Caffe El Triunfo: Finding Culinary Silver Lining in Mining Town Rubble

Restaurant Baja

Caffe El Triunfo resides in an old mining town that radiates Wild West vibes.

On our drive through Baja backcountry between La Paz and Cabo, we stopped in El Triunfo, a dusty, desolate mining town that could easily double as the setting for a Wild West gunfight, or possibly a zombie apocalypse. Instead, Northern California native Marcus Spahr treated us to a flurry of wood-fired foods featuring local ingredients, in a truly unique setting.

After villagers left El Triunfo to work in Todos Santos sugar cane fields, they left the once-thriving silver mining town in shambles. We passed time waiting for our food by wandering through remnants of smoke stacks, crumbled brick walls and rusted machinery.


Restaurant Baja

Spahr has worked hard to improve the space ever since he opened Caffe El Triunfo.

Spahr’s incrementally renovated the cafe both indoors and out, laying new brickwork, adding stone slab tables and planting cacti on ledges. We sat on the patio, under a brick and wood roof, with the sound of roosters in the distance.

Chef Baja

Spahr is a longtime biker with tattooed arms and twin dangles below his beard.

Spahr was born in Oakland, grew up in Ventura County, and started ranching up north near Cobb Mountain in California’s Lake County. He moved to Todos Santos to farm things like mango, avocado, grapefruit. He ran Cafe Todos Santos for 16 years, beginning on October 7, 1993, and sold to chef Angelo Dal Bon from Tre Galline. He opened Caffe El Triunfo in 2008, looking for new challenges, better food, a better setting, and room to build a wood burning oven.

Bread Baja

We arrived to find a mesquite oven with sourdough pain poilane boules in the hearth.

Bread Baja

Spahr served slices of pan con santos with walnuts and dried cranberries; and crusty bread with rosemary, garlic and white cheddar.

Cheese Baja

We also received Gorgonzola and rich local mozzarella that looked like pats of butter.

Salad Baja

House Salad (100 pesos ~ $8) incorporated crumbled goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, organic lettuces, dried cranberries and candied pecans with pitcher of tart balsamic dressing.

We walked over to Abarrotes La Escondida, one of El Triunfo’s variety stores, and bought a wheel of queso fresco (70 pesos), which they weighed on a worn scale.

For his crisp-crusted pizzas, Spahr uses a sourdough starter that dates to 2002 and features house-made tomato sauce that Cafe Santa Fe owner Ezio Colombo taught him and fresh mozzarella sourced from a ranch in town.

Pizza Baja

Margherita Pizza (180 pesos) incorporated only tomato, basil, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. Spahr punctuated the pizza with Grana Padano shavings and a drizzle of olive oil infused with dried chile de arbol.

Pizza Baja

Signature El Triunfo (240 pesos) pizza showcased local flavor, including smoky chipotle marinated arrachera (skirt steak), sweet corn kernels, and crisp, spicy jalapeño slices. This pizza had cracker like edges, and good give in the middle.

It also probably would have been good to try the ravioli, since Spahr described the process for learning how to make the pasta, or possibly the wood-fired pork sandwich.

Bakery Baja

Caffe El Triunfo’s sticky bun lived up to its name, with deep yellow color from egg yolks, a liberal cinnamon dose and sticky, chewy caramel ribbons.

Coffee Baja

We finished with espresso, which Spahr and his employees pull in the front room on a three-group lever machine that operates using propane.

Spahr has managed to breathe new life into El Triunfo, and it’s only fitting that he’s featuring wood fire, since flames once helped to smelt local silver to its most valuable mineral essence, a short walk from the caffe’s back door.

Our visit to Caffe El Triunfo was part of a Baja California Sur tour sponsored by Baja.com.

Caffe El Triunfo: Finding Culinary Silver Lining in Mining Town Rubble

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

[…] into Marcus Spahr  on the main street  as he was telling one of  us  that we  were blocking a  local’s […]

[…] but it’s supposed to be super cool), and then lunch and wine in the courtyard of the famous Caffe El Triunfo. I was also curious about the town’s mining history (I have like a million miner ancestors […]

[…] strange history. I want to check out the Eiffel smokestack, the piano museum, have gourmet pizza at Caffe El Triunfo, and generally learn all I can about this tiny ghost town (now showing signs of resurgence) which […]

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