In 2005, the Muscara family, originally from Southern California, landed on the local scene. Pelon’s Baja Grill opened its doors at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront with little fanfare. The family team brought a second location to 22nd Street in Ghent two years later. The Pelon’s reputation has ridden a wave of reviews from enthusiastic eaters in the decade and a half since then.
The chill surfer attitude of SoCal beaches imbues the ambiance that is low-key and welcoming.
Walk up to the counter to order, just as you are. Flip flops or full suit, board shorts, or bow-tie, you’ll feel right at home. Surfboards, casual seating greet you, and string lights that somehow make you feel like you’re in your best friend’s backyard tiki bar.
Stepping up to order, you’ll immediately notice a fine selection of tequilas and curated craft beers behind the bar. Their specialty margarita and cocktail menu span a dozen drinks, featuring classic flavors with a few far-out recipes. The craft beer and ciders expertly pair with their fare, often sporting pineapple-forward beers and traditional Mexican lagers. Despite the laid-back affair, it’s clear that the staff dedicate considerable attention to curating the establishment’s minute and charming details.
Of course, the food is fish-forward; this is a Baja Grill, after all. You can get your tacos, burritos, and quesadillas loaded with shrimp, scallops, or whitefish. If you don’t have your sea legs, you can opt for classic chicken, carnitas, carne asada, or one of the many vegan options. Even though vegan options are increasingly present in Norfolk, Pelon’s menu stands out with its immense selection. Nearly every single menu item allows for a vegan substitute so you can enjoy all the same Baja badassery as your omnivore friends.
Pelon’s focuses on loading each menu item with fresh ingredients and solid seasonings. Served in a tray or wrapped in tinfoil, there’s little in the way of presentation to suggest that you might be scarfing down some of the highest quality foods in town. Sure enough, though, the moment it hits your lips, you know.
Whether you drop in for the Grass Hut, the Unemployed Surfer, the El Hugo, or Pelon’s Famous Fish Tacos, you’ll be feeling pretty gnarly after it’s all said and done. You might want to curl up in a hammock for a beachside siesta, but there’s still a treat on deck for you: Hot cinnamon churros, the ideal street-food cherry to top it all off.
Authentically driven, well-curated, and executed to a tee, Pelon’s is pitch-perfect SoCal grub in the heart of Ghent. If you go, take note to use a bit of caution. Indulging could leave you chasing new-found dreams of Cabo beaches, surfboards, and margaritas in the sand.
Paul Stetson Rice
Paul is the creator of NFKVA.com. He was born and raised in Norfolk, graduated from Virginia Tech, and narrowly avoided law school. Chat with him about economics, entrepreneurship, hip-hop, and hiking. When he's not working on five different projects, you'll catch him sharing a beer with friends at a local brewery.