I always say that living in Los Angeles we might as well be living in Mexico. Often I find myself in areas where the street signs are all in Spanish, I seem to be the only Gringo, and it feels more like rural Mexico than an urban sprawl. Fast forward to the rolling hills entering actual Mexico, just shy of the San Diego border and I realize that Los Angeles is not quite the real deal. Spotted throughout the hills, tiny pastel-colored makeshift homes peek out as the bumpy road brings us towards Rosarito. Debris lines the streets and the area has a rough around the edges feel, a dirtier version of the Los Angeles Mexico I imagined. Thirty minutes into this country and the area is only slightly more built up into the tourist town of Rosarito, a mix of poor peasants desperate to sell their wares to the few tourists who wander here in the off season and ritzy hotels and nightclubs to house and entertain these tourist.
Our first stop is a large outdoor market. A bright Mexican candy shop greeted us on the corner of the street as we entered the shopping area. Here, every sort of Mexican sweet can be found from dried tamarind, to candied plums and apricots, to spicy cashews and peanuts. Brightly died pink, yellow and green coconut balls line the shelves, pastes and compotes fill tubs ready to be scooped out and eaten. The stall is a sweet tooth’s paradise!
Inside the shopping market, a collection of stalls and vendors were found selling Mexican trinkets and toys of all kinds. Leather makers engrave belts and wallets with horses and eagles; flower painted pots and stained glass windows line the walls of other vendor’s shops. Silver bracelets, sunglasses, and faux designer purses make appearances throughout the market, as do the puffy traditional embroidered women’s peasant tops and men’s guayaberas. I often thought Olvera Street was a cheesy replica of Mexico that I brought visitors of Los Angeles to, but the tourist town of Rosarito was quite similar.
After haggling with the vendors of the shopping market, Mexican food was necessary to refuel. Not wanting to get caught by a tourist trap selling something less than authentico we walked a bit to find a gordita shack. On a small flat top griddle, fresh tortillas were made as diners happily ate rice, beans, and stuffed tortillas. The salsa and freshly rolled and fried tortilla chips were a satisfying start. The gorditas, two freshly rolled tortillas filled with meats, veggies, and cheese to bind it all, were worth the search for real Mexican cuisine. The beef and potato gordita had a spicy kick, but was full of fresh flavor and was very good. The pork with green sauce had beans in the gordita, which gave it a great texture and flavor. The rice and beans that came alongside the gorditas were also quite tasty; the corn in the rice was sweet and the beans were hearty and delicious. The best was the price; a gordita with rice and beans and a drink for three dollars. Los Angeles can’t compare to Mexican prices!
Next was a stop to a fruit truck, a street food that has lately become a favorite of mine. From behind a small cart, wonderful pieces of watermelon, pineapple, papaya, mango, coconut, and melon are held. For a small cost, a man expertly chops these fruits, shakes his Mexican seasonings over them and adds a few drops of lime juice. Wow! Spicy, sweet, salty, and tangy- this is a street food that has it all. It is a real treat and something you can get in Los Angeles. Try it on Olvera Street, or at one of the vendors in Korea town on Wilshire Boulevard. It’s a great snack for only $5.
After walking the streets of a tourist-less Rosarito further, checking out the Mexican beach, and visiting more shops and vendors, we visited a Mexican bakery. Here I found a patisserie’s delight. Cookies, breads, and cakes, all with a Mexican touch. A sweet pink coconut ball looked moist, but turned out to be a dryer cake similar to biscotti with a layer of coconut frosting sandwiched between it. A large orange sweet bun was more airy and similar to brioche with a crunchy sweet sugar crust. The Mexican wedding cookie, a favorite recipe of mine, was a disappointment. The real thing was similar to a dried meringue, airy and crunchy, not at all cookie like. The raisin muffin was a perfect accompaniment for breakfast with tea or coffee, not too sweet, with good texture and moisture.
Walking back to our car, we passed a taco stand we couldn’t resist. A huge hunk of meat sat turning on a roaster, an onion sitting royally atop, letting its juices stream down the sides of the luscious meat. After grilling our tortillas and slicing the meat, our taco preparer added guacamole and cilantro to the treats. The well seasoned meat was spicy, the cilantro fresh, the lime tangy. A great ending bite just before hitting the road.
Back on the bumpy roads of Mexico we made our way towards the border. As we sat in heavy traffic near the California line, vendors gave one more shot at selling their wares, walking up and down the cars with necklaces, toys and more food. Our churros were a little stale, though we simply couldn’t cross the border back into the US without them! This last taste of Mexico sent us right over the border, after a long day of eating Mexican treats. Another day I may return to Mexico; perhaps to a place less tourist targeted. But for a first time visit, Rosarito proved a nice experience and certainly will keep me quiet the next time I think to call Los Angeles, Mexico.