Merely two hours south of San Diego, deep in the Valle de Guadalupe, sits an unassuming restaurant. Inside platters of marinated, roasted meats vie for attention with griddle fresh tortillas, salsas, grilled nopales and home made cheese. This is the home of some of the tastiest breakfast food in the world and I arrived in time to see it made official. The long delayed award from Foodie Hub was about to be presented to chef Dona Esthela.
Rumbling down a bumpy and dusty dirt road, our van slid into a parking lot populated with cars and trucks. It was midweek and most of the Valle was still deserted. But the crowds are no surprise to the neighbors.
On the hill adjacent to Dona Esthela’s sits the sleek slab and arched winery, Lomita. Family owner, Fernando Perez Castro recounts how Dona Esthela’s grew with fondness. Fernando says, “The first time I ate there, I sat at her kitchen table and you felt like you were part of the family, invited to her place. She didn’t have a menu but served what she cooked for the family just before.” Dona has gradually been building her place out, but Fernando says the enduring secret to her success is, “The essence is still the same.”
Step into the kitchen where the tastiest breakfast food in the world is made:
Dona Esthela cooked for the Lomita building crew in early 2008, when there weren’t other choices in the neighborhood. Her fate changed when a popular Mexican telenovella decided to use the Lomita winery as their set. Soon the TV celebrities were eating at her table and posting pictures with Dona Esthela, tweeting and bringing their friends to the Valle location.
Our little group was served a table full of incredible breakfast food. The award-winning Machaca con Huevo won over Foodie Hub contributor and blogger, Scott Koenig, over a year ago and led to the nomination of Dona Esthela’s place. Machaca was once a staple of Mexican cowboys who ate the dehydrated, shredded and fried meat in the early 20th century. At Dona’s Cocina I found the meat moist and full of complex, smokey flavor.
We gorged and drank Baja wines provided by our guide, Fernando Gaxiola founder of Baja Wine and Food. When it seemed we couldn’t eat another bite, platefuls of Hotcakes de Maiz materialized. Dona has taken an American breakfast food and made it uniquely her own with a juicy batter full of fresh corn kernels. No syrup was necessary.
So much more on the menu!
I will definitely find my way back as the menu is packed with so many delicious options and daily specials. What a great day trip beginning with the tastiest breakfast food in the world!
“The secret in the flavor of our food is to cook it with love and care. And to be able to serve it on your table. It’s a joy. Be welcome. Our house is your house!!”~ Dona Esthela
If you go:
- Directions and location on the unofficial Dona Esthela Facebook page
- Dirt roads be darned! Follow signs, make sure someone in the car has international GPS, and check out routes before you cross the border.
- The restauant isn’t open on Mondays but don’t let crowds deter you. Pick up a few bottles of Lomita’s best and sip while you wait.
- Eat inside unless the patio’s been completely screened. Flies can be a problem.
- More about crossing the border through Tijuana on my earlier post here.
Proud to be part of these linkups:
What a hidden gem! Breakfast is my favorite meal and this place sounds like they definitely do breakfast right. I am pinning this post so I can remember to go here next time I am in San Diego. A little out of the way, but definitely sounds like it is worth it!
Visiting Valle de Guadalupe is worth the trip and only about 2 hours from San Diego!
I love breakfast food! Am about to eat breakfast now and your post has made me really hungry! It sounds delicious and the story of how she was “discovered” sounds like it’s right out of a telenovela itself 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Elaine!
Thanks, Michelle, I hope your breakfast was just as tasty!
Oooo, nice! I just love homemade tortillas. What a treat!
It was one of the most delicious breakfasts for certain.
Wow, to beat out Scott Koenig is pretty impressive! Her food is obviously awesome! “Dirt roads be darned!” for sure! lol
Scott found Dona Esthela and was thrilled to present her the award!
Hmm can’t say that Mexican food would be my ideal breakfast but I would definitely try it. It has to be that popular for a reason lol.
Hard for me to imagine since I grew up in So Cal and it’s my comfort food – for any meal. There are many options for breakfast and Dona Esthela’s is more Sonoran inspired, not the usual Chilequiles plates.
Yummm!! Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
This trip to the Valle and into Dona Esthela’s kitchen won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Great story- that looks delicious! Will have to remember that place if I ever make it to San Diego 🙂
Thanks, Tamara, It was so tasty! Work a day trip to the Valle into your next visit to San Diego for certain.
Ah, Elaine, your post made me so hungry! I don’t see myself going to Baja any soon now, but I’m always ready for some good Mexican food. Maybe I can find something tasty in my neighborhood.
I hope you do find some great Mexican food up in the LA area. Dona Esthela cooks in the Sonoran style and I’ve found it to be very different, especially in the treatment of meat. Her recipes were drawn from the same used by cowboys who needed to preserve their meat and keep it tasty! You have to come down and we’ll venture into the Valle one day!
Well I’ve never had Baja wine for breakfast, but I did drink coffee with alcohol in Spain more than once. I’d love to sample Machaca at Dona Esthela’s restaurant. What a find.
Mimosas were as close as I’d gotten as well. Truth is by the time we were served it was about noon and our tour host imports/exports Baja wines. As long as he was pouring, I paid attention!
What an interesting story! I like finding articles that prompt to do more research. I never heard about Foodie Hub. I spent almost an hour there browsing different cities and was pleased to find some of my favorites from around the world. Back to the tastiest breakfast food in the world, the photo of Machaca con Huevos looks so colorful. Honestly, to me, it looks more like a whole dinner. I admit that my breakfast consists of a cup of tea or coffee depending on where I am in the world. It’s good to know that a small mom-and-pop place got some recognition and appreciative audience.
Thank you, Elena. i was happy to discover Foodie Hub too. You’re right about that breakfast plate seeming more like dinner but if you were working in the vineyards, or construction, as her first customers were, you’d need lots of protein! Luckily the rest of us have a chance to savor her talents.
One of my favorite things in the world to eat is fresh tortillas right off the grill. They definitely know how to make them perfectly. I could just eat those. But the fried meat looks so good too.
I’m with you about eating fresh tortillas. You’d enjoy the Machaca. Delicious.
This place looks familiar but I am not sure if I actually visited. All I know is that the food in Northern Baja is fabulous. At the beginning of the year, we ate at Laja and the food was fantastic. You remind me I haven’t been to the areas in several months. I miss everything about it.
Laja is one of the most famous places. Another I’ve visited in Chef Drew Deckman’s place. Traditional cooking with an American master served in a gorgeous outdoor venue. Can’t wait to return.
I’ve always found that unassuming restaurants are often the most spectacular – I love learning about hidden gems like this – thanks for the review Elaine!
Glad you enjoyed this, Meg. It was a treat to discover this with a good guide and friends. I just love exploring Mexico.
This seems like a great place to have breakfast! Amazing that it can get that crowded.
It was an incredible meal and full of Mexicans there enjoying the same. I felt lucky to be a gringo at the table.
Being from Texas I love Tex-Mex/Mexican food anytime of the day, but breakfast may be my favorite. I love that this place is so unassuming and located on a dirt road. If I am ever anywhere near it, I would love to check it out! Thanks for sharing this on #theWeeklyPostcard.
So welcome, Anisa. I’m hoping to try some of your Tex-Mex soon!
What a cool experience! The breakfast looks absolutely delicious! I love the story of how her cooking went from a small family run restaurant to world renowned!
Dona Esthela has a keen business sense as well as being a truly gifted chef. Right place at the right time too!
Wow, I love ths concept. “The first time I ate there, I sat at her kitchen table and you felt like you were part of the family, invited to her place. She didn’t have a menu but served what she cooked for the family just before.” I think it’s one of the best parts of travelling to actually feel right in the middle of the culture and bond with the locals, hearing their stories, tasting their homemade food and learning more about their daily life. You totally made my mouth water!
Thank you Annemarie, it was a chance of a lifetime to be served in Dona Esthela’s Cocina.
I don’t like egg, so most breakfast foods aren’t really my thing, but I’m sure the food is incredibly tasty and flavorful! I’d definitely like to try the Machaca and Beans or a different egg-less menu item. It is nice to see such a small and unassuming place get such high accolades!
There’s definitely several eggless dishes that you’d love. Yes, it’s a real find and I hope you can visit one day, Erika.
When I saw the title, I right away thought Mexico, so it doesn’t surprise me to learn that the tastiest breakfast in the world is made in Dona Esthela’s kitchen. Hope I find my way there some day.
Thanks, Carole, great minds (!) think alike!!
wow!!! I didn’t know there is such thing as the “tastiest breakfast in the world”. It does look tasty:) NOW, I am on conquest of trying Machaca:)
Foodie Hub has a contest yearly. There were over 200 entries when Dona Esthela won.
That sounds like a sumptuous breakfast to fortify oneself with before starting the day. No wonder it is considered one of the best in the world.
Full of protein and roiling with taste. Not too spicy either!
Oh goodness… you just made my mouth water! That’s surely looks like a dish that is not only hearty but filling 😀 Thank you for sharing this ‘secluded’ place in that part of the world. It’s an absolutely interesting find.
You’d love the Valle and Ensenada food and wine scene, Aileen.
That breakfast looks amazing! Dona Esthela has quite a story, it’s always great to read how people who work hard are rewarded by life. Who knew that the telenovela was going to be filmed right there, and she had to cook for the actors.
Serendipity and then good business sense. As her neighbor says she found a way to keep the essence of the place and food while growing. I hope to return!
Like the ‘if you go tips’! Looks like a very hearty breakfast being served 🙂
Thanks, Tandy, I hope you get to visit this part of Baja one day.