The port town of Ensenada is a south-of-the-border mariscos Shangri-La. Here, seafood is a forma de ser—a way of life—but this comes as no surprise when the ocean serves as your backyard garden. ¡Provecho!
Cerveceria Agua Mala
Craft beer and sea life collide at this roadside brewery, tucked between fisheries in El Sauzal on the industrial north end of Ensenada and run by local marine biologist Nathaniel Schmidt, a Mexico City native who traded the capital for the Baja peninsula a decade ago. The “bad water” roster (a name inspired by a massive red tide that washed ashore a few years back) includes a pilsner, a pale ale, a red ale, an IPA, and an oatmeal stout, all of which tote names like Chabasco (summer storm), Astillero (shipyard), and Sirena (mermaid).
Street eats icon Anthony Bourdain deemed the ceviche tostadas at La Guerrerense—more than a dozen varieties, doused in any of chef Sabina Bandera’s fleet of homemade salsas—so uncomparably delicious that they were worthy of representing Mexico in the first annual World Street Food Congress in Singapore in 2013.
You’ll find Bandera and her crowded cart downtown at the corner of Alvarado and López Mateos, three blocks east of the cruise ships. Go early before the stock starts to dwindle, and be sure not to skip the sea urchin topped with her peanut-chile salsa. Other great carts for tasty bites like ceviche, aguachile, and seafood cocktails include El Gordo (corner of Virgilio Uribe and Ruiz Ave.), Navolato (corner of Riveroll Ave. and Costero Blvd.), and El Guero (Alvarado Ave. and Costero Blvd.).
On the north end of Ensenada proper alongside the harbor, the open-air Mercado Negro—which literally translates to Black Market—has been the go-to fish market for locals and touring foodies for decades. The name is a nod to the days when lobster and abalone, stock once licensed for sale by certain fishermen only, were sold clandestinely. Today vendors now openly refill the ice beds with both from dawn to dusk, alongside an incredibly fresh—not to mention unbelievably priced—selection of tuna, yellowtail, marlin, shrimp, oysters, scallop, mussels, crab, stingray, and more.
Muelle Tres, or Dock Three, makes for a quaint waterfront dining experience in a setting that’s small, simple, and informal but soaked with sun-drenched style. The place sells the most white wine in Ensenada, all produced in the nearby Guadalupe Valley, but the true bait are the meaty portions of yellowtail ceviche. Be sure to try the quesadillas, such as D’Harina with shrimp, octopus, and pork rind. The pace is never rushed, so allow yourself added breathing room to enjoy.
Open 15 years on the edge of the harbor near the city’s maritime customs office on Teniente Azueta, Manzanilla is a forerunning mainstay of the Ensenada food scene that’s heralded as one of Mexico’s best. Inspired by the cooking customs of Ensenada fishermen who once netted the majority of Mexico’s tuna supply, chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris cook up local ingredients from both land and sea with a perfected Mediterranean flair. Enjoy smoked oysters or lovely abalone in this converted warehouse with neon-pink chandeliers and modern art galore.