December 30, 2011

Baja's: Bordering on Brilliance - Orange, Conn.

The utterly fantastic carnitas plate,
found in Orange, Conn., of all places.
(Tortillas not shown.)
You may recall that I’m a huge fan of San Diego – where fresh, authentic, delicious Mexican food can be found at a moment’s notice, whether it’s at the fabulous restaurants in Old Town or among the most random of food trucks by Ocean Beach.

Unfortunately for me, Connecticut is not known for its Mexican cuisine. Living in central Connecticut, I often lament the fact that finding decent Mexican fare remains a never-ending challenge.

Hence, this is why I will happily take a 45-minute drive down to Orange, Conn., for the best Mexican food I’ve found yet in this state.

Baja’s Mexican Restaurant is the quintessential hole-in-the-wall. Nestled in a nondescript strip mall between a liquor store and a Town Fair Tire (You can literally smell that rubbery tire scent from the parking lot, but do not be deterred!), Baja’s remains a hidden gem among all the big-box stores along the Boston Post Road.

Its exterior may not be much to speak of, and its décor may be best described as no-frills. But what it lacks in ambiance, it more than makes up for in incredibly delicious food. My comrades and I recently organized a trip down to Orange to partake.

Today's Stefcations Highlights:

  • What You'll Find: My favorite Mexican food in Connecticut.
  • Where You'll Find it: Baja's Mexican Restaurant at 63 Boston Post Road, Orange, CT. (There is no website to speak of, which kinda fits its decidedly un-luxurious setting.)
  • When to Go: Year-round, except for February. Call first! (203) 799-2252
  • Cost: Moderately priced.

First things first. Upon arriving, visit the salsa bar. You’ll get basket after basket of free homemade tortilla chips and as much of their amazing salsa as you wish. Choose from about half-a-dozen kinds – from the mildest of smoky chipotle salsas to fresh pico de gallo to the hottest habanero variety, in a lovely shade of bright green.

Bathroom wall graffiti speaks the truth:
Baja's = Muy Bueno.
Munching away on chips and salsa will fill you up quickly, so beware. You want to save room for the entrees, because this is where the real deal is.

I have a hard time deciding between my two fave dishes - the carnitas plate and the chile verde. The former is a mouth-watering marinated pork served with rice, refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, and two of most fantastic flour tortillas around. The latter is also pork, served with the same accompaniments, but marinated in a flawless chili verde sauce for so many hours that the pork literally melts in your mouth. So, so tasty.

What was left of Baja's seafood burrito.
I can also personally vouch for the fish tacos and the carne asada. But I have to admit I haven’t ventured much beyond that because everything I’ve had is so damned delicious that I can't help but satisfy my fix.

Friends of mine swear by the chicken mole, while another of my recent dining companions enjoyed the seafood burrito. Notoriously unflappable, he surprised everyone by clearing his plate entirely and nonchalantly proclaiming that it was literally the best thing he'd ever eaten. High praise coming from him, I tell you.

The dazed happiness of Baja's devotee Brian
is testament enough: The food more than
makes up for the lackluster decor.
In my experience, the portions are quite generous; I almost always leave with leftovers (probably due in part to the fact that I can’t tear myself away from the salsa bar).

Of course, you may wash down all of his delectable food with a refreshing margarita or draft beer. An added plus? One of my favorites is always on tap – Dos Equis – both lager or amber varieties.

One thing to note: Right around February each year, the owners close up shop for the month and head back to their native Baja to seek out delightful new recipes.

The saddest part is that several years ago, I lived just minutes from this place and didn't know of its existence! A major travesty in my book. So if you're anywhere near it, get yourself and your friends there - mañana.

My trusty Baja's comrades,
giddy over the leftovers they're bringing home.