes on seafood, with a seasonal menu that varies with the catch. They offer three type of local oysters: León del Pácifico ($11 a dozen), Manriquez ($11), and Chingón ($18). The Chingon oysters are heavyweights with a robust flavor, farm-raised in the cold waters of Laguna Guerrero Negro (near the salt mines on the border of Baja and Baja Sur). On my visit, I got four of each oyster with an almeja generosa (generous clam) in the middle. It was followed by a tostada of smoked yellowtail bathed in a savory oily sauce, a tostada of pate yellowtail with shrimp and Katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and a tostada of clam with octopus chicharrón and a medley of seaweeds. A vegetarian friend joined me in this venture, and though the restaurant did not have a salad on the menu, the chef made him one with a medley of seaweed, lettuce, and heirloom tomatoes that was as zesty and salty as the sea itself.

At La Carreta de El Chava en el Boulevard, $7 got me half a liter styrofoam packed to the bream with octopus, shrimp, clam, and oysters.

Astillero 10

In the same area, but beachfront, is another collective, this one called Plaza Contenedores, made from recycled shipping containers painted navy blue and featuring ocean views and beach access. On my visit in mid-2021, most of the local spots were closed or for rent; Astillero 10 was the only lively one. Founded by chef Alberto Ayala, it offers brunch early on and an afternoon menu before turning into a party joint featuring local DJs at night. I went during the early afternoon and opted for scallops on a bed of serrano salsa topped with salicornia, and the bluefin tuna tiradito with smoked pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and avocado. Cardera and other local Ensenada craft beers were available, and there was a cocktail bar.

El Spot Collective

Just a couple blocks south of Plaza Contenedores, there is yet another beer collective known as Spot Surfo. It’s a DIY project from some of the newer additions to the Ensenada beer scene, and features home breweries: Punta Banda, Mohicana, Laguna Mental, Imaginaria, and Sýncopa. The latter is the best of the bunch, with brewers that previously worked for Escanfandra. Homar Verdugo of Imaginaria is so committed to his new brewery that he got the logo (a wolf with a third eye) tattooed on his arm. The collective is made out of pallets and metal scraps; the place feels like a junkyard with a ping pong table. In Ensenada-friendly fashion, the guys from Syncopa invited me over to their house to sample their freshest beer and view their brewing process. They had three 6BBL fermentors in a small modified garage. They gave me stout ice cream.

Scallops on a bed of serrano salsa topped with salicornia, the bluefin tuna tiradito with smoked pepitas and avocado, and Cardera beers at Astillero 10.

Km 0 Beer House

This place stands where the city ends and the road begins taking you to other places, places like Ojos Negros. It is yet another collective of homebrewers, featuring My Fuckn Beer, Cachimbón, 4 Bros, Punta Lobos, Emblemática, and 3 Puntos, all in a tiny space. When we got there, Jorge Monroy, owner of 3 Puntos, was working on fixing kegerators, and the place was in full disarray. The space doubles as a brewery equipment store, and Jorge fixes beer gear. He quickly shuffled to offer us flights of all the beers in the collective. Many were not very good, some were passable, but their double IPA — a team effort from the collective — was by far their best, and a beer worth the trip to this forsaken Ensenada area.


Though I visit as often as I can, there doesn’t seem to be an end to Ensenada’s seafood and beer options. I still need to visit places like La Opah del Güero, La Concheria, La Pescadería, La Cevichería Oyster Bar, Carreta de Mariscos el Gordito, La Cosedora de Langosta, Muelle Tres, Mariscos el Pizón, Manzanilla, Raw Oyster Bar, and many others. And that’s just seafood. As for breweries, on my last visit, they told me I should check out El Maneadero, where even more new brewers are starting to open up.

Ensenada offers more than just beer and seafood; there is a plethora of all types of restaurants, street tacos, bars, and more. However, it’s still a relatively small city, so there’s not much going on on the weekdays, or late at night.

On the next and final installment of my Baja travels, I visit hell: Mexicali.

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Views from Pacific Brews and Cerveza Semanario by El Sauzal
Views from Pacific Brews and Cerveza Semanario by El Sauzal

“I always say that Mexicali is hell, Tijuana is purgatory, and Ensenada... well, Ensenada is paradise!” says Jesús “El Chino” Hernández, who runs Trophy Tacos, an experimental seafood tacos cart in a corner of Colonia Independencia, a neighborhood near downtown Ensenada. Chino then opens the lids of his cart and excitedly shows me all his creations, things like the mermaid’s kiss (a medley of seafood with alfredo sauce), mackerel casserole (with chiles tatemados), the Hawaiian (bacon-wrapped shrimp topped with pineapple), and atun al pastor (adobo style tuna).

I found the latter to be surprisingly good; the rest can be a hit or miss or just strange, depending on your palate. Also, Chino insists on putting white rice on his tacos, though I noticed all his customers asking him not to. Chino, who is 52 years old, used to cook exclusively for his family while working as a head waiter at a steakhouse. Five years ago, he decided to start serving his creations on this potholed-filled street. Really though, all the streets in Ensenada are full of potholes, and many of them have a fresh mariscos cart on the corner.

That’s one reason why I use any excuse I can to escape to Ensenada: it really is a paradise of seafood. Another reason is the beer: Ensenada was the city that won the most awards in the Copa Cerveza MX 2021, with 22 medals — 8 of them gold. The drive to Ensenada is a pleasant one, just 78 miles south of San Diego. Once across the border, head west to Playas de Tijuana along the border wall; before hitting the beach, turn south towards the toll road to Ensenada. There are a total of three toll booths on the almost immaculate road (immaculate by Mexican standards, anyway). Two are $2 and the last one is $2.20. Pay with cash and with one type of currency. Bigger cars pay more.

La Guerrerense has its line of beers brewed by Cerveza Cardera, all with sea names like Jaiba IPA, Pulpo pale ale, and Abulon blond.

There are things to see on the way. Rosarito is good for a quick gas pitstop (and not much else). You can head to Puerto Nuevo just a few minutes south if you want a touristy lobster spot (or Popotla for a less touristy spot). Just a mile south of that, there’s Baja Studios, where Titanic was filmed (among others). Six miles further south, there is Christ of the Sacred Heart, a bad replica of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. Fifteen miles south of Christ, there’s the Devil’s Castle, a private oceanside gothic mansion. There’s an exit before Playas La Misión that takes you to Valle de Guadalupe for fine dining and vineyards. There is usually pitaya (dragon fruit) ice cream and other artisanal goodies at this exit. But today, we’re going to ignore the road to Valle and continue our journey south. Some 20 miles before we reach the city, there is a stranded, decomposing fishing vessel named Vicmar in the ironically named Bahía Salsipuedes (Leave-if-you-can Bay).

Given views of the Pacific Ocean almost the entire way, the drive soothes me. Perhaps it’s because I’m leaving all my stress behind, or perhaps it’s because I know that when I get to my destination, I will be met with a barrage of seafood and beer. When Neil Diamond sings, “The world is moving much too fast, let’s slow it down, and make it last,” in his song “In Ensenada,” he’s talking about making love, but I’m happy to apply the same sentiment to dinner.

Ensenada has some of the best craft breweries in Mexico, places like Wendlandt, Agua Mala, and Cardera, as well as the Ensenada Beer Fest, one of the biggest such festivals in the country. It is also home to some of the best seafood in Mexico, places like La Guerrerense, which was blessed by the late Anthony Bourdain. I make it my mission to try different places for both on every visit. Locations here are listed from North to South. Most places sell pints for $3-4 and $2 during happy hour and other specials. Most places sell tacos or tostadas from $2-4, with specials ranging anywhere from $7-15.

EL SAUZAL

Wendlandt Tasting Room

Located in El Sauzal, a few miles before the port city proper, your first (or last) stop on your Ensenada beer and seafood journey is an auspicious one. Brewing since April 20, 2012, Wendlandt was awarded the best brewery in Mexico in both 2015 and 2019. A handful of huge fermentation tanks (80+ BBLs) alongside smaller tanks are lined up at the entrance of the big warehouse that brews over 100,000 liters per month. The taproom is three stories high, and seems to get larger with every visit. The first floor offers an open patio with colorful paintings of Wendlandt’s main line of beers; this is where they host events. The second floor contains the restaurant, merch store, beers to go, and views of the facility. The third floor is a terrace with ocean views.

Their food menu includes hummus toast, Philly cheesesteak, chicken sandwiches, and more, but when I’m in Ensenada, seafood is my main target. Their tostadas of the catch of the day — served with a mix of chiles, salsas, ginger, scallops, and more — pair great with any of their lighter beers (like la Veraniega). Their award-winning line of main beers is available all over Mexico, and can be found in San Diego bars and restaurants (and on Amazon). Seasonal beers tend to be special. On my last stop, I got the last three cans of their “Someone Somewhere,” a tropical hazy IPA with guayaba, mango, and passion fruit. Wendlandt is the whale in the ocean of Ensenada beer. The only bad thing I could say about them is that their surroundings stink (industrial fisheries and canneries are on the perimeter).

Cervecería Semanario

Just over a mile away, but still in El Sauzal, is Cervecería Semanario. The space is warehouse-like, with ocean views and cliche neon signs: “Beer Vibes Only” and “Once upon a beer.” Though they only started brewing in 2019, the wall already shows a handful of awards from Ensenada Beer Fest and others. Every time I visit Ensenada, someone informs me of a new brewery; this taproom opened in October of 2021. Despite their slogan of “Let us surprise you with our styles,” all the beers offered were pretty standard: stout, Belgian ale (their best), strong porter, and an IPA. Nothing was particularly wrong with any of their beers, but there wasn’t anything special, either. Ensenada’s ocean of beer has space for both whales and little fishies. Semanario is a small fish with a huge potential to grow.

Wendlandt is the whale in the ocean of Ensenada beer.

Pacific Brews Collective

Right next to Cervecería Semanario is Pacific Brews, a school of other tiny fish (as in breweries). The view and space are the same as its neighbor, but instead of cheesy neon signs, there is a rusty fermentor and evidence of firepits surrounded by old picnic tables. And as the name implies, the building holds a large collection of breweries, many of which are still home brewers. The list includes: SciHop Brewery, San Buto Cerveza, Cervecería Capau, Cerveza Once Perros, Cachonda Cerveza, My Fuckn Beer, Cachimbón, and more.

Just a couple of years ago, the same space was known as Collective Baja Brews, and it held numerous breweries like Old Mission, Escafandra, Paralelo 28, Chivo Gruñon, Lúdica, and others. The rebrand now includes food by Dr. Pizza and a seafood spot named Minke. I got eight samplers from different breweries. A sour guayaba beer named Heart Breaker by My Fuckn Beer was my favorite, while most of the rest proved to be standard fare and a couple were plain bad. I got two seafood tostadas to go with the beer: panzona tostada with shrimp, octopus, clam, and black sauce; and tostada de jurel (yellowtail) covered in salsa matcha. I’m guessing the collective will most likely change breweries and restaurants as home projects come and go.

Agua Mala Cerveza Artesanal

Not even half a mile south sits Agua Mala, one of the other whales in Ensenada. It has been brewing and winning awards since 2010, and was founded by Nathaniel Schmidt, a Chilango marine biologist and a graduate from Humboldt State who started homebrewing in 2005. Their Astillero IPA won silver in the World Beer Cup in 2014 (beating Lost Abbey), and the original recipe was recently replicated. Agua Mala, though it translates to “bad water,” really means jellyfish.

Their slogan is “submerge and explore” — the connection between Ensenada brewers and the ocean goes deep. Their taproom is made out of recycled shipping containers painted with jellyfish and other sea creatures that resemble their line of beers (the names of which are all ocean-related). It has ocean views, but the place feels more like you are in a jungle. Eats-wise, they feature fresh seafood. On my latest visit, I got the tiradito de atun: $9 for a plate of tuna drenched in serrano oil, cherry tomatoes, dashi, ginger, and Persian cucumbers, a combination that brought me delight. I accompanied it with Fugu, their Japanese rice lager. Just like Wendlandt, Agua Mala can be found in bars and restaurants in San Diego.

Transpeninsular Brewery

Time to drive south out of El Sauzal and into the city, but before you arrive in downtown Ensenada, you’ll find Transpeninsular. There are plenty of signs that make it obvious how to find it. The brewery greets you with SoCal punk, as Blink 182, Sublime, Ramones, and similar bands blast their music through the speakers. The walls are decorated with surfboards, street signs, and Baja pictures. The space boasts two stories, a big balcony with views of the harbor, a stage for live bands, and even a children’s playground. It feels more like a brewery in Oceanside or any other California beach town.

The food menu is extensive, American, and, kid-friendly. All their beers are crisp, clean, and approachable. It all makes sense, given that it was founded in 2017 by San Diegan Collin Corrigan. Transpeninsular quickly established itself as an Ensenada big fish with its consistent beer quality and a mindset that pleases everyone, plus superb cleanliness. All their beers have names related to traveling Baja, with some gringo twist. I often go for the Carretera 3 IPA and their freshly shucked oysters.

Agua Mala’s tiradito de atun: $9 for a plate of tuna drenched in serrano oil, cherry tomatoes, dashi, ginger, and Persian cucumbers, a combination that brought me delight.

DOWNTOWN

Ensenada is Baja’s oldest city and one of Mexico’s most important ports. Cruises arrive from different parts of the world. The tourists there are different from the ones that visit Tijuana. Once I reach downtown, I usually meet up with friends, especially my friend Kelvin, a local guitarist who plays in several bands and acts as a tour guide. “I heard good things about that place,” says Kelvin as he drives through Ensenada and surveys the seafood stands that appear everywhere.

Like a true Ensenadense, Kelvin grew up without meat, eating only seafood (and the occasional chicken). “I have a friend that works there, let me see if they can hook it up,” says Kelvin when I inquire about a new brewery. Also like a true Ensenadense, Kelvin knows people everywhere. Though Ensenada is small, I wouldn’t be able to find the majority of these places without Kelvin. Google maps is not very trustworthy.

Wendlandt Brew Pub

Near the port’s boardwalk, behind a pair of big wooden doors on a metal and brick building, is Wendlandt’s original location, from before they moved to their large space in El Sauzal. It’s a small, dark, and cozy space, perfect for a date. The menu is similar to its counterpart, with additions such as a variety of sliders and wings. On my visit, I got three tostadas: the marlin paté with yellowtail tiradito, smokey tatemado ceviche, and the yellowtail tiradito. I also got the fish tacos (you can skip those). Kelvin got the veggie tostada and couldn’t stop raving about how fantastic it was.

Armor Cervecería

Armor is located on First Street, the main tourist road of Ensenada. Created in 2016 by two cousins with a passion for beer, Armor is a portmanteau of their last names, Arjona and Morineau. The bar is located in what used to be The Bull Rock Bar; Kelvin has fond memories of attending cover band shows there and getting wasted on cheap beer when he had just turned 18. Now the stage features local stand-up comedy. The place is decorated with faux Medieval shields and other armory, and it has a balcony that overlooks the main drag. Even their flight of beers is a cool shield that holds five samplers: Mexican ale, hefeweizen, blonde ale, porter, and stout. Unfortunately, the beer wasn’t the best.

Freshly shucked oysters at Transpeninsular.

Hussong’s Cantina

Established in 1892, this is the oldest cantina in Baja, made legendary by bartender Don Carlos Orozco, who is reputed to have created the margarita in 1941. The cantina was founded by John Hussong, a German who emigrated to the United States in 1888, and a year later was lured down to Ensenada by the discovery of gold south of the border. Not much has changed in Hussong’s: locals crowd the bar, several groups of mariachi and norteño musicians play in different areas, drunks are everywhere, and sawdust and peanut shells cover the floor. The only real addition is that Hussong’s now has its craft beer brewed by Wendlandt. Featuring Hussong’s parrot and the Ensenada sunset on the label, the beer is a Mexican-style light lager (with only 3.8% alcohol) that local Ensenadenses who don’t drink craft beer will find very familiar.

La Guerrerense / Sabina Restaurant

Ensenadenses will tell you that La Guerrerense (by Sabina Bandera) is overrated, and that there are better seafood carts all over the city. Situated in the heart of downtown and made legendary by Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Baja, La Guerrerense is usually packed with tourists. Just around the corner sits Sabina, a spin-off of the original cart set up in a sit-down restaurant. But despite what locals think, there are many intriguing flavors here, and more than a dozen salsas from which to choose. I got a variety of seafood tostadas, including the fish pate topped with scallops and their award-winning sea urchin ceviche with clam on top. To pair with all the glorious seafood, La Guerrerense has its line of beers brewed by Cerveza Cardera. Keeping with the Ensenada trend, all their beers have sea names like Jaiba IPA, Pulpo pale ale, and Abulon blond.

Tostada de jurel covered in salsa matcha at Pacific Brews Collective.

Mariscos el Güero

After posting online that I went to La Guerrerense and loved it, Ensenadenses were quick to tell me I should try el Güero (and when I posted about el Güero, they suggested a dozen more places). The cart is located near the boardwalk on Alvarado Avenue (a block away from La Guerrerense), and serves seafood cocktails, simple ceviche tostadas, specialty tostadas, and shellfish. I got half a dozen ostiones encabronadas, which means angry oysters. I was presented with sizeable, chunky oysters covered with a very spicy habanero salsa. I got a couple of seafood tostadas: the güerita, a mountain of seasoned shrimp, clam, scallops, and octopus; and when I couldn’t make myself stop eating, a prepared Pismo clam. A small bar contains all sorts of salsas and dressings. I noticed locals opt to use ketchup, but I suggest you don’t.

Chikilla Craft Beer

Founded in Victoria, Texas in 2014 by Alfonso Estrada and Mayté Murrillo, Chikilla is a Mexican-American microbrewery with Ensenada roots. Their taproom is hidden on the side of Taka Sushi & Bento on Calle Moctezuma. The small space contains over thirty different styles, all brewed by Chikilla. The place is decorated with Texas memorabilia, including Buc-ee’s beer koozies. Chikilla offers VIP memberships that come with a mug with your name on it that you can take home or leave hanging in the bar. A drunken loyal customer of Chikilla by the name of Angel showed up to tell us it was the best brewery in Ensenada, and showed off his VIP membership while speaking of the wonders of all their beers. Kelvin usually complains about bad service in Ensenada, but beertender Mitchel Salgado, was knowledgeable and attentive to any questions we had about the brewery as he poured flight upon flight. A strawberry blonde and a raspberry porter left lasting impressions, while the rest were standard-good.

The food menu at Transpeninsular is extensive, American, and, kid-friendly.

Tacos Fenix

This small cart is located on the corner of Juarez (Calle Quinta) and Espinoza, and is one of Ensenada’s most popular spots for classic battered fish and shrimp tacos. It was late in the afternoon when I got to Tacos el Fenix, and it was still packed with people. Some were drinking LA Cetto wine out of tiny bottles; others drank Tecate; all munched on fish and shrimp tacos around the small cart. In a very Ensenada style, they serve you the basic taco of fish and/or shrimp, and it’s up to you to dress it from the open bar of standard salsas and toppings. Also in a very Ensenada style, there is no payment until after eating. They use the trust system — you let them know how many you ate.

A flight of Canneria Cervecería out in the patio.

Fauna Tasting Room

Around the corner from Tacos Fenix is Cerveza Fauna, one of the big players in the Baja beer scene. Fauna, however, is not from paradise, but hell. The original brewery is located in Mexicali, and none of their beers have a connection with the sea. Instead, they refer to the fantasy world, featuring werewolves, gnomes, fairies, and other magical creatures. Their taproom in Ensenada also disconnects you from the sea and brings you into a forest laden with craft beer, with walls painted to look like trees, and natural trees jutting up in the middle of the taproom. Their menu features some seafood, but it is focused more on pizzas and burgers. One of the big players in Baja, Fauna’s beers are always on the positive end of the spectrum.

Heisenberg Cervecería / Pasillo Central

Between Second and Third Street, on Avenida Ruíz, there’s a dark tunnel that leads you to a food collective with Mojk (vegan tacos), Wurst (hotdogs), Los Perches (burritos and quesadillas), and Heisenberg Cervecería. The space has a stage for ‘90s cover bands and stand-up comedy. Ensenada claims to have the highest number of scientists per capita in Latin America, and Heisenberg takes its name from both the scientist and the Breaking Bad character. Their logo is an Erlenmeyer flask overflowing with beer. The first time I had Heisenberg beer was at the 2013 Ensenada Beer Fest, and it left me with a good impression. Since then, I’ve seen their creations pop up at several beer festivals (and they have won medals to prove their quality). However, on my latest visit, their experimentation seemed to have gone wrong, and none of the beers were passable.

Doble C beers at Muto Restaurante.

Alta Baja Cervecería / Bodegas Santo Tomás

The Cava Miramar, known to locals as the Antigua Bodega de Santo Tomas, is an old wine warehouse on Sixth Street. It recently got refurbished to house a music and cultural center, plus a disco-style rollerblading rink, coffee shop, pizza parlor, an upscale bar named La Bête Noire, a big wine store, and Alta Baja’s bar and restaurant. Mixing the old architecture with modern lighting fixtures and avant-garde art, the restaurant sits on top of the warehouse; you arrive there after a long climb up an old spiral staircase. (It is not wheelchair accessible; most of Ensenada isn’t). When I visited, they had only three beers and were out of one. But I tried their Pata Salasa blonde ale and their Rapala American pale ale and found them both to be crisp and on point. Kelvin, who hates upscale places, was also amazed by the quality of their beer. They feature an impressive food and cocktail menu, but for cocktails, we went to La Bête Noire, a lovely space that focuses on the quality of the audio and ambiance. There, I paid $11 for horrible service and a disappointing cocktail made with Sierra Norte Mexican whiskey. It remains the worst thing that I’ve ordered in Ensenada. After eyeing the prices, Kelvin refused to order anything.

Everything at Muto was on point. I thoroughly enjoyed their tiradito King Kampachi drowned in spicy ponzu sauce.

Canneria Cervecería

Canneria is located on Fifth Street and Avenida Iturbide, outside the tourist area of downtown. Canneria, which means cannery in Spanish, started in October 2009. It’s a cramped, square space with a simple bar. There’s a narrow outside area with a couple of tables. The warehouse where they brew is in the back. I’ve bought their beers before for my YouTube beer show. Their labels attracted me with their ridiculous names and cartoony drawings, such as “Crazy Cows and Truckers on Crystal Meth.” There was no indication on the can as to what style of beer it would be, and it turned out to be a fairly standard milk stout. At their taproom, I got a flight of ten beers and I favored their Fluffylicious, a raspberry strong ale, and the Piquete with Cafe, a coffee porter.

Muto / Doble C

Doble C, written as //C, seems to avoid me. I first sampled their wares at a beer festival years ago — they won the best mid-size brewery in 2017 — but I haven’t been able to track them down since. They used to share space with a Japanese restaurant named Muto, but when I visited in June of 2021, they told me //C had left the building. Happily, Muto still carried their Golden Eagle, a clean, refreshing Mexican lager. On my latest venture in January of 2022, I was informed they had opened in a different space. When I got there, they were closed. On Facebook, they informed visitors that the new space was not available yet, but that they were back in Muto temporarily. It’s a great beer...if you can catch them. As for Muto and its range of fresh seafood available for sushi, everything there was on point. I thoroughly enjoyed their tiradito King Kampachi drowned in spicy ponzu sauce.

Tacos de Pescado Marco Antonio

Don’t let the name fool you: Marco Antonio sells way more than just fish tacos. A cartoony, mustachioed man welcomes you to what used to be a cannery for all sorts of seafood back in the 1960s. It now feels like a museum with a restaurant inside. The menu includes more than 23 different types of tacos, burritos, and tostadas, things like cilantro tuna, caguatun, machaca, quesamarlin, empanicrab, camarlin, and more. It works on a weird dynamic: there is only one line to order, as if it was school lunch. There is no payment when you order; it’s another place that uses the trust system. A free-for-all condiment bar lets you dress your tacos to your liking. Overwhelmed by my choices, I told the server to give me the most popular, and I got the Ramses, a simple battered fish taco topped with creamy chipotle shrimp. I followed with a carnitas de atún, caguatun, and a couple of camarlin burritos that tasted a bit like lobster (it was marlin and shrimp).

OUTSIDE OF DOWNTOWN

Cervecería Nórdica

As the name implies, Nórdica is a Viking-themed brewery, located north of downtown on Calle Carlos Pacheco. Their beers have names like Mjolnir IPA, Valkyria Scottish ale, Freya blonde ale, and Ragnarok black IPA. It’s a small space that blasts heavy metal to what seems like an all-male clientele. A Zakk Wylde concert was on the TV when I walked in, and it was followed by videos of women pole dancing. They had four beers on tap: an unnamed light lager, Valkyria, Mjolnir, and Freya. The unnamed lager was smooth and the Valkyria Scottish ale had a nice spice to it, while the other two were basic and forgettable.

Ramses and Machaca de Atún at Marco Antonio.

La Carreta Street’s Food

East of downtown is a seafood cart inside a metal shack decorated with surfboards and neon signs spelling out generic inspirational phrases in English (The Sky is the Limit, Stay Humble, Life is Better at the Beach, etc). It’s an upscale take on all the street seafood around town. The extensive menu has all sorts of tostadas, seafood cocktails, shellfish, tacos, quesadillas, ramen, and more. We got the Ensenada-Perú ceviche, the pulpo negro ceviche, marlin spicy quesadilla, pork chilorio and pulpo quesadilla, shrimp quesataco, and a marlin chun-kun (spring roll). The octopus plates were the best, and the cheese in the quesadillas was scrumptious (they use Real del Castillo). The only disappointing item was the shrimp quesataco. They carry local Ensenada beers as well as caguamitas Carta Blanca, and they offer an extensive cocktail menu.

Cervecería Cardera / Bruer Cerveza

Located in the middle of a residential area that feels like nowhere else in Ensenada is the shared warehouse space of Cardera and Bruer. The first time I walked into Cardera, there was a pair of older gentlemen with Spanish guitars playing boleros and singing in perfect harmony. I fell in love with the place immediately. The third time I went there, I was drinking with American friends when a lady approached me because she recognized me from my YouTube show. It was none other than the owner, Rebecca Ramirez, the RA in Cardera. The “Carde” part refers to her husband and head brewer, Armando Cardenas (it’s another brewery with a portmanteau name). Rebecca recognized me because Cervecería Cardera is my personal favorite, and I had been praising them constantly. Every single beer that I’ve tried from them leads me to think the same thing: This is freaking delicious. My favorite beer of all 2021 was their mango chamoy Berliner Weisse. La Dosis Perfecta (a perfect dose), a carajillo style stout, tastes exactly like what a carajillo should be: carajillo is the Latin version of Irish coffee, hot coffee with hard liquor added. In Mexico, they use Licor 43, a sweet Spanish liqueur made from a mix of 43 secret ingredients.

The extensive menu at La Carreta has all sorts of tostadas, seafood cocktails, shellfish, tacos, quesadillas, ramen, and more.

Brewing in the same space is Cerveza Bruer, the winner of three gold medals in the most recent Cerveza Copa MX: Sunset (American amber ale), Edison (light ale), and Tipsy (session IPA with cashmere hops). Just like Cardera, everything that Bruer does is of great quality. Never mind their multiple awards for past efforts: the breweries are always pushing new quality beers on every visit. And though I tend not to repeat places, Cardera and Bruer are a must-go during every Ensenada visit. Unfortunately, their menu doesn’t have any seafood, but instead offers American pub classics (chicken wings, onion rings).

Cervecería Cinco Raíces / Casco Beer

South of downtown, on the extension of the beach boardwalk, is a shared taproom between Five Roots (Cinco Raíces) and Helmet (Casco). It’s a cozy, neat space with romantic light and a hip atmosphere inside metal shacks. When I got there, they were getting ready for a comedy roast. The beer garden was busy, and the clientele seemed to be enjoying themselves. But I tried five beers from each brewery, and to put it bluntly, none were drinkable. Maybe their lines were dirty, because the brews sounded promising on paper. At least the service was good.

The shared taproom between Five Roots (Cinco Raíces) and Helmet (Casco) is a cozy, neat space with romantic light and a hip atmosphere inside metal shacks.

La Carreta de El Chava en el Boulevard

There are so many seafood carts in Ensenada that it can get confusing. Near Cinco Raices, I ended up in La Carreta de Don Chava en el Boulevard by accident. Kelvin suggested Mariscos Don Shava, another friend mentioned Mariscos Chava, and Google maps took me to this other Chava. This seafood cart has been around since 1980. They sell the classic ceviche tostadas or seafood cocktails. They sell oysters for 75 cents apiece and to my surprise, they were as good as many other more expensive places. I got a medium seafood cocktail campechano (a mix of all the seafood): $7 got me half a liter styrofoam packed to the brim with octopus, shrimp, clam, and oysters. It was lacking in flavor and character, but the multiple sauces set up on the table help you personalize it to your choosing. When leaving, I noticed a sign for an upcoming brewery next to the spot where I had parked.

La Jurelina is a modern fish market and restaurant sporting lively colors and experimental takes on seafood, with a seasonal menu that varies with the catch.

La Jurelina, Fish Co.

Two blocks away from Cinco Raíces, in a residential area, is La Jurelina, Fish Co. La Jurelina, meaning female amberjack, is a modern fish market and restaurant sporting lively colors and experimental takes on seafood, with a seasonal menu that varies with the catch. They offer three type of local oysters: León del Pácifico ($11 a dozen), Manriquez ($11), and Chingón ($18). The Chingon oysters are heavyweights with a robust flavor, farm-raised in the cold waters of Laguna Guerrero Negro (near the salt mines on the border of Baja and Baja Sur). On my visit, I got four of each oyster with an almeja generosa (generous clam) in the middle. It was followed by a tostada of smoked yellowtail bathed in a savory oily sauce, a tostada of pate yellowtail with shrimp and Katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and a tostada of clam with octopus chicharrón and a medley of seaweeds. A vegetarian friend joined me in this venture, and though the restaurant did not have a salad on the menu, the chef made him one with a medley of seaweed, lettuce, and heirloom tomatoes that was as zesty and salty as the sea itself.

At La Carreta de El Chava en el Boulevard, $7 got me half a liter styrofoam packed to the bream with octopus, shrimp, clam, and oysters.

Astillero 10

In the same area, but beachfront, is another collective, this one called Plaza Contenedores, made from recycled shipping containers painted navy blue and featuring ocean views and beach access. On my visit in mid-2021, most of the local spots were closed or for rent; Astillero 10 was the only lively one. Founded by chef Alberto Ayala, it offers brunch early on and an afternoon menu before turning into a party joint featuring local DJs at night. I went during the early afternoon and opted for scallops on a bed of serrano salsa topped with salicornia, and the bluefin tuna tiradito with smoked pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and avocado. Cardera and other local Ensenada craft beers were available, and there was a cocktail bar.

El Spot Collective

Just a couple blocks south of Plaza Contenedores, there is yet another beer collective known as Spot Surfo. It’s a DIY project from some of the newer additions to the Ensenada beer scene, and features home breweries: Punta Banda, Mohicana, Laguna Mental, Imaginaria, and Sýncopa. The latter is the best of the bunch, with brewers that previously worked for Escanfandra. Homar Verdugo of Imaginaria is so committed to his new brewery that he got the logo (a wolf with a third eye) tattooed on his arm. The collective is made out of pallets and metal scraps; the place feels like a junkyard with a ping pong table. In Ensenada-friendly fashion, the guys from Syncopa invited me over to their house to sample their freshest beer and view their brewing process. They had three 6BBL fermentors in a small modified garage. They gave me stout ice cream.

Scallops on a bed of serrano salsa topped with salicornia, the bluefin tuna tiradito with smoked pepitas and avocado, and Cardera beers at Astillero 10.

Km 0 Beer House

This place stands where the city ends and the road begins taking you to other places, places like Ojos Negros. It is yet another collective of homebrewers, featuring My Fuckn Beer, Cachimbón, 4 Bros, Punta Lobos, Emblemática, and 3 Puntos, all in a tiny space. When we got there, Jorge Monroy, owner of 3 Puntos, was working on fixing kegerators, and the place was in full disarray. The space doubles as a brewery equipment store, and Jorge fixes beer gear. He quickly shuffled to offer us flights of all the beers in the collective. Many were not very good, some were passable, but their double IPA — a team effort from the collective — was by far their best, and a beer worth the trip to this forsaken Ensenada area.


Though I visit as often as I can, there doesn’t seem to be an end to Ensenada’s seafood and beer options. I still need to visit places like La Opah del Güero, La Concheria, La Pescadería, La Cevichería Oyster Bar, Carreta de Mariscos el Gordito, La Cosedora de Langosta, Muelle Tres, Mariscos el Pizón, Manzanilla, Raw Oyster Bar, and many others. And that’s just seafood. As for breweries, on my last visit, they told me I should check out El Maneadero, where even more new brewers are starting to open up.

Ensenada offers more than just beer and seafood; there is a plethora of all types of restaurants, street tacos, bars, and more. However, it’s still a relatively small city, so there’s not much going on on the weekdays, or late at night.

On the next and final installment of my Baja travels, I visit hell: Mexicali.

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