As the tourist season approaches, I am getting more enquiries about dining in San Felipe. Of course, the vast majority of people who come to vacation in the area are primarily concerned with getting an excellent fish or shrimp meal along with a cold "brew".
There is certainly no shortage of very fresh seafood here but, increasingly, visitors want to know about the vegetables and the side dishes they may be offered. In particular, there are more people interested in vegan and gluten-free food. I am afraid there are not a lot of options for such diets if you eat at local restaurants in town. If you have serious dietary constraints, you will do best by renting a condo with a kitchen or staying in a hotel that provides kitchenettes (for example, the Marina Resort) and either bringing your own food or shopping judiciously at the markets in town.
If you are a strict vegan, you will already be limited to a diet of vegetables and fruit and the tips on what may be available in the local markets that I summarize below are for you. If you are on a gluten-free regimen, you do have more options.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, malts and triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid). Gluten-free, for most practical purposes, means avoiding foods containing these grains. Such a diet is the only medically accepted regimen for people suffering from celiac disease. Gluten can, however, show up in other products such as ice cream and ketchup. In the United States, the FDA issued regulations in 2007 limiting the use of "gluten-free" in food products to those with less than 20 parts per million (0.002%) of gluten.
In San Felipe, the best (virtually only), available alternatives for your diet will be corn, potatoes and rice. The big question is whether corn tortillas and tortilla chips will cause you any problems. Corn tortillas are traditionally made from maize which has been cured in lime water that causes the skin of the kernels to peel off. The kernels are then ground and cooked into a dough called masa. The masa is pressed into flat patties and rapidly cooked on a very hot comal. Provided that the factory making the masa does not also use the same machinery to produce the similar dough using wheat (for flour tortillas), your corn tortilla should be OK to eat. When the corn tortillas are cut up and deep fried in fat they become tortilla chips (totopos).
Almost all beers are brewed with malted barley or wheat and will contain gluten. While there are some specialty beers that remove any gluten, none are available locally. Distilled spirits are generally safe to consume as the proteins do not get carried into the distillate during manufacture. In particular, traditional tequilas are made from the agave and are not a source of gluten.
If you stick to seafood and carne asada you should have no problems. I would, however, avoid any sausage-type meats (such as chorizo), or ground meat products which may contain fillers that include gluetin.
With regard to shopping for vegetables, there are plenty of fresh vegetables in the local markets but you have to shop around. There may be fresh broccoli at one store, tomatoes at another and asparagus at a third. Stores do not get daily deliveries, generally produce will come in from the Mexicali and Imperial Valleys mid-week and there will be a rush to get the freshest items. Later in the week, you may find that the celery or the cilantro is a little wilted. Fruit is much more problematic, although oranges, limes, bananas and melons are usually easy to find.
There is no way of knowing what vegetables and fruit are "organically grown". Some small farmers use natural fertilizers, others use chemicals. All can be assumed to use ground water for irrigation. One thing that Americans seem to be completely unaware of is that all vegetables and fruit to be eaten uncooked should be thoroughly washed and allowed to soak for several minutes in clean (reverse osmosis) water containing 1 drop/liter of bleach or Bacterin to eliminate any possible harmful bacteria.
A final note on eating out in San Felipe; salt is a staple of the diet here. The bowls of fish and shrimp soup are wonderfully flavored and are frequently made with chicken broth. Talk to your waiter and see what options exist for you – can some other stock be used and can they make a portion for you with no added salt.