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.
I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling to another country. I hope my adventures inspire you to eat well and travel often.