FROM HIGH END TUNA CANNERY TO HIGH CUISINE TACOS

In 1935 Alfredo Constantin Bernaldez moved from Acapulco to an Ensenada neighborhood, appropriately named Colonia Obrero (worker), a working class neighborhood.  On a double lot, 50 yards deep, he built his home, garden and a small plant for preparing honey, olives and smoked tuna in jars. He sold his products direct to the consumer and to retail stores.  Eventually the family business became a well known and respected sea food cannery.

All five children grew up in the small house that now adjoins the family restaurant. And worked alongside mom and dad in the canning business. Alfredo Constantino was a man of few words.  But his word was his bond and he was respected by everyone who knew him.  Known to everyone as “Tino”, he was also respected for his insistence on providing the highest quality of food products.  He entered the business out of a love for prepared foods not to become wealthy.   I was lucky enough to have Tino for a neighbor before he passed away in 2006.

The seafood canning business began to decline, for small independent operators in the 1980’s, and eventually the plant closed its doors in the late nineties.  Marco Antonio, the second eldest son of “Tino”, began his fascination with food and food preparation at age twelve. Now, in middle age, his dream of having a fine restaurant has been realized.

The restaurant sprawls around the once tuna cannery and family home.  Most of the diners sit outside but there is a small enclosed dining room as well.  Hungry folks line up to be served, like in most taco stands.  But here the taco is taken to new heights: Fresh Crab, Tuna, Salmon, and a Shrimp Chile Relleno to die for. An array of sauces that include Cilantro, chile chipotle, red wine and chile quebrado.  The chipotle sauce has the consistency of a dressing and is one of my favorites.  Don’t be afraid to apply amply, it is only slightly picante. A container of red wine along with the sauces can be an added flavor choice.  It greatly enhances the taste of all tacos but especially the salmon.

The restaurant opened for business in 2005 and was an immediate success.  The restaurant’s fame, like the cannery, is a result of family working together.  And Marco Antonio is a true family man.  “My dream was completed when my son joined me in starting the restaurant”.  Marco Antonio is justifiably proud of his son, a university graduate in gastronomy.  He credits Marco Antonio Junior for advancing the simply prepared food to high cuisine.

The ambiance of the restaurant is also very family and friendly.  Because of the large number of diners, you will most likely share a table with other patrons.  Everyone seems to be smiling and laughing.  With food this good who could be depressed?  Despite the amount of business, service is never compromised.  You will encounter almost no wait.  Worse case, only a few minutes will pass before Marco Antonio, his son and their team are heaping your taco shell with the freshest of seafood; prepared to the high quality standards the Marco Antonio name has stood for since 1935.

Aside from my favorites: salmon, crab and shrimp rellenos or tacos – you can also get a white fish taco but not like most you have eaten.  First the quality and freshness of the fish is never compromised.  Then the flour and ingredients for “breading” the fish is carefully prepared.  And finally, a quick frying method to capture all the flavor without the oily taste that accompanies most fish tacos.  Once you’ve had Marco Antonio’s fish tacos nothing less will satisfy.

Señor Marco is a perfectionist and is there everyday from nine until one making sure his patrons leave happy and content with their experience at Caguatun, the formal name of the restaurant.  Caguatun is a combination of the words caguama (sea turtle) and tuna.  But most folks just know the place as Marco Antonio’s seafood tacos.  Tacos de Caguatun are made from tuna that has been prepard in the same tomato based sauce old timers used to make turtle soup – delicious without the endangered sea turtle.

I am not a big taco enthusiast but these are not typical tacos.  I go there morning and noon time.  If you get there after 1:00 pm, you are out of luck, they close promptly at one.  To guarantee the freshest of ingredients, a limited amount of each dish is prepared daily.  So most days they “run out” of certain dishes before closing.  To find the restaurant go to first street and Rayon (about 4 blocks North of where First Street and Reforma meet).  From first street travel East 3 blocks and you will find it between 3rd and 4th streets, on the North side of Rayon.  My suggestion is to get there around 10:00 am. And tell Marco, the Baja Gourmet sent you.  If you have trouble finding it, call me at (646) 176 6759.