From old school to brand new, street side to white table cloth, Tijuana has a crazy range of eating options. Here are a few to get started with.
A friend of a friend wrote me with recommendations for Tijuana and said the following: while everyone from Tijuana will agree that we are known for our tacos, everyone disagrees who makes the best tacos in Tijuana. This I have found out to be true. Among the family we were hanging out with Tacos Franc rules. I’ve never shut up so much while eating a taco. You must sit at the counter to witness the most perfectly organized chaos of this well-oiled taco assembly line machine. In the back of the kitchen three women in aprons pressed and flipped fresh tortillas. Behind the counter one man grilled cebollitas, another the smoking carne asada, and another chopped away at piles of lengua. In the middle of the floor a man on a stool carved off slices from a giant pastor trompo. Fresh metal bowls of whole radishes, limes, and chopped onions and cilantro were thrown on the counter every few minutes, and slaps of guacamole covered each taco. Customers yelled out orders into the air, and I watched in awe as they bounced off the tile counters and into the cook’s ear. One hundred kilos of al pastor (called adobado) here make it out the door on weekends, but I loved the juicy carne asada.
Did you know the caesar salad was invented in Tijuana? In 1924 by Caesar Cardini, who opened a fine dining restaurant in the midst of Tijuana’s prohibition-era glory. At least that’s the story according to some members of the Cardini family. Now there’s a caesar salad festival in Tijuana, which is not a good place for kissing. In 2010 the Placencia family reopened Caesar’s offering the original Caesar salad made at the table, a menu of classic French and Mexican dishes, and impeccable service from men in bowties. It’s a classy restaurant with a long bar, checkered tiles, a copper coffee roaster, all bathed in amber light. I would grab a ceasar salad, drink and the tapenade (random, but trust).
Housed in a former union precinct building for transportation workers, this restaurant is named for the verde y cream bus line that still circles around the neighborhood. Wine bottles hang like curtains, slices of license plates cover the walls. It’s an airy space, half of it outside. There’s a section smack in the middle of a cocktail list called “mezcal drinks.” My favorite? A two for one: El Refugio with dark local beer, tamarindo and mezcal. On our eating marathon we only had space for one dish: the octopus blue corn tostadas with avocado mouse, lentils, and a habanero vinaigrette. Don’t miss it.
We almost didn’t go to this market and that would’ve been a real loss. We started the visit with a fresh coconut, hit the mole stand and ended at the counter selling Baja-made cheese. This is a chef’s market, huge but orderly, with a dry goods stall to rival Berkley Bowl’s and a mole selection that might stand up to one of Oaxaca’s. We stopped by El Hidalgo, a new cafe in the parking lot, they roast their beans in Tijuana and source from various parts of Mexico. The manager was one of the most enthusiastic coffee fans I’ve met, and I’ve met a lot of them being in San Francisco. Try one of the staff’s recommendations.
The Placencia dynasty extends to a new-ish Tijuana style seafood joint with a menu that would make even the most decisive of seafood lovers dizzy. I wanted it all. I don’t think you can go wrong here, but my friend likes an off the menu order: a tostada with pescado blanco and seaweed salad. The leche de tigre shot could cure any hangover, it’s the Peruvian named citrus based marinade for ceviche, a quail egg, vodka and ahi amarillo chile. A stylish environment for such affordable prices.
Looking for a food tour of Tijuana? I got one from Tijuana Free Walking Tours.
Where to drink in Tijuana