It feels like it was a million years ago but, really, it’s only been about 35. I used to date a guy who was part owner in a house at Cantamar, which is a little beach community about 15 or 20 miles south of Rosarito Beach in Baja. One year he happened to get lucky and draw the New Years holiday as his time to have the house. On December 31st we’d gone up to the Rosarito Beach Hotel for lunch and some pre-New Year celebrating and were taking the free road back to his house. We weren’t particularly hungry as we headed down the road, but as we got close to a tiny little cluster of houses on a cliff, he turned to me, pointed and said…
“I hear the families there do really good lobster dinners out of their homes, I wonder if they’d be willing to sell me a couple of lobsters. We could have them later on tonight”.
Why not? So he turned off onto a bumpy dirt road that led out to the houses, disappeared into one and came out a few minutes later with 2 good-sized lobsters. Score!!
We left Puerto Nuevo, headed home and had a wonderful New Year celebration.
That was 35 years ago and Puerto Nuevo is no longer a handful of small homes and trailers. It’s a bustling enclave of restaurants all selling the same thing…lobster, rice and beans, augmented by trinket vendors, liquor stores and some enterprising artists, bakers and other trade and crafts people.
But now it was my turn. I’d been hearing for the last couple of years that Popotla, a small fishing community about 7 or 8 miles south of Rosarito Beach, was the “new” Puerto Nuevo. The place to go to get fresh fish or seafood right off the boat at reasonable prices. My friend Suzanne and I were headed down to Rosarito, so we made a pit stop to pick up her cousin Elaine and set out for Popotla. A hard right along the southern wall of the now closed Foxploration studios and down a bumpy dirt road and we were there.
The restaurants are all built on the edge of the ocean and hawkers for each of them did their best – in English, Spanish and even Spanglish – to convince us they were the place to eat. They showed us lobsters, clams, gigantic spider crabs the size of my head and, of course, fish in all sizes and varieties. We were offered free margaritas, or free piña coladas and even free ceviche. And then there was the option to go down onto the sand and eat among the fishing boats. Eventually we chose a place with a killer view
Oh, and a seagull for company
The dish of free ceviche hit the table along with crunchy tostadas. And, yes, it was good. Not as good as the ceviche Suzanne’s husband Jim makes, but still flavorful and a good appetizer.
A fairly incendiary house made hot sauce joined the bottled sauces on the table. I am pretty partial to Salsa Huichol, it’s hot but it doesn’t lacerate the taste buds.
The menu listed 7 or 8 varieties of fish that could be deep fried…only one was available…blanco. That’s pretty generic, so I have no idea what this fish actually began life as
It was good, and there was plenty of meat on the bones, but both Suzanne (who also ordered the fish) and I have had far better whole fried fish in Mexico than the ones we were served. The beans had a nice kick to them, but an oddly chary after taste that wasn’t really all that pleasant after several bites.
Lunch was fun, the food good, but the company much better. I think we chose the wrong restaurant and I think we chose the wrong thing to order. And it may have even been the wrong day. Typically places like this are best on the weekend when they’re busy and the energy is flowing. On the Friday afternoon we were there it was decidedly kicked back and relaxed.
While the Popotla experience didn’t transcend the way the one at Puerto Nuevo did 35 years ago, there are a whole lot more places to try, and I’d be more than willing to go back and keep trying until I find the one that works for me.