Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Which Baja California and Los Cabos restaurants received Michelin stars?

No publication can claim to have identified the world’s best restaurants if none in México are included. Thus it was only a matter of time before Michelin, the French tire company whose guidebooks are the ne plus ultra of restaurant ratings, arrived in México to award some of its coveted stars.

During an announcement program of its 2024 selection for the country that aired live on YouTube on May 14, 157 restaurants were recommended, given special “Bib Gourmand” attention, or honored with one or two stars. Many of them were in Los Cabos or Baja California, which along with Mexico City, Oaxaca, Nuevo León, and Quintana Roo, were identified as the best culinary regions in Mexico.

Baja California’s new Michelin star eateries

Michelin star winning Animalón
Animalón was awarded one Michelin star, becoming one of the first in Mexico to receive the honor. (Animalón)

Baja California, for example, is now home to three of the 16 one-star restaurants recognized by Michelin in México. Javier Plascencia, long noted as one of the nation’s top chefs, was awarded a star for Animalón, his restaurant in the renowned winemaking region Valle de Guadalupe. Conchas de Piedra and Damiana, also in Valle de Guadalupe, each received one star for the culinary mastery of chefs Drew Deckman and Esteban Lluis, respectively. Los Cabos, the popular vacation destination in Baja California Sur, received one star for Cocina de Autor, the Sidney Schutte-helmed restaurant at Tourist Corridor-based luxury resort Grand Velas. 

Schutte, like Deckman, is no stranger to Michelin stars. The former helped De Librije in Zwolle, Netherlands ascend from two to three stars, then opened a second location in Amsterdam, and got it two stars. Deckman, meanwhile, earned his first Michelin star while working at Restaurant Vitus in Germany. He also pleased the palates of plenty of Cabeños (Los Cabos residents) during his time operating Deckman’s at Havana in San José del Cabo, before eventually decamping for Baja California wine country in Valle de Guadalupe. The move seems to have worked out quite well.

What are Michelin stars?

A Michelin star is considered to rank any recipient as among the best restaurants in the world. (Carmelito/Michelin)

What exactly does a Michelin star signify, you ask? According to Michelin, stars are only given to restaurants that use high-quality ingredients and consistently prepare their food to an exceptionally high standard. It’s a generic description for a very rare accomplishment. Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin’s International Director, explained it better by saying it honors restaurants that are not only among the best in their respective areas but also among the best in the world.

The Baja California peninsula, it should be noted, also scored four of the six awarded “green stars,” a category that represents restaurants with sustainable and eco-friendly practices. Acre and Flora’s Field Kitchen, beloved local members of San José del Cabo’s farm-to-table movement, each garnered a green star. So, too, did Conchas de Piedra and Deckman’s En El Mogor in Valle de Guadalupe. 

Many more peninsular restaurants were recognized in the “Bib Gourmand” category, which signifies eateries that provide great value relative to pricing. Of the 42 restaurants nationwide to receive this recognition from Michelin, eight were in Baja California: Carmelita Molino y Cocina in Tijuana; La Concheria, Sabina, and Humo y Sal in Ensenada, Casa Marcelo in Valle de Ojos Negros; Merak and Villa Torél in Villa de Juárez; and La Cocina de Doña Esthela in Valle de Guadalupe. Doña Esthela can add this award to the one it received from FoodieHub in 2015 for serving “the best breakfast in the world.”

High class food for a high class region

Metate, Bib Gourmand winner in the Michelin guide
Metate, in Cabo San Lucas, was one of 42 Bib Gourmand winners, Michelin’s junior award. (Metate)

Los Cabos, which has the dubious distinction of being the most expensive area in México, also got some “Bib Gourmand” love from Michelin. Metate, a restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, and Flora’s Field Kitchen, the already mentioned food-to-table mecca in Ánimas Bajas, just outside San José del Cabo, were also noted for serving outstanding food at reasonable prices. So also was Cocina de Campo by Agricole in El Pescadero, a small community just south of Todos Santos. 

Michelin’s least prestigious prize, although still a great accomplishment, is simply to extend its imprimatur by “recommending” a restaurant. As in previous categories, many Baja California and Los Cabos-based dining spots qualified for the distinction. Los Tres Gallos, the wonderful traditional Mexican restaurant owned by Michel Zermeño and Fabiola Sánchez, with locations in Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, was recommended. Green star winner Acre was likewise singled out in this category, as were fellow San José del Cabo restaurants Lumbre, Omakai, and Ruba’s Bakery; Los Cabos Tourist Corridor standouts Arbol, Carbón Cabrón, Comal, Manta, and Nao; and Benno, Dum, Oystera, and Paradero in Todos Santos. 

Recommended eateries

Restaurante Punta Morro, Baja California
Restaurante Punta Morro was recommended by the guidebook, a noteworthy achievement for an outstanding eatery. (Restaurante Punta Morro)

In Baja California, Michelin recommended Misión 19, Oryx, and Tacos El Franc in Tijuana; Restaurant Amores in Tecate; Bruma Wine Garden, El Paisa, Madre, Malva, Manzanilla, Ophelia, Restaurante Punta Morro, Tacos Marco Antonio, Tacos Mi Ranchito El Fenix, and Taquería La Principal in Ensenada; Corazón D’Petra, Deckman’s en El Mogor, Envero en El Valle, Kous Kous, Latitud 32, Lunario, Olivea Farm To Table, and Primitivo in Valle de Guadalupe. Restaurante Amores was also acclaimed for its service and given Michelin’s Servicio Award for this often underappreciated aspect of the dining experience. 

Alas, no restaurants on the Baja California peninsula were awarded two stars. That honor was given to only two restaurants in the country – Pujol and Quintonil – each in Mexico City. That three Michelin stars were not awarded to any Mexican restaurant is perhaps defensible, given that there are only 138 such restaurants of this quality that have been identified worldwide. However, the fact that Mexico as a country received only 18 stars in total, while cities New York and Tokyo have a combined 274, is less defensible. Michelin’s Mexican selections were all well-judged by its anonymous inspectors. But it probably needed to make many more to signify Mexico’s status as a premier international food destination … which those who live here know to be the case. UNESCO, which declared Mexico’s culinary tradition an intangible cultural heritage, did a far better job of making this point.

On the plus side, there are fewer restaurants than there should be in which it will now be almost impossible to get reservations. So thanks for that, Michelin!

Chris Sands is the Cabo San Lucas local expert for the USA Today travel website 10 Best, writer of Fodor’s Los Cabos travel guidebook, and a contributor to numerous websites and publications, including Tasting Table, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, Forbes Travel Guide, Porthole Cruise, Cabo Living and Mexico News Daily. His specialty is travel-related content and lifestyle features focused on food, wine and golf.

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