I recently was offered the opportunity to go to Cabo San Lucas—you can read more about it at The Everywhereist. It was awesome, but I was not as wealthy as most of the people that vacation there. In fact, I probably brought less money to spend on myself than most people brought to spend on their dog over the course of their vacation.
Luckily, if there is one thing I can do well in life, it is seek out the most delicious and affordable food anywhere. So I hit the ground running when I landed, starting with finding an affordable and delicious beverage.
This is how I found Victor at the Monkey Bar. This man is a master, and the constantly filled seats, happy returning customers and beautiful creations at his bar attest to that. He makes a margarita like a master (you’ll find no pre-made mixes—in fact, you’ll watch him muddle lime with sugar) and entertains the strange crowds that populate this town. The couple from Texas said they came to Monkey Bar every year when they returned, just for Victor. I went there almost every night I was there. The beers were cheap, though the cocktails were basically what I would pay for a drink of that quality in Seattle. That said, Victor’s drinks rivaled those of the top cocktailers here in Seattle. After my whistle was wet that first night, I mentioned I was in need of something tasty and cheap. Victor, ever the magician, kept me from needing to leave my seat, and one phone call and five minutes later, up rolled a man with a tamale cart! The tamales were delicious, and every night from there out we tried to get the tamale man back to the bar, unfortunately he was elusive, so we had to try our luck other places.
Victor also led us to two other amazing meals (and one above average one at El Pollo de Oro). I mentioned liking birria, a delicious spicy stew, a posole for the beef (here, anyway—many places make it with goat) lover and hominy hater, menudo for those against offal. We had eaten it at a restaurant called Lolita, which was extremely good, but when I told Victor this, he said no, no, you must go to this other place. So the next morning we wandered to the corner he described (on Zaragoza street, near Los Claros Taco stand) and weaseled our way through the crowd of locals to order off the small menu: Birria, Menudo, head tacos or tongue tacos. Armed with one of each and perched on a stool, we soothed our hangovers with spice, stew and meat. The food was dirt cheap and more than did the job.
As we wandered away, in a bit of a meat coma, we decided a bit of tropical fruit would do a body good. We flagged down a cart and watched as the man meticulously chopped and cleaned each fruit we asked for, then packaged them up for us to eat as we walked. There are few things as amazing, fresh, fun and tasty in this world as cut fruit served up as street food. I smiled as I ate the bowl of sunshine, remembering the mango lady by my house in Ecuador, to whom I gave 50 cents each morning in exchange for a bag of cut mango, served in a vertical bag for easy eating while I walked the two miles to work. Rivals noodles on the street in Thailand for the best breakfasts of my life.
But back to Mexico, and the other time we took Victor’s advice. With each restaurant I said we had enjoyed, he would subtly suggest another, similar one. I was sad we didn’t make it to El Dorado until the final morning, because I was ready for another meal there by the time we were leaving our first one. This is a simple taco stand, but the seafood was expertly prepared. Here I ordered the somewhat worrying combination of seafood and cheese in tortilla, but I should have had no doubt, as it turned out to have a crunchy outside and a melted cheese that added texture and contrast to the seafood but did not interfere with the flavors of the scallops, shrimp and fish. My buddy ordered the marlin taco, among other things, in the hopes of reclaiming the deliciousness of El Torito, the seafood shop we’d mentioned liking. It didn’t quite live up to it, but I think that is in part because the marlin taco at El Torito may be one of the best tacos and one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever eaten. I also recommend the mixed ceviche there, but you might want more than just two people to eat it—it goes on forever!
The seafood in Cabo was as wonderful as it should be for a beach town, unfortunately so many of the tourist places were crammed with pricey dishes and timeshare owners clamoring for Italian food, so we veered away and found two absolute treasures. The first was a lady that stood in a parking lot behind a luxury resort (NAME?), selling burritos, tamales and other assorted goodies out of a cooler. I was her best customer for the time I was down there. For a quarter of the price of other places, I had the opportunity to eat some amazing food, the only tragedy being that most people come down here and never even see that back parking lot of the resort, where the line of local workers stands, foil wrapped food in hand, eating their lunch.
The final treasure was called Tacos Guacamayas and it served the kind of Mexican food that I crave, the kind I can’t ever find in Seattle, the kind I remember from my summer working at my friend’s pizzeria in Queretaro state while in college. We had originally come here for cheap beers and a big screen to watch a soccer game—just wandering town until we found a place advertising such things. But then the guy carving tacos al pastor on a cart below the thatched roof caught our eye, and soon, like everyone else in the restaurant, we too had a plateful. Then I opened the menu and saw my favorite Mexican ingredients advertised. When my friend mentioned he was thinking about ordering a mushroom quesadilla, I convinced him to branch out and go with a huitlacoche one instead. Corn fungus might not sound appealing, nor is its slimy black appearance, but hidden inside cheese and griddled homemade tortilla, huitlacoche makes the kind of magic that truffles on pasta do, elevating simple and homemade into a festival of flavor. I returned the next night because I simply couldn’t leave town with out squash blossom tacos and a big plate of chicarrones in red sauce.
It was a little more work to walk out of tourist town to get to some of these places, and the tourist favorites were good, like Gordo Lele’s, but for authentic and cheap Mexican food, it was totally worth it to get out of town, and the walk was probably good for us.
Overall I would say I ate better Mexican food in Cabo than I do in Seattle, though not than I’ve had in numerous other American cities. Moral of the story? Don’t go to Cabo for the food, but if you’re there, it’s possible to eat well and cheaply!