Imagine walking into a dusty downscale antique shop-cum-restaurant in what seems to be someone’s garage, not knowing what to expect, and discovering magnificence in the flavors of somebody’s abuela’s tastiest dishes and the smiles of a super-friendly staff. This is Loreto’s family-run Mexico Lindo y Que Rico, where an array of potted plants and a vintage movie still greet you, and where, if the early morning rooster calls and dusty side streets didn’t already tip you off, you will feel certain you’ve left home behind.

It’s not a tourist-oriented designer restaurant, which makes it perfect and endearing. A thatch-roofed cantina takes up the left rear corner, with a couple of small tables in front and a television on the wall. The entire left side of the space, between the front door and the bar, is inexplicably taken up by an amazing sculpture – an enormous, elaborate, painstakingly beaded – shark.

Here is a detail, from our island of the dolphins:

The wall above the shark is lined with sun-bleached skulls; those from several cows and one from an antlered moose. A handwritten sign beneath it is written in English and reads: “The last moose taken on the Baja. Nov. 98. ‘Denny Dahl’. Both rifle and shooter were loaded.”

The wall between the front door and the kitchen is decorated with a wildcat pelt, a painting of the Virgin Mother, multicolored sombreros, framed botanical illustrations of sea birds, potted plants, a ceramic watermelon, and a rack of cards for sale.

The kitchen is visible in the right rear corner, and one chef was in there cooking with a couple of guys hanging out talking to him. Two other people in there were messing around fixing some equipment. We pushed together two of the ten, mostly empty, tables, and almost as soon as we sat down the waiter brought us two plates of nachos, heaped with beans, cheese, and pico de gallo, and took our drink orders. We watched him make Kid Two’s enormous limonada to order with lemon juice, sugar syrup, and sparking water. He drank several of those over the course of the evening; enough for the waiter to tease him a bit, calling him “El Rey Limonada.”

It was all quite relaxed – sitting with our drinks, listening to Linda Ronstadt singing mariachi in the background, munching on the nachos, taking in the menu, and eventually deciding on a bit of everything. At these prices, we could certainly afford to order at our whim; 60 pesos for guacamole and chips translated into $4.50; it was the same serving size as the 7.95 order at Palapas here in Aptos. And the food was superb – not in a foodie/haute cuisine sort of way, but in a spicy salsa/fresh tortilla/local clams/chunky guacamole sort of way.

The flavors of all the dishes were fairly mild, and tacos are plain tortillas with filling. It’s up to you to choose from one of the two salsas – hot or super-hot – and guacamole to add heat and tang. Their guacamole, as I said, was chunky, with chopped onion, tomato, cilantro, and jalapeño. It disappeared from the table quickly. LL ordered clams, served hot in a bowl of garlic butter, and piled them in a fresh flour tortilla, adding dollops of hot salsa and guacamole. Wonderful.

The queso fundido was melty and mild, with chorizo crumbled into small bits at the bottom of the bowl:

It was great as a topping to carne asada tacos, just chunks of meat, moist and lean, simmered in a flavorful oniony/peppery marinade, and spooned into super-thin, fresh flour tortillas and finished with the extra-hot salsa. Perfection.

Mija liked her carne asada fajitas; they were salty, not spicy, with bacon, roasted green bell pepper, and onion, and were served with a scoop of white rice and a side of creamy refried beans. Kid One dubbed his chicken enchilada authentic(!), mild,  and corny – although he could just as well have been describing himself. Kid Two, I noticed on this trip, faced with unfamiliar menu items almost always ordered a soup. Not soups he’s ever eaten, either – I think he tries lots of new soups at his Buddy’s house and just thought it was a good and safe place to start. So he ordered what was his first tortilla soup – velvety and richly tomato-y but super spicy. He was hungry after a day on the water, though, and masterfully worked his way through enough to fill him up.

The food and experience of Mexico Lindo y Que Rico were just perfect for the day – a hot and windy Sunday that kicked off with dolphins and frigate birds and segued to strolls past sleeping chickens on the way to shop for souvenirs.  I loved that it felt so . . . local. I don’t – and can’t – know if it’s just like any another local Loreto joint. Based on our experiences this trip, though, the friendliness was very typical. It’s just a great place, and highly recommended. Bring pesos and a big appetite.