How to Eat Like a Local Chef in Cabo San Lucas

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How to Eat Like a Local Chef in Cabo San Lucas

“Most restaurants and hotels typically use that kind of Mexican theme, right? It’s always the same stuff. It’s always enchiladas. It’s always something that is sort of bathed in some sort of sauce and the waiter is dressed like a mariachi. That’s not the way Mexicans are really,” says chef Alex Branch. “We’re different now. We’re contemporary.”

Branch, who helms the kitchen as chef-de-cuisine of Manta, the Enrique Olvera restaurant inside The Cape hotel in Cabo San Lucas is tall and stylishly dressed. Though the talented young chef has his hands full grilling local seafood and collaborating with Olvera to create globally-inspired menus for the swanky hotel restaurant, he still finds time to dine out with locals. Branch’s favorite hangouts offer world-class cocktails, mouth-watering tacos, mezcal for days and not a mariachi band in sight. “The places we are going to are good examples of how Mexicans are now.”

1. Manta
Enter Cabo San Lucas’ most stylish hotel, The Cape, and become entranced by the ocean view as you make your way through the breezy open lobby to Manta. The hotel’s dark-walled restaurant designed by Marisabel Gomez Vazquez is at once sophisticated and totally relaxed. The seafood-focused menu by world-famous chef Enrique Olvera offers local specialities like Chocolata clams with black garlic aguachile, catch-of-the-day fish with ginger-garlic mojo, sweet potato and corn and black miso fish tacos with cabbage and flour tortillas.

2. Acre
chef alex branch acre.jpgPhoto by Heather Platt
Nestled in a tropical grove of luscious palm tree forest, Acre boasts everything from mango orchards to tree houses, farm animals, bocce ball courts and a luxe swimming pool. To savor the essence of Acre, belly up to the bar where Danielle Tatarin’s cocktail program, executed by award-winning mixologists incorporates the flavors of the surrounding landscape. “We do traditionally inspired medicine drinks, for here,” says Tatarin who previously headed Keefer Bar in Vancouver and has spent the past few years searching through Mexico for exotic spirits. “We’re kind of taking the Mexican twist on it,” Her mezcal and tequila-inspired drinks highlight local Mexican spirits and incorporate hydrosols, essential oils, house-made syrups and bitters.

“She’s got this amazing craft cocktail program,” says Branch. “And everything they use, they grow here at the orchards.”

“We’re trying to take as many things as we grow here on the farm and incorporate them either in your plate or in your glass,” says Tatarin. Executive chefs Kevin Luzande and Oscar Torres achieve this with dishes like tiger’s milk ceviche, Baja style fish tacos and braised pork shoulder for two with nixtamal tortillas, salsa verde and roasted pineapple.

“So Acre for me, as a local,” says Branch “You come to because you still get that Baja flavor. And on Sundays, for example, I come here with my family and friends. We play a little bit of the bocce ball, and they have a great pool, and ping pong and it’s a good place to kind of spend the day.”

3. La Lupita Taco y Mezcal
la lupita.jpgPhoto by Heather Platt
In downtown San Jose del Cabo, a bright orange exterior gives way to a bustling
food and drink haven. For the past three years, La Lupita has been serving Cabo’s best al pastor tacos to locals and tourists lucky enough to know about it.

“They’re one of the few places that actually do it off the trompo,” says Branch referring to the rotating pineapple-topped al pastor meat in the restaurant’s pink-walled outdoor patio/bar area. “So definitely (order) the pastor. The braised beef taco is amazing. The short rib and the suckling pig, all three of them. Those are amazing tacos,” says Branch. Chef Pia Quintana, who appeared in the first season of Top Chef Mexico runs the kitchen while owner David Camhi circulates the room, making sure everyone’s glass is full of mezcal.

“Later on they put on live music and you go out here and there’s a bar,” Branch says pointing to the patio. “You drink and you’ve got your tacos. It’s like a very casual, very local scene. You almost certainly run into someone and all of a sudden it becomes a party.”

4. La Revolución
la revolucion cabo.jpgPhoto by Heather Platt
Wander down the charming historic pedestrian-only streets of San Jose del Cabo and find old-fashioned hospitality within the walls of La Revolución. Sit at the bar for one of Osvaldo Vasquez’s concoctions. Take a seat on the patio for chef Benito Molina’s locally-sourced seasonal menu and enjoy generous share plates of fresh-caught ceviche, rabbit turnovers, a variety of tacos or a splurge on a juicy Tomahawk steak.

“Benito Molina is one of the most popular chefs in Mexico,” says Branch. “He’s the head chef here and Alex Torres is here with him. He’s definitely one to watch. He’s definitely one of the rock stars of Cabo.”

5. Drift
drift san jose.jpgPhoto by Heather Platt
A night in San Jose del Cabo isn’t over without a stop at Drift. Beside a nondescript door, “Drift San Jose” is scribbled on a small chalkboard. But step inside and get swept away into an enchanting courtyard where locals sit on short wooden bench chairs and sip rare mezcals under the soft glow of light bulbs strung between palm trees. A food truck offers savory bites like Machaca perogies, smoked marlin macaroni, sea bass sausage, tuna tartare tacos, arrachera grilled cheese and Cubano burritos and desserts like banana bread with mezcal chocolate ice cream and caramelized rice pudding. Choose from a variety of hand-made mezcals or opt for the house specialty the “Mezcanela,” a blend of mezcal, cinnamon, orange and Sal de Gusano (a spicy Oaxacan delicacy of toasted agave worms and sea salt). Mexican micro-brew beers and local Baja wines are also available.

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