Cabo San Lucas in Mexico has a wide variety of fine restaurants and many returning tourists have their individual favorites. But, if you want to eat like a local, you should take a Juan More Taco Tour. During our evening walk through and beyond the traditional tourist areas, we not only tasted a variety of interesting local foods, but also learned a little about the history of the region. We met at the Puerto Paraiso, a major shopping mall in downtown Cabo.
Issi explained that the marina is the center of Cabo. It is a natural harbor and was a safe harbor for French and English pirates 500 years ago. The marina is surrounded by souvenir shops, restaurants, and night spots catering to the various interests of the many tourists who flock to this area.
We learned that Cabo San Lucas is in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur and along with the towns of San Jose del Cabo and Eastgate is called Los Cabos. It has grown from a tiny community to a bustling tourist area with 240,000 residents. The area is isolated from the mainland and did not begin to develop until 1698 when the Jesuits arrived and founded a mission. In fact, they established 38 missions between Cabo and San Francisco.
While we were looking out at the Marina, we were served Tortas from the Hippo Campas Tortas shop in the Food Court. These sandwiches contained brisket, melted Gouda Cheese and various spices. The food court at Puerto Paraiso includes a variety of interesting options that you won’t find in the typical American food court. And yes, there is a Burger King for the non adventurists.
Issi told us that Cabo remained a sleepy fishing village with a population of about 1500 until 1977 when the first tourist hotel was built. The area has since exploded. The confluence of the waters from The Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean make it a great area for deep sea fishing. The annual prestigious Bisbee fishing tournaments are held each October and mark the start of the high season for the Los Cabos area.
As we walked to our next stop, the La Bocano Seafood and Bar, we passed several Agave plants and Issi explained that they were the primary ingredient in tequila. He told us that the Indians previously fermented the Agave to form a syrupy beverage, but the Spanish distilled the beverage and created tequila. Tequila must be made from the Blue Agave plant and most is produced in the area around the city of Tequila.
We watched as the chefs prepared Wonton Empanadas at La Bocano, a tiny storefront watering hole on a main street.The wontons were filled with a mixture of onions, carrots and zucchini and special spices. After baking, they were served on banana leafs and accompanied with spaghetti carrots. Quite flavorful and well presented.
Our true local Mexican eating experience stepped up another notch when we turned down Moreles Street and left the tourist area. The street is filled with all sorts of non-tourist shops. We paused at a store selling Mexican flags in honor of Mexican Independence Day. Issi explained the meaning of the portrait of an eagle standing on a cactus and eating a snake. This is the symbol the Aztecs looked for when they founded Mexico City.
If we had been on our own, we would not have considered purchasing food from a street vendor, but with Issi’s quality assurance, we continued our authentic culinary adventure side by side with the locals. I opted for a pepper and cheese tamale. I enjoyed its unique flavor in rich tomato sauce. Other options were beef, pork or chicken.
We sat on a ledge in front of a store with the “locals” Issi told us that the vendor had to secure the permission of the store owner in order to get his license to sell his food there.
Our next tasting was at a candy vendor operating from a cart. Again located on the street in front of a business. The samples she offered us includes sweets and nuts to satisfy any sugar craving we had.
Esquites are interesting and flavorful. They consist of roasted shucked corn mixed with mayonnaise, lime juice, gouda cheese, crème and spices. We watched the street vendor mix up batches and serve it to a long line of customers. I indulged in two cups of the mixture and enjoyed the unique flavor. We might have to try making our own at home.
It was time for desert. What better place than La Mochoacana a unique ice cream shop which sells a variety of frozen bars and popsicles as well as ice cream and sherbets. I opted for a guava ice bar that was chock full of nuts. Quite satisfying. My wife couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample Mexican pistachio ice cream which she rated as superior.
Our last stop was a La Hormiga restaurant, which specializes in street tacos. The fun part of eating these tacos was determining which spices or vegetables to add to the taco. If you were not careful, your mouth would be on fire, The shop was a fitting end to an enjoyable culinary and educational evening.
We enjoyed spending time with Issi, a most charming and knowledgeable Juan More Taco representative since we were able to both sample genuine local Mexican food and pick up a bit of history. The food is not gourmet by any standards but that wasn’t what we were seeking. We wanted a legitimate local experience and that is what he delivered. Walking the streets off the beaten tourist paths, sitting on ledges in front of stores filled with locals, eating as the locals eat – it was a great way to spend an evening.
Juan More Taco also offers a cooking class and Issi is the instructor. We learned that he attended the California School of Culinary Arts schools in Pasadena, California. He does know his foods. If you want a gourmet sit down dinner, this is not for you. But if you would enjoy an authentic expereince that is both cultural and culinary, check out Juan More Taco in Cabo or any of the other cities where they are located.
PHOTOS BY DIANNE R. DAVIS OR BURT DAVIS