“It’s worth the journey just to eat the vegetable tostada,” said Noma chef René Redzepi, referring to the secret, off-menu dish at Laja, a restaurant in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe. But 16 years ago, when Laja’s owner and executive chef, Jair Téllez, opened the place—in the middle of nowhere as he describes it—he never imagined it would become a food destination loved by the likes of Redzepi, Nancy Silverton, and Anthony Bourdain.
Valle de Guadalupe, the wine country of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, is a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles. It got its start in the 18th century when priests first planted wine grapes there. Baja’s Mediterranean climate and porous soil eventually proved fertile, and wineries began to sprout in the 1970s. The first tourism boom was in 2006, and now the region has upward of 100 wineries. With Laja, Téllez inspired many more chefs to open their own farm-to-table restaurants, including David Castro Hussong, who once worked for him and then left for prodigious kitchens such as New York’s Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Castro returned to the valley last year to open Fauna, a restaurant inside the sleek new resort Bruma, adding the flavors of his own journey to this burgeoning gustatory destination.