Just south of the U.S.-Mexico Border, down a couple blocks and across a bridge, tucked behind a row of shops and through a cobblestone courtyard, awaits an idyllic dining paradise. La Roca Bar and Restaurant, built into the cliffs of Nogales, takes its name from the natural rock cave walls that make up one side of the main dining room, with windows offering tableside views of downtown Nogales on the opposite side. Despite facing political and economic challenges that impact international and local guests alike, the restaurant has continued in its mission of providing “a place to create and share memories, a place that reflects a balanced harmony between the past and present, and a space in the day to be in the moment or simply a place that can take you away.” As of January, the restaurant will have been pursuing this mission for 46 years. Our server for the night, Alejandro Arreaño, has worked for La Roca for 38 of those 46 years, starting when he was 19 years old.
The menu was presented on a handwritten large board. Staff at La Roca are used to welcoming visitors from north of the border, and while speaking Spanish is appreciated, it is not necessary. We started with Mochomos ($9), a crispy-fried shredded beef dish served with limes and warm corn tortillas, La Roca Cheese ($11), a plate of grilled queso Chihuahua, crispy potato skins, and tomatillo salsa, also served with tortillas, and a vibrant green Guacamole ($6). I particularly enjoyed the novelty of the Mochomos—salty and crunchy, like a chip, but with a rich meaty flavor.
Accompanying our appetizers were some highly satisfying drinks. La Roca makes a mean Michelada with only ice, beer, lime juice, and salt, taking what I normally think of as a heavier cocktail and turning it into something effervescent. We also ordered a pitch of margaritas for the table, which struck just the right balance between tequila and sweet.
On to the main course: The Cabrilla (Sea Bass) Tacos ($13.50) were filled with rich, moist fish, with just enough jalepeño in the tomato-based sauce to give them an edge. The Garlic Shrimp plate ($21) included tender, well-cooked shrimp, made amazing by the slow roasted garlic they were served with. The Cabrilla Filet ($18) was a popular choice—three of our nine-person group ordered it—and it did not disappoint: flaky white fish with a golden brown crisp and more roasted garlic. The Tampiqueña Broiled Tenderloin ($21.50) came with two large Carne Asada steaks and chile relleno doused in red sauce. The meat was flavorful and tender, and the chile relleno’s crust had an unexpected sponginess that helped it stand up to the red sauce. Sides of fluffy Spanish rice and perfectly cooked squash filled out both the shrimp and cabrilla entrées, while the Tampiqueña came with beans and some very satisfying cheesy nopales.
We finished our meal with the Delicia Mexicana dessert ($5.50), with vanilla ice cream served in a waffle cone and topped with cajeta, a goat’s milk butterscotch sauce, and roasted pecans. The cajeta was thick and sweet, the ice cream smooth and cold, and the cone and pecans added just the right amount of crunchiness—the perfect sweet note to end the evening.
With rooms available for private parties, catering services, and a dedicated, friendly staff, La Roca is destination dining you don’t want to miss.
La Roca Bar and Restaurant
Plutarco Elías Calles