At first glance, the Rosarito Beach Cafe might be taken for just another Mexican diner. Its street-front window, lit up in bright orange neon, and its fairly plain decor do nothing to dispel this initial impression. But then I looked at the menu and realized there wasn't a single combination plate to be found. Another clue: no complimentary chips. When I spotted the description of the Bahia shrimp with coconut milk, chiles and hearts of palm, I began to revise my idea about the place for the better.
The first bite of the first dish I ordered, however--a crab taco appetizer plate--almost made me change my mind again. Despite some good guacamole and cucumber, the crab tasted like shredded paper towels. Then my dinner companion slid her salad across to me with a grimace. I thought it was all over.
But it wasn't. The orange-chile dressing may not have been to her taste, but I loved it. It was sort of a Thousand Island dressing spiked with orange juice and the subtle hint of garlic and chile.
From that moment, Rosarito Beach only got better and better. Many of the dishes on the menu come from southern Mexico, and some have a definite Caribbean influence. The chicken with chile-nut sauce, for instance; it came with plantains and a sauce full of wonderfully pungent spices.