January 22, 2007
On Vacation, But Still Eating

After three weeks of vacation at the southern reaches of the Baja Peninsula, it's time to get back to the keyboard, starting with a few culinary notes:

- This is Lorena Hankins, an expatriot American artist living in La Candelaria, a spring-fed oasis in the lower foothills of the Sierra de la Lunga about 20 miles up a sandy road from the wild beach life of Cabo San Lucas. She's been up there about 17 years, living in tiny quarters where she and her husband get electricity just two hours each evening. While the sun is up, she makes exquisite black pottery striking for its sleek lines, sturdy construction and traditional techniques. Here, steam is shooting from her pressure cooker, sitting on a grid of recycled truck springs over the wood-fired blaze of her adobe hornillo. She also illustrated a Mexican cookbook crucial for anyone who wants to take advantage of the terrific fresh produce readily available in the region, including avocados, chayotes, papayas, jicamas, guavas and mangos. It's Lee Moore's "The Todos Santos Cookbook" (Todos Santos Press, $20, 102 pages). I couldn't find it on the usual book Web sites, but it is distributed in the San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas area. Or you could drive all the way up to La Candelaria and buy a copy from Lorena Hankins. A four-wheel-drive is recommended.

- With more cold weather expected in the Sacramento region, more area residents may be heading to Los Cabos for warmth. If so, and if you develop an appetite for chile rellenos, the best were at Rigo's along the east side of Highway 1 on the north side of San Jose del Cabo, though the most unusual were at El Matador in the Chamizal neighborhood of San Jose, being that they included hollandaise.

Taqueria Rossy along the west side of Highway 1 in the middle of San Jose still offers the best value, variety and reliability in tacos, and service is extradordinarily fast and cordial.

Mi Casa in the historic district of Cabo San Lucas continues to expand up the hill behind the restaurant's original dining rooms. It's now big enough to include two mariachi groups and a strolling soloist simultaneously, playing in separate areas large enough so they don't conflict. After 16 years, Maria del Cielo still is making the best corn tortillas in the region near Mi Casa's entrance. And the restaurant overall continues to handle steadily both contemporary seafood dishes and such classic Mexican entrees as "el manchamanteles de Morelia," succulent chicken and pork with a fruity mole warmed with guajillo and ancho chile peppers.

Las Guacamayas Taco Stand in the Chamizal neighborhood of San Jose del Cabo still is so much fun it drew us back twice, though only once for the cow's foot tostada, which requires an appreciation not only for its unusual sweet flavor but its unusually crunchy and gelatinous texture. On the other hand, no one has to have their arm twisted to order once or twice or three times the restaurant's signature tacos of juicy spit-roasted marinated pork and pineapple, the quesadilla of huitlacochi-infested corn and mushrooms, and the sweet "Guacamaya Special" of chicken, nopales and mushrooms scrambled with cheese.

- Prices for Mexican and California wines are discouragingly high in the region, but terrific values can be found among Chilean and Spanish brands.

- If you fly Mexicana from Sacramento to San Jose del Cabo, choose the enchilada over the burrito for your in-flight meal, and on the return trip the pollo over the pasta. No wine was on board, but the cerveza is included with the price of your ticket.

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