Adriana and Roberto Equihua never imagined they’d open a restaurant in the Big Bend. The Tijuana natives and San Diego residents had spent time in the Texas border regions as lawyers—Adriana as an immigration attorney and Roberto as a maritime attorney who had family in Alpine. One cousin in that far West Texas town had opened a restaurant, El Patio, and Roberto was a frequent visitor. 

In early 2020, Roberto’s cousin offered him and Adriana the restaurant, as well as a review of the finances. “I am really good at numbers,” Roberto says. “So I looked over the statements and sales. It was great.” Roberto convinced his wife the investment was worth their money and time, so they decided to accept the offer. Yet they didn’t want to simply take over. They wanted to alter the concept from pan-Mexican to the seafood cuisine of their native Baja California. They chose the name Sazzon Baja-Mex Culinary, but they agreed on a backup plan. “If it doesn’t work, we can go back to [general] Mexican and add Tex-Mex items,” Roberto recalls telling Adriana. 

He knew it was risky, but he was undeterred. The couple closed the sale of the restaurant on March 10, 2020. “By the fifteenth, the mayor came to us and told us to shut everything down,” he says. The couple returned to San Diego with plans to go back to Alpine in July, but their plans were waylaid when Roberto’s father was diagnosed with cancer. The surgery to remove the cancerous tumor was postponed, and Roberto’s father died. 

The Equihuas went to Alpine in November and officially opened Sazzon Baja-Mex Culinary on December 18, 2020. At first, locals were wary of eating seafood and fish tacos in an area far from the ocean. “We started kind of slow, but people were like, ‘Okay, this is something totally different,’ even for the Mexicans,” Roberto says. Soon enough, residents came around and embraced the restaurant as an oasis in the vast Chihuahuan Desert.

Sazzon Baja-Mex Culinary’s interior is sparsely decorated but not uncomfortable. TVs hang just below the ceiling, with exposed cables dangling below; booths are set against one wall, while tables take up the rest of the space. It’s not much to look at. Neither is the exterior, which is painted in red and white with a sign that’s not completely set into the marquee frame. 

The pizzazz and detail are saved for the menu, a lineup of the Equihuas’ favorite seafood-topped dishes. There is the thick and creamy mole from Roberto’s childhood. “When my mom asked what I wanted for my birthday, I always said mole,” he says. Sopes and tostadas, favorites of Adriana, are other options. Then there are the tacos, which read like a greatest hits of Baja California coastal cuisine.

There is an open-faced smoked marlin quesadilla, a regional specialty usually found at only the nicest seafood restaurants. The smokiness might seem like enough to impress Texans, but the prized catch is amped up with earthy spices to counter the fishiness, which was too much for my taste. Not for others, though. I saw the dish on other tables presented in circles of stunning color—green, white, red, pink, beige—on large wooden pizza trays.

In the chile relleno taco, one of my favorite tacos de guisado, a long and fat green chile is filled with stretchy white cheese and placed in a nixtamalized tortilla. The dish has a slow, pleasant build of spice balanced by the tortilla’s corn flavor. It’s likely the most approachable taco at Sazzon Baja-Mex Culinary, as the filling is common in West Texas. 

The signature Baja fish taco, available with tender mahi-mahi or shrimp, beer-battered or grilled, is a winner from the first bite. The fried batter is so light and airy that it looks like a halo around the filling. It also holds up against the garnishes of salsa de chipotle aioli, ribbons of pinkish-purple pickled onions, and pico de gallo. 

Not all the dishes hail from the Baja California peninsula. The taco gobernador is a specialty of Sinaloa, a boat ride across the Sea of Cortez from the Cabo resort towns on the southern tip of the state of Baja California Sur. One legend has it that in the 1990s, Sinaloa governor Francisco Labastida Ochoa causally bragged about his wife’s shrimp tacos, according to Mexican cookbook author and TV host Pati Jinich. Ahead of the governor’s scheduled visit to Los Arcos in Mazatlán, news of the beloved tacos was shared with the restaurant’s owners. They subsequently ordered the chef to invent a shrimp taco so incredible that Labastida would alter his previous statement. The only other acceptable option was to have the taco be at least as good as the governor’s wife’s version. There was one problem: no one outside Labastida’s home had sampled the shrimp tacos. The chef and cooks were nervous, but they tinkered with recipe right up until the governor’s visit. Whether Labastida declared the new taco, a griddled parcel packed with shrimp in white cheese, was better than his wife’s version is lost to history. He did, however, enjoy the dish so much he humbly named it tacos gobernador.

At Sazzon Baja-Mex Culinary, the tacos gobernador have a crunch that reverberates across your jaw and into your ears. Softer elements, such as cabbage and an avocado slice, offer textural differences, while a heavy dose of paprika adds a smoky aura. 

The regional tacos alone would be enough to mark Sazzon Baja-Mex Culinary a welcome addition to the state’s taco scene. Scanning the menu, though, it’s obvious the Equihuas have compromised. There are nachos, loaded fries, chicken tenders, and mozzarella sticks, among other Tex-Mex and American dishes. As Roberto told me during our phone call, the idea of Sazzon was a precarious one, so he was prepared to make concessions. 

But the food and flavors of Baja California are still front and center. With them, Sazzon lures customers from Odessa, Chicago, New Orleans, and even Mexico to try its cuisine. “People are happy,” Roberto says. “Adriana and I are happy too.”

Sazzon Baja-Mex Culinary
901 E. Holland Avenue, Alpine
Phone: 432-538-7002
Hours: Sunday 11–3, Monday–Saturday noon–8