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Aug 26, 2010 01:08 AM

Tijuana breakfast, and then eating in and around Rosarito? Tecate?

DH's work actually will take him to the area over Labor Day weekend. In return for about four hours of actual labor, he gets paid plus use of a fancy condo in Rosarito for the three days. I'm going along for the ride, and in case a translator is required :-)

Our current plan is to drive from Vegas to San Diego Friday night after work (I'm sure there will be the requisite stop at the Mad Greek in Barstow for dinner...), and spend the night at a cheap motel somewhere. Then we hope to get up very early and beat the crowds over the border. Once we've accomplished that, we would love breakfast/brunch in the Tijuana area...any suggestions? Bonus points for great Huevos Rancheros.

We're willing to travel a little once we're in Rosarito for good food, but I am concerned about security. Any ideas for a beach-side dinner? Also, while he's working Sat. pm, I might want to haunt the food markets. Language is not an issue for me (I speak near-fluent Spanish) but I do want recommendations for places where I'll feel reasonably safe. Maybe there's really only one market in Rosarito, it doesn't strike me as a very big place.....I've driven through there years ago on the way to Ensenada, but didn't stop.....Suggestions, Hounds? Oh, and am I right in assuming that exchanging money isn't necessary and that local markets/restaurants are happy to take my dollars?

Finally, any good liquor stores where we can splurge on some high-end Tequila? Also, we're thinking of ditching the inevitable Labor Day crowds crossing back over on Monday and making the border crossing at Tecate, and then cutting across the desert somehow to get back on 15. Is the brewery worth a tour? Any suggestions there for lunch?

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  1. Hi Janet

    Send an email to me at and I will send you a copy of my spreadsheets on chow in TJ and Rosarito. Gypsy Jan

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gypsy Jan

      can I also get a copy of this info? my email is

    2. The border crossing at Tecate gets backed up quite a bit too, plus it dumps you out on San Diego's back county 2-lane roads. However, if you choose to cross at Tecate, you'll automatically be on state route 94. Just follow 94 West to state route 125 north. After about 7 or 8 miles on 125, it will turn into state route 52. 7 or 8 more miles and you'll be at the 15. From the U.S. side of Tecate to the 15 interchange is probably going to be somewhere between 65-90 minutes depending upon traffic.

      The Otay crossing between Tijuana and Tecate may be worth some consideration. It's mostly big trucks and shuttles, but private cars can cross there and the wait is usually shorter than Tijuana, and certainly not as far east as Tecate.

      Check out the forums for the Baja Nomad - - there are quite a few threads on food.

      1. I'd spend my time eating in Ensenada/Valle de Guadalupe rather than Rosarito, but I'm sure GJ's spreadsheet beats the hell out of any recommendations I would make.

        My experience re high-end tequila and using dollars in border towns: The good tequilas are actually cheaper at Bev Mo stores than in any stores in México (and I have LOTS of experience and data). You can easily use dollars, but you'll get a shitty exchange rate, but you'll be in México such a short while it probably doesn't matter. I use credit and debit cards and get cash via debit cards from ATMs.

        Going home: For something interesting and for fun, take Highway 2 (toll road) to Mexicali and have lunch in one of the restaurants in Chinesca (weird, interesting, not to be missed Chinese-Mexican "fusion" food). Then get on IS 8 and head home.

        4 Replies
        1. re: dlglidden

          IMHO, if it is a perceived premium item, tequila or wine or anything else (including the nonexistent penthouses in the nonexistent Trump Towers in Baja), the price will always be higher in Mexico. No half-off sales (as several people who paid up-to-millions of dollars for plain air have discovered).

          1. re: dlglidden

            We were thinking of buying the tequila to drink there...or at least start the bottle there. What are the rules on bringing alcohol from the US INTO Mexico?

            1. re: janetofreno

              One bottle per legal age adult, whether it is 750 ml or 1 ltr. A lot of people buy at the duty free shop in San Ysidro, and a guy on the motorcycle hands it off to you at a prearranged meeting place on the other side.

              Lots of people buy and bring over cases of wine and liquor. If you are searched at secondary and the contraband is discovered, depending on the inspector, they give you a choice of turning around and going back to the U.S. or they confiscate it or just pour it out on the ground right there.

              If you have a Costco membership, your card is good at the two Costco stores in Tijuana and you don't have to worry about inspection, but I keep hearing from several different binational Mexican-Americans that the prices for liquor (including tequila) are lower in the U.S. Costcos.

              1. re: Gypsy Jan

                "Lots of people buy and bring over cases of wine and liquor. If you are searched at secondary and the contraband is discovered, depending on the inspector, they give you a choice of turning around and going back to the U.S. or they confiscate it or just pour it out on the ground right there".

                The very first time I drove to México, back in the '60s, I returned with a liter of Sauza Hornitos and a leftover bottle of Cerveza Corona. The customs inspector informed me that I would have to pay duty on the bottle of beer! I told him "just a minute" and then chugged the Corona, tossed the empty bottle in the back seat, and drove on home. My backup plan was to get out of the car, lie supine on the ground next to my car, and ask him to pour the contents of the bottle into my mouth.

                I've never had a problem going the other way. On our annual trip to Mazatlán I usually bring a case of Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel to hold us until I can get to a Soriana and stock up on Calafia Vino Tinto. But who knows, one day I may get the "red light" and I'll see what happens?


          2. If you are in Tijuana for breakfast I suggest La Espadaña, in the so-called Gastronomic District. The huevos rancheros are great as is the Café de Olla (slightly sweet coffee brewed with cinnamon bark). It is a fairly high-end restaurant but prices are moderate by US standards. The restaurant is quite popular on weekends especially with families. The restaurant is located at Boulevard Sánchez Taboada 10813, at the corner of Escuandrón 201.

            There is no need to exchange money.

            Regarding you plan to skip Tijuana on your return by leaving through Tecate, may I suggest you avoid Highway 3, from Ensenada to Tecate via the Guadalupe Valley. About 14 miles of the highway between the Valley and the border are under construction with the road being dirt and gravel. There are alternate roads to Tecate but that is probably a topic for something other than Chowhound.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Ringo Gato

              I second the recommendation of La Espadana, though I recall the Cafe de Olla being more than slightly sweet. My hot beverage order, which sometimes elicits momentary confused reactions from the waiters, is for a coffee and a hot chocolate and then I mix them to make a great mocha.

              Last November, it looked like progress was being made on Highway 3... is there a projected completion date? The unlit, torn-up road did make it hard to find Laja in the dark!

              1. re: foodeye

                Hmmm? Interesting news about Hwy 3 from Ensenada to Tecate. We last ate at Laja on May 15th of this year and the road (from Ensenada to KM 83) was "normal."

                1. re: foodeye

                  Hwy 3 from the coast through Valle de Guadalupe (including access to vineyards, hotels and restaurants, such as Laja) is fine. Parts of it are now two lanes each way. I went to the Concurso de Paellas, the last event of Fiestas de Vendimia, August 22 and was advised by several people that a 12-14 mile stretch of Hwy 3 east of Francisco Zarco (which is near L.A. Cetto winery) is challenging due to reconstruction.

                  I will return to the area this weekend for dinner at Laja, wine tasting at Vindedos Malagon, EMEVE (winners of this year's Vendimia for their Malbec), and Vinos Pijoan. I will see what I can find out about the state of Hwy 3 and its projected completion.

              2. Once you are in Rosarito, I would head out for fresh lobster and flour tortillas with lovely beans and rice with cold beer at Puerto Nuevo..I go to the first house on the left..across from the small's the original.
                There are lots of places along the way on either side of PN that have great huevos rancheros, guac, chips and margs.
                Used to go to Calafia past Rosarito for drinks built into the cliffs but you must be aware that there is a US Travel Advisory from the State Department and I would keep on the toll road and do not break any speed rules..if you are taking the porsche, I would leave it at home.
                Gypsy Jan is a great resource..for me, it's way too dangerous and I have a get out of jail card from the powers that be..
                I wonder if traffic is the problem it used to be on holidays since I don't know many people that travel there anymore..I wouldn't head to Tecate to avoid the traffic..way out of the way for that..maybe Otay Mesa crossing.
                I miss it and have a wonderful time and report back!

                9 Replies
                1. re: Beach Chick

                  Hi Beach Chick,

                  Tijuana (yes, even TJ), Rosarito and Ensenada are safe for a visitor to travel to and, believe me, the business people are ready, willing and eager to welcome travelers.

                  There has been a noticeable return of tourist activity to these areas this summer.

                  Just remember that you are in a different country, so be aware of the rules and requirements and use common sense. The Rosarito Beach Visitor's Bureau has a English-language hot line to advise you on planning a trip (and chowing, to keep this on subject) and when you are in TJ/Rosarito, you can dial 911 on your cell phone and an English speaking operator will answer.

                  1. re: Gypsy Jan

                    Thanks for all the chow tips, all! And don't worry about the rest; we are experienced foreign travelers and I speak near-fluent Spanish, so I feel comfortable there...which may be half the battle. Is it a toll road to Puerto Nuevo, and if so, are US coins/bills acceptable? DH definitely wants lobster....

                    Any good places for ceviche?

                    1. re: janetofreno

                      Janet, I really don't want to sound like some kind of someone who pretends to know everything., but, firstly from a Chowhound in Baja, do not go to Puerto Nuevo. (Think of going to Disneyland for authentic Thai.). Frozen ugly, nasty things imported from Thailand are served to the undiscerning masses that the tour buses deliver there. Maybe I sound harsh, but what I am saying is accurate.

                      In Rosarito, a few blocks north of the hotel, on the main boulevard is Vince's Restaurant and Fish Market. They have live lobsters ready-to-be-cooked on order (and if you do not like dred out fried piece of shellfish resembling tough fishy-tasting leather, ask for it to be prepared "al vapor" ,steamed).

                      There is a San Diego freeway worthy toll road from Playas de Tijuana to Ensenada. * A frequently unknown fact, when you pay your toll, you also pay for auto insurance liability. Save your receipts!

                      For ceviche and aguachile, go to JRs Tacos in Rosarito, on the free road, about one mile south of the Rosarito Beach Hotel. If you are really serious abut ceviche, go fourteen miles south to Primo Tapia, to Mariscos Alegria.

                      These are not fancy tourist places. They are honest establishments that have business for years serving the local population.

                      1. re: Gypsy Jan

                        first house on the left (original Ortega's) is a lovely place and I think your are doing a disservice to them and to the area saying that you shouldn't go.
                        just my 2 cents..

                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Hi Beach Chick,

                          I really debated with myself whether to answer or not. Hey, your opinion, my opinion, that's what Chowhound is all about.

                          But, I am nagged by the feeling that your feelings were hurt by my post, thinking that iwhat I said was a flippant, casual dis.

                          I have eaten at that first house on the left in Puerto Nuevo, many times. The old man loves to talk to my husband. And yes, they serve a good meal.

                          But, my complaint about Puerto Nuevo is that is not a Chowhound place. Yes, you will get good value, yes, you will get a somewhat decent meal on average, but still, the fact is that it is all a lazy, dumbed down experience unless you know where to go and what to ask for.

                          1. re: Gypsy Jan

                            Hey Gypsy Jan,
                            I love the original Ortega's house on the left and that is the only place that I go to and I find it extremely chow worthy..albeit, I haven't been down there for several years...maybe things have changed.
                            I remember when you looked for the upside down 7up bottle..
                            I love the restaurants in Mexico and find their cuisine to be some of the best in the world and I really miss going down and spending the weekend..eating, drinking and playing golf..

                            1. re: Beach Chick

                              Beach Chick and SGLA

                              You have been beheaded, much like La Barbie did to others. I hear that the aguachile in Sinaloa is very good, and the Pescado Zarandeado. I hope to encounter a faithful rendition here in Baja sometime in the future.

                              1. re: Gypsy Jan

                                to both of you: We went to the original Ortega's as suggested (this last discussion occurred too late to help us), and although we enjoyed it and thought we got a good value for the money, it definitely wasn't the best meal of the trip. I am about to write up a trip report with a few tips not mentioned here, so look for it! BTW, I thought the best part of the lobster meal was the beans...they had a distinctive smoky taste I really enjoyed...maybe a little chipotle? Anyway, we enjoyed the outing to Rosarito regardless...found a good sweet shop, and I bought a gorgeous shawl there very unlike others I saw on the I was happy!

                      2. re: janetofreno

                        The toll road will take you to Puerto Nuevo and the toll booths accept US $. The cost is about $2.15 and there are two toll booths between Tijuana and Puerto Nuevo.

                        Lobster season is not until later this year (Fall) so you are likely to get frozen lobster or lobster from somewhere else this time of year. I suppose you could also get illegally harvested lobster as well.

                        Regarding ceviche,I have no experience with Rosarito or Puerto Nuevo but if you extend your trip about 40 minutes further south to Ensenada, check out Muelle Tres on the water, near the fish market. One of Mexico;s most celebrated chefs, Benito Molina, is the owner of the restaurant. The yellowtail ceviche is fantastic. The yellowtail sashimi is seasoned (my best guess) with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and chili. For about $11 you will get a plate of fish that will serve two people.