Quick Lunch Trip to Tijuana - Report and Photos
This past Saturday, I took a quick trip to Tijuana. It was my first time visiting the city, and overall it was a really good experience.
I did a bit of research online (on Chowhound and elsewhere) before going, and also had some tips from Club Tengo Hambre (who unfortunately weren't leading any tours the weekend I was there). Because I had our stops planned out, everything was logistically pretty easy.
We drove to San Ysidro and parked at the border. We ended up in a $15 spot, right next to the Jack in the Box, though we could have parked a bit farther for cheaper. We crossed into Mexico at about 11:30 AM, and walked toward downtown. In order to reach downtown, you have to pass through some seedy areas, though I will admit that some of the taco stands we passed looked OK. It didn't feel dangerous or sketchy---just seedy.
We made it to the arch, and then walked down Calle Santiago Arguello. By this point, there were more people eating in restaurants, and some of the spots (although touristy looking) seemed interesting. But we kept walking, eventually making it to El Popo market. We walked around the market for a bit, which was cool. Lots of chiles, candies, and other bulk goods. After that, we walked south down Av. Constitucion for a few blocks, passing more interesting looking taco places (especially for al pastor/adobada, though we didn't try anything), and then at around 6th Street we caught a cab to Food Garden in Zona Rio.
Our taxi cost 60 pesos, and took about 10 minutes. Food Garden is a pleasant little spot, with a few stands selling packaged/prepared goods (we sampled some great guava syrup, tamarind syrup, and mango cheesecake) and a few food stalls. We got two tacos from Kokopelli and two from Taqueseria. From Kokopelli, we had the octopus taco and the mushroom one, which was vegetarian. I thought the mushroom one was pretty boring, but I liked the octopus more—nice chewy texture. The salsas that come with the tacos are really nice, and ranged from hot to less-hot down the tray. See picture. From Taqueseria, we had the taco that comes with fried cheese (we had carne asada inside it), and it was great. This was topped with homemade ranch sauce that almost overtook the other flavors. Meanwhile, on the shrimp taco we tried, the same sauce was a bit too overpowering. But overall, I liked the two Taqueseria tacos and the one octopus Kokopelli taco the best. We also had agua frescas: lemon with lavender, and watermelon/mint/iced tea. Both were great. Prices were really reasonable (total bill for all of this was about $14 US dollars).
Food Garden has a Facebook page here:https://www.facebook.com/foodgardentj
It's located at General Rodolfo Sanchez Taboada 10650, between Mision Santo Tomas and Mision de San Diego. It reminded me of what I'd find in Portland, Oregon at the various food truck pods.
After this, we walked south toward Cebicheria Erizo, which was on Av. Sonora 38081, about a 10 minute walk away. Once we got there, we decided to skip eating there, since we wanted to save room. But it looks like a nice spot. Tablecloths, sit-down, though not otherwise very fancy. From near there, we caught another taxi to take us to Mariscos el Mazateño.
The taxi ride to Mariscos el Mazateño cost seven US dollars, and took about 12-15 minutes. It's located at Calzada Tecnologico 473, right where it hits Av Popolo. It's right by a soccer field, basically the west end of Calz. Tecnologico. The place is casual, with plastic tables and chairs, but I was surprised by its size. I would guess more than 100 people were there eating when we arrived. We sat down, and our server asked if we wanted the complimentary seafood consomme, to which we said yes. The broth was salty, but a squeeze of lime helped balance it out. We ordered two of the shrimp tacos (the house specialty) and one tostada de ceviche de pescado. We got some complimentary tortilla chips which were freshly fried and delicious. I later used them to eat our ceviche. But first up were the shrimp tacos, which were the best I've ever had. Lots of plump shrimp cooked in tons of garlic and a bit of chili. Basically it was a delicious, spicy shrimp al ajillo, all stuffed into a tortilla with melting cheese. The tacos were greasy, hot and hard to heat, but eating this alone made the entire trip worthwhile. The ceviche was also nice, with tomato, onion, cilantro and citrus. It was a big version and tasted very fresh. Not sure what kind of fish it was, but it was the most basic version available. This entire meal cost around $10, if I recall correctly. Definitely worth the visit. What kind of cheese is it in those tacos?
After this, we had thought about trying to hit up Taqueria Franc for some tacos al pastor, but we were too full. I guess I'm getting too old for true food crawls, since I fill up after just two places! So we caught a taxi from Mazateño back to the border crossing at San Ysidro, which was five US dollars.
The line to cross back to the US was a bit long, so in total we spent about 3 hours in Mexico, and then almost 2 hours getting back! There are a fair number of snacks available in the customs queue, but we weren't hungry enough to try any.
I do speak Spanish, which made the taxi part of the trip pretty easy (we only took the Taxis Libres, which are white taxis.) All prices were arranged w/ driver; we didn't use the meter. Our entire lunch trip to Mexico cost us about $40 or $45 US Dollars, and that included enough food to fill us up, plus all transportation.
Probably not something I'd do every weekend, even if I could, but I'm really glad I went.
You got some really cheap taxi prices! Especially back to the border from El Mazateño.
The pulpo enchilado taco at El Mazateño is fantastic, almost better than the shrimp taco, and the cheese is probably a variant of quesillo.
I think you ordered wrong at Tacos Kokopelli. The Gringo and Negro Durazo are super good. The Negro Durazo looks totally gnarly but is pretty delectable.
I would have past up both El Mazateño and Food Garden to eat at Erizo. It is by far one of the best restaurants in TJ. I've eaten my way through about 2/3 of the menu and there have only been a couple of duds in the lot. The food is clean, ample and ideal for sharing and truly highlights Mexican, and Baja in particular, seafood. Hands down, the best aguachile de camaron I've ever eaten. Blisteringly hot, but totally addictive. It was really too hot for both my friend and I, yet neither of us could stop eating it until it was totally gone :-). Erizo is also just around the corner form one of the better craft beer bars that serves up most, or at least many, of the beers that are starting to pop up in TJ.
Skip the food in the pedestrian line back to the U.S., most of it looks and smells better than it tastes.
If you ever decide to do this road trip again, your best bet would be to park at Delta Truck Parking for $7 for the day. They'll shuttle you to the Otay crossing for free and pick up up when you return. The Otay pedestrian crossing is usually a lot shorter than SY.
Glad to hear you had a good time exploring one of the more interesting food cities these days
Good to hear about Erizo. I will definitely keep it in mind if I visit in the future.
I was wondering it Otay crossing for pedestrians is shorter, good to know that it probably is. Mazateño is sort of in-between the two crossings, so a taxi to Otay probably wouldn't be much more anyway. So if I were to go to Mazateno again, I would try that crossing instead.
re: Dave MP
You covered at lot of ground!!
El Mazateño is closer to Otay than San Ysidro. The last time we went, which was about a year or so ago, the taxi cost us $20 (for 5 people), so if you got a taxista to take you back to SY for only $5, you did some pretty fancy negotiating :-)
Otay is more of a commercial crossing. It does not have the same level of services for pedestrians that SY does. Since they moved the southbound crossing at SY last year it's really a PITA. Otay going south is way less congested for pedestrians. The radio taxis are right there when you cross, to get over to the taxis libres you have to cross the southbound lanes into Mexico and the northbound lanes back into the US, on foot. There's a quasi cross walk and, thankfully, the northbound lanes at that location are usually not just whizzing along. Once on the other side there is a gate you have to go through and then further south about another block or so.
The pedestrian crossing at Otay is usually shorter, sometimes not. I think it's sometimes more of a crapshoot as far as how long the Otay pedestrian line will be. I recently came through there on foot on a Monday morning at about 8:45 am and there was not one single person in line. I've been through there at a similar time on a weekday and have had to wait anywhere from 30-60 minutes; that was before I got SENTRI :-) A taxi ride into town from Otay is going to be more expensive than SY, but with your mad negotiating skills you could probably get a better rate.
In your post you said you walked into town. Did you know there are at least 2 areas close to the SY pedestrian crossing where you can pick up a libre taxi?
If you follow the pedestrian line around the curve and up the hill that leads to a bridge (where taxis used to let you off) you'll run into radio taxis. Keep on going about another half block and you can usually pick up a taxi libre in that area because that's where they drop off their border fares.
Or, once you've crossed and come out on the other side and are going parallel to the northbound pedestrians, you'll see the big, old ugly pedestrian bridge over to the other side of the roadway. All the radio cab frontmen will be urging you over. Go over the bridge, but at the foot of it, instead of going left to the radio cabs,if you go straight ahead you'll walk through a small plaza and out to the street. Across the street is the 2nd class (and ABC) bus station, but this used to be where all the taxis libres picked up people before the crossing was moved. Some of them still do.
And, I don't think your capacity to eat is diminishing (I can only do 3 stops in TJ), the portions are usually generous. At many of the food events in SD these days, they only serve small tasting portions, so end up eating a whole bunch of small bites in order to get full. In Mexico they don't do small bites :-) You get full size portions and those shrimp tacos at El Mazateño are beyond overstuffed :-). One is almost a meal in itself