Mexico’s travel warnings aside, cruises continue to visit the lovely Baja town of Ensenada. Disney, Carnival, and Princess cruise lines all dock in the port town for the day. If you choose to eschew the liquor-soaked tours or a trip out to La Bufadora, take a stroll along the Malecon until you reach Muelle 3. This small but fierce foodie restaurant serves some of the best and freshest food you will find while taking a break from your cruise. In all honesty, we found Ensenada to be a very pleasant midday visit, and Muelle 3 exceeded all expectations.
How we found Muelle 3
To paint the scene: we got started on our day in Ensenada a little late. My daughter was enjoying playing with her gran too much to bother putting on pants. So though we had planned to visit the Caracol Science Museum at the base of the pier, we decided instead to head down the Malecon in search of lunch. We stopped by the excellent playground, played in the water fountain, and did our best to avoid the hawkers (“Barco! Barco de alquiler!”). Neither my mother nor I (nor my 2-year-old daughter) had much interest in finding the legendary Hussong’s Cantina. We also did not much like the garishly printed and plastic menus next to the market stalls. In the distance, we spied a potential food harbor: Muelle 3.
They had just opened when we arrived at noon, and all tables were available. Despite my limited Spanish, the waiter was kind and easily understandable. I don’t know why, but I understand certain Spanish accents better than others. The menu was not extensive, but they had an excellent beer and wine selection, as well as lemonade for my daughter. They offered grilled or fried fish with papas on the side for a kids’ meal, which was perfect. Honestly, despite my best efforts, my daughter just loves ketchup and all vehicles for said condiment. My mother and I shared the entree of the day. I was not quite sure how the waiter had described it (I heard the words for vegetables and fresh), but I was more than ready for a non-cruise-ship meal.
When the food arrived, my mom and I surprised ourselves by not being able to stop eating. By this time, other groups had filtered into the small restaurant, enlivening the atmosphere with English and Spanish commingling. No one paid attention to my two-year-old absentmindedly playing with her toys and dipping anything possible into her ketchup. Meanwhile, my mother and I ate the entire piece of tender pan-seared fish with crispy skin as well as the salad with a perfectly acidic dressing, before we started to finish my daughter’s meal.
Besides the availability of an excellent kids’ meal, the entrees offered a selection of seafood pasta, mains with sides, and of course ceviche. A neighboring table could not stop exclaiming over the freshness and tastiness of the house ceviche. Another table had ordered the grilled octopus dish, which is also quite popular.
In a word, excellent. Again, I speak limited “taco Spanish,” my mother is fluent in French, and my daughter looks at me askance whenever I speak in foreign languages. Despite this barrier, the wait staff was very friendly and courteous. I do not know if they have an English menu, as their menu in Spanish was easily comprehensible.
The Nitty Gritty
According to Yelp (see the link above), they are open daily from 12-630, perfect for the cruise ship crowd. Meals were very affordable, and they do accept credit cards as well as American dollars. Dishes range from about 150-300 pesos, which translates into about $8-15. For the three of us, we spent about $35 on our meals with drinks. Bottles of wine and beer were also surprisingly affordable (especially compared to cruise ship liquor prices).
Muelle 3 is a foodie and family friendly restaurant that is easily accessible from the cruise ship pier. I understand the draw of the margarita cantinas, but if you have kids and want a five star, quiet meal with a view of the wharf, definitely head to this restaurant. You will not be disappointed.
Have you spent more time in Ensenada than just time for lunch? Where do you like to visit?