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Perfect Cali-Baja Pairings

Like a Marriage Made in Heaven

Food critic and TV host Troy Johnson shares five delicious Cali-Baja dishes and what drink mixes best with each.

Creating Harmony Through Similar or Contrasting Flavors

Behind every great meal is a great drink that can kick up subtle elements of flavor that you didn't even know existed. Cali-Baja is no exception. In fact, drink pairing is a huge part of this uniquely San Diegan culinary movement and here are Troy Johnson's recommendations to get you started. Cheers to working together!

Veggie Taco

Veggie Taco + Michelada — Puesto

You Ordered: Zucchini and Cactus Veg Taco
Crispy melted cheese, calabasitas (zucchini, corn, tomato), cactus, avocado and cilantro-tomatillo sauce

Pair it With: El Rey Del Patio Michelada

Troy: “This is a juicy, vegetarian version of Puesto’s gourmet tacos, fresh and bright. Pair these with the micheladas, which are made from scratch every day. Specifically, Puesto’s El Rey Del Patio with cucumber, tomatillo, charred chiles and lime. That’s mixed with a Corona for a perfect patio pairing at their Downtown location. While craft beer is amazing on its own, it’s better to have a neutral vessel like a Corona or Pacifico to showcase the michelada mix.”

Chorizo Fritters

Chorizo Fritters + Craft Beer — Rare Form

You Ordered: Chorizo Fritters
Housemade chorizo—that spicy, ground pork sausage with oodles of smoke and heat—with panko-crusted fritters and a side of harissa aioli

Pair It With: Insurgente La Lupulosa

Troy: “Insurgente is one of the top craft beers from Tijuana—essentially, the Stone Brewing of our southern neighbor. And La Lupulosa best embodies both sides of the border because it uses five kinds of hops—San Diego craft beer loves its hops—and adds that floral note to the fritters. As for the fritters…not diet food, but so good.”

>Drink in more San Diego Craft Beer knowledge

Wood Grilled Trout

Wood Grilled Trout + Mezcal — Galaxy Taco

You Ordered: Wood Grilled Trout
Adobo rub, shishito-watercress salad and hoja santa (aka “the root beer plant” that has subtle licorice and sassafras flavors)

Pair It With: Del Maguey Tobala Mezcal

Troy: “Mezcal pairs well with smoky foods, due to its own smoky flavor. Del Maguey is a fantastic single-village producer of mezcals, and its tobala is made from magueys (the agave plant) in the highest mountain altitudes. Its fruity, sweet flavor is almost tropical and works perfectly with this wood-grilled seafood.”

Spanish Octopus

Spanish Octopus + Chardonnay — The Patio on Goldfinch

You Ordered: Spanish Octopus
A big ol’ tentacle laid atop gigante bean ragu, smoked pork belly, arugula, pine nut butter, kiln-dried tomato and salsa verde

Pair It With: Lechuza Chardonnay

Troy: “Lechuza is one of the stars of Baja’s emerging wine region, Valle de Guadalupe (only a 90-minute drive from the San Diego border). It’s got almost an almond flavor, which pairs well with the pine nut butter in the Spanish octopus. Although ‘Spanish’ is in the title, this is a very Baja dish with the salsa verde and smoked pork (a Baja staple) and is the best thing on the menu at the Patio. All of that flavor with the pine nut butter makes for one of the best octopus dishes in the city.”

Crema de Elote

Crema de Elote + Spicy Paloma — Coasterra

You Ordered: Crema de Elote
White corn soup with fresh corn, roasted poblano crema and crispy leeks

Pair It With: Spicy Paloma

Troy: “Chef Deborah Scott has been doing Baja-inspired food forever. Her creamed corn soup is simple, but absolutely perfect with that roasted poblano cream. But to cut that cream, you want an acid in the cocktail, and you get it with the lime and grapefruit juice of the spicy paloma (Dos Armadillos Blanco Tequila, lime juice, grapefruit juice, agave syrup, habañero bitters and club soda). The habañero’s subtle heat matches the spice in the soup.”

Trey Foshee's Insider Tip

Trust the Bartender

Trey Foshee, Cali-Baja chef extraordinaire, says the chefs and bartenders know the flavors better than anyone and usually work to create flavors that mix well together. Let the bartender suggest a drink that will perfectly complement the Cali-Baja dish in front of you.

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