what to eat in tijuana, mexico

Road - trip? Yes, please...

Back in 2016, one of my New Year’s Resolution was to travel to 10 countries in a single year 😊 Somehow, I managed to do that, reaching my 10th country just in the last days of 2016. 

My last country in 2016? Beautiful Mexico! Here is my story about my quick half day, food trying, resolution completing trip to Tijuana, Mexico 😀

December 2016 found me visiting my friends in Los Angeles, California, the US. It was a trip to remember and the fact that I am writing about that has to mean something (besides that, I have a serious case of nostalgic wanderlust, so I use any medicine I can to solve it – in this case, this post :P) All of my friends had already been to Tijuana, so, it was mandatory for me to go and try the local food. Being the foodie that I am, I could not miss such an opportunity – I could have never forgiven myself 😀

So, imagine us (me and two of my friends :D), at around 11 o’clock in the morning, getting into the car, already starved, because we were way to lazy to eat our breakfast 😊 The trip to Tijuana takes around two hours, if you do not count all the toilet breaks (mine!) and the cigarette breaks (theirs!). But, it is a marvel to drive on I-5 – you basically go up I-5 in Anaheim (our start point) and just end up in Tijuana 😊

I was told by some that it is not safe, that I should stay next to my friends and not wonder by myself. My actual experience was a very pleasant one, people are quite friendly and open. Of course, like in any other city, there are those places where you shouldn’t go as a foreigner, I did not go – so all was ok 😊

Tijuana exerts a strong influence on local economics, education, culture, art, and politics. Tijuana is, also, a lovely city, with large beaches and lots of street food vendors, just waiting for you to try out their products 😀 Which we did, of course! First stop in Tijuana – Rosarito Beach.

Rosarito Beach is a city itself, connected to Tijuana, but with its own administrative privileges. It was, throughout history a place orientated on tourism and, during the American prohibition, it was a favorite place for Hollywood celebrities to come and have a drink.

so... where the food at?

All I wanted was to taste the street food, of which I had heard so much from my American friends. And, let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Not only that, I could have moved to that little beach and just live off street food. What made me think this was a small cart with various types of oysters, clams and an absolutely delicious shrimp salad. Just close to the beach, a family had set up a business, with extremely fresh produce.

My biggest surprise was the fact that I had absolutely no problem at all eating right there, next to the beach, wind blowing all around us (it was December, after all and the Pacific is picky :D) The cart was not one of the cleanest, but it was all kept and it was clear that the produce was fresh. We decided to go for raw oysters with lemon juice and shrimp salad.

The oysters were amazing! It was my first time trying raw oysters and it was a thrill for the mouth. My taste buds were singing my praises long afterwards (well… actually, until we got to the next food joint, but that is a little further below :P) I told you they were fresh, I could taste the salty flavor of the Pacific and the combination of that taste with the bitterness of the lemon literally sent chills down my spine… a little bit of food orgasm never hurt nobody 😀 Classy as the place was, we also received savory crackers to accompany the oysters, which I found really funny, because it was definitely not high end, for them to think of these type of details.

Second course was the shrimp salad – made with raw shrimps, cut in little pieces, mixed with cucumbers, chili peppers, a little bit of onion and a generous slice of avocado. On top, a crisp tortilla. This was such a rainbow to the taste buds, the combination of hot peppers with the relative sweetness of the shrimps and of the avocado was simply perfect. In the end, although the salad was pretty spicy, we just ate the salad as it was without adding any other spices to it. The poor tortilla ended up being blown away by the wind 😀 We did leave something to try at a later date – the chocolate clams, considered Baja’s seafood candy, a treat preferred by chefs all around the world. I definitely need to go back there and taste those clams!

After this delightful late lunch, I had to take the opportunity to dip my toes in the Pacific 😊 The beach was mostly empty, except for some other street food vendors and some horse owners, who were offering you rides on the beach. I did not dare ride one of those horses. As I hadn’t done it until now, so I figured than was not the time to try new things 😀

Let me do some shopping and I will be quiet...

One of the things that you definitely need to try out in Tijuana is shopping. They have local markets, big places, where you can find hand-made products, traditional objects, which you can buy as souvenirs. Of course, the locals will try to make you buy everything – this happens everywhere. I personally think it is helpful sometimes, as I usually have no idea what to buy 😊 We wandered through Mercado Miguel Hidalgo Zona del Rio Local for about an hour or so. There are many, many booths, with souvenirs, toys, clothes, cleaning products, just waiting for you to visit them. As I understood, there are no restrictions for bringing products from Mexico to the US – of course, you have to keep it within the limits and explain to the customs officers that they are for your own use.  We ended up getting about three bottles of alcohol and an abnormal quantity of sweets across the border and we had no problems with the customs. 

More food? Of course...

After all that shopping, we were very tired – imagine, shopping can be tiresome from time to time. So, when we found this small restaurant smack in the middle of the market, we had no other choice but to sit down at one of their tables and enjoy some typical Mexican treats. Believe me…we were forced to do it, that restaurant was too colorful and welcoming.

The location, called Carnitas “El Jerezano” is part restaurant, part butcher shop – you could buy various meat products on the spot, no matter if prepared or raw. The menu of the place was limited to Mexican dishes, not complicated, but rather those that could be eaten quickly. The location is definitely planned for short visits.

We ordered, as we usually do, many dishes and combined them between ourselves (we do that wherever we go  – this way we taste more than a dish and have a bigger picture of the food we are having): bisteck ranchero (beef tenderloin, grilled, with ranch sauce and rice), carnitas (small tacos filled with meat strips), Costilla en salsa de Molcajete (pork meat cooked in a special Mexican ceramic dish, with salsa sauce and fresh vegetables), caldo de res (a soup filled with various vegetables, among which corn), rajas con queso (a sort of tacos dish, filled with meat strips and cheese). 

We had a little bit of everything and the dishes were so tasty. The different flavors of the dishes, the atmosphere of the place (it was a family owned place, all the patrons knew each other and, what was really funny, none of them were speaking even a tiny bit of English, so sign language was very used!) made this early dinner just perfect.

We topped up the meal with the tastiest coffee I have ever had. I am a coffee aficionado (another way of saying coffee addict!) and I was still surprised. The small coffee shop was also in the market and it is called Café Hidalgo. It was creamy, very flavored, not too acid, perfect to be drank after a full meal.
Time was ticking and we wanted to go back to Anaheim that evening, so we had to say goodbye from Tijuana and leave that wonderful food behind. My heart broke a little, thinking of all those tacos I could have still eaten 😊 But, for sure, I am going back to Mexico one day, so… all the tacos will be in grave danger 😊