How Local Restaurants in Cabo San Lucas Do Ocean to Table
We got one!” shouts first mate Salvador Flores. “Grab it!” He puts the fishing rod in my hand and I sit in the stern- facing captain’s chair. “Now pull back,” he says. I lean back against the force of the fish tugging at the end of the line. Then, “Lean forward. Adelante! Reel, reel, reeeel!”
Catching that feisty dorado, also known as mahi-mahi, was just one highlight of a perfect weekend in Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, where a friend and I spent mornings fishing, afternoons feasting on our catch, and sunsets sipping cocktails overlooking miles of coastline. Cabo is a place where you can pack so much into a short stay, and for many American visitors it’s a nonstop flight from home.
We’d booked our fishing excursion in advance with Pisces Sportfishing, one of Cabo’s most established outfitters, operating since 1980. Just after sunrise, we start our day with mochas at The Cabo Coffee Co., then walk down to Cabo’s horseshoe-shaped marina. Pisces Dockmaster Eduardo Vasquez welcomes us and introduces us to Captain Roberto Sandez and first mate Salvador Flores.
I can’t imagine keeping such a large fish and he says that if we catch one, we can release it. But I have visions of enjoying my catch dockside so I ask what else we might find. Well maybe tuna, he says, definitely dorado. “Then let’s go get some
dorado,” I say as he kicks the engine into gear. We motor up the west coast of Baja at 18 knots, passing mile after mile of deserted beaches in front of hills pocked with pines and cacti. Salvador extends the tangones, the arms that put the fishing lines out to the sides of the boats, baits the hooks with small mackerel, and tosses them into the ocean.
Salvador grabs the rod from its holder and hands it to me. I pull back and reel and soon see a flash of gold in the water. I keep pulling and the fish keeps fighting as the base of the rod digs into my lower abdomen just above my waist. When the dorado is just a few feet away, Salvador takes the line and gently pulls the hook off the shimmering fish as he cradles it in his arms. “Not so big,” he says, holding it out to me. It looks pretty big to me, at least 18 inches long.
Daikoku has an outdoor seating area beside a manmade waterfall that feels like a Japanese garden. The restaurant is accustomed to people bringing in their catch, and the chef says he’ll be happy to prepare a meal from it for us. We entrust our well-fought-for cargo to him, take a couple of hours to get cleaned up and reflect on the day, then return to the restaurant after sunset.
Swarms of sardines are in the area, luring the tuna into a feeding frenzy. The first mate, Plutarcho, prepares the lines and just a couple of minutes later we get a bite. He puts the rod in my hands and I’m stunned by the tuna’s strength: I’m in for a fight.
Plutarcho reiterates the lesson I’d learned the day before: Pull back then lean forward and reel in. Compared to the long, lean dorado, tuna are shorter and stouter, true powerhouses, especially this one. The fight lasts about 10 minutes; finally, the tuna is close enough to pull into the boat with a gaffe. It battles ferociously even after thudding against the deck of the boat. Soon we’ll catch another tuna; then Plutarcho reels in two more, one for himself and one for Captain Arturo.
“This was the best possible day,” the captain says. We had “buena suerte—good luck—100 percent.” Motoring back to the marina, Plutarcho cleans our fish and cuts it into fillets. We disembark and head straight to Captain Tony’s, a restaurant with a sign outside reading, “YOU HOOK IT WE COOK IT.” We did our part, now we’re ready for Captain Tony to do his.
The restaurant’s host that day, Pablo, warmly welcomes us and offers us a waterside table. He takes the fish to the kitchen, then asks how we’d like it. We start with sashimi, then have three different preparations: tuna with garlic, with a cilantro cream sauce, and, finally, lightly battered with salt and pepper. All are fantastic and the fish couldn’t have been fresher. I had a twinge of guilt when I’d pulled the tuna out of the water—it was so majestic and had such a ferocious will to live, but feasting on our own catch proves to be immensely satisfying.
Later that afternoon we hire a taxi to go to Sunset Monalisa, a bar and restaurant about 5 miles east of Cabo San Lucas. Its deck offers a sweeping view of Cabo’s beaches and postcard- worthy arch over the sea. The main attraction at this bar/restaurant is watching the sun slip into the sea. Sunset that night is at 5:39 p.m., so we arrive around 5. I sip a raspberry mojito as surfers below catch the last waves of the day.
The setting sun turns the hills golden as a behemoth cruise ship sounds its horn and chugs out to sea. At sunset, a restaurant staffer blows into a conch shell four times, turning each time to honor the four directions, paying tribute to the day as it ebbs away.
On the taxi ride back to Cabo we ask our driver to recommend an authentic local restaurant with handmade tortillas. Walking into Maria Corona, we feel like we’re being welcomed into someone’s home. We choose outdoor seating, an area festively decorated with colorful banners and illuminated with hanging lanterns and gas torches. A trio of middle-aged men wearing matching outfits— two acoustic guitarists and a standup bassist— play traditional Mexican songs on the spacious restaurant’s stage. When they take a break, two women in frilly white dresses perform a butterfly dance, before two men with tap- dancing boots join them. The diners are a mix of locals and visitors—Maria Corona is perfect for travelers but not touristy.
We start with guacamole—local avocados, garlic, serrano peppers, and cilantro—made tableside in a molcajete, the traditional Mexican mortar and pestle hewn from volcanic rock, typically basalt. The server grinds the chilis in the three-legged bowl then mashes in the avocados. Of course, there are margaritas, too.
My friend wants to watch the cooks make tortillas and is invited into the kitchen. She asks the young chef, Emma Bonilla, what her favorite dish is and Bonilla recommends the pork Chamorro, a Yucatanean specialty. It’s made with six different chilis including ancho, pasilla, and guajillo; and spices including cinnamon, clove, and allspice. We take Bonilla’s advice— she recently worked in the Yucatan for two years—and order it. The pork is succulent and flavorful, the portion beyond generous. To top off the night we watch as our server deftly makes Mexican coffee, a potent, and potently theatrical, concoction. It’s made tableside with coffee, tequila, and Kahlua, and poured into a blue- rimmed glass in a flaming cascade.
Later, at Pancho’s Tequila Bar, over a glass of Los Abuelos añejo, I recall that just a few hours ago I’d been fighting tuna, and in a few hours I’d be on the plane home. Yet for the moment I’m still in paradise, savoring the flavors of Mexico, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.