We toast the best wines, cocktails, and artisanal brews in Los Cabos By Chris Sands
I have one word for aficionados of artisanal beers, fine wines, top-shelf liquors, and creative cocktails: ¡Salud! There has never been a better time to visit Los Cabos. The latest vintages from México’s largest wine-producing valley, Valle de Guadalupe outside of Ensenada, have been drawing rave reviews from wine critics around the world, and the area’s top producers are staples on wine lists at the best restaurants in cape cities Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. Breweries in Tijuana are spearheading a craft brew revolution that is being felt across Baja. The peninsula now has more than 65 artisanal brewers, two of which are located in Los Cabos.
Tequila, the spirit of México, has its ancestral home in the mainland state of Jalisco, but Baja does produce an excellent herbal liqueur called damiana, which is made from an indigenous herb and famed for its aphrodisiacal qualities. For initiates, I recommend a glass of Agavero after dinner. It’s a combination of tequila and damiana, and is a wonderful digestif. That leads me to my most important point: You don’t have to party at Cabo’s late-night bars and clubs to enjoy Baja’s best beverages. The easiest way to find them—and to enjoy them in a setting that enhances their world-class qualities—is to have dinner at some of Los Cabos’ best restaurants. And if you’re a little undecided about your wine choice, order a round of margaritas. We’re pretty good at cocktails, too.
Local brew houses like Rámuri Cerveza Artesanal and Baja Brewing Company are riding the peninsula’s craft brew boom and are well worth visiting. But let’s not forget beer’s best pairing partners: sea, sun, and sand. There is nothing quite like an ice-cold beer on a hot day, particularly when your toes are buried in the sand and waves are lapping against the shores of the Sea of Cortés. This lovely, laid-back experience has long formed the basis for Mexican beer nonpareil Corona’s popular advertising campaigns, and in Cabo San Lucas an iced bucket of Coronas or Pacificos are best enjoyed at Mango Deck (624-143-0901) on Médano Beach. Mango Deck has an incredible seaside location and a terrific menu rich in fresh local seafood and tasty offerings from the beachside grill. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that you may enjoy your fine food and drink while clad in a bikini or board shorts.
There has been incredible international interest of late in Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe, which accounts for close to 90 percent of México’s wine production. The valley has seen unprecedented growth in recent years—there are now more than 70 wineries in the area—with high-quality wines coming from producers such as Casa de Piedra and Monte Xanic.
Valle de Guadalupe wines are staples on local wine lists, but the better restaurants in Los Cabos also typically showcase a generous selection of international wines, with options by the bottle or glass from Argentina, Chile, Italy, the United States, and other major wine-producing countries. Chef Volker Romeike’s standout Pitahayas (624-145-8000, ext. 4218) at the Sheraton’s Tourist Corridor resort Hacienda del Mar has more than 400 labels, and pairings with the restaurant’s superb Pacific Rim cuisine may be enjoyed while overlooking the Sea of Cortés or in the elegant cellar dining area.
Italian grape varietals are popular in Valle de Guadalupe, and many of Los Cabos’ excellent Italian-style bistros also offer wines from Italy. At Los Cabos Winery (624-143-8088), in Cabo San Lucas, quality house-produced wines are available by the glass or bottle. At relative newcomer Pan di Bacco (624-143-3127), freshly baked breads, pizzas, pastas, and other Italian fare may be enjoyed at the restaurant’s wine bar with beer and wine selections from the mother country. Lovers of sushi and traditional Japanese fare, meanwhile, will want to visit Nick-San (www.nicksan.com) in San José del Cabo or downtown Cabo San Lucas, which has not only its own wine label but also a line of tequila.
Let’s begin with the base of all great Mexican cocktails: tequila. Los Cabos has several restaurants with enormous tequila collections, but for an unforgettable combination of traditional Mexican cuisine, fine tequila, and tequila-based cocktails, there is really only one: Hacienda El Coyote (624-144-4731). This exceptional restaurant serves original regional recipes from around the country and also has a selection of more than 200 brands of tequila and mezcal. Damiana is also available, if you’d like to sample Baja’s most famous liqueur. Hacienda El Coyote’s mixologist has created one of the area’s most intriguing cocktails. His nickname, “Champion,” stems from his success at several drink-making competitions. The unique sweet-and-sour Sangre del Coyote cocktail is served in a margarita glass rimmed with salt, sugar, and jamaica (hibiscus), but other than the powdery trimming and hibiscus flower garnish, and of course the presence of premium Familia Partida tequila, the ingredients of this glorious purple confection remain a closely guarded secret. Just know that it’s magnificent, and because Champion both shakes and blends the drink—the creamy blended portion rises like an island amidst a tranquil purple sea—it lasts for a really long time.
No conversation about tequila in Los Cabos would be complete without mentioning Cabo Wabo and its eponymous line of tequila. Former Van Halen front man Sammy Hagar’s iconic Cabo Wabo Cantina (624-143-1901) has the best live music venue in Cabo San Lucas and one of the town’s best restaurants. It also has the world-famous Waborita, a delicious margarita cocktail made with tequila, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and lime juice. The bartenders at Los Barriles (624-143-1619) also know how to work their cocktail magic.
If you’re more of a tequila purist, consider Tequila Cabo Único (www.tequilacabounico.com). As is required by Mexican law for any tequila, this “spirit of México” is made in Tequila, Jalisco, México. In addition to tequila varieties, the line also includes liqueurs and natural vanilla.
More adventurous cocktail enthusiasts should opt for the Healthy Nopal Margarita at Habanero’s Gastro Grill & Tequila Bar, which is made with prickly pear cactus pads, Don Julio tequila, and triple sec.
Love margaritas? Make a beeline to El Coral (624-143-0150), the oldest restaurant in Cabo San Lucas. Ask for the delicious Bartender Margarita, which is made with Hornitos tequila, Cointreau, and cranberry juice.
La Panga Antigua (624-142-4041) is one of the most highly regarded restaurants in San José del Cabo, and it boasts a wonderful downtown location near the town’s historic church. The benchmark eatery has long been lauded for its excellent wine list, but it also serves some of the most memorable martinis in Los Cabos. The signature Pitahaya Martini—for the uninitiated, pitahayas are an indigenous cactus fruit—is made with tequila, Controy (the Mexican version of Cointreau), and splashes of lime and cranberry juice. The finished product is exotic, tropical, intensely red, and absolutely delicious.
The Mayans live on México’s other coast, but for those curious about their signature liqueur, xtabentun—a heady concoction that mixes rum, anise, and fermented honey—visit the only live lobster house in Los Cabos, Lorenzillo’s (624-105-0214). After you’ve finished your Thermidor, ask for one of the restaurant’s flaming xtabentun coffee cocktails topped with sugar, whipped cream, and cinnamon.