Pristine beaches, a thriving craft beer scene and surrounded by the ocean, desert, mountains and Mexico. San Diego should be top of your destination dream list for 2019 – coupled with a stay across the border in Baja California, Mexico. Savour editor Georga Spottiswood says these are the places you need to visit in her week-long San Diego feature. Check back each day to see another review and recommendation. First up is Animalón:
Restaurants don’t tend to have a jaw-dropping effect but Animalón – set amongst vineyards in the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico, will make it hit the ground – as well as your eyes pop in astonishment.
Chef Javier Plascencia’s stunning creation is built beneath a 100-year-old oak tree; the gargantuan branches filled with white lanterns, tables set with ravishing Mexican marigolds placed in pretty little pots and leather chairs filled with scatter cushions. If there was an award for World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant, Animalón would wear the crown gracefully.
The fine-dining, pop-up – by Tijuana’s most prolific chef entrepreneur and a fierce ambassador of Baja California (the Mexican state which borders San Diego) – is something to behold. It’s simple and elegant and the menu reflects Javier’s fervent support of local producers.
A four-course tasting menu is 990 pesos, just £38, and features blue fin tuna with lychee, watermelon, chilli and sesame seeds; Baja shrimp with spinach, tomato, cream, tomato jelly, shrimp reduction and lobster caviar. The lamb barbacoa, with handmade flour tortillas and a traditional salsa flight, is slow-cooked in clay parcels, which are smashed open at the table.
Only products from Baja are used on the menu: fish from the nearby shores and craft beer used in the Micheladas – the Mexican Bloody Mary – is from one of the breweries just a few miles away. It is this ethos which is at the heart of not only Animalón but Javier’s other venues, too – and it’s this culture which has helped revitalise Tijuana’s food scene – as well as the city itself.
“Mission 19 [Javier’s first restaurant] helped start the Baja food revolution in the early 2000s. For a long time people just went to Tijuana and ate tacos, but now things are elevated, it’s all about ingredients,” says Angel Miron, our tour guide from Let’s Go Clandestino, which helps travellers explore the flavours of Baja California.
Tijuana, once feared and known for its drug violence – has undergone a transformation.
“People used to be afraid,” says Angel. “There were collisions between the Cartel and the Government. You knew
about drugs and the economy was pretty bad. Tourism was almost non-existent.”
Now, thanks to entrepreneurs such as to Javier and his father – Juan José Plascencia – who with their Grupo Plascencia consortium, have 10 restaurants scattered across Tijuana, there is investment in the future.
WHERE TO STAY
The five-star US GRANT hotel is set in Downtown San Diego. It offer luxury rooms and is the perfect base to explore the Downtown, the many art galleries, museum, opera and Balboa Park – which is a must visit attraction.
Stay in San Diego and book a foodie trip to Tijuana through Let’s Go Clandestino.
Let’s Go Clandestino offers culinary focused tours of Baja California. From private to public tours, exploring the 200-plus wineries to craft breweries and favourite restaurants, do Mexico like the locals do with Angel and his team. Book at letsgoclandestino.net
For more information about all of the places mentioned in our week-long San Diego feature – and to find out what other activities are available in each of the areas – visit www.sandiego.org
Georga spent four, action-packed days in San Diego travelling to each of the venues by hire car. Flights from London are direct to San Diego daily through British Airways.
All images by Marion Botella Photography.