If you were looking to win the award for being our first set of friends to visit in a foreign port, you lose. Coffee and Brian win that honor, meeting us and offering to be our esteemed tour guides for our very first foreign port, Ensenada. This is lucky, too, because they are excellent tour guides. We hit the ground running, with the first item of business that we must find some EXCELLENT TACOS.
One block later: "Tacos, Lady? Tacos?"
If you are looking for tacos in Mexico, you don't have far to go. Taco stands are everywhere. Little makeshift buildings/rooms that are always a combination of materials: cement, plastic panels and canvas, with an addition here or there. Colorful tiles might be on the floor, the countertops lined with various spices, limes, guacamoles, salsas. A friendly, smiling face that speaks a little bit of English and mostly Spanish inquires "Queso?", while pantomiming the motion that one would undertake while spreading shredded cheese atop a Taco. We were informed that in Ensenada, it is traditional to have a flour tortilla and no cheese on your taco.
Sure, I'm a smidge nervous about eating this food, there are no "food grades" posted by the health inspector. There probably is no "health inspector" at all. But no time like the present to get used to eating strange things in unfamiliar places. With our first bite of these tasty tacos, we were convinced that we should be eating food from roadside stands every day. The carne asada was juicy and flavorful, having been marinated in something delicious with perfect bits of onions, pinto beans, cilantro, and a red/smoky salsa to drizzle on top. I'm out of my comfort zone and being rewarded with tacos.
We walk down the main tourist drag confirming "no, gracias" I don't want a poncho or a backpack or a coffee mug shaped like a boob from which coffee or other liquid would be consumed through a hole in the nipple when the mug is tipped. "No, gracias."
After a while, we are ready for another snack. This time, it is ceviche (raw seafood "cooked" by a stew of lime and tomato juices, procured from a little mobile stand on the side of the road. This seemed even riskier than the taco stand! But, I'm game.
Unbelievably fresh and tasty. I could eat 10 of these.
We continue to explore, getting a flavor for the architecture and the town. The streets are quiet with no cruise ships in town, and we stick out a little like a sore thumb. But everyone greets us with a cheerful "Olas!" and we feel more than welcome.
For dinner, we head out of the tourist district and into Ensenada proper where Andrew makes his first native Chihuahua friend, Mollie. We then head to Las Chispas for queso tacos. It was explained to me that traditional Ensenada tacos are made on fresh flour tortillas (not corn), and with no cheese. Typically it is just meat, salsa, cilantro, onion and tortilla. However, Queso Tacos do have cheese.
Las Chispas is a small blue building, with many square windows looking inside. People have placed any number of stickers on the walls. The walls are painted blue, and there is a three sided bar surrounding an open kitchen. We sit at one side of the bar, a family of three sits on another side, a couple sits across from us. One woman cooks and one man takes our order. "Olas! Buenos Noches!" He greets us. Her countertop is one block of wood approximately 5'x5' made of wood blocks. She chops up carne asada with a big knife, rolls out flour tortillas and lays them on a large griddle surrounded by brick behind her. She sprinkles cheese and carne asada over the tortilla. The hot, crispy tortilla is folded in half and placed before you. You then scoop out some herbed onions, a mix of oregano and cilantro, salsa, and a smooth and bright green guacamole to put on top of the meat. As a finishing touch, a squeeze of Mexican limes.
Amazing. Super tasty. $23.00 total for 8 Queso Tacos and bottled water.