The history of the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California is an interesting one, including the early 20th Century settlement of a Russian community, which was granted a substantial amount land in the fertile valley. Although the Mexican government had granted the land to the Russians, later land distribution policies forced the bulk of the Russian community to relocate to the United States. However, a remnant of that community lingered on in the valley and it is estimated that a couple hundred of their descendants still live in the area. These Russian descendants have effectively integrated into the local population over the generations, through both intermarriage and assimilation, there are still visible elements of Guadalupe’s Russian heritage to be found. One such reminder is the Restaurante Familia Samarin.
This family-run restaurant is located not far off of Highway 3 in Guadalupe. Highway 3 runs the length of the valley and connects Ensenada to Tecate in the north. The Restaurante Familia Samarin restaurant is owned and operated by descendants of the early Russian immigrants to the area. The restaurant itself features a rustic chic decor .Their food is a creative mix of inherited Russian recipes, intermingled with Mediterranean dishes. As if this unique fusion of cuisines was already enough to intrigue the taste buds, it is all served up with a Mexican twist. The Russian-Mexican flavor that permeates this Valle de Guadalupe eatery is bound to please any adventurous palate.
Like everywhere in the Valle de Guadalupe, of course, there is wine to be had. There are also a variety of site-made artisanal breads and cheeses, as well as an array of sauces, tapanades and other delicacies. You can either enjoy them there, or buy some to take with you. Adjacent to the restaurant, there is a gourmet boutique, offering savory treats made there, or by local vendors. This sort of diversified business model seems prevalent in the Guadalupe Valley.
Brush Up On Your Restaurant Spanish
The staff may, or may not, speak English, so if you’re not conversant in Spanish, be aware and be prepared. Having said that, my own Spanish is limited, at best, and the language barrier wasn’t much of a hurdle. A few basic Spanish phrases will serve you well in Mexico and, accompanied with a translator on your phone to conjure up the name of things, it’s really not that difficult to get by. I’ll help you out, though, and let you know that conejo is Spanish for rabbit and, if you order it at Restaurante Familia Samarin, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t. Of the dishes our party tried, the only complaint would be with the chicken alfredo pasta. Although the dish was a substantial portion and, overall, well seasoned, the sauce was more watery than it should have been, which did detract from the enjoyment. Everything else we ordered was spot on, however, so maybe we just caught them on off day for alfredo sauce.
Baja’s Russian Heritage
Adjacent to the restaurant is a small Russian heritage museum, operated by the Samarin family. We took a pass on looking inside, for multiple reasons. Earlier in the day, we’d visited the Bibayoff winery, where we’d seen a number of items and artifacts related to the valley’s Russian heritage. Plus, some of us were getting a little tired and there were still other stops to make. Lastly, according to their sign, the admission to the museum is $25.00 per person.
Given that we had already decided to press on with our day, I did not clarify with the staff if that was $25 USD or if the price was in pesos. I hope it was in pesos, which seems a little cheap, but if that price was in dollars, I’d be inclined to call it exorbitant. Honestly, as a bit of an armchair anthropologist, I find the story of the Russian-Mexicans to be quite interesting and read a fair amount about their history. If I have time on my next visit, I wouldn’t mind taking a peek inside their little museum so, hopefully, that price is not in US dollars, or I’ll have to take another pass.
Worth a Re-visit
Restaurante Familia Samarin is definitely on my list of places to eat if, and when, I return to the Valle de Guadalupe. I have seen and heard good things about their pizza, which they bake in their wood-fired, adobe oven, so maybe I’ll try that. Since the Familia Samarin restaurant is considered by some to be one of the best restaurants in Valle de Guadalupe, I suspect it they do most things well.
On my next visit, I will also need to do a better job at stocking up on their retail products, such as their tapenades. I’ve already kicked myself for not coming home with more of such things in the first place. I’m sure they would be a hit with friends and family, as well as a conversation piece. Just one more reason to go back, though, I suppose…to do a little shopping. And eating. It’s well worth the time for both.
You can find the Restaurante Familia Samarin online, but will need to translate the page if you don’t know Spanish.
Looking for a place to stop over for lunch on your drive down from the border? Check out Mariscos Tito’s in Rosarito.
Check out our Guide to Baja California: From San Diego to Ensenada