Pride of Puerto Nuevo
The best lobster spots

Puerto Nuevo-style lobster has been a phenomenon since 1956, when several women in the tiny fishing village south of Rosarito started dropping fresh lobsters into pots of bubbling oil and serving them to a few outsiders.

Last year, the still-small-but-now-bustling Puerto Nuevo served more than 672,000 deep-fried California rock lobsters.

Dozens of restaurants in Rosarito and the surrounding area served more. More than 250 tons of the bottom-crawling crustaceans are pulled from Baja California waters each year just to feed the frenzy of lobster-loving tourists. Hundreds of additional tons are shipped in from elsewhere between mid-February and mid-September, when harvesting Baja California lobster is illegal.

Today, Puerto Nuevo boasts more than 35 side-by-side restaurants that all sell the same thing -- fried lobster, beans, rice, flour tortillas, chips and salsa. To the uninitiated, confusion reigns. We'll tell you which spots are the best, but first, a few insider tips:

Fresh vs. frozen: Most of the larger, more popular restaurants are owned or controlled by two families. This gives them the volume and ability to import live lobster from Baja California Sur and from as far away as Cancun during the months when local lobster is out of season. Smaller mom-and-pop operations are often forced to serve frozen lobster during this period. All of the restaurants we recommend serve fresh lobster year-round.
Choosing a lobster: The most tender legal lobster is the medium size, weighing from 1 to 1* pounds. Restaurant owners will admit that anything over this is tough. While very small lobsters, often called "slippers," are delicious and extremely tender, they are illegal to catch, sell or serve at any time of year.

Price: The larger, long-standing restaurants run very close in price for basic lobster dinners: about $16 to $18 for a full meal with a medium lobster; $24 for a large lobster; $30 for the extra-large "burro," which can weigh up to four pounds. The smaller restaurants have less overhead, less staff, offer fewer choices and thus can compete hard in price. But, ask the right questions before committing. If a sign outside shows "$10 SHRIMP - ALL YOU CAN EAT," ask if that means all the shrimp you can eat or all the side dishes. If a restaurant offers five lobster tails, ask to see the size.
Just say no: Usually, you'll be shown a tray with three different lobster sizes to choose from. The enormous "burro," grande or extra-large may look tempting, but don't order it. According to Puerto Nuevo chefs, lobsters this large are tough and best suited for Lobster salad.

Spice it up: Ask for spicy molcajete sauce rather than the bland tomato salsa.

Side dishes: Salsa, chips, tortillas, rice and beans are all in the all-you-can-eatcategory. Don't be afraid to ask for more of any of these, especially fresh, hot tortillas. Nobody eats flour tortillas in a restaurant once they've gotten cold. Before you go

Credit Cards: Not all Puerto Nuevo restaurants take credit cards. Best to bring cash or ask before you order.

Reservations: Most Puerto Nuevo restaurants do not take reservations directly, but the Rosarito Convention and Visitors Bureau (011-52-661-612-0396) is happy to make calls on your behalf.

Hours: Most restaurants are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, winter and summer, and until 10 p.m on Friday and Saturday. A few restaurants stay open until 11:30 p.m. on summer weekends.

Getting there: Puerto Nuevo is a clearly marked village on the Old Road, 10 minutes south of downtown Rosarito. Take the Rosarito-Ensenada toll road to the Puerto Nuevo turnoff at kilometer 49. Turn left onto the Old Road and continue south a short distance to the village, which will be on your right. It is exactly 10 miles from Rosarito's southern toll gate.

Pride of Puerto Nuevo: the best spots
The most popular restaurants in Puerto Nuevo are La Casa de Langosta, Puerto Nuevo I and II, La Escondida and Ortega's Manuel's. Sandra's also is a favorite with locals, and Ortega's Patio and the Lobster House rate a visit as well. All are winners when it comes to a great lobster dinner and are all competitively priced. Here are other considerations to help narrow your choices:

Best Menu: La Casa de Langosta. With everything from lobster burritos to lobster omelets for breakfast, this broad menu also includes steamed lobster with wine, lobster thermidor and several creative combo plates like the Seafood Combination, which features calamari, fish and lobster. You'll also find oysters Rockefeller, along with Seven Seas soup.

Best Food: Puerto Nuevo II. Chef Enrique Murillo loves to cook, and his appetizers are as good as his lobster. Depending on the availability of fresh ingredients, they include smoked marlin with capers and chile chipotle, steamed baby clams in butter and parsley sauce, awesome octopus loaded with garlic and butter and perhaps the best mussels on the Gold Coast.

Best Atmosphere: Ortega's Patio. The upper deck of this smaller restaurant is the\ prettiest, most charming place in Puerto Nuevo, with billowing blankets strung for shade and bougainvillea blooming all around. A nice slice of sea view and good people-watching on the main street below add to the casual atmosphere.

Best View: The Lobster House. It's the only major restaurant on the dirt street closest to the ocean, and the upper deck here has the only unobstructed, 180-degree ocean view in the village. On a warm, sunny day, this is a splendid place to be. On windy, cool days opt for the first-floor dining room.

Best Value:
The Lobster House. With almost the same menu as La Casa de Langosta (and the same ownership), this restaurant usually charges $1.50 to $2 less per meal for the same size portions. The Lobster House is relatively new and has been building business with competitive pricing.

Best Wine List:
La Casa de Langosta and The Lobster House. You'll find a full selection of Baja's top wines, including L.A. Cetto, Santo Tomas and Casa Domecq at both places. Good choices with lobster are Santo Tomas' Blanco Seco, Cetto's Fume Blanc and any of the Baja wineries' Chardonnays.

Best Wait Staff:
Puerto Nuevo II.

Most Kid-Friendly:
Ortega's Patio and Puerto Nuevo II.

Getting around:
Puerto Nuevo is only three blocks deep. Puerto Nuevo I and II, La Casa de Langosta and La Escondida are all on the left, in that order, as you enter and head toward the sea. Ortega's Patio and Ortega's Manuel's are both on the right, closest to the ocean. Sandra's is on the second side street to the left, around the corner from Puerto Nuevo II. The Lobster House is the last restaurant to the left, on the dirt road fronting the ocean.

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