Cabo San Lucas may have better nightlife. But for several years now, sister city San José del Cabo has offered a more varied and interesting fine dining scene, from intimate farm-to-table specialists like Flora Farms and Los Tamarindos – where the restaurants are adjacent to organic fields – to creative Baja Mediterranean fusion cuisine and world-class wine pairings from some of the Los Cabos area’s most celebrated chefs.
One such destination dining spot is Don Sanchez. Once known as much for its lively salsa dancing nights as its cuisine, Don Sanchez received a massive facelift a couple years ago, with upgrades that included an enormous courtyard dining area and an exposed indoor wine cellar and wine bar, as well as a revamped wine program overseen by Chef Tadd Chapman and Sommelier Nizuniro Altamirano.
The transformed Don Sanchez – the hip and sporty Retro Burger Bar took over the restaurant’s old space – has been the shining star of San José’s downtown dining scene ever since, and it may now be the best restaurant in all of Los Cabos.
Tadd Chapman's artistry is evident in every dish, such as this colorful combination featuring pork belly and "pulpo" (grilled octopus) — Photo courtesy of Vic Vertigo
After the decamping of Michelin star-winning Chef Drew Deckman – who permanently moved Deckman’s to Baja California’s wine country, Valle de Guadalupe outside Ensenada, in 2013 – the unofficial title of San José del Cabo’s best chef was inherited by Chapman.
A veteran local restaurateur, he built upon early successes like Tulip Tree, Brisas and Purple Pear with three of the colonial-style city’s current benchmark restaurants: Habanero’s Gastro Grill, Retro Burger Bar and, not least of all, Don Sanchez.
Guests at Don Sanchez have the choice of dining indoors next to the temperature-controlled wine cellar, or in the airy and expansive courtyard, where colorfully painted tables are framed by swaying palms. A dance floor is thoughtfully provided for those who want to cut a postprandial rug to live music from the restaurant’s rotating cast of romantic performers.
Don Sanchez’s calling cards, however, are its delicious Baja Med cuisine and creative wine pairings. Baja Med – a unique peninsular fusion of local (primarily seafood) dishes and ingredients with Mediterranean-style accents – has become fashionable in recent years, and few regional chefs have crafted better results than Chapman.
The chef’s commitment to his ingredients would be hard to surpass: he sources seafood from local fishermen, organic produce from his own farm and grass- and grain-fed beef that is wet-aged and seasoned with natural un-iodized sea salt from Guerrero Negro in Baja California.
What's more, his rotating lunch and dinner menus showcase a consistently winning combination of Old and New World fusions (Try the chef’s incredible pork belly and pulpo combo with smoked carrot purée, pickled cauliflower, dehydrated onion and pasilla sauce.), occasionally with surprising twists (like sous vide steak and eggs as a dinner entrée, with parmesan breaded quail eggs and truffle hollandaise).
Don Sanchez's indoor wine cellar and carry-out shop stocks over 300 labels from around the world — Photo courtesy of Vic Vertigo
Certainly no area restaurant has made more of a commitment to its wine program than Don Sanchez. The indoor cellar and wine bar stocks nearly 300 labels from premium producers around the globe – roughly 25% of the offerings are from Mexican winemakers, mostly from Valle de Guadalupe. Not only are all available for table service, but carry-out sales are also permitted until 11 p.m., with expert advice at the ready from Altamirano and the highly trained staff.
The essence of Don Sanchez’s approach to food and wine, however, is found in the restaurant’s daily tasting menus. Chapman takes pride in creating an ever-changing array of custom (typically five-course) menus built around the freshest local and seasonal ingredients available. They're often sourced from his own nearby farm, Sanchez Orgánico. He works with sommelier Altamirano to find the ultimate pairing for each course.
“With the support of 300 wines at our disposal, we don’t find it overly difficult to find a pairing for each dish,” Altamirano says. “But there are occasions when we need to make adjustments to the dish to fit the wine we would like to pair.”
In addition, Don Sanchez now hosts monthly wine-focused events, the most popular of which include tastings of Mexican reds or whites, "Winemakers’ Dinners” featuring multiple offerings from top Mexican wineries and “Wine Wars” with wines pitted against each other “glass-to-glass” to earn the favor of guests.