My friend Nabhe picked me up close to the border in Otay. I found a $15 lot to park in. I much prefer Otay as it feels less chaotic. First stop was Nabhe's most favorite taco in Tijuana, Tacos Elvira. I haven't been there in 5 years, so it was a nice first stop to revisit as my "welcome to TJ taco."
Nabhe wanted soup so she took me to Mariscos Tony, a seafood soup cart that sets up at 2 am and closes around 4 am or whenever they run out soup.
At 3 am or so, I checked into my hotel, B My Hotel near Centro. It was a centrally located design or boutique hotel, nothing too luxurious providing the necessities -- a clean bed and a place to shower for the following day. An added bonus was free breakfast which I visited for water and fruit.
Mercado Hidalgo was a sight to see. If I planned on staying anotner night, I probably would have shopped for produce to enjoy for dinner. Next up was lunch at Las Compas where Nabhe met me. I took an Uber there.
After Las Compas, we walked next door to Delisse to try their pastries. We tried their chocolate cake and eclair, but both were disappointing. They tasted old like they've been in the refrigerator a week.
I've been wanting to try this birria bone marrow taco for a while. I've even made it at home. This quesabirria taco fell flat for me. The birria was lacking flavor and the bone marrow's flavor got lost in all the meat. Seems rather gimmicky to me. I recommend crossing the border and heading to Las Compas or Caesar's for their sopes de tuetano.
"La Bola" by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and Manuel Rosen Morrison. The giant sphere is an IMAX cinema and is a Tijuana landmark. I finally walked through Museo de Las Californias this afternoon. The museum displays some artifacts from the history of the Baja Peninsula and California from the prehistoric period until the first half of the 20th century.
Taquería el Trailero
First stop on the way to Valle de Guadalupe was Taquería El Trailero. It is located in the El Sauzal district close to the "wine route." They really touted their birria outside on their signs so that for me was a must try. Some of Mexico's top chefs such as Benito Molina of Manzanilla eat tacos here.
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La Cocina de Doña Esthela
I ordered their famous borrego (lamb) tatemado and quesataco. I also ordered cafe de ollla (spiced coffee). I wanted to try their conchas, but it is only available on Fridays. Again, knowing some Spanish will help as that is how I communicated with the servers.
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Finca La Carrodilla
I couldn't get a last minute reservation at Lechuza Vineyard (whose wine is on the wine list at the French Laundry. You must reserve at least one week in advance) so this tasting room came highly recommended from the reservation agent at Lechuza. I think more so for the breathtaking view. Finca La Carrodilla makes their own cheese. I tried three of their wines and I loved their cabernet savignon.
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Fauna Restaurante en Bruma
I made dinner reservations at Fauna on Open Table. The chef, David Castro Hussong, whose family owns Hussong's in Ensenada is at the helm of kitchen at this Valle resto receiving praise in the media. Chef has worked the kitchens at Noma and Eleven Madison Park, and is a promising young chef.
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I ordered the experimental tasting menu of 8 courses which they told me contained some of the items on their regular menu. There is a family style prix fixe which is for parties of 4 or more.
Threre were some hits and misses at the restaurant. One dish, the cream of spinach and abalone taco served with a Oaxacan tortilla was too salty. I didn't really like the duck dish because it tasted undercooked. They gave an additional 3 dishes to try so the 8 dishes became 11 for the tasting including 2 desserts.
The experience was made a little uncomfortable when they asked us verbally how much I wanted to tip as they swiped my credit card. In this scenario, a service charge should have been included in the bill and if we wanted to give extra, we would leave cash.
If you were on a romantic getaway or on a date and wanted to seal the deal, tonight would have been your night. The day was almost perfect in every way.
Livin' the Airstream Dream
In search of something different for brunch, I found Taqueria Criollo. They specialize in chilaquiles.
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Mercado Negro de Mariscos
One cannot leave Ensenada without having ceviche at Sabina Bandera's temple of ceviche. Many world renowned chefs make the pilgrimage to eat her ceviches which have won awards at the World Street Food Congress. Just across the street from her food cart that has been around since 60s is her newish restaurant serving the same ceviches and some dishes you cannot find at the cart such as their octopus tacos.
I recommend going in the morning when the seafood is fresh and they haven't sold out yet.
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Caesar's Restaurante in Tijuana
This is my good friend Nabhe who lives in Tijuana and is native Tijuanense. She's also very proud of her Korean and Mexican heritage. I love that she always wants to take good care of me whenever I'm in Baja. She is my source for most of knowledge of the dining scene in Tijuana. She takes me to all the less touristy places that aren't even on Yelp yet. We lost touch for about a year and a half and I haven't seen her during my last couple of times I was in Baja on food trips. I'm glad that we have recently reconnected. I really missed her and her lovely smile.
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La Mezcalera and Mi-Ja Patio Bar, hidden behind the mezcal bar and techno club
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Taqueria Las 3 Salsas
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Goodbye Mexico. Until next time.
There was hardly anyone in line at the border at around 10 pm. It looked like the SENTRI line. It was another unforgettable trip in Baja and my first time staying the night. I will surely be back again for another food, wine, cocktail, and craft beer adventure. Yes, there is a higher homicide rate this year over last year in Tijuana, but I feel that if you stay out of trouble, you'll be fine. I strongly believe in not living my life in fear. As long as the US State Department doesn't issue a travel alert for Baja, I'll continue visiting the region at least once or twice a year.
Over the past two years, I've taken five trips to Tijuana. Starting with my first and second trip with roving supper club, Club Tengo Hambre. I love to eat where chefs eat. I'm finding that many of them don't frequent fine dining restaurants, but find their inspiration in street food and ethnic cuisine. I've been told numerous times by chefs, it's all about quality ingredients. I was told by a friend who was born and raised in Tijuana that she doesn't know anything other than "farm-to-table" ingredients.
This past trip was very spurred of the moment and planned a couple days before. I keep a running list of places to visit in Tijuana and Ensenada. It continues to grow as I discover places to visit either through research online or mostly from chef's feeds on Instagram.
I had a conversation with a friend and in passing, I asked her if I could join her and her husband the next time they visit Baja. She told me that she was game to go that very weekend. Without any hesitation, I told her that I was in.
For those who have never been to Tijuana, it's easy to get in. It's usually a straight drive in. Probably due to our vehicle type, we were stopped for a quick search in the van and some questions by a Mexican customs agent. It's helpful to have at least one person who can speak some Spanish while in Tijuana.
Our inconspicuous (ha!) transportation around Tijuana promoting my friend's four sandwich shops in San Diego.
Our first stop was Mariscos el Mazateño. We ordered three tacos of marlin and shrimp, a tostada of octopus and shrimp, and an agua chile. Living in Los Angeles and San Diego, we have some great Mexican seafood restaurants. We all agreed that the flavors were not all that different from what we have tried at home. This seems to be a locals spot or for those were in the know. Everything was very fresh, but the standout of the dish we had was the marlin and shrimp tacos. Bring cash in Mexican pesos or small US bills to pay. Our server didn't speak any English so be prepared to speak and understand some Spanish or be really good at hand gesturing what you'd like to order.
They brought us chips, salsa, and some soup to start.
They recommended the shrimp and marlin taco.
Shrimp and octopus tostada
Our next stop was within walking distance. Since my companions were owners of a sandwich shop, we decided to try this famous asada sandwich where many top Baja chefs rave about. There are several locations in Tijuana, but we chose this because of its proximity to the seafood restaurant.
Tortas Wash Mobile was probably a ten-minute walk from Mariscos el Mazateño. We walked over and ordered the asada sandwich. Both gentlemen didn't speak any English. They were both very enthusiastic about this sandwich which we split between ourselves since we had more food to taste that afternoon. After one bite, we all agreed that this was the best beef sandwich that we ever tasted in our lives. Not only is the meat tender and flavorful, the bread used reminded me of focaccia bread. This is another cash only spot. They'll take your US Dollars as well. The sandwich was about $3.50 USD.
Specialty breakfast torta de asada at around $3.50.
We walked back to the van and drove to main tourist district, Avenida Revolución or Zona Centro. I've never walked this strip during the day time. I have passed by several times in the evening. It's quite calm during the day. We found free street parking at the meters. We were told that we didn't need to feed the meters.
We wanted to try where the caesar salad was born. The story was that the original owner of Restaurante Caesar's, Caesar Cardini, concocted with the salad in 1924 using whatever ingredients that left in the kitchen. Julia Child is said to have visited this restaurant for the famous caesar salad.
They make the caesar salad tableside.
I ordered a house red blend from Valle de Guadalupe. I love what I've tasted so far from the region. A very underrated wine region.
We tasted the tamarind martini and loved it so much that we ordered two more glasses.
I've been wanting to check out the burgeoning arts and culture scene. I've heard that Pasaje Rodriguez was the epicenter of it all. Here, you'll find shops, public art, cafes, and a small outpost of Mamut Brewery.
We were near Kentucky Fried Buches so we stopped in for our next tasting of deep fried chicken neck. Don't be surprised to see the plethora of "female companionship" options on this street.
The night I fell in love with buches.
Dude, they sell chapulines (grasshoppers) on the street here. Yum!
Next up, was a visit to Mamut Brewery to taste one of our beers. This was another space where the bartenders didn't speak English. She told me that her favorite beer on tap was this witbier de guayaba and their limited pumpkin ale. She gave us a taste of both before we ordered. We all thought the brewery was a cool looking space. They have a section of the brewery dedicated to mezcal and we also noticed them making pizza on the way out.
We loved this brewery!
After our visit to Mamut, we called an Uber to pick us up and take us to Tacos el Franc, about a 10-minute drive from the tourist center. Many say that Franc is an asada specialist and serve the best carne asada tacos in Tijuana.
I ordered a delicious horchata served in a Burger King cup. You must order this horchata if you're a horchata lover. I also saw Church's Chicken cups in the restaurant. These radishes were the spiciest I've ever tasted. They were quite addicting. Right behind our table, we noticed a Chinese family. I started to listen to the language they were speaking. They were speaking... Spanish. This Asian family behind us were most likely locals.
Carne asada taco.
My friend wanted dessert so we called an Uber to take us to Dolce Salato. Chef Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra (#39 on Best Restaurants in Latin America list) recommends this place for their banana, mascarpone, and berry pie pies.
The restaurant had a hip and modern feel to it with artwork hanging on the walls. In the case, we saw a selection of cakes. This late into the evening, they had a lemon meringue pie and crème brûlée left.
Lemon meringue pie. Possibly the most beautifully presented pies I've seen.
We shared the lemon meringue pie and crème brûlée. My friend ordered a cup of mocha and she said it was the best mocha she has ever tasted.
I decided to pair our desserts with a local sweet wine from LA Cetto in the Guadalupe Valley.
For our final stop, we decided to stop by Dandy del Sur, a historic dive bar catering to people from all walks of life in the tourist district. Once you walk in, one could describe this place as a hipster dive bar. We could imagine this place in either Echo Park or Silver Lake in Los Angeles. There's a jukebox playing loud music. We laughed at how hipster feeling this place felt listening to Phoenix's "Lisztomania" playing. We say "hipster feeling" but didn't notice any stereotypical looking hipsters in this bar. Don't bother looking for craft cocktails. Keep it simple at Dandy del Sur.
I ordered up a shot of mezcal. She recommended this bottle from Oaxaca of the two they had available. Our bartender didn't speak English. She was very warm and checked up on us frequently. We ordered the carne seca preparada. She took the bag of beef jerky and tossed some chile and spices on it and popped it in the microwave. Awesome.
We noticed the absence of college kids that used to be a common site in Tijuana where they would go to party. We didn't see any Americans walking the streets in the tourist zone. If they were American, they blended in really well and we didn't notice them. Hopefully, we did too.
Every establishment we visited in Tijuana didn't have English speaking hosts or servers. Long gone are the days when Tijuana catered to tourists. We did see a couple restaurants posting the rate of the US Dollars should an American walk-in want to pay in dollars instead of pesos.
Our day flew by. We couldn't believe that it was almost midnight and we were sitting at a bar in Tijuana. I checked my border wait time app and noticed that there wasn't a wait to the cross the border so we headed back. I crossed the San Ysidro border back into California by foot and my friends by car since they have a Sentri pass.
It was a fun afternoon and evening out again in Tijuana. We are already planning our next trip to Baja within the next couple months.
Hello, I'm Anne.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling in another country. I live to eat (good food) and travel!