For the adventure
Baja California is all about adventure and its mysteries. Getting off the beaten path is one sure way to discover parts of Baja that offer just that. La Estancia is waiting for you. For the adventurer, a trip into the hills in search of good food, makes a destination into a delightful journey. Mystery comes from not knowing, and the dirt road into unknown foothills just south of Rosarito is no exception. La Estancia beckons you onward and the rewards include diving into a delicious hot meal.
Starting out on the free road at the La Fonda exit you will pass the historic pueblo of La Misíon. All that is left of the mission are a few adobe bricks melting back into the soil that created them. The pass up through the mountain is a very exciting switchback with wild flower gardens clinging to shear rock on one side and a plummeting drop on the other. Reaching the higher plateau the road levels out across a wide stretch of grazing land. An expansive vista of the eastern mountain range of Sierra Blanca opens up. After the recent rains all the hills, once dry scrub, are sporting a fuzzy green blanket. You will be climbing again and sliding down the other side into a lush green agricultural valley. Look now for the road signs of La Estancia, you will find them well placed albeit a bit weathered. Continue until you see a coco stand on the left where you can buy a whole coconut with a straw inserted to drink the fresh milk of the fruit. A very large sign announces the dirt road entrance and you can ask the women at the stand. Just 10 minutes they say, maybe closer to fifteen, if you aren’t racing. This is where you can almost feel the history of this area. A small team of horses run along the road with an irregular fencing of tree branches. Off in the distance there is what has to be the restaurant, poised high on a hilltop. You know you are in for a climb. While the road is wide and graded, it is not cut “through” the hills, but rather goes over the top of them. This creates extreme 45 degree pitches. One slope was so extreme that when I reached the top, I couldn’t see over the hood of my car. I went on faith that there was actually a road going down the other side.
Making the top of the grade, the lovely wooden A-frame structure looked like a ski chalet. Great water wheels guarded the entrance. Stepping inside, the décor is like a modern hunting lodge. A fire burns in the stone fireplace and animal lovers might have to be forewarned as game animals hang on the walls, including a buffalo head. After a little research, it was found that buffalo did in fact roam northern Mexico. Antiques abound: an old crank telephone and saddles from yesteryear. A friendly staff is right there to greet you. The building is much larger than it looks from the outside. There is the main floor dining with fire place and unique wood paneling which has a vast view of the valley below. On one wall hangs a huge fur pelt that one can only guess belonged to the buffalo head on the far wall.
A small corner table gives a panoramic view and the bright green junipers sway in the passing breeze. The menu has an intriguing selection of grilled steaks and pork chops. Rack of lamb and garlic quail are to be considered and the selection of seafood from calamari and shrimp to grilled salmon steaks is ample. I ordered a glass of LA Cetto cabernet sauvignon, enjoying the velvety smooth finish. While I waited for my lunch, I began to write my impressions. The staffs' laughter from the kitchen told me the food would be very good and the music of soulful Mexican ballads set the tone. Intrigued by the wood patterns built into the construction, I saw it as an art form of sunlight, shadows and wood textures. I stopped as the waiter brought the soup; tiny diced peppers, tomato and tender white beans. Vegetarians will need to request that the chicharón be removed. This was followed by the salad of thick blue cheese clinging to crisp romaine leaf. I was not prepared for the main course. A feast for the eyes! On a large oval platter an orange slice was on fire. The presentation received oohs and aahs. Two thick pork chops sizzled on the hot pewter dish and were nestled in with a fat baked potato and a large mound of creamy guacamole. This was fit for a hardworking ranch hand, but I decided I was up to the challenge and dug in.
A stream of people began to flow downstairs. A festive gathering of a hundred or more made the staff snap to attention and go into action. La Estancia is obviously known for accommodating very large groups. The bartender had his hands full blending frothy piña coladas and shots of tequila, while twinkle lights illuminated the glassware overhead. Later, filled to capacity and carrying a doggie bag, I wandered around the outer patio. Everything was washed in late afternoon sunshine. Quiet history still clung to the view below. Driving back down the mountain, I passed several beautiful cabanas which La Estancia rents, accommodations for 8 to 10 people. The architecture of all wood exteriors had the same mountain chalets feel: inside wood paneled, spacious and modern, yet homey. To say this was worth the drive is an understatement, making this a great weekend destination from San Diego.
Open 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm.
From the US 011-52-661-613-0695
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com