What Happens in Baja Should Stay There! – Baja Cantina

baja cantina's quesadilla

Baja Cantina
311 Washington Boulevard
Marina del Rey, CA 90292

Baja Cantina, not to be confused with Cabo Cantina, is on the border between Venice and the Marina. But in essence, Baja Cantina can be confused with Cabo Cantina because both of them are meccas for over grown (in years and beer bellied waistlines) frat boys re-living Spring Break of their senior year, double fisting Dos Equis, shooting tequila, and basically causing all kinds of immature chaos. It’s ridiculous. Wait. Crap, I still do that, too. *smacks forehead*

I’ve been to Baja Cantina several times, but the first few times, it was way (like waaaay) back during my just-out-of-college days. I was still trying to hang on to my early early twenties, drinking too much tequila (I’ve never liked beer, even that pseudo beer, Corona Light), stumbling around the bar in ridiculous stiletto sandals, and spending many a moment monopolizing a stall in the ladies room. How can I be a lady about this? Hovering over the porcelain bowl in a very unlady-like way.

But I am so far beyond those years, and yet I went back just recently. I don’t know what posessed me. Surely it wasn’t the fact that the last time I drove by it, Cinco de Mayo, it was a raucous mess of beer, beads, and breasts. Certainly it wasn’t the perfectly spaced row of Harleys parked out front. And I’m quite positive that it wasn’t the half-balding, pot bellied “dudes” standing around on the patio out front in bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts.

We got there because of miscommunication, overreaction, and laziness. Someone from a nearby sushi restaurant (ZaZen) had misinformed us that there was a happy hour, but there wasn’t. After driving all the way down to the Marina for a happy hour with to find out there was none, and then realizing with a rapidly approaching 7pm last call we wouldn’t be able to make it anywhere else, I was very very very far from happy. So we stormed out of ZaZen. But we were too lazy to go back to Brentwood, and settled for the next closest bar, Baja Cantina. (As a side note, I will never ever return to Za Zen, even though I didn’t even try their food – and perhaps I will dedicate an entire post to how utterly miserable they were to us.)

It ended up being not too bad of an experience at Baja Cantina, as embarassed as I am to admit that. When we walked in, the hostess asked us if we wanted to sit in the dining room for dinner. Wait, people actually come here to eat a meal?! That’s what I was screaming in disbelief inside my head but what actually came out of my mouth was “We’ll sit in the bar, thanks.”

The bar looks like a cheesy Mexican version of TGiF with garden variety garage sale fodder adorning the ceiling and walls. We took a booth in the bar against the window, conveniently located right next to the self-service chip dispenser complete with tiny to-go plastic containers of salsa. Is that ghetto? Not really. What was ghetto was the bus boy schlepping by our table under the weight of an enormous garbage pail on his shoulders, only to stop at the chip dispenser, open the top of it, and dump that garbage pail full of tortilla chips in. I’m sure it’s clean. I’m sure it’s only ever used for transporting tortilla chips. But still, it’s a garbage pail. *ew*

The self-service chip station is actually a good thing, since it seems there’s only one waitress serving the very full inside bar, and we’d have chewed the plastic potted ivy by the time she actually got to us. But we didn’t worry – she looked like she was doing her best, and we focused on the basketball game playing on several screens aroun the room. She eventually took an order for my standard margarita, rocks, no salt, and cerveza (not for me). We continued to munch on the chips that weren’t salty at all. *sigh* But they had been sprinkled with some sort of powdered spice that made me look like a troll when I stood at the chip station trying to pick out only the spiced chips from the hopper.

Though a very high percentage of the crowd is over-grown frat boy types, the rest is a random mix. There are a couple of Guidos sitting next to us, the kind with slicked back hair, shirts unbuttoned down to there, shorts, mock crocodile loafers with no socks and pinkie rings. (I can deal with everything except the loafers. Mock croc? Please.) Just beyond them, it looks like a beach volleyball party decided to continue their fun at Baja Cantina once the sun went down. In the center, where wicker love seats and chairs create a small lounge area, gang stars in basketball jerseys are watching the game. Their big bootie hoes in hot pants, halter tops have their sunglasses on, so I’m not quite sure what they’re looking at. There are some who look like tourists, others who probably own the bikes out front, and even some who look like they’ve gotten lost on their way to Hollywood.

But we don’t stick out. At least I don’t think we do.

We’ve looked through the flip menu on the table with daily drink and food specials, but nothing applies after happy hour. Besides, by the time she gets back to drop off drinks and take a food order, we’ve plowed through at least three baskets of chips. We force ourselves to order a quesadilla because we feel bad that we had asked for a menu.

Margaritas at Baja Cantina are strong. Or maybe they just felt that way because we had eaten nothing but chips so far. They also come in two sizes, which sort of makes me feel like I’m at McDonald’s. Regular or supersize? The server recommends getting the larger margarita, not because there is a price break – it’s exactly twice the size for twice the price. No, it just makes it easier for everyone if you have to order once.

It looks like quesadillas are popular at Baja Cantina. Several of them came toward our table as we expectantly held our breath, then subsequently l
et out a sigh as it passed on to the Guidos. Or the beach volleyball party. Perhaps they weren’t quesadillas, and it’s just that everything looks exactly the same, drowning under cheese or sauce on colorful plates as large as a hubcap, with pico de gallo, gucamole, and sour cream, with a little paper Mexican flag sticking out of it.

Yep, ours had one too. That little Mexican flag is probably the most remarkable thing about our food. The quesadilla was just fine – I mean, how badly could anyone make a tortilla filled with melted cheese? I will say however, that the watered down, almost runny guacamole tasted like it had been made from a mix. The small bowl in the middle wasn’t the same salsa for the chips – it was actually a warm tomato-based red sauce that didn’t have much interesting flavor. I might even go so far as to say it tasted a bit like a canned marinara with some added cilantro. The dried kind. *eh* We ate it anyway.

I forgive Baja Cantina for the food, since their main draw is really the drinks. I was happy with the strength of the margarita and the beer was cold. But, I’m not sure if I can forgive the over-grown frat boys. I mean, really, Hawaiian shirts?

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  • Anonymous

    Do tell about Za Zen!

  • Xericx

    Hey, I was there for Cinco De Mayo! I actually ate there though because between the “pseudo beers” and double margaritas, I needed the sustinence. Food was gross except for one of the appetizers, the calimari I believe, which was odd in a Mexican restaurants. Bunch of the Marina del Rey hood rats up in there too…next time I’ll just go to my old faithful, Sharkeez. :)

  • sarah

    za zen may have to get a post of its own, but then again, i don’t even want to waste my sanity recounting it. lol! it actually wasn’t horribly horrible, but they didn’t even apologize, and acted somewhat condescending about it. *grr*

    xericx – please tell me you weren’t one of the guys wearing a sombrero, 10 strands of mardu gras beads and carrying a two-foot tall beer glass – lol!

  • Xericx

    I plead the 5th.

  • Anonymous

    If you bash it so much, why do you go there? Just to bash some more?

  • geetha

    No Anonymous. if you read what she said, it was a last minute chose, next to the original destination. And I really appreciate you sharing Sarah! :)
    My husband and I just moved from Venice to Marina and have driven past Baja Cantina a million times. We just had a baby so we are now in that phase where we are looking for casual places we can go close to home. I’ve been wondering about Baja and if I could bring a 3 month old or not. thanks!

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