Home to a Michelin rated restaurant (Mision 19), the original caesar salad (found at Caesar’s Restaurant on Ave Revolució
n), a budding hipster bar scene and many delectable tacos, Tijuana is on the brink of becoming big competition for foodie cities like Austin, Portland or Los Angeles. It was ravaged a few years ago by cartel violence and it still has a reputation for being a dangerous bordertown that should be avoided. The Tijuana I experienced, however, is everything but that.
We spent the day in Tijuana a couple of weeks ago with Rob’s sister and her boyfriend and it was one of the best day trips I have ever taken. The minute I crossed the border back into the US I was homesick for the food, drinks, and vibe that is Tijuana. I am hoping we can go one more time before we head back up to the Bay Area in March, but until then I will share how we made our trip across the border so fabulous.
Before You Go: Some phone companies offer free roaming data in Mexico and it is something I highly suggest you get. It is very helpful being able to pull up maps, request Ubers, or even check out Yelp while you are on the go.
What to Bring: passport, comfortable walking shoes, lots of water, reusable bags, waterless hand soap, and sunscreen or a hat.
How to Get There: Of course there are many ways to get to Tijuana, but I suggest using the most old fashioned mode of transportation: your feet. We parked in San Ysidro, next to the Jack n the Box, across the street from the train station and paid $14 for 11 hours. Once you’ve parked, follow the signs (and the people) to the border crossing. We arrived around 9:30AM and there were four people in front of us. We had our passports stamped and we were in Mexico in less than 15 minutes. Taxis and Ubers are easy to come by once you are over the border, so if walking for 6+ hours is not your thing, you definitely don’t have to.
*Driving in is also an option but you have to get Mexican car insurance and getting back into the US can take hours.
What to Do: You can’t go wrong if you eat, drink, explore and eat more. Feel free to follow our footsteps exactly, or just use them to get ideas.
- 10:30 Tacos Don Esteban
Eat a quesobrosa and drink a Mexican coke. We stumbled upon this place looking for the Food Garden (Stop #4). Hunger was making me a little hangry and we decided to have a taco to tide us over before continuing our search. The quesobrosa is a taco with a strip of steak (New York Strip Steak) on top of beans and cheese. I had two tacos on this trip that stood out from the rest and this was one of them.
- 11:15 Mercado Hidalgo
Eat and drink a coconut from the stall in the middle of the parking lot. They will pour the water in one bag to be drank with a straw and the put the meat in another. Even if you aren’t a fan of coconut (like me) it is a fun experience to watch them chop up the coconut for you! Take a peak in any of the stalls around the perimeter. They are loaded with lots of fun goodies like candy, clayware, and tchotchkes.
- 11:40 “The Cube” at the Tijuana Cultural Center
An impressive architectural wonder where you can rest your feet and enjoy your coconut from Mercado Hidalgo.
- 12:00 The Food Garden (Tip: It is in a mall (the Plaza Rio) behind the Cinépolis Plaza Rio)
Eat any of the ceviche from Erizo and drink a caraf of wine from La Contra. We intended this to be our first stop, but Google didn’t have the location correct on the maps. We stopped here for a while, enjoying our food, the atmosphere, and our wine, and charging our phones.
**Optional Stop, the cart on the corner of Paseo de los Heroés and Antonio Caso
We only stopped to get a small bag of duritos, but they have some delicious looking fruit salads that the guys make them to order. Even if you don’t get anything, stop for a minute to “oooo” and “awww” at their impressive knife wielding skills!
- 1:15 Kokopelli
Eat the salmon and brie taco and drink a unique Mexican beer. I loved sitting in the window at this restaurant and taking in the brightly colored decor around me. The ingredients they pair on the tacos will surprise you, but it is worth going out on a limb to try some of the more bizarre options. Their salsas range from slightly sweet to (very) spicy. The spiceiest salsa didn’t really affect Rob. However, the second most spicy salsa is the one that almost did him in. Proceed with caution.
- 2:30 Taco Alley
Eat an adobada taco with everything from Las Ahumaderas. Honestly, you can’t go wrong eating a taco from any of these stalls, but the taco from Las Ahumaderas is tied with the quesobrosa from Don Esteban’s Tacos for best taco in Tijuana. According to me.
- 3:15 Cafe Stazzione
Drink a cortado or a dulce and linger in the Italianesque cafe. I have two favorite coffee places in the world. One is in Brooklyn***link*** and the other is Cafe Stazzione. The Dulce was sweet but not too sweet: the perfect palette cleanser.
**I suggest taking an Uber from here to the next stop. You could walk but it’s a bit far and the Uber only cost us $2!
- 4:00 La Mezcalera
Unfortunately this bar was closed when we went, but we’ve heard it is an amazing place for Mezcal and chapulines (fried grasshoppers)!
- 5:00 Dandy Del Sur
Our group wasn’t really feeling a dive bar that day, but it is at the top of my list of places I want to try next time we go.
- 6:00 El Surtidor del Tamal Venta
Eat the elote dulce, pollo con salsa roja, and frijoles puercos. Drink a champurrado. I love tamales (hence why we made them for Christmas Eve) so I knew I had to have at least one while we were in Tijuana. They were so good that we took a few back with us to the US!
- 6:45 Mamut Brewery
Drink any of the beers out on the balcony and do a tasting of Mezcal inside. We were stuffed by the time we got here so we only drank, but the impressive and decorative pizza oven makes me think they have delicious pizzas!
- 8:00 Kentucky Fried Buches
Eat fried turkey necks (buches) with tortillas and salsa. The most gritty place we stopped by far. The buches were worth it though! Try to avoid the bathroom, but if you can’t, make sure to use plenty of waterless hand soap after!
How to Get Back to the US: Use this website to see real time border crossing time estimates. Crossing at San Ysidro (where you entered) will probably be a great deal longer than crossing at the border 8 miles to the east, Otay Mesa. For us it would have been a 2 hour wait at San Ysidro, but we took a $5.50 Uber to Otay Mesa and crossed the border in less than 10 minutes. To get back to our car in San Ysidro it was a $9.50 Uber. Next time we plan to park in Otay Mesa, cross into Mexico there, take an Uber down to the action and then back to Otay Mesa at the end of the trip.
One last thing before you leave: grab some fresh and hot churros as you walk to the gate at either San Ysidro or Otay Mesa! You will not be disappointed!