For local color in Todos Santos, it's hard to top La Garra, one of the town's top restaurants, sports bars, and live music venues. La Garra suffered fire damage early in 2013, but quickly bounced back. The place still boasts the same atmospheric movie posters from México's golden age of cinema, and the same excellent, unpretentious food. Chile rellenos and the fish and scallop sashimi are the two most popular menu options, but La Garra also offers salads, burgers, tacos and other tasty Mexican and American favorites. All the latest sporting events are shown on large screen televisions, and live music is a big draw on weekends.
Elegant garden surroundings distinguish this patio restaurant at the Guaycura Boutique Hotel & Spa in Todos Santos, as does excellent food from a menu that blends Mediterranean and Mexican sensibilities. Small tapas plates are popular and include highlights like the grilled octopus with smoked potatoes, and Acapulco style shrimp cocktail. The ingredients are primarily locally sourced, with a tendency towards traditional Mexican favorites like huitlacoche (a kind of Mexican corn truffle) and epazote (an indigenous herb). El Jardín also boasts a very good wine list, as well as a healthy selection of martinis and tropical cocktails. Open for breakfast and dinner only.
Miguel's chile rellenos may not be the best in all of the Baja California peninsula, as an enthusiastic reviewer from the New York Times once claimed, but they are amazing. The stuffed chiles - available with lobster, shrimp, cheese and in vegetarian form - are certainly the signature dish at Miguel's, the top stop in Todos Santos for traditional Mexican comfort food. Tacos, enchiladas, fajitas and chicken mole are also on the menu, and this is a congenial pit stop for ice cold beers and tropical cocktails. The atmosphere is very casual and laid-back, perfect for whiling away a lazy afternoon.
The best burger place in La Paz is notable both for its grill - it's set under the open hood of the front half of a pick-up truck - and its al fresco charms. The spacious outdoor dining area is quite pretty after dark, when the lights strung between palm trees cast a muted glow on the red and white checked tablecloths. The simple décor, combined with the old rock n' roll playing in the background and the paper lined baskets of burgers and fries, gives the place a rather warm-hearted, nostalgic atmosphere that undoubtedly accounts for a large measure of its popularity with the local crowd. The location - a block from the water, and walking distance from the malecón area - doesn't hurt either. Bandido's is only open during evening hours (5 p.m. to midnight).
La Coronela is the signature restaurant at Hotel California, the most famous and frequently photographed lodging in Todos Santos. Talented Belgian Chef Dany Lamote's menu focuses primarily on dishes made from organic and locally sourced ingredients, and although there are unconventional and somewhat exotic dishes, the restaurant boasts plenty of popular Mexican and American fare, including pizzas and burgers. Highlights include the eggs Benedict with smoked marlin and cilantro hollandaise, and delicious lamb burgers with caramelized onions. Outdoor dining is available in the expansive courtyard, and the colorful bar is a great place to belly up for margaritas or martinis.
Entering Los Adobes is like stepping into another world - the first thing one sees is a beautifully landscaped desert scene, a striking sight (particularly when it is lit up at night), and one that would appear more fitting in a botanical garden than a popular downtown restaurant. The food is equal to the views, however, and this is one of the top destinations for diners seeking traditional Mexican specialties, as well as vegetarian dishes. Like many places in Todos Santos, Los Adobes changes its hours according to the season. It's open for lunch and dinner year round, but closes rather early during the slow months (Jul. to Oct.).
People come to Santiago to see the nearby waterfalls, or to visit the zoo, and Palomar, located just off the main plaza, is a popular stopping place for food and refreshments. The restaurant and hotel - there are six double-rooms ringed around the courtyard dining area - has been around forever, or what feels like forever in Baja California Sur. Hollywood stars like John Wayne and Bing Crosby used to fly in for the world-class white-winged dove hunting, and co-owner Sergio Gomez is happy to show visitors pictures of his Mom with Bing Crosby, or photos of other celebrities who have eaten at Palomar over the years. The menu mainly features seafood and Mexican cuisine. The pescado mojo de ajo (catch of the day cooked in garlic butter) is excellent, as are the combination plates with Mexican favorites like enchiladas and chile rellenos (stuffed chiles). The hamburgers are pretty good, too.
Long the lunch and dinner place du jour for local artists and expatriates - it opened in 1990 - Café Santa Fe remains one of Todos Santos' benchmark dining spots, and is a mandatory stop for first time visitors. Located just across from the town square and historic theater in a restored 19th century building, this authentic Italian eatery specializes in homemade pastas and sauces, albeit with plentiful helpings of fresh local seafood. Start with a creamy soup or seafood salad before moving on to main courses like the superb lobster ravioli. Indoor dining is available, but the courtyard is the place to see and be seen.
Playa El Tecolote can't top Balandra for sheer beauty, but it's hands down the best beach in the La Paz area for barefoot seaside drinking and dining. Palapa Azul is its foremost treasure, and quite easy to find: Just follow the malecón out of town until you dead-end in a parking lot at km 25 in front of the big hollowed out boat. The bar and restaurant's unique structure is part of its charm, of course, but the fresh local seafood is the real attraction. For the ultimate Palapa Azul experience, grab a table near the shoreline, order a bucket of ice cold Pacíficos, and feast on chocolate clams and marlin en escabeche while enjoying incredible views of Isla Espíritu Santo in the distance.
The star of any visit to La Paz is the malecón, the miles long seaside promenade that serves as the city's social center, as well as the backdrop for dozens of its best hotels and restaurants. Bismarck-cito, one of two offspring of the original Bismarck restaurant, is among the most popular food and beverage stops on this waterfront stretch, with a casually elegant al fresco dining area that looks across the bay to the tip of the El Mogote peninsula. Steak and lobster options highlight the dinner menu, but for afternoon dining, you can't go wrong with tacos de pulpo (octopus tacos) and tasty tamarindo garnished micheladas. Both are world-class, just like the views.