Last Thursday, Cali-Baja chef Javier Plascencia threw a fifth-anniversary bash for Misión 19, his showcase fine-dining restaurant in Tijuana that put him on the culinary map in both Mexico and the U.S.
Since then, Plascencia has emerged as arguably the cross-border region's brightest star, with a growing empire of restaurants and regular high-profile media appearances. During his recent stint as a guest judge on Bravo's "Top Chef," Plascencia was described by "cheftestant" Chad White as "a Baja bad-ass."
Want to see what all the bulla, or fuss, is about? Here are five Plascencia places to check out.
Style Central: Misión 19
Tucked away in a modern high-rise building outside Tijuana's hubbub, Misión 19 is a game-changer, sparking the city's gastronomic revival and signaling to Americans that, sí, Mexican food can be chic and refined. The signature dish, smoked oyster asada with chicharrón short ribs, ponzu and crispy fideo, underscores Misión's innovative twist on traditional Baja cuisine. So did Plascencia's meticulously executed six-course dinner last week, a bold medley of fiery flavors and supple texture (and even ant larvae). Misión's sexy vibe extends to its upstairs lounge, Bar 20. Calle Misión de San Javier, second floor, Zona Urbana Río, Tijuana. (52) 664-634-2493 or mision19.com
DID YOU KNOW?
Misión 19 contracts with a San Diego shuttle bus company to transport groups of up to 10 or 30 people round-trip to the restaurant in Tijuana. See mision19.com/en/shuttle-service.
Wine Country Wood-Fire: Finca Altozano
Like Napa Valley before it, Baja's Valle de Guadalupe has a culinary scene that rivals its wine. Finca Altozano is like an adult campground, with its vineyard-adjacent outdoor dining area enveloped with the scent of the wood-fired oven. Everything emanating from the asador campestre, or country grill, tastes earthy, smoky and meant to be eaten with a knockout glass of Valle wine. Don't miss the grilled lamb tacos or wood-fired mushrooms, the single best preparation of the lowly fungus I've ever had. Carretera Tecate - Ensenada Km 83, Ejido Francisco Zarco, Valle de Guadalupe. (52) 646 156 8045 or fincaaltozano.com
Making a Splash: Bracero
There was no bigger restaurant opening in the region last year than Bracero, in vibrant Little Italy. Now that the buzz has died down some, it's easier (and more fun) to get in for the succulent wood-grilled octopus, pristine albacore two ways or soulful crispy brisket and short rib. Plascencia rocks the taco, of course, but the secret weapon here may be dessert. If the luscious brown butter panque is on the menu, order two. As Bracero's name indicates, the restaurant is an homage to laborers, and in keeping with the theme, its selection of Valle de Guadalupe wines is unrivaled in San Diego. 1490 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy. (619) 756-7864 or bracerococina.com