Does Baja have Mexico’s most exciting food? PBS star Rick Bayless makes a case.

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"I didn't think Mexico could still surprise me," says Rick Bayless, the star chef at Chicago's Frontera Grill and the host of PBS's Mexico—One Plate at a Time. Yet a recent eating tour along the 775-mile Baja peninsula left him so excited that he decided to devote the entire eighth season of his TV show to his Baja food finds: "Friends laughed at this, but I probably have enough material for more than 14 episodes."

The series, which debuts in September, follows Bayless on a taco crawl through Tijuana: "I used to think Mexico City had the best tacos, but Tijuana blows it away." Then he heads south to Los Cabos, where the incredible seafood led him to create new dishes like a tuna ceviche with avocado. What follow here are Bayless's most thrilling finds and the recipes they inspired, plus his travel black book.

Chef Javier Plascencia of Misión 19 in Tijuana.

© Luis Garcia

Rick Bayless in Baja: Tijuana

"I used to think it was a crummy border town," Bayless says. "But it's actually gotten quite beautiful."

Cebicheria Erizo After researching ceviche throughout Mexico and Peru, chef Javier Plascencia opened this innovative spot.

Misión 19 (photo) Plascencia sources ingredients from within 120 miles for dishes like slow-cooked short ribs topped with a Mission fig syrup and black mole. "He's one of Mexico's top talents, a chef to watch," Bayless says.

Rosarito Beach Hotel Hollywood stars like Orson Welles used to stay at this beachfront hotel, 45 minutes south of Tijuana in Rosarito. Doubles from $49;

Tacos at Tijuana's Las Humaderas.

© Luis Garcia

Best Tacos

El Mazateno "The spicy shrimp taco could be my last meal," Bayless says.

Las Humaderas (photo) "These six taquerias grill everything from tripe to blood sausage over charcoal."

Taco Fitos "The specialty at this stall is birria, a spicy goat stew."

Adobe Guadalupe bed and breakfast in the Valle de Gaudalupe.

© Luis Garcia

Rick Bayless in Baja: Valle de Guadalupe

Bayless describes this 14-mile stretch as producing "mind-bogglingly good cheese, olive oil, lamb and wines."

Adobe Guadalupe (photo) "I loved this six-room bed-and-breakfast in a vineyard. You can taste wine, ride horses and view the art collection."

Casa de Piedra "People bow down to winemaker Hugo D'Acosta. He was born in Mexico and trained in Bordeaux; he is a visionary." He also runs a wine school.

Restaurante Laja Laja is set amid vineyards in the Valle de Guadalupe. An on-site garden inspires specials. "Chef Jair Téllez trained at Restaurant Daniel in New York City, and here he works in a Mediterranean style. Order the geoduck (large saltwater clam) ceviche."

Manzanilla restaurant in Ensendada

© Wilfredo Photo Boutique

Rick Bayless in Baja: Ensenada

South of Tijuana, the birthplace of the fish taco is home to extraordinary seafood. Says Bayless, "I usually don't eat raw seafood at street markets, but I made an exception."

Manzanilla (photo) "Chef Benito Molina's house-smoked oysters are more than memorable."

Casa Natalie At this boutique hotel on the beach, some rooms have fire pits on the balconies.

El Fenix The angel-shark tacos at this stand are extra crisp. The secret: The seafood is double-fried in lard.

La Guerrerense "This covered street stall makes incredible seafood tostadas topped with Chocolato clams and the milder, West Coast sea urchin."

Rick Bayless in Baja: La Paz

"It feels like the town time forgot," Bayless says. "It's on the Sea of Cortez and perfect for outdoor activities."

Baja Expeditions "This outfitter took us on an hour-long boat ride to Isla Espiritu Santo, a UNESCO-protected biosphere." People can kayak, snorkel and swim with sea lions.

La Encantada A new gallery, it shows the work of Baja artists and also has a wine bar and deli.

Las Tres Virgenes An upscale restaurant that serves both traditional and inventive dishes, like tuna-belly tostadas.

Hacienda Cerritos in Todos Santos

Courtesy of Jessie Aguayo

Rick Bayless in Baja: Todos Santos

"This surf town is full of aging hippies," Bayless says. "What surprised me most is that it's a true agricultural oasis."

Hacienda Cerritos (photo) The boutique hotel has two surf shops and overlooks one of Mexico's best surfing beaches.

La Bodega The focus of this new wine shop: small Mexican producers.

Hotel California in Todos Santos

Courtesy of Hotel California Baja

Hotel California (photo) "This famed hotel was falling down, but a Canadian couple recently renovated it. In March, a great restaurant, Santo Vino, opened. Now if they would only get rid of that infernal soundtrack—'Hotel California' is on a constant loop."

Sweets Stalls "Visit the stalls on the edge of town. They have sweets you'll find no place else in Mexico, like empanaditas filled with mango jam."

Tuna Ceviche with Avocado and Cilantro. Photo © Antonis Achilleos
The short marinating time preserves the tuna’s fresh taste.
| Credit: © Antonis Achilleos

© Antonis Achilleos

Rick Bayless in Baja: Cabo San Lucas

Located at the tip of the Baja peninsula, Cabo has enormous all-inclusive hotels and a rugged coast, best for fishing and surfing.

Capella Pedregal A new, super-luxe resort that offers cooking classes. All 66 rooms have plunge pools and ocean views.

Edith's This beachfront restaurant with views of the famous Arch of Cabo San Lucas fuses flavors from Baja and the Mexican state of Guerrero.

Los Michoacanos The recipe for this small chain's pork carnitas dates back to 1899. It's famous for all things pig, including pork-rind gorditas and pork-loin tortas.

Best Ceviche

Don Emiliano "This San José del Cabo restaurant's ceviche inspired my recipe (photo)."

Mariscos el Torito "Cabo San Lucas locals come here for really fresh, cilantro-loaded ceviche."

Baja Brewing Company in San José del Cabo.

© Baja Brewing Company

Rick Bayless in Baja: San José del Cabo

Bayless encourages people to drive the 30 miles from the hoopla of Cabo San Lucas to this historic mission city. "It has great art and the galleries stay open late on Thursdays."

Baja Brewing Company (photo) "Three guys from Boulder, Colorado, and a friend started this microbrewery. Its red ale isn't like a typical Mexican lager; it's rich and round and pairs well with the brewpub's pizza."

El Chilar A reservations-necessary restaurant with 200 wines and more than 70 types of tequila. The cascabel chile-marinated flank steak is a favorite.

Flora's Field Kitchen Last year, this organic farm opened a stellar restaurant, bar and grocery.

Video: Mexican Cooking Tips from Chef Rick Bayless

Fantastic Mexican Recipes

Chile-Spiced Skirt Steak Tacos
Credit: © Con Poulos
Sweet potato, chipotle, and apple soup
Carne Asada with Black Beans
Credit: © Lucy Schaeffer