Unwind at Baja Craft Kitchen

By Emily Coppella

Baja Craft Kitchen | A-253 Ontario Street | Website

Want to give yourself a break and enjoy a high-spirited meal? Baja Craft Kitchen, one of the newest restaurants on the downtown dining scene, is making waves with their passion for fresh flavours, vibrant cocktails, and the relaxed coastal feeling of Southern California. Baja offers a contemporary dining experience with authentic tostadas and fish tacos. We spoke with Baja’s manager, Dave McNamara, and the restaurant’s bar manager, Jacob Riha, about how they keep their restaurant cool and contemporary. Jacob says it’s all about a laidback approach to an elevated dining experience: “We’re pumping out some impressive dishes and some cool cocktails. You can come with your family. You can come on a date night, you can come with any kind of style or group of people, and it’s laid back.”

The idea of the restaurant began over a decade ago, while Dave was travelling with his wife and business partner, Becky. They found themselves looking for stylish, Southern Californian restaurants – and they picked up inspiration for their own establishment along the way. They became dedicated to building a place they would truly love to dine at and hoped their friends would feel the same. Baja is what Jacob calls “a little escape while in Kingston.”

And if you’re looking to truly indulge, try one of Baja’s unique, handcrafted cocktails. Jacob sees cocktails as crucial to the experience:

“For me, craftmanship behind the bar is the best way to give someone that kind of memorable experience that we’re always striving for. It’s really that first sip of that first cocktail that is their first impression – it’s your first opportunity to really wow somebody.”

With the culinary world’s transition to becoming more conscious exactly what goes on a plate – or in a drink – Jacob is careful to source materials that are not only sustainable but tell a fun story.

“I love getting creative behind the bar because I love telling a story through that experience. So not only do I want the customer to know what’s in that drink but also why we chose to use that particular ingredient, where we got it from, why we got it from there, how we put it together and how it all fits into this little puzzle. Every drink on our menu has a story and I love giving my servers something they can talk about at a table so that every customer leaves with something that they won’t forget.”

Baja highlights agave spirits, such as tequila and mescal which, Jacob feels, remain relatively untapped in Kingston, despite a growing popularity for them in other parts of the world. One of their new margarita variations is the Tamarindo margarita, made with mezcal, Cointreau, Howler Head bourbon, fresh lime, strawberry coulis (made with locally grown strawberries) and tangy tamarind syrup. Jacob explains the slightly smoky, strawberry-banana flavour was inspired by the town of Tamarindo in Cost Rica. The town is home to a wildlife reserve known for protecting howler monkeys.

Dave and Jacob have been working in the Kingston dining industry for a long time. Dave is the owner of Union Kitchen + Cocktails, Union Market and the Merchant Tap House and Jacob has spent several years crafting unique drinks for the limestone city. Dave and Jacob are excited to proclaim their pride not only for what’s coming out of Baja Craft Kitchen, but who is in the kitchen.

Baja’s Graham Quance (head chef), Nikk Tompkins (sous chef) and Eric Brennan (executive chef for the entire company) opened the restaurant during the pandemic. Despite little to no support staff, Dave says they managed to curate a fantastic menu:

“Everything on the menu is fresh, it’s local, it’s flavourful. It looks just as good as it tastes. If this is the kind of menu that they can put together during the peak of COVID-19, then we can’t really wait to see what will come out of that kitchen in the future.”

Jacob refers to Kingston as one big family, “from chefs to bartenders to farmers and suppliers and everyone in between.” Baja is more than another stop added to Kingston’s celebrated food map. It takes “good vibes” as its mission, and offers a relaxed atmosphere that refuses to hold back on lively flavours.