The writer was hosted.
Prepare to splash into Bahia Loreto at Loreto, Baja California Sur, México. Go for the adventure. Go for the sand. Go for the food.
Instead of fighting the crowds and finding reservations booked solid at the overrun touristy spots, the smaller, more authentic Baja California Sur seaside town of Loreto, Mexico, is an escape, an embrace, and a taste tantalizer. Think about small coastal towns along the West Coast or New England; Loreto is that kind of atmosphere. And it’s Mexico, so it’s a fiesta.
Whether you’re craving something American or some authentic, fresh-from-Golfo-de-California fish makes your mouth water, you can get that in Loreto. Loreto is still a somewhat secret tourist destination.
That fact alone makes it an excellent place for a Mexican getaway.
Where is Loreto?
“Where is Loreto?” my neighbor asked after my return from five incredible days in the Mexican sun.
It’s about halfway up the Baja Peninsula, 360 kilometers (280 miles) from its better-known and more touristy cousins, Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. Direct flights are from Calgary, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, and cities across México to Loreto’s compact modern airport.
Loreto also is a wintering spot for a dozen whale species and bottlenose dolphins and home to Parque Nacional Bahia de Loreto. This is a place for exploration, adventure and being active. It all whets the appetite for Loreto restaurants.
“Asadero Super Burro was my favorite,” Colleen Lanin, publisher of TravelMamas, told me after the week she and I and four other travel writers spent in this little gem of an undiscovered coastal oasis.
“Mine too,” Camryn Jun of Orange County, California, said when learning Colleen’s pick. “They had the best tortillas.”
This was one of the multiple highlights of the best restaurants in Loreto.
And they were the best tortillas I had eaten since Santa Fe de la Laguna in Michoacán. Each giant tortilla hit the hot comal—the unique Latin American griddle used to make the traditional flatbread—when the order was rushed to the open kitchen.
We feasted on an endless parade of salsas, warm tortilla chips and cold beer while dinner was being prepared.
This local place is like many: it has a roof, but it’s open air. The menu is in Spanish with English translations. The specialty is the super burros—giant burritos—and the incredible Papas Rellenas, stuffed potatoes.
While we were trying to pick a dinner off the menu, a local Mariachi Band waltzed into the door, set up and played live music for a bit. After passing the hat, they headed out to another gig.
Everyone in our group loved the place—its atmosphere, the fiesta flavor and the delicious, reasonably priced foods. My Superburro de Arrachera con queso (flank steak with cheese) was terrific and the most expensive item on the menu at $145MX (pesos), about $11 USD. I couldn’t finish it all.
Michoacana Ice Cream
After dinner, we had to have dessert. It was a sultry night in Loreto, perfect for an ice cream sundae or cone. We piled into a Suburban and drove the few blocks to Michoacana Ice Cream in the Centro area of the city.
Michoacana was starting to close for the night but greeted our group of writers with a menu of homemade ice cream and paletas stretching the length of the customer counter.
Trying to pick just two flavors from the four freezer cases of ice cream tubs was a near-impossible task. I don’t think there was a duplicate order from the group of the firm, creamy, flavor-filled ice cream.
A Variety of Places to Eat in Loreto
Loreto is well stocked with eating options. Of course, the mainstay is Mexican food; this is a Mexican resort city.
In addition to restaurants, there are numerous take-away (carry-out, as we say in the U.S.) places, food trucks and food bikes. The food bikes are primarily around Centro’s civic plaza, serving street food, cold drinks and ice cream selections.
We enjoyed many of our hosted meals in what Americans would classify as fast-casual restaurants with table service. Being a seaside community on Loreto Bay, fish tacos are everywhere. There are no finer fish tacos than those from Baja.
Aquanaut Jaques Cousteau described Golfo de California as the “aquarium of the world,” and fresh seafood peppers every menu. By the way, in Loreto, it’s the Gulf of California, not the Sea of Cortez.
“That’s what Americans call the southern part of the gulf,” our host said. “To us, it’s Golfo de California.”
A trend in Loreto among fine dining establishments is creative cooking. Mexican ingredients and traditions are part of the infusion, and the results are delicious. On a travel assignment, the objective is to sample as many places as possible—but there were two that, when I return to Loreto, will be booked for dinner – Raiz at Posada las Flores and Los Olivos at Hotel La Misión.
If we were filming a movie, this is the restaurant and hotel where Zorro would leap from the balcony, grab the massive, wheeled chandelier, and either fly to the window to escape or land gracefully on the main floor to bowl over el sargento y soldados with their flailing rapiers.
“Many people make that observation,” laughed the general manager as we toured the lobby. “This is a Spanish Colonial building that we have restored.”
Looking up above the chandeliers to the ceiling four stories above, we could see people swimming in the glass bottom rooftop pool.
Our Raiz creative cuisine dinner was delightfully served on the central plaza in front of the hotel. Fresh from Golfo de California that morning, the tuna was so fragrant and tasty that I eagerly bit into it before remembering I was supposed to take a photo.
Raiz offers a limited but extraordinarily interesting menu for dinner.
Los Olivos at Hotel La Misión
The first night, we walked in the comfortable 70-degree temperature along the Malecon, the pathway along the edge of Loreto Bay from The Oasis to La Misión. This was quite the meal to kick off our Loreto restaurant experience.
Served as a sumptuous multi-course meal, it was good that we walked the 800 meters (half mile) from our hotel; we’d sure want to walk back after the appetizers, main course and dessert, plus the cheese plate.
Most of the group had something from the Gulf; a few chose carne asada or vegetarian.
El Zopilote Brewery & Cocina
Cerveza (beer) is one of the first Spanish words many Americans learn. Tucked into the corner of the Plaza in Centro, El Zopilote is an open-air plaza café with very fine locally-brewed beer. The craft-brewed beers rotate with supply.
We darn near filled up on authentic nachos with real melted queso – not liquid Velveeta as in most places. Sprinkled with jalapenos, cilantro, and onions and complemented with house-made salsas, the fajitas for lunch were hard to finish.
We quaffed ales, IPA, a deep, dark stout, and lager between the group. Everyone was quite refreshed and happy sitting on an outdoor patio under a warm April sun, drinking a very tasty beer. I am not an IPA fan because of ultra-hop-bitterness, but El Zopilote’s was refreshing and carried no aftertaste.
Italian Mexican Restaurants
If pizza, pasta and carne asada are your choice for dinner, several Loreto restaurants offer Italian cuisine. Restaurante Casa Mia, Mezzaluna La Tabernita de Loreto Cocina Rústica, and Restaurante Oasis at our hotel are among the options. There are others as well, including pizza.
Mezzaluna offers Uruguayan cuisine along with Italian options.
We had a spectacular lunch at Casa Mia in the Hotel Santa Fe. I went with a Mexican chile relleno; others went with Italian. The restaurant is casual, and the menu is varied.
Chocolate Clams at Restaurante Oasis
“They say that when a woman wants to catch a man, she serves him chocolate clams,” recounted Ana, the chef at the Restaurante Oasis. “We cook them in the traditional way in a pit oven dug into the sand.”
We were standing around a clambake pit about a half-meter deep and maybe a meter square. Branches of shrubs growing on the dark sand beach smoldered on a massive pile of chocolate clams. Named for their brown shells, the clams are unique to Golfo de California and Bahia Loreto.
Harvested from beds that morning, the fragrance of the sizzling clams and the steaming branches had mouths watering as Ana explained the cooking technique and told us, “You just know when they’re done. It takes about 40 minutes.”
Ready at last, Restaurante Oasis offered a sumptuous buffet with a long line of hungry diners for the bread, corn on the cobb, and other goodies that made another “OMG, I’m stuffed again” meal.
Breakfast on the Bahia
On a trip with travel writers, the schedule is often packed from early morning until late at night. Most mornings, we enjoyed breakfast under the palms on the beachfront patio at Restaurante Oasis. Many local restaurants didn’t open for breakfast until 8am or later, and we were well on the road by then.
On the last day in town, we piled into Hamaica Restaurante on the Malceon fronting Bahia Loreto. The narrow, colorful entry belies a spacious open-air restaurant where meals are prepared to order. Breakfast was both bright and delicious.
One thing about breakfast outside the U.S. and Canada, it’s very different. While Americans tend towards sweet breakfasts, others are more savory. I was hooked on the green juice made with spinach, kale and fruit. It was less sweet than orange or apple juice but much more refreshing.
Eggs are a mainstay, but a tortilla with savory meats, sausage and cheese is an intriguing change. If traveling, break the breakfast habit and try the local flavors. I have not gone back to cereal since.
Choosing Restaurants in Loreto
With just a few days in town, we were limited on the restaurants we could visit. There were a number that caught my eye to go on the list for my next visit.
- Orlando’s Restaurante is next to Michoacana’s. Its outdoor patio looked very comfortable for a good Mexican meal.
- Mi Loreto, across the plaza promenade from Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, is a traditional Mexican meal tucked into a thatched roof rustic building in a historic setting.
- Buena Vida Bodega looks like a shop that would be right at home on Route 66 in the U.S., and it offers a grab-and-go type of meal and a mix of interesting merchandise.
- Mediterraneo features Mediterranean food served in either a thatched roof patio or a modernistic upper deck dining area. Located on the quay overlooking Loreto Bay, Bahia Loreto, it promises fine dining, wine, and Texas BBQ. The below-the-surface Golfo de California mural is worth seeing on its own, too.
- With colorful tables and umbrellas, and a peek away from the shoreline, Giggling Dolphin has a streetside patio bar and an upper deck. Of course, every visit to Mexico is complete with icy margaritas and other fruity drinks with umbrellas.
- There’s a single traditional steakhouse, Domingo’s Steakhouse & Seafood, in Loreto, but a couple in the American and Canadian housing compound south of town at the Villa del Palmar Resort at the Islands of Loreto.
- Danzante is the premier restaurant at the resort and is both a steakhouse and a seafood restaurant. Danzante will prepare meals from game fish caught on fishing charters.
Dining on the Sea
In the parque nacional, there are several islas reachable only by boat (See “Five Incredible Days in Loreto”). The excursions can run most of the day, which means lunch on the boat. Ceviche and tuna tartare were on our charter from Outpost Charters for our trip to Islas Danzante and del Carmen.
On the excursion to Isla del Coronados, Sea and Land Tours, in choppy seas, prepared fresh guacamole and burritos. Making top-shelf guacamole in choppy seas took real talent.
It’s worthwhile visiting Loreto because it has not been discovered by the rampant crowds that swarm the southern Baja resort cities or big cruise ships. Some smaller luxury cruise ships call at the port, but the pack-‘em-in Mexican cruises thankfully have not. When you go, you’ll discover one of the oldest Spanish missions in North America, dating back to the 1690s.
Loreto is a “kick off your shoes and plod through the dark volcanic sand beaches to watch sea birds, sea mammals and finish off a margarita or two while the sun sets behind the mountains” kind of town. A pueblo magico, Loreto is one of México’s magical towns.
Loreto Restaurants the Local Recommend
We couldn’t get to them all, but locals recommended these restaurants: