An Ensenada Seafood Institution since 1978

I consider myself a connoisseur of fine wine and food. My parents immigrated to Northern California from Spain. The art of making wine, cheese, sausage and bread at home led me on the organic food path I continue to follow. Only accepting the best of food preparation and ingredients. I was blessed. Almost everything we ate we raised, shot or fished: fresh vegetables and herbs from our garden, fruits from our orchard, rabbit and chicken from our pens. Game birds and venison we hunted.

My favorite foods came from the Pacific Ocean or the San Juaquin and Sacramento rivers. The Oakland estuary provided clams, Tomales Bay (North of San Fran.) oysters, and of course Dungeness crab in abundance in the 1950’s San Francisco Bay. Cat fish and bass we caught in local rivers and lakes.

Preferring fresh seafood to red meat is one of the reasons I moved to Ensenada. Ensenada is a sea food lover’s paradise. And as “Ensenadenses”(sp.) we all cherish a seafood institution called Halioti’s restaurant, established in 1976. Halioti is the Greek word for abalone and unfortunately it has become more scarce than finding a fan of George W. Bush. If you have never eaten abalone, you are not alone. But I suggest you try it before the good lord takes you to another place. Heaven might not serve the best of what the earth’s oceans has to offer. You can still enjoy abalone at Halioti’s. It is expensive but worth it.

Rafael Colunga, the co-owner of Halioti’s with his son and wife, is truly a man of the sea. He grew up on the island of Cedros, off the Northern coast of Baja California. Rafael spent his youth as a diver for Abalone, Conch and Lobster. His mother, Maria Del Pilar Jordan, had a seafood restaurant on the island. Rafael grew up, not only harvesting the best the sea had to offer, but also learning the best way to select and prepare the ocean’s gifts.

Whether you choose Oysters or Pismo clams from San Quintin (as good as they get), white fish, shrimp, calamari or scallops, Rafael insists on the freshest and highest quality possible. His love of the sea’s treasures extends to the restaurant’s décor. I have been a customer for 26 years, but still marvel at the 20 huge stained glassed windows that depict scenes from the sea. Miguel Angel Borguez is the celebrated stained glass craftsman who created these remarkable works of art. Like an aquatic museum you will find a large collection of sea shells and ancient diving equipment that all make the ambience appropriate to the love of all the ocean has to offer.

Halioti’s has three large dining rooms and a full bar. I particularly enjoy taking clients to this restaurant. Aside from the great food and service, I can always find a large table in a secluded area of the restaurant. The ambience is serene and private. The waiters are very professional and most of them have a long history with Halioti’s. My favorite waiter, Jose Alfredo Quintero has been at the restaurant 25 years. And everyone is greeted warmly at the door by the Colunga family.

Simple and organic food preparation is the focus at Halioti’s. No fancy sauces to masquerade mediocre ingredients. Soup or salad is included with all entres and I can heartily recommend the wonderful seafood broth or clam chowder. Salad dressings and a great tartar sauce are also made in house.

At Halioti’s, full intent is on preserving the fresh taste and quality of the best our Pacific has to offer. That is the essence of why Halioti’s continues a robust restaurant business in a time of crisis. Ensenadans demand the best of seafood and that is what Halioti’s serves up.

A full bar and complete list of fine Baja California wines will complement your choice of great seafood.