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Ten Culinary Reasons to Ignore the Mass Media and Go to Tijuana

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​Tijuana's dangerous, right? Drug cartels armed to the teeth raining a hellish hail of bullets at any time, police who just help themselves to whatever they want through the magic of corruption, three-for-$1 "tacos de gato" guaranteed to wreak Montezuma's revenge, ripoffs and tawdry schlock in every shop, right? Nobody in his right mind would step foot south of the safe haven of San Diego, right?

Wrong. Unbelievably, stunningly, indubitably wrong.


It's funny that the people who insist that Tijuana is some kind of filthy hellhole are the ones who haven't been in 10 or 20 years--or ever. They read the reports on the news from 2008 (a dark, dark year for Baja California) and assume that no news since then must mean bad news. I was guilty of it myself--we'd go party in Rosarito but talk in scathing tones about "ugh . . . Tijuana."

I was wrong, and so are they. Tijuana is undergoing a renaissance. It's a huge city, officially close to the 2 million population mark, but probably much bigger than that. There's a burgeoning middle class, a huge arts scene, and--this being a food blog--some of the most incredible food, from fine dining to street food, in the world, almost none of which is available even 10 feet north of la línea. People are starting to notice--Andrew Zimmern is a convert, and so is Rick Bayless. I have Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA to thank for changing my mind and helping me to fall in love with Tijuana--and here are 10 reasons of the many to grab your passport and go.

1. Misión 19

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​Javier Plascencia is the most important chef in Baja California right now. The padrino of Baja Med cuisine, he fuses Mediterranean cooking styles and sensibilities with the amazing products available to him locally. Misión 19, located in the first LEED-certified green building in Baja California, is the best restaurant in Tijuana and probably the best restaurant in the San Diego metropolitan area. So says The New York Times, anyway. Plascencia's salad of mesclun, roasted beets and quail three ways haunts my dreams. Just how dedicated is the chef to the cause of local products? He serves local wines at retail prices, a practice unheard of anywhere else, and almost all the main courses on the menu ring in at less than 300 pesos ($25), a bargain to U.S. diners.

Misión de San Javier 10643, second floor, Zona Río, Tijuana, B.C. In the Via Cooperativo building between Paseo de los Héroes and Via Rápida Poniente (the western, southbound river road), just off Blvd. Salinas. Reservations suggested at 011-52-664-634-2493 or at mision19.com/reservaciones.

2. Valle de Guadalupe

Located north of Ensenada, this is Baja's answer to the San Joaquin Valley. The perfect growing conditions aren't held back by any border fence; Baja, true to the "California" in its name, grows an astounding array of produce. The Valle de Guadalupe is Mexico's premier wine-growing region, with an increasing emphasis on quality, but it also produces grappa, cheeses and excellent olive oil. Rent a car and follow the Ruta del Vino for wine tastings and more.

3. Mercado Hidalgo

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Flickr user danygaral
​Tijuana's central market is like what Los Angeles' permanent farmers' market on Third and Fairfax would look like if it were still the central market in the city. Fruits, vegetables, an array of seafood that would make any chef go cross-eyed, chiles, herbs, spices, cured meats . . . and when all the ingredients drive you to hunger, there are dozens of carts, including Tacos Fitos, home of the Tijuana-style beef birria taco, made by the fastest taqueros in the world.

Sánchez Taboada and 10ma (J. Sarabia), Zona Río, Tijuana, B.C. Just off Paseo de los Héroes and three blocks south of the Zona Río Costco.
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64 comments
mj.
mj.

this looks like a publicitary article for the Plasencia restaurants in Tijuana ......

there is a whole list of much better places to visit than the ones mentioned...

by the way, "las ahumaderas" are one of the worst tacos in tijuana. 

Frederick S. Villavicencio
Frederick S. Villavicencio

Being a paid researcher traveler in food or gourmet dishes and quality opinion inspector for media purposes and tourism its not an easy task at all belive me overall when you get to encounter an impressive number of gourmet offers these days.

Every full mouthwatering taste comment of many restaurant mentioned in this article and way many many more available not yet mentioned and better, is short, Baja Mexico is full of authentic rich flavor of its own by locallly creators, prices are competitive for the market, and all descriptions said here are less than the real thing, you can always expect more from Baja and the warmth honest people there.

I travel the southern California area surpassing the mexican border all the way to Ensenada where I get to meet many friendly amigos, and I.m going to say in my own experience with all respect to any foreign visitor that comments of Baja in any aggravating sense are wholly unrelated to its good and hardworking people like those I have met in the past.

I like staying in Baja, good humor, good people, good food and of course excellent local wine of their own is enjoyed there.

Enjoy life, enjoy food and wine, enjoy Mexico.......

Frederick S. Villavicencio

Archikvetch
Archikvetch

Calle Sexta is so happening it is almost over - Shout out for Dandy Del Sur - if Tarentino visited he would just hire everyone there for his next movie - just stone cold IT. Mescalera is really,really the epicenter of a cultural renaissance that is for once controlled by the Tijuaneses and not the gringos. Check out TuristaLibre for some fun shit for us uptight hueros.

Bjeannelle
Bjeannelle

I agree that Tijuana is a lovely place for food... I live in San Diego and go all the time, and the restaurants that are "expensive" meaning the entrees are $25 are elegant places with fashionable people not the olive garden, so TJ is still a cheaper choice and very safe :)Don't know why the US goverment feels the need to spread lies

Arthur Tragg
Arthur Tragg

Dave, if you do review Ensenada, how about going beyond an excited speech claiming that media noise over safety in Mexico is "Wrong. Unbelievably, stunningly, indubitably wrong." and dealing soberly with, for example, State Department travel advisories? Last Friday, three days before your post, State broadened its warning about Mexico, where "[m]ore than a third of all U.S. citizens killed ... in 2010 whose deaths were reported to the U.S. government were killed in the border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana." (See full excerpt and URL in Bryan Kent's unfortunately ignored post in this thread.) You offer nothing serious to counter State's cautionary assessment.

I don't know how much experience you had before deciding to speak as an expert, but I lived right on the border for nearly 10 years, and my large family has been there for 50 years. They travel south often from both Tijuana and Mexicali. We love Mexico -- a couple of nieces are from the country. We know the culture and cuisines, can get along in the language, and over the last 50 years usually haven't avoided travel there. But our attitude towards safety is very different from yours, probably because of our experiences and those of friends and colleagues. Having lived in or just out of 10 of the 20 largest American cities, I can also say that language and social differences in Mexico keep me even more alert than on Chicago's South Side, for example.

How much experience did you have with Tijuana before changing your mind and claiming that media reports are not just occasionally exaggerated or silly but "Wrong. Unbelievably, stunningly, indubitably wrong."? Before you make such a statement again, will you at least consider looking beyond comfy anecdotes and into official facts and figures? If not, please let us know that you're writing in a vacuum.

armi
armi

Get a life man you obviously live in a bubble. Tijuana is safer than Flint and  Detroit Mich.  Safer than St. Louis, Mo and Oakland Ca, the city where i live. The news don't cover that right?.. The world is a much bigger place, there are dangers anywhere you go. So i recommend you to work on your research a little bit more because CNN is like the Wikipedia of the news (UN-Reliable that is).  

armi
armi

Get a life man you obviously live in a bubble. Tijuana is safer than Flint,and  Detroit  Mich.  St. Louis, Mo. and Oakland Ca, the city where i live. But the news dont cover that right?.. The world is a much bigger place, there are dangers anywhere you go. so work on your research a little bit better because CNN is like the Wikipedia of the news (UN-Reliable that is). 

A911lass
A911lass

Thanks, Arthur, for your true comments-of course, you and I will be slammed for our comments-but the truth is the truth. Please don't make blanket statements-it makes you look ignorant, people. Different people may have different experiences than you have had.....that doesn't mean they don't know anything or are stupid.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Another pendejo...

A911lass
A911lass

Just like a school child~calling me a bad name in Spanish~sticks and stone will break my bones, but words can never hurt me. You show how ignorant you are by your name calling......................I hope you next trip too Mexico turns out to be exactly what you have coming to you..............for making comments like that. NAME CALLING IS UNACCEPTABLE-but then your mother never taught you any manners, did she Gustavo?????????????????????????????????????????

Guillermo A. Amaral
Guillermo A. Amaral

So I live in Tijuana, many of the places I see in the comments carry an "Your Gringo" overhead, might be better to team up with some trusted locals and head into the city for some good cheap food. Some good places include Tacos Jr. (fish tacos) and Tacos Castro (West First street IIRC).

The not-cheap-but-good-food places you might want to visit at least once include the Tijuana Brewery (very good local beer and good food), Carnitas Uruapán and the Rodeo Restaurant (steak house) near Zona Rio.

Keiji Ezio Auditore
Keiji Ezio Auditore

What the American mass media tend to neglect to mention is that most of the shootings and murders are not of tourist or regular people but of rivaling drug cartels killing each other for drug money at each others little bases.

So unless you are going down to Tijuana for illegal reasons such as drug dealing there really is no reason to fear anything.

Yes tacos are no longer 50cents each like 10years ago. Just how minimum wage in the USA is no longer $5.75, 10 years ago. Most places average taco sells for a solid $1. The "same"(inferior usually) taco in San Diego will cost you more than $2 with tax added in.

n1ceguy
n1ceguy

I am so amazed that this is finally being printed somewhere where it can reach the masses. About a month ago I went on a weekend get-a-way to Ensenada with this up and coming touring company. Was supper cheap and we got a ton of things in return. They took us to great eateries in Rosarito and in Ensenada, Bars, and to Valle de Guadalupe where we got a tour of LA CETTO and a private winery where we were treated like royalty. Our own Hotel room in the Downtown of Ensenada and we also went to the Mercado Hidalgo, Playas de Tijuana (to where the border goes into the ocean and I almost forgot a private 1hr boat ride around the Ensenada harbor. I could not believe we where getting all of this for $200!!!! Food included and drinks... But more importantly I went because a friend of mine who is Mexican Said it would be okay. Because like many here I was very scared and thought it would not be safe but it was completely nothing like what the news play it out to be. I think the people were amazing, everyone was so welcoming and we even partied with the locals in Ensenada.

Overal I think Baja is a great place to see and I am sure there is some violence going on but every country has that even OURS! you would not walk alone in the middle of the night in South Central or Compton now would you? Anyways, I would totally recommend this touring people I went with totally worth the money! I think you can find them on FB green sombrero tours.

Lee Rivas
Lee Rivas

The preceding has been a paid commercial announcement by the "Comision de Turismo de Baja California" and this blog is not responsible for its content.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Maybe, though I doubt COTUCO would bother. Ensenada's a topic for another time, though—and it's got its own set of fantastic eats that you just can't get up here.

Lee Rivas
Lee Rivas

Thanks Dave. Nicely written review, but this is one of those times that I won't allow my stomach to override my brain. There are too many dining places in the old US of A that I have yet to experience rather than schlepping my gluteus south of the border for questionable eats. A four hour round trip from Los Angeles and at least one hour at the border is not an adventure for an old Mexican like myself. I understand the crime statistics better than most (you have a greater risk of being killed in LA County than in all of Iraq), but I still refuse to tempt fate. "If not the cross-hairs, then the cross-fire" remains my motto. "Live long and prosper."

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I appreciate your reasonably stated disagreement. I think you're missing out on a lot, and "questionable" eats are easily avoided with just a little bit of common sense, but ultimately it's a personal decision.

MYself
MYself

No. No..Tijuana is Piece of Crap!!

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

At least sdgirl1, the commenter above, had some substance to her complaint.

Lillian
Lillian

Is very sad to hear people like you discriminating Tijuana like a piece of crap. I am from Tijuana and it hurts. Tijuana for me is a city full of culture and enjoyment, family and friends, delicious food and great doctors. We have beautiful resorts, music, and much more...Sorry you are taking your self the opportunity of enjoying possibilities.

HALFMEXI
HALFMEXI

As with all Mexican border towns, the quality isn't that amazing, the farther down Baja or Mexico you travel - the better. The prices for these meals listed are expensive for what they are and where they are. Probably touristas and politicos dine there, not the average Méxican citizen. If you want amazing steaks and seafood come to México mainland - the prices are fair (as long as you stay out of the tourist zones), superb quality that is affordable to all and the peeps from the north of our border will rave at the amazing foods for which they sampled and that they would have gladly paid double the price for!

Arrachara steak (extremely tender and well marinated in tequila), plus 2 skewers of grilled shrimp kabobs (freshly caught from the pacific) - $18.00

sdgirl1
sdgirl1

No thank you. Considering my friend's father's business and their life was threatened about a month ago, I'll stay right here in San Diego.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

San Diego: The city where a LA Times journalist got a beatdown from all those peace-loving San Diegans.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Congratulations, you're the first naysayer. (I'm surprised it took so long.)

Anyone's life could be threatened at any place at any time. I've been the victim of attempted muggings in New York, in San Francisco, and even Pioneer Square in Portland. It doesn't mean I don't want to go to these places.

"It happened to my friend's father" sounds, honestly, like the beginning of an e-mail forward. I'm not marginalizing what happened, just that it's a long step from there to "if I go there something will happen."

Jacki Garner
Jacki Garner

So right that restaurants and even just food is THE reason to go to Tijuana, besides some others (shopping!). But he just did a scatter-shot run-down--left out great Italian restaurants, great steak and seafood restaurants, great Chinese restaurants both in TJ and throughout Northern Baja--for quality, gotta look, though I'll show you where if you would like a ride-along guide (healthy healthy healthy fresh is top of the list along with taste and style inside or on the street). Also some INCREDIBLE GOURMET AWARD WINNING INTERNATIONAL CHEFS are making the Baja Fine Eating Experience as DIVINE as anywhere in the world for special friend prices for 1/4 or less than the going rate "on the continent" or in the States.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

The only problem I see with this article is that you didn't specify El Rincón del Oso in your plug for Hidalgo. For shame, Dave: FOR SHAME!!!

Lillian
Lillian

Food in Tijuana/Baja California is the best!! And what is better is the great opportunity with Medical tourism. Dentist, Doctors, Clinics, spas, pharmacies.

Perez_rosalinda
Perez_rosalinda

Iam from San Diego mother a I would buy our food the on the weekends

Ariel Zuniga
Ariel Zuniga

There is so many wonderful restaurants in Tijuana, Rosarito and Puerto Nuevo.. Plaza Rio, a mall located right across the San Ysidro border on Zona Rio has many stores and restaurants and mostly known for a supermarket known as Comercial Mexicana, If gambling is your thing you have Caliente. If you walk across the border, in the parking lot where the taxis are there usualy is a guy in a little truck there that sells the best Torta de Lomos ever. When you mentioned Mercado Hidalgo memories came to me. Thats were I would buy my kids pinatas and candies. With every trip I would eat at the little restaurant that sells carnitas there. You are not kidding about the produce, herbs and different moles they have there. I am so glad my cousin forwarded this article to me. I am heading down south this weekend just because of this article!

Maribel Moreno
Maribel Moreno

thanks for share your experiences in Bajainvite more to live it

Anafrancotj
Anafrancotj

I AM A US CITIZEN LIVING IN TIJUANA. I HAVE HAVE NOT HAD ANY PROBLEMS IN MEXICO WHAT SO EVER,AND I HAVE BEEN LIVING IN TIJUANA FOR 6 YEARS NOW.THE RENT IS A LOT LESS THAN SAN DIEGO.I EVEN CROSS WITH JUST CALIF ID JUST HAS LONG IF YOUR A US CITIZEN.I MUST ALSO SAY THAT THERE IS A GREAT AMUONT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS THROUGH OUT THE CITY,AND THEY ARE GREAT OFFICERS ONES THAT YOU CAN TRUST.COME TO MEXICO YOU WILL HAPPY THAT YOU CAME.

Nanotrakala
Nanotrakala

If you ever come to Tijuana you must try the tacos de camaron enchilado from el mazateño, it's on otay universidad like 1 mile west of the UABC. Those are the best shrimp tacos in Mexico (spicy shrimp served on an almost fried tortilla with cheese). Tj is not the violent city it used to be a few years ago, just use your common sense and don't go into dark lonely alleys as you wouldn't do in any major city in the world. Also, the ahumaderas tacos are not as great as it used to be, I would rather recommend you go to "tacos el Franc" or if you're near playas de Tijuana go to "tacos el frances" :)

ak
ak

Second both the Mazateño and Tacos El Franc recommendations. Also worth seeking out: Tortas Wash Mobile, Tacos Aaron, Mariscos Ruben, and the seafood shack across from Mercado Hidalgo.

BettyT
BettyT

Or to TACOS EL YAQUI in Rosarito, better known as "Los Perrones" the original ones dont get fooled by copy cats in Tijuana, the originals are in Rosarito Beach, and once here why not get an excellent lobster Puerto Nuevo Style with fried beans, rice and the best flour tortillas ever!!! Oh my I am hungry now!!!

Christian Guerra
Christian Guerra

if your looking for tacos, Tijuana's new style of tacos, TACOS PERRONES they are really good, arrachera steak tacos(flank steak) slow grilled in Leña (Firewood not Charcoal) they are delicious 3 dlls, average is 2 tacos, they are big. Traditional Carne Asada Tacos are also good, a good place is La Manzana by Avenida las Ferias they are 70cents, avg is 5 tacos ask them to put chorizo inside the taco and also ask for a Tostada of carne asada. Another style of tacos is Mazateño as Nanotrakala said located in Otay near the University i don't remember how much they cost but most people eat 4. And the last but not least are the Salceados, they are a delight!!! ...average is 3 tacos, 2dlls each, try Quezatacos de Camaron en Harina, Crispy cheese like Tamales filled with shrimp inside a Flour Tortilla with that special sauce, if you like spicy stuff you will love the chile guero asado with lemon juice and salt they have dozens of them in a big bowl you can serve your self as much as you like they are free, they are not that hot but taste like heaven.

Queerinmysoup.com
Queerinmysoup.com

Oh no!! Stop telling people about the wonders of Tijuana!! Now the crowds are sure to come and the prices for everything will start increasing. Yes, it is definitely haven for foodies, bargain hunters and those in need of $4/pill viagra. But once everyone learns that you probably have an equal chance of being caught in a crossfire in Anaheim (like this one: http://www.ocregister.com/news... as you would out there in the shady parts of town, then they'll realize they've been dupped by the media and the California travel industry and start arriving in droves. Great. Thanks a lot Dave!!

Dottie Leeper
Dottie Leeper

Born and raised in Pennsylvania I have lived off and on in Mexico for near 20 years, the last 7 in Baja. Just because the U.S. wants to keep the dollar there the media spreads lies constantly about Mexico. Yes the cartels kill each other but why should this country be penalized for what they do between rival cartels, they don‘t hurt others. Mexico does not have trillions of dollars to throw away keeping drug offenders in jail. This is what you see in the U.S. news. Here have no school, shopping center, church, etc shootings. If you are not in the drug business you are safe in our beautiful country.

Dottie Leeper
Dottie Leeper

Born and raised in Pennsylvania I have lived off and on in Mexico for near 20 years, the last 7 in Baja. Just because the U.S. wants to keep the dollar up there, the media spreads lies constantly about Mexico. Yes the cartels kill each other but why should this country be penalized for what they do between rival cartels, they don‘t hurt others. Here they have no school, shopping center, church, etc shootings. If you are not in the drug business you are safe in our beautiful country.

BettyT
BettyT

Bravo Dottie, I dont know you but I like you already!!!!

EDUARDO
EDUARDO

well something is right about this blog the fact that the city is not a hell hole, but those are defenetlly not the 10 culinary best reasons to come to the city theres much more, an the fact that javier plasencia´s is the best ¨chef¨ in baja just because he has money to put or open mediocre restaurants telling everybody that baja-med cuisine is the way to go thats just playing stupid, wen you have a baja cuisine stuffed with ingridients of our own, and young COOKS doing a hell of a job to exploid that.

juan valverde
juan valverde

Agree. Plascencia is good, he has some fine restaurants around here, but surely not the best. I can tell you of some pretty damn good restaurants better than MIssion 19.

Rinconcito Steak HouseLa Especial (Traditional)TabuleLa Querencia Mariscos Los ArcosDon Roberto's Ritz

BerrodelMal
BerrodelMal

There are better restaurants... I do agree.. but it depends on your budget and your taste buds... Mision 19.. it's overprice and over rated.. if I am going to pay 150 bucks for a meal, i least i would like to feel satisfied after it...

ilse fisher
ilse fisher

Dearest Mr. Lieberman,

This Mexican (who lived in TJ for a few years) and is living in the U.S. now, thanks you deeply for an amazing piece against stereotypes. You should be so proud of yourself!

i.

Bryan Kent
Bryan Kent

Why must the government keep spreading these lies?"Much of the country's narcotics-related violence has occurred in the border region. More than a third of all U.S. citizens killed in Mexico in 2010 whose deaths were reported to the U.S. government were killed in the border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana."Source: http://travel.state.gov/travel...

Yhollidaze
Yhollidaze

you must be reading the los angeles times... and other stupied papers that print crap.. i live there and its not all .. if your on the government page keep ready till you find they took off security corcerns about baja calif... oh yeah keep reading

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