If the name "Cabo" conjures up images of consuming cerveza on spring break at joints with names like El Squid Roe, it's time to re-boot. Cabo is cool. Or more accurately, it's hot, as temperatures even in winter average around 80 degrees during the day. The climate is ideal for taking full advantage of the splendid beaches, the water sports, and the many resorts offering stunning views of the Baja coastline. True, it has become a tourist mecca, but if you know how to navigate the two towns that make up Los Cabos — Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo — and the surrounding territory, you will doubtless find plenty of diversions and delicacies to delight you — some of them gastronomic.
Flora's Field Kitchen in San José del Cabo is not particularly easy to get to. You might even find the driving directions somewhat intimidating ("fourth traffic circle…cement plant…dirt road up the hill…). It can also be challenging to get a reservation in peak season. However, the easy solution is to book early and hire a taxi, because Flora's so worth the trip.
The restaurant is situated on the very farm from which it sources its ripe ingredients. The chefs cook what they harvest, so everything changes by season. It doesn't get any more "eat local" than this. Not only is the freshest food perfectly prepared, it is served professionally in a magical outdoor setting that has a relaxed but lively vibe. Yes, that's Ray Romano and crew at the next table, and George Clooney was here the night before with Jennifer Aniston — but you don't go to Flora because it has been discovered by the Hollywood elite. You go for glorious homemade food in a charming, outdoor setting.
You might begin with an inventive seasonal cocktail, perhaps a martini infused with house-made lavender bitters, or a beet-ginger margarita that sounds odd but works well. Crostini — one with chicken liver pâté and pickles, one with caponata and ricotta — were sublime starters. The arugula salad with red onion, candied pecan, and goat cheese was dressed with a sprightly vinaigrette, a savory composition of taste and textures — and do not miss the wood-fired pizzas. Our version was made with mozzarella topped by a mound of the freshest arugula dressed lightly with a lemony vinaigrette and Parmesan. Main courses include daily specials (spaghetti and spicy meatballs with homemade marinara, perhaps, and an ever-changing the fish of the day), as well as an oven-roasted pork chop or half organic chicken (bred on the farm), both tender and succulent. Dinners come family-style, with a fabulous array of vegetables. Creamed greens, old-fashioned mashed potatoes, and oven-roasted root vegetables all satisfy deeply. Save room for dessert, too. You won't be disappointed by the coconut cream pie, the chocolate cake, or any of the others. All in all, I can't say enough about Flora's. This is beautiful eating.
Mi Casa, in San José del Cabo's art district, serves authentic regional Mexican cuisine in a casual open-air courtyard, heated by gas lamps, if necessary. Don't be put off the strolling Mexican trio playing "Guantanamera." Your meal will be mighty tasty. It might begin with the queso fundido, a small vat of melted Monterrey cheese mixed with pico de gallo and perked up by a splash of tequila. Of course there are all manner of ceviches, tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, and the like, as well as the classic soups of Mexico, like the sopa de tortilla or frijoles negros, otherwise known as black beans.
The grilled foods are well-seasoned and skillfully prepared. La sabana de pollo al carbón, pounded and grilled chicken breast, was flavorful for such a simple piece of protein, and my grilled rabbit, on the evening's list of specials, was as good as any I can recall. The classic cochinita pibil of shredded pork was exemplary and you can't get hurt by camarones jumbos — jumbo shrimp — however they're prepared. The pastel de tres leches ("three-milk cake") is a sweet ending.
Located well off the tourist routes in Cabo San Lucas, La Fonda also cooks up the Mexican classics. But this is not your typical local establishment. Starting with a strong margarita, you'll recognize many of the usual standards of the Mexican kitchen, such as enchiladas and tacos, but executed at a high level. This is a real opportunity, though, for the more daring eaters to sample chapulines and gusanos, i.e., grasshoppers and worms, respectively. Or huitlacoche, known to us gringos as corn fungus. If that's not to your taste, there's no need to worry; the chef is dishing out genuine gastronomy. The 48-ingredient mole was a textbook example of the genre, enriched by ground nuts and cocoa, served with your choice of either chicken or pork. The lobster in soft tacos did not disappoint. From savory soups and sandwiches to serious sauces, this is the kind of excellent Mexican restaurant you wish you had in your own town.