Coming Attraction


Don’t take this the wrong way, but you really need to get out more.

Like @honkman said, Bracero is not even a legend in Little Italy, much less locally.

I think Doc gets out A LOT. And I understand his point that, Bracero, while maybe still going through some growing pains, is emblematic of a cuisine movement occuring in San Diego that he likes to refer to as Baja Nueva Cuisine. Javier Plascencia is certainly one of the main ambassadors of this movement and Bracero is one of the newest offerings. I do think its a bit premature to say legend, but its certainly part of a new revival of this area’s regional ingredients and historic cuisine.

Nobody disagrees that it is part of the revival but the jury is out if it is a good addition (and that is the whole point of the discussion).

What’s emblematic of a cuisine movement occurring in San Diego is Pokirrito.

Thomas Keller is in his kitchen nearly every day.
Charlie Trotter was in his kitchen nearly every day.
In almost every restaurant that his been a critical success, the chef, chef/owner spends nearly everyday in their kitchen. A successful restaurant is a demanding mistress. It either controls you, or you control it.

Bracero presents an interesting case study:

  • Doing business SOB (south of the border) is vastly different than NOB (north of the border
  • The regulations and requirements are defined and enforced much more stringently NOB
  • The success of the Plasencia family in Tijuana is indisputable. They’ve done a great job there where they have an extended network of support. I am not sure that same network exists (at this point) NOB
  • Javier is a very talented and creative chef, but he is only one person. He can only stretch so far.
  • It may only be a 2 hour drive between Barcero and the Valle de Guadalupe but there is a MAJOR impediment in the north bound commute, namely the border. Even with Sentri, it still takes time to cross.
  • The La Davina project in V de G was in process the same time as Bracero. Hard to be in multiple places at the same time.
  • It’s pretty hard to run and keep control in one restaurant when you’re dealing with multiple projects.
  • Service staff SOB has a whole different mindset than NOB. For many it’s an actual career path, not just a stop on the way to another career
  • Rumor had it there were also some cash flow issues with vendors?

When the creative force behind a restaurant isn’t in the kitchen on a regular and routine basis, it will be consistent. Unless that person is there to correct errors and do continued training in what and how the restaurant is supposed to operate and the food produced, it’s not going to happen. You simply can spend too much time SOB and expect your staff NOB to maintain your standards.


Hopefully there’s room for all kinds of food movements. I’ll take the goodness from everything everywhere I can.

And Alice Waters has rarely been in the Kitchen at Chez Panisse, but I get your point. Javier’s stretched pretty thin and a chef needs to be the consistent guiding force in any new restaurant to make it a success.

Exactly. And that’s also why I didn’t include Alice Waters in my very short list :smiley: I know she’s not been in the kitchen much, although I think she was in Chez Panisses early days. A restaurant can’t excel and function at a high level when the chef/owner isn’t there on a regular, if not daily, basis. And to be splitting time between multiple concepts in two countries bisected by the busiest land border crossing in the western hemisphere is not a recipe for success, even with the best of intentions and stellar staffing

Unless one is a true insider, I don’t think any of us will know what really transpired, but I think it’s probably safe to say, Bracero was over hyped from the get-go, had a relatively strongly opening, appeared to be on an even keel, but got away from the chef/owner when the other projects needed attention and he couldn’t be there on a daily basis. Time will tell if the recent course correction worked or not.

Hey Doc, now we have the term, “Baja-Cali” to add to “Mexiterranean”, “Baja-Med”, and your term, “Baja Nueva”

Yes, I saw “Baja-Cali” somewhere, but really that expression isn’t true to the cuisine. It’s not a mix of Baja and California styles. It’s a unique new style of cuisine that was born and raised in Baja, based on merging Mexican and (mostly) Euorpean influences. The new cuisine was exported to the US first in the form of Romesco, and then Bracero a decade later. Baja-Med is more accurate, but that one’s trademarked.

Totally disagree…

Well . . . Baja is actually short for Baja California, a Mexican State. As essentially were we at one time. So I think it fits.

Yeah but no self respecting native Californian would ever, in a million years, call California “Cali”.

How many people from Baja have you ever heard say “soy de Baja Cali”? None, nada, zilch

It’s just another made up label that some hipster food writer thought sounded good…

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With what? With whom?

It looks from the post sequence like you’re disagreeing with me. Or are the last few posts out of sequence somehow?

If it is with me, then I don’t get what it is exactly that you’re disagreeing with. Clarification, please? Happy to discuss.

With - “It’s a unique new style of cuisine that was born and raised in Baja, based on merging Mexican and (mostly) Euorpean influences. The new cuisine was exported to the US first in the form of Romesco, and then Bracero a decade later.”

It’s not a unique new style of cuisine. It’s what they’ve traditionally eaten

It’s not based on merging Mexican and mostly European influences. As the extreme northwest point in Mexico and extremely remote from the seat of power, traditional Mexican cuisine was not heavily ingrained into the area (and I’m speaking of the Tijuana to Ensenada region). A lot of the influences from Sinoloa, Sonora, Jalisco, Michoacan and Oaxaca came because of migration to the U.S. point of entry and the legal bracero program in the 20th century. It was also the easiest point of entry for Chinese laborers left over from the railroad project and assorted Europeans also trying to cross over. As the border began to tighten up and become less porous, a lot of Mexicans from other areas stayed put in TJ. It has had the largest population of Oaxaqueños and Michoacanos outside of their home state. The traditional Mexican cuisine in Baja (the Norte was dropped years ago) is imported from the mainland via domestic migration, then you toss in the Italian, Russian, Swiss and Asian influences into the mix.

Tijuana is a comparatively young city. They’ve cherry picked what they liked from various culinary traditions and welded it on to what their countrymen brought with them. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it’s actually made for some pretty interesting, sophisticated and inventive dining! It’s more aptly the evolution food and ingredients in one region than a newly minted cuisine.

I am a huge fan of Javier Plasencia. What he has created and done in less than 10 years is pretty remarkable, and he’s still approachable, reasonably normal given the media circus, and an all around nice guy. But neither he nor his family single-handedly created a unique new cuisine. Did they have vision? You bet, but credit also needs to go to a long line of chefs - some nameless, some not - growers, producers, fishermen, for growing, catching, raising and cooking for many years what they had and what they could sell. The Culinary Art School in TJ cannot and should not be left out of the evolutionary mix. It’s been around for a long time and has turned out some truly well trained and creative young chefs and cooks who felt empowered enough to take risks, open businesses and create food to suit their palates and their region. The food they’re producing is what they’ve done for a long time. It’s been revised, refined and gussied until it was ready for it’s close-up.

So to say it’s a unique new cuisine based on Mexican and European influences is, in my opinion, a misrepresentation. It is certainly delicious and what you get SOB is still more interesting and more creative than what we’re getting here.

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I would quit while your still only 20 miles behind.

Totally disagree…

Why, do you suppose, does Plascencia choose to call the food served at Romesco “Mexiterranean”? And why does Guerrero call essentially the same style “Baja-Mediterranean”.

It’s because it is indeed a unique new style, not the same as what’s been consumed in Baja for generations, not the same as the cuisine whose origins and history in Baja over the past 100 years you described in some detail. This new cuisine, not even one generation old, interweaves nuances of “Mediterranean” food with traditional Baja style Mexican. It maintains the “raiz” of the classic and historical food in Baja, while adding influences of other cultures not formerly found in Mexican food.

That was Plascencia’s vision, and it’s what we’re finally seeing NOB. Classic Baja food elevated to alta gastranomia; with unique and exciting European influences and flair. It’s not as “new” as Romesco, which goes back just 11 years, but neither is it older that a young Plascencia. Relative to the overall history of Baja food, that’s indeed “new”.

And yes, I’ll duly credit all of the people you mentioned in your post for their significant contributions to this evolving, new cuisine.

P.S. For those who missed it earlier, this is a pretty good (if lengthy) article on the subject:

Because the restaurant business is first of all also a PR business where you have to set yourself apart with a lot of PR even if it is not completely true (like most PR in any business). You should try to be less of a Plascenica fan-boy and look at it in a more objective, critical view.


It’s no different than, say, Alice Waters calling the food at Chez Panisse “farm-to-table”.

Did Waters invent the notion of eating food that is fresh, local and seasonal? Of course not, For centuries all food was farm to table. People grew most of their own food or bought it from nearby farmers. The food that they put on the table was fresh, local, and literally “farm to table.” The industrial revolution changed some of that, with the advent of better and cheaper transportation and storage facilities/equipment, as well as shifting demographics from rural to urban areas. But that doesn’t that mean Chez Panisse (and other restaurants of that ilk) “invented” a new cuisine, they simply re-branded (or branded) a way of eating that had long been in existence, and maybe in existence for as long as homo sapiens walked the earth.

And, for what it’s worth, there are still people who eat “farm to table”. Literally.

Ipse, Honk, you both missed my point. Of course it’s marketing for one to choose a catchy byword like that. My point was that both have “Mediterranean” embedded in them. Not something else. Both could have chosen any other catchy marketing name, but instead they both chose to use a variation on the same word. And why? It’s because the essence of this new cuisine is that it has new elements drawn in from ethnically unconventional sources, like those from that area of Europe, combined with the conventional. That’s my point.

These people aren’t saying their cuisine is “Baja style”. They’re saying it’s something different; Mexican food with a new twist. Baja + Mediterranean. And yes, I’m familiar with the earlier European influences on Baja food, particularly that in Tijuana. This isn’t the same thing.