While you’ll never hear us knock the merits of a stuffed burrito or plate of cheesy nachos, it’s important to know that Mexican cuisine as a whole is a far cry from the Tex-Mex interpretation familiar to many. The number of regional quirks and unheralded gems rival the most storied cuisine, and Fortitude Valley newcomer Baja is spotlighting the style found along Mexico’s northwestern peninsula. As a huge fan of the Cali-Mex style of Baja California’s Gold Coast and beyond, Daniel Quinn saw a unique opportunity to deliver a playful-yet-sophisticated interpretation, employing a bit of creative license to highlight the beachy, fresh and clean aspects that are synonymous with the coastal cuisine. Daniel’s Milk Box Coffee & Tuckshop has been a crucial caffeine pitstop for those working on FV – the newly completed development at the north end of The Valley’s Brunswick Street strip. The crew from GURNER approached Daniel to gauge his interest in implementing a culinary concept at the base of FV, and after some consideration Daniel agreed to bring a bit of Baja to Brisbane.
Located next door to FV’s own modern-Australian eatery Foresters Restaurant & Bar, Baja occupies a cosy space a stone’s throw from fellow boozy institutions Netherworld and Soapbox Beer. Baja came together thanks to a team effort – a design vision created by Daniel’s partner Sarah Vize was executed by Studio Lagom, Woodsters and FE Fabrication, and the results are remarkable. Guests are lured in by a shining lightbox sign, beckoning them inside before they descend into Baja’s main space via a ramped entry. The curved entry blends seamlessly with the ceiling above, smoother than a wave gently peeling along the Mexican coast. The main dining space boasts a palette of timber, pear green and white, with banquette along the fringe and windows and high tables filling the centre. Cushy stools line the marble-topped bar, where culinary theatre draws the eye. A collection of cacti and decorative vessels arrayed near the windows provide a suitably arid touch, reminiscent of Baja California’s rugged inland scenery.
The food and drink
Baja’s food and drink offering was initially to be imbued with a distinct party vibe, but the approach took a different turn when Daniel linked up with Julio Aguilera. The two were introduced when Julio ventured to Brisbane as part of the Izamal collaborative culinary pop-up at Naïm, and not long after meeting, Daniel was showing Julio around Brisbane, all the while pitching the city as a great place to live and work. Julio – hailed as one of America’s most exciting young chefs – cut his teeth in San Francisco’s dining scene, working at several Michelin-starred restaurants before showcasing his nous for modern Mexican cooking at El Destilado in Oaxaca. Julio – intrigued by Brisbane’s promise – signed on to be Baja’s head chef, and along with sous chef Valerie Frei (also an alumna of El Destilado) overhauled the menu, retaining the fun but refining it. The debut menu is divided into easy-to-follow sections – botanas (snacks), entradas (entrees), tacos, desserts and rotating specials. Early standouts are the slow-roasted boneless chicken wings with pomegranate molasses, burrata with a smoked-cashew salsa macha, twice-cooked octopus tentacles coated in a squid-ink and burnt-jalapeno soy sauce, and the signature Baja fish taco with beer-battered kingfish and chipotle slaw served on a La Tortilleria tortilla. Over at the bar, Baja’s drinks list has been designed to complement the fare, with flavour profiles running the gamut of sweet, bitter, sour and spicy. A small collection of seasonal cocktails are available alongside a curated selection of wines, with an all-Australian list (save a sparkling and a rose) featuring natural drops that are perfectly suited to cut through fats and spices. Beer lovers can quaff Dos Equis off tap or Baja’s own specially brewed lager and pale ale, while the folks at Soapbox Beer are brewing up a special cerveza for Baja guests.
Baja is now open to the public! For opening hours and contact details, head to the Stumble Guide.