Tijuana is officially on the foodie map. With award winning chefs like Javier Placencia and his Mision 19 restaurant, good food has transformed this city with a bad rep into a trendy place to eat. And for those people who love real street food, TJ has some of the best in the world. Food stands that move, and those standing for over four decades, from meat to sweets; it’s a city offering the tastiest and some of the most unique.
In 1964, Tortas Wash Mobile was one torta stand, located adjacent to a car wash. Today, there is no longer a carwash and no rival to a better torta.
Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, the Hernández family serves about 200 people a day at $3.50 each.
Starting with “mariposa” or butterfly cut of steak, the meat marinates for 12 hours in the family receipt. Next, it’s grilled over coals, then chopped on a mesquite wood block. While waiting to be folded into the house-made Telera (Ciabattia) bread the meat is left to soak in its own juices. Next, the bread is sliced and warmed on the grill. Sandwiches are spread lovingly with mayo, a seasoned tomato and grilled red onion vinaigrette, and a layer of guacamole. Lastly the succulent meat is added. A spicy salsa can be dribbled, and the locals do, but tourists beware—it’s hot—tourists are few and far between.
Next up, one can’t think of Mexican food, especially Baja-style without mentioning tacos—fish tacos that is. Only in Mexico can you find the elusive smoked Marlin fish taco. Served in a homemade corn tortilla with fresh guacamole, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. “Tacos are personal. Everyone has their own opinions, and people tend to stick to the ones close to where they live, but Tacos N’ Salsas is one of the best,” Kristin Diaz de Sandi, a food blogger of her very popular Baja site Life & Food.
Only in TJ would such a totally “crazy” combination of foods come together and be considered a snack/salad/meal all in one—the Tostiloco. Made to order at La Movida, the man-sized bowl is filled with Salsa Verde Tostitos (yes the chips in a bag), Pickled pigskin (known as Cueritos, and yes they look like cellophane gummy worms and have the consistency of Calamari), Chamoy, Clamato, limejuice, cucumber, jicama, tamarindo candies, and Japanese peanuts. “People eat this at the movies like popcorn? Calamari my ass,” Jodi Thiede SDSU professor of English—It’s an acquired taste, but so popular, it was recently written about as a delicacy in the New York Times by food writer John T. Edge.
If gummy worm-like pickled pigskins and super-spicy Marlon fish tacos turn your tummy, most people would agree a Paleta (ice-cream) from La Michoacána would delight. Offering 100% all natural desert bars from the traditional Vanilla, covered in chocolate and nuts, to Lemon and Strawberry loaded with real chunks of fruit all made on bars with sticks the size of number two pencils.
Nothing finishes off a day in Mexico better than a cold beer, and like every other hip city, microbrewery are the haps of the moment.
The Don Loope bar, located on the new and very trendy Sexta street, offers one of the largest selections of beers and tequilas in the city. There’s no sign on the door, and most of the bars looks so dicey you might not want to enter, but once inside, it only takes a moment for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and realize the high level of fun and irony in the design and vibe.
One of the newest up-and-comers to the micro-brew world is Zesde Cervecheria—with several options to taste, the beers range from sweet Vanilla Sky Stout and Bullet Dodger Honey Blonde Ale (fermented with local Baja honey) to Das Falco IPA, a bit more bitter with lots of hops.
Watching the TJ food scene is akin to observing a toddler move from crawling to walking—he may fall and hurt himself and sometimes be a little difficult to be around, but in the end they walk tall and strong, and you’re so proud to have been apart of it.
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.