Three years after his Valle de Guadalupe icon Corazón de Tierra shuttered during the pandemic, chef Diego Hernandez is back with a new restaurant. Naming it after his late grandmother, Mercedes Velasco, Parador Mercedes, the restaurant reactivates a space long-held by Mesón de Mustafá, which served Moroccan Mexican dishes to locals in San Antonio de Las Minas for four decades. Parador Mercedes opens this Saturday, October 7.
Hernandez and chef-partner Ana Juncal are gearing the restaurant to local families while celebrating the roots of Baja California home cooking with a menu that includes huevos al gusto, regional guisados, and Ensenada-style ceviches. “I think what’s missing in the Valle are restaurants that cater to families that live here, that serve filling, complete meals, not just another tasting menu,” says Hernandez.
A Baja California native and graduate of Tijuana’s Culinary Art School, Hernandez trained under famed Mexican chefs Benito Molina, Guillermo Gonzalez, and Enrique Olvera in their acclaimed restaurants Manzanilla, Pangea, and Pujol. He modeled the farm-to-table menu at Corazón de Tierra, which he opened in 2011, after Valle de Guadalupe standouts like Laja. Corazón de Tierra was named one of Latin America’s 50 Best in 2013 and remained on the list until its shutter in 2020, helping to further establish the area as a gastronomic powerhouse.
After taking some time off to spend with his family while opening new projects in Tijuana, Ensenada, and Los Angeles, Hernandez is eager to bring diners back to his Valle kitchen.
Hernandez and Juncal are preserving the previous restaurant’s staples like pancakes, chilaquiles with braised lamb and beans, and huevos al gusto, or eggs however you like. There’s also the Valle de Guadalupe standard, huevos rancheros, as well as huevos a la Mexicana, huevos con jamón, and a take on eggs Benedict that mounts the poached eggs on sopes with potatoes and chorizo and drapes it in chipotle Hollandaise sauce.
Parador Mercedes has expanded on the theme of guisados, offering plates of machaca de mantarraya (stingray), salt-cured nopales rancheros, and herbed queso ranchero en salsa verde with hoja santa, in addition to more typical dishes like machaca de res, and chicharrón en salsa verde. “Each stew has its own special touch, but we are keeping the spirit of the local food with just some changes in the processes,” says Hernandez.
An intermezzo menu offered from noon to 2 p.m. will include tortilla Española, sashimi, and ceviches, plus huevos rotos and other Spanish bites. “Spanish cuisine is a bridge from Morocco to Mexico,” says Hernandez, who is keeping the popular Moroccan-spiced braised lamb from the late owner of Mesón de Mustafá among the featured dishes.
From 2 p.m. until close, the kitchen will cook up a menu of asados over a wood-fired grill, from arrachera with a choice of sauces to whole rockfish marinated in a Basque vinaigrette and cooked zarandeado-style. Fans of Corazón de Tierra’s vegetable dishes will find sides like roasted beetroot dusted with queso cotija and chile flakes vinaigrette and assorted organic vegetables from Hernandez’s garden tossed in chile butter and finished with a sherry wine glaze.
There will also be affordable plates of mole de olla, enchiladas, and enfrijoladas. “People can dine here for as little as $160 MXP, or can order a roasted half of a suckling pig for $1,600 MXP, and share it with their whole family,” says Hernandez.
The bar will serve local wine, craft beer, and cantina-style cocktails as well as international wines.“For people that live here, they want to have other wines, too, and simple cocktails with mineral water to mix at the table,” says Hernandez.
While the chef is planning to restart Corazón de Tierra somewhere in the Valle, he is taking his time, telling Eater that he intends to use Parador Mercedes as a springboard for exploring the area’s culinary history and an opportunity to cook “real food” for the people that live in the region. “We have great home cooking here, and all the restaurants here on this stretch of the highway share the same local vibe — we want to be a family restaurant,” says Hernandez.
Parador Mercedes, San Antonio de las Minas, Ensenada, B.C., Mexico. Carretera Federal 3 Km 93, San Antonio de las Minas S/N. Breakfast 8 a.m. to noon, intermezzo noon to 2 p.m., lunch 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Thursdays.