I have a great fondness for Mexican food.
Growing up in Southern California, there were always plenty of authentic Mexican restaurants to choose from. Besides having plenty of choices for great ethnic food, San Diego possessed another appealing geographical lure…it was only 40 miles from Mexico.
A few times during the summer, my family and some friends would head towards the border in search of fresh lobster, rice, tortillas, and ice-cold Coronas. In 45 minutes (depending on the traffic) we were in Mexico. I was always amazed what a different place Mexico was from the United States; all of the poverty in Tijuana reminded me how lucky I was to have been born in America.
Once out of Tijuana, we would continue south and begin our drive along the coastline towards Rosarita Beach. The last 20 miles of our journey was always my favorite—it guided us along the unadulterated coastline of Mexico. Some of the shoreline was rugged with large rocks, while other portions of the beaches were smooth and covered with sand. As we sped along with the windows open (and Police, Synchronicity blaring from the speakers) I can remember how sweet and salty the air was. I also recall promising myself that one day, I would return to the beaches of Mexico and build my dream hacienda.
After 90 minutes of scenic driving, we arrived at the “restaurant.” These eateries were large buildings with minimal attention to décor and cleanliness. The floors were dirty and patrons were asked to seat themselves at any of the picnic tables. Why would anyone want to eat at such a place? I’ll get to that in a minute.
The restaurants in Rosarita were usually crowded with plenty of hungry gringos in search of cold Coronas and lobster. The mood inside was always jovial, and the wait-staff were nimble and efficient.
As we sat and before ordering our comida (food), we would order our aperitifs, “Coronas por favor!” If you think ice-cold cervezas tastes the same everywhere, you haven’t had ice-cold beer in Mexico on the beach. For some reason, Mexican beer served in Mexico tastes crisp, delicious and smooth. The limes that accompany the beer were sweeter, too.
No need to look over the menus, we always ordered the same thing: grilled lobster with plenty of homemade flour tortillas, rice and refried beans.
The lobsters were always prepared the same way: split in half lengthwise, grilled, seasoned and brushed with melted butter.
The first bite was always the best—hot and delicious; the lobster was briny, and tasted like the sea. The tail meat as always the most coveted part of the lobster, but it was always fun to tear apart the claws in search of large nuggets of meat. The homemade tortillas disappeared quickly, as did the spicy rice and homemade refried beans.
At the conclusion of our feast, I was always amazed at the quantity of lobster carcasses on the picnic tables—it was as if there had been an epic battle, and all that was left were these poor, hapless sea creatures.
After a few more beers, and with our bellies full, we hopped in our cars and headed back for the states.
As the sun melted into the Pacific I admired the beautiful coastline. Soon I would be back in the states, but I could still dream of my Mexican hacienda.
Chef Chuck Kerber