Recipe for success
Story by Ellen Carpenter | Photography by Kyle RM Johnson | Rhapsody, December 2016
Los Cabos has long reigned as Mexico's top luxury beach destination, pampering guests with over-the-top spa treatments, butler service, and infinity pools galore. But over the past year, it has started to earn a new reputation as the country's fine dining capital.
When Hurricane Odile swept across Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo two years ago, it destroyed resorts, littered pristine beaches with debris, and ripped the roof right off the airport. Within a year, most of the resorts and restaurants had reopened, more glorious than ever, but they didn't just rebuild; they reimagined. And food took center stage in this process. “There's Cabo before the hurricane," says Alex Branch, the chef de cuisine at Manta, which opened at The Cape in June 2015, “and Cabo after the hurricane." He couldn't be more right. Gone is the Cabo Wabo reputation of tequila shots and enchiladas. Gone is the interest in celebrity chefs without any ties to the country. Gone is the trend toward all-inclusives. Suddenly, contemporary and creative Mexican restaurants are popping up everywhere, with Mexican chefs at the helm. Here are five eateries that are helping to define post-Odile Cabo.
When asked what kind of food they make at Manta, chef de cuisine Alex Branch instead says what they don't make: “We don't do Mexican food for Americans," he says as he presents me a plate of two chocolate clam shells served atop a bed of ice and filled with a mix of clams, cucumber, habanero, and onion in a yuzu sauce, crowned with a sliver of avocado and a perfectly sized sprig of cilantro. No, this is not stereotypical Mexican fare, but it is the kind of creative, fresh food you'd expect from chef-owner Enrique Olvera, who also runs Mexico City's Pujol, No. 5 on the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list, and Cosme, one of the hardest reservations to get in New York City. He opened Manta in 2015, after a decade of vacationing in Los Cabos with his family. “I've always wanted a restaurant like this in Los Cabos," Olvera says. “I always felt there needed to be a lighter, more contemporary Mexican approach."
Chocolate clams at Manta
Chef de cuisine Alex Branch
Situated in The Cape, an equally contemporary (and very sexy) hotel overlooking El Arco, Manta offers a menu that beautifully reflects the light and airy magic of Los Cabos. There are more than 20 plates to mix and match to make your own tasting menu, and because I'm the indecisive type, I let chef Branch, a gregarious Mexico City native, choose for me: meltingly tender octopus anticucho served with a rich chorizo and dark-beer mayo; a jewel-like salad of tomato, watermelon, and raspberry with a hibiscus chamoy dressing; black miso lingcod tacos served in handmade flour tortillas with just the right amount of chew. “We want you to try a whole bunch of different stuff on the menu, but we don't want you leaving feeling like you need to take a nap," says Branch, who runs the kitchen (Olvera visits regularly and changes the menu every time he comes).
Though every table in the restaurant offers a prime view of the ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows, the best seat is at the kitchen bar, with your back to the glorious sunset behind you. There, sip a glass of chardonnay from the Parras Valley, and watch the meticulous prep cooks carefully slice avocados to top sashimi and plate seafood tostadas so enticing you'll end up ordering one for yourself. You won't regret it.
Flora's Field Kitchen
You may think you're lost as you drive slowly along the pothole-filled dirt road to Flora Farm. How, you think, could there possibly be a farm out here in the desert? But then, after one more turn, you see it: an oasis of green … and an abundance of cool young vacationers in Illesteva sunglasses angling for a seat at one of the picnic tables in the bustling outdoor dining area, where they can have an epic brunch of wood-fired pizzas and lemon ricotta pancakes and drink a pelo de perro—hair of the dog—Bloody Mary made with fresh tomato juice and topped with a kale leaf, pickles, carrots, and a slice of beet.
Patrick and Gloria Greene have owned this 10-acre farm since 1996, but it didn't become the Los Cabos dining hot spot until a few years ago, when they added the restaurant, Flora's Field Kitchen. Last year, Guillermo Tellez, a veteran of Charlie Trotter's, took over the kitchen along with his wife, Leslie, the pastry chef. The majority of the produce comes from the farm, and the meats come from the Greenes' 150-acre ranch, just 20 miles away, which humanely raises cows, pigs, chickens, and rabbits.
A farmhand at work "Mango trees bow heavily with ripe fruit, purple eggplants beg to be plucked from their vines, and bees circle papayas ready to fall."
The pelo de perro Bloody Mary
After polishing off my huevos rancheros and half of my son's cinnamon roll, I head off on a farm tour with Dulce Perea, a manager at the restaurant. Mango trees bow heavily with ripe fruit, purple eggplants beg to be plucked from their vines, and bees circle papayas ready to fall. At Flora's Field Kitchen, Perea explains, there's no pressure to make typical Mexican cuisine—the chefs just want to do the produce justice. “People don't come here and say, 'Ooh I love the Cabo food!' because we don't have a certain cuisine," she says. “So that's what makes it easier to combine this and that and take advantage of all the things that we have."
Perea gives my 3-year-old son, Calder, some food to feed the turtles that are doing laps around a pond, while I watch other kids run around a small playground, as their parents drink margaritas and talk in the shade. The scene is like something out of a blissful vacation guide—and I'm grateful I get to experience it for myself.
It's difficult to imagine a more romantic setting than El Farallon, which is precariously perched on a cliff over the Pacific, with waves crashing dramatically on the rocks right below the candlelit tables (or on them, if it's a particularly windy night). The Resort at Pedregal has been a Los Cabos standby since 2009, but after the hurricane, the hotel rethought this dining space and made it even more irresistible by adding a Champagne terrace. This is not just a gimmick to entice men with diamond rings hidden in their pockets (though, admittedly, this is a great place to propose); Champagne is a serious subject here, and there are 30 available by the bottle and 17 by the glass. For a unique twist, the wines are paired with salts, which naturalize the minerals in the bubbly. On one particularly windy night, I meet executive chef Gustavo Pinet on the terrace, and he implores me to put a few crystals of black lava salt on my tongue and then take a sip of a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. Suddenly, it's sweeter and smoother, even better than before—which I know is hard to believe.
The cliffside dining terrace
The food at El Farallon is just as impressive. The focus is seafood caught that day, and seeing an abundance of it on ice at the front of the restaurant makes you realize how blessed Los Cabos is in its location. “The fish, the clams, the mussels, it's all coming from Baja California," Pinet tells me. “We're very lucky."
As are diners. A set ocean-to-table menu means you don't have to worry about choosing from all those fish you spied up front and can instead sit back and listen to a guitarist play Spanish-inflected acoustic covers of Madonna songs while you watch the hypnotic waves. I start with a creamy yet surprisingly light crab chowder, followed by a trio of appetizers: a tuna ceviche with caviar lime, cucumber, red onion, and an aji amarillo sauce; a beet and spinach salad with an orange and papantla vinaigrette; and crispy calamari with a fresh tomato sauce. Then comes the main attraction: a beautiful and bountiful medley of grilled totoaba, lobster, shrimp, red snapper, sea bass, and scallops served with family-style sides like marinated mushrooms, grilled asparagus, and corn with epazote mayonnaise. It's so simple, yet perfectly executed. Each bite of seafood tastes pure, just lightly kissed by fire and smoke. This is the kind of meal to linger over, to savor each bite. And if a wave does crash over your table, not to worry: The waiter will bring you a plush towel to dry off—and you'll have a story to tell.
One bite into a grilled avocado at Toro will have you regretting all the years you spent not eating grilled avocados. This one, at Richard Sandoval's oceanfront restaurant, comes filled with a tomato-corn salsa, the black grill marks on the avocado lending just the right amount of smoke to the whole appetizer. It's a marker of all the dishes served at Toro (and there are a lot; this menu is extensive): They're utterly addictive.
A Toro server checks his notes
Richard Sandoval is known as the father of modern Mexican cuisine. He has more than 40 restaurants, stretching from Denver to Dubai (I've eaten at three of them in New York City alone), but Cabo San Lucas's Toro, which opened in August 2015, feels unique—partly because, unlike at Sandoval's place in, say, Scottsdale, you know all the seafood you're eating is as local as it gets, and because the space is so striking and thoughtfully designed. Studio Arthur Casas, a São Paulo–based architecture firm, aimed to blend a typical Mexican courtyard with this seaside setting, and the results are beyond Instagram–worthy. A massive square wraparound ceviche bar is the perfect place to have a pisco-based prickly pear chilcano cocktail and watch the chefs prepare your hamachi tiradito with aguachile sauce and sour apple. Locally crafted ceramic vases are illuminated on the shelving that lines the perimeter, giving the space an equally rustic and modern vibe. The front dining room, with its matching wood-planked ceiling and floors, looks out onto the palm trees dotting the sand and the ocean just beyond.
Tuna and hamachi sashimi at Toro
The setting is all the better when paired with dishes like smoked swordfish and guacamole with plantain chips, tuna tacos in purple corn tortillas with a tangy carrot-ginger salsa, crab and shrimp enchiladas in a subtly sweet tomato sauce, and—my favorite—a miso barbecue escolar fish served with pickled onions and an aioli made using the peppery Japanese spice blend togarashi. Executive chef César Cervantes has led the kitchen since the restaurant opened in 2015, and he takes great pride in his work. “Cabo is a small city, but step by step the kitchens are getting better and better," he tells me while I dig into an astoundingly delicious sweet-corn pudding topped with praline and caramel and surrounded by a decadent moat of eggnog. “And I think right now this is one of the best restaurants in Cabo." Cheers to that.
Café des Artistes
A dramatic stairwell leading to the restaurant
The chefs at the elegant Café des Artistes, in the new JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa, all wear bright white toques that stretch nearly two feet high. This kind of stately dress is perfectly emblematic of the food they cook: Every dish is a true work of art, in appearance and taste. My appetizer of soft-shell crab more resembles a refined Jackson Pollock than something edible. Frenzied rings of honey vinaigrette and balsamic vinegar encircle the crab, which is topped with a delicate salad of shaved orange and watercress; a shower of pecans, sunflower seeds, and tiny magenta edible flowers adds color and texture. I take a photo and then a bite, feeling guilty for ruining such a masterpiece. But only briefly: I clean the plate, greedily swiping the crisp, salty crab and sweet orange through the honey and vinegar.
A fiery sauté
This Café des Artistes, chef-owner Thierry Blouet's second location, opened last November. Blouet, who was born in Puerto Rico and studied in Mexico and France, has run the original restaurant in Puerto Vallarta for 25 years, and the new iteration features a menu combining some of his all-time best dishes with new items created to reflect the cuisine of Los Cabos. It looks like white-tablecloth French fare, but it tastes utterly Mexican. “It's not really fusion," says Mario Rodriguez, the executive chef, fine dining. “We're taking Mexican flavors and preparing the food with French techniques." He and the rest of the team—including Pablo Vivanco, the executive sous chef, and Iván Tapia, the head sommelier—sit with me in the restaurant's lounge before dinner service begins and tell me about their experience in Mexican kitchens and their take on the food scene in Los Cabos. “This is not fast cuisine," Tapia says. “I think that's the new concept of Cabo and San José: to make elaborate dishes for people to enjoy and bring another kind of customer here. We want to take away that idea that Mexico is only beer and nachos."
I do have a few tortilla chips this evening, but they're handmade and accompany a gorgeous grilled lobster tail bathed in a garlic-caper sauce. My husband, Chris, and Calder join me for dinner, just as the sun is starting to dip into the Pacific. Chris devours the zarandeado fish of the day, a firm totoaba served enchilada-style with a spicy tomato sauce and pineapple foam, while Calder surprises us by happily eating the tuna tiradito and stealing half of my lobster. The couple at the table next to us are celebrating their anniversary, and the waiters toast them with a sparkler-topped dessert that has Calder gawking in envy. Five minutes later, our immensely friendly server, Omar, comes bearing our own sparkler-topped cheesecake, and my son's face lights up, literally and figuratively. “We're celebrating your first time here," Omar says. And definitely not our last.
Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.
Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.
Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.
What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.
However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…
City Hall, Toronto
The checklist sites
No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.
The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.
Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.
Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.
In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.
Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.
Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.
St. Lawrence Market
Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.
Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.
The bucket list
You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.
Explore like a local
Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.
The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.
When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.
Toronto skyline view
Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.
Toronto Blue Jay stadium
Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.
Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.
For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).
The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.
How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.
How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.
United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.
Around the web
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.