Situated just south of San Diego California across the U.S. – Mexico border and stretching out towards the Baja Peninsula in the south, the Mexican city of Tijuana has been a popular destination for U.S. residents for decades. This is not, however, your classic holiday get-a-way. It doesn’t have the golden beaches of neighboring San Diego or the famous surfing of Mexico’s Pacific coastline. While tourists once crossed the border for cheap drinks, lively casinos, and street tacos, plenty of travelers are now visiting for a more unique reason – its elevated food scene.
Starting in the 1920’s during the U.S. prohibition era, Americans would flock south to quench their thirst, giving rise to what would become known as the Las Vegas of the south. Although those days are long gone, that doesn’t mean that the city’s old draws have disappeared. In fact, Tijuana’s main street, Avenida Revolucion, continues to be lined with souvenir shops and lively bars, casinos, and local landmarks. Sites such as the neoclassical Jai Alai Fronton Palace and Centro Cultural Tijuana are still frequented by both locals and tourists looking to learn about the region’s history. There is, however, a palpable change in the air – something deliciously different.
After years of diminishing tourism and the lack of economic stability, Tijuana’s talented millennials began to put forth efforts to transform the city into one that they want to live in. This includes growth not only in areas such as entrepreneurial and social innovation, but in the food industry as well. Initially witnessing expansion around the year of 2009, Tijuana’s thriving food scene has evolved into a diverse, elevated experience for both visitors and locals alike. Its present day cuisine focuses mostly on local products, helping to increase profits for local growers and sellers. Countless bars, breweries, coffee houses, gastro pubs, food trucks, upscale restaurants, and Tijuana art pop-up stands have erupted throughout town. Now, people can been found waiting in long lines outside of popular restaurants and taco vendors instead of the city’s monuments and casinos.
With a large variety in price, flavor, and atmosphere, dining options in Tijuana have multiplied, making it a bit harder to select where to go when visiting. If you truly wish to eat like a local, however, there are a few popular food and drink joints to consider.
While it doesn’t consist of your traditional Mexican cuisine, Caesars has become a local staple amongst Tijuana residents and visitors. Just as its name implies, Caesars is known for its original Caesars salad. Said to be the home of the very first Caesars salad, this restaurant’s combination of Cotija cheese and cos lettuce was first created in 1927 when Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini needed to make a quick lunch, throwing together a few ingredients – mayo, egg, leaves, and more. Needless to say, it has become quite the hit and has since spread like wildfire. Today, red-waistcoat clad waiters dress the famous dish at tables filled with high paying customers. This original, upscale experience is sure to leave you feeling like a million dollars.
Tijuana’s Oryx Capital is another high quality dining experience. Inside it’s undoubtedly hip, brick walls, you will find an ambiance of dangling light bulbs and neon-colored artwork available for purchase. With dishes such as hot bowls of creamy, sweet corn soup topped with beetroot, carrot, and pumpkin ashes and rich, soft duck tacos and zesty octopus enchiladas, this food joint takes classic Mexican cuisine to a whole new level.
Not looking to spend much? Don’t worry – you can still eat like royalty. Take a trip to Tijuana’s La Corriente Cevicheria Nais for the best fish taco in the city, or to Cine Tonala Tijuana, a restaurant, a cocktail bar, and art-house theater and go-to hangout for the city’s young professionals.
With great food comes great beverages. That said, you can’t miss out on the city’s beer and cocktail scene – with numerous craft beer halls, local pubs, and small bars lining its streets, you are sure to find a happy hour that meets your needs. Insurgente Tap Room is one of the most popular craft breweries frequented by craft beer lovers while Dandy del Sur is a less hipster option that offers a typical Mexican cantina atmosphere. If you are looking for a mix of all of the above, try a visit to the city’s famous Telefonica Gastro Park.
A cluster of stalls that line a small, lamp lit courtyard filled with picnic benches and guests chatting over burgers, tacos and ribs, Telefonica Gastro Park recently reopened its doors in an old warehouse in the industrial Zona Rio. With new additions transforming this once meek park into one of the city’s most popular food halls, guests not only have options of what to eat and how much to spend, but also on what to drink – as the entire food hall is centered around an in-house brewery.
One thing you are sure to see on menus is the city’s infamous Baja Med cuisine. Drawing on the unique characteristics of Tijuana and Baja California, Baja Med is a fusion of Mexican, Mediterranean, and Asian ingredients and flavors. Putting Tijuana on the culinary map and giving pride and identity to a city that needed a boost, Baja Med is truly a regional specialty. Restaurants such as Mission 19 offer visitors the best that this unique cuisine has to offer. Highlighting seafood like marlin, abalone, and sea urchin, while showcasing the tomatoes that grow plump in the local climate and oil from the olive trees that flourish in Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe, sixty-five miles (104 kilometers) south of Tijuana, Mission 19 not only offers a new, creative cuisine, but an entirely new restaurant experience all together.
While the city’s traditional draws continue to attract visitors from north of the border, its new, vibrant food scene is sure to attract customers from around the globe. No longer will this historic border town only be known for its Las Vegas feel and shark cage diving – its evolving into a new type of get-a-way – one for visitors of all types. So, when planning your next trip south, consider visiting this up-and-coming food mecca. Your taste buds won’t be disappointed. And, who knows? Maybe you’ll learn even more interesting facts about Tijuana, as it continues to surprise all of those who truly get to know it.