El Lugar de Nos opened last year and quickly developed a strong customer base. Unfortunately, it was located in a residential area and the neighbors complained. The city of Tecate told them they'd have to move...so they did. Into a new space that can only be described as fun, eclectic, eccentric and funky.
If the decor is a reflection of the chef/owner's personal sense of style so is the food. It is creative, eclectic, fun, truly quite good and clearly a personal reflection of the chef. Baja Med cuisine marries the local products with the Mexican, Italian and Asian cultural heritage of Baja, and that too is clearly reflected in the food coming out of the El Lugar de Nos kitchen. Almost every ingredient used is either grown, raised or otherwised sourced locally in the Tecate area which does give the food a real sense of place.
After hearing one of my friends rave about the food, four of us crossed south yesterday evening for dinner and to find out for ourselves if the rave reviews were warranted....definitely they are.
All the dishes we tried were large enough and suitable for sharing. We started with 2 appetizers, both of which were huge hits with us. The first to arrive at the table was pressed local cheese that had been seared on both sides and topped with a spicy marmelade. Our 2nd appetizer included one of the restaurants' signature items, meat that has been cooked for 84 hours; yes eighty four hours, that is not a typo!. The serving is 4 tacos, so we each got one. They were served with mixed greens, roasted peppers and a chile de arbol sauce to add a bit of heat. How is meat that's been cooked for 84 hours? Surprisingly tender and succulent. I'm not sure if it was beef or pork as the flavor had mellowed quite a bit during the extended cooking. The meat can also be had on a pizza or in a pannini sandwich and they'll combine it with local mushroom as well.
El Lugar de Nos has an open kitchen at the far end of the restaurant and one part of it is dominated by a wood burning pizza oven that was built for them by a local craftsman. The deocrations on the outside of it are totally charming and the thin crust pizza and flatbreads coming out of it are crispy, crackly good. Each is made to order and they'll let you combine pizza options if you can't make up your mind about which one to order.
Our 2 entrees turned out to be the favorite and least favorite dishes of the night. They slow roast the borrego (lamb) and serve both shredded leg meat and 2 chops (think a chop that's been lollipopped) along with a slew of perfectly roasted vegetables. The leg meat was really good as were the vegetables. The chops, however, were overcooked and a little on the dry and gamey side. So while all 4 of us liked the dish, the chops on it didn't work for any of us.
The other entree was poblano risotto w/grilled shrimp. It was just the best combination of flavors and textures; the best kind of comfort food. There's a reason poblano peppers are so widely used and such a favorite. They blended into the rice and cheese in the risotto so seamlessly. It was hard not to inhale the entire plate all at once. The shrimp may have been a hair overcooked, but it didn't matter. The whole plate was garnished off with thin crisp tortilla strips and some equally thin and crisp strips of green onion. Every thing we ate was vrey good, but the risotto was the consensus best dish of the night.
2 apps + pizza + 2 entrees + beer/wine + tax & a generous tip was $30 per person. Portions are generous, service warm and friendly and the food creative and delicious. Definitely worth trying if in the area. Since the source locally some items may be seasonal. The menu does change frequently anyway.
El Lugar de Nos
Blvd. Benito Juarez #384 (3-4 miles west of the Tecate border crossing)