Tijuana and Ensenada continue to charm me (and my taste buds). Here are a few more places to visit.
This three-story movie house, cultural center, rooftop bar and restaurant has a stunning view of Tijuana. In the background the moorish tips of the emblematic Jai Alai building point skyward, as do the restaurant’s table-top gold triangle terrariums. Yes, hipsterism is creeping into this city too. Fortunately, it can’t knock the flavor out of TJ: the cocktails here are slammin, the food is tasty, and when I was there the chef was singing the praises of his almost all female badass kitchen staff.
For drinks, the Conejo Rabioso with tamarind tamarind pulp, ginger, mezcal, pineapple, ancho chile and a tajín rim is the kind of drink that immediately makes me picture the cartoon version of myself on a tropical island popping a straw into a magical giant tropical fruit and dancing around in a bikini. It was hard to have less than three.
The menu largely reps Baja-style seafood with oysters, ceviche, and tuna but there are few heavy hitters: a burger, ribs and duck al pastor tacos. The chef is a friend of my boyfriend’s and we first met in Mexico City when he was nursing an allergic reaction to eating a tarantula. I may not trust his personal eating decisions but I trust him with mine: the crab burrito is the thing I want to eat every day, the ceviche and oysters were clean and refreshing, and the dessert, a coyota (style of sugar cookie from Sonora) with nopal, piloncillo, and cactus fruit sorbet was thoughtful and unique.
Check the calendar before you go, and you can also grab drinks and snacks on the bottom floor before heading into a show.
While this place doesn’t need much fame (there’s a big photo with Anthony Bourdain’s photo on the wall), it’s a good taco reference to have in your back pocket. Las Ahumaderas is made up of a block of taco stands and Los Paisas is the first on the corner. We were told to get the samuri: a tostada inside a taco with melted cheese. It comes out handroll-shaped with a splat of watery guacamole and parchment paper wrapped around to keep it intact. I wouldn’t say the meat or toppings alone made this a destination, but the crunch and melt of the cheese in each bite made up for it.
Tacos El Ruso is a shining example of a place that does one thing and does it very well. I would like to do one thing in my life as well as Tacos El Ruso makes carne asada tacos. The meat is always well flavored, tender, with handmade tortillas and a perfect splat of guacamole. My boyfriend’s parents said they tried tons of taquerias searching for the perfect carne asada, and El Ruso took the trophy. Open from 3 pm until they run out, which is sometimes early evening.
This little cafe and organic market became our routine stop for a few days while heading into Ensenada. A good place for locally made gifts (chocolate, body products, honey, etc.) and for a gift to your body: the green juice. We liked the refrescante with green apple, pineapple, lime, celery and mint, and the rejuven with green apple, beet and beet leaves, lime, orange and ginger.
Once a cannery packing seafood, beans, chiles, meats and more, Marco Antonio’s warehouse is now mostly a place for seafood guisado tacos (stewed or cooked dishes that are scooped into a taco). Red cans once packaging tuna estofado are now napkin holders. Canning machines and old fishing nicknacks line the walls, along with a few cartoonish murals of cooks and sealife. Somewhere a restaurateur is attempting to replicate this warehouse taqueria by the sea, but the history, kitsch, and food here is just too distinct to be found anywhere else.
The menu depends on what’s left by the time you get there, as they open early and close around 3 p.m. We went for “only two tacos” but after the fried fish with chipotle crema and tuna adobada, we had to try the tuna in cilantro salsa and the marlin and shrimp quesadilla with chipotle crema. One look at the salsa bar and you’ll know you’re in good hands, there are several salsas and three types of onions. Wash it down with a yerba buena and lime agua fresca. I found this place via food writer Bill Esparza, his excellent blog post is linked above.