What to eat in Tijuana – a food lover’s guide

While traveling to California, back in 2016, some of my friends told me about the amazing things they ate in Baja California Mexican state, just across the US – Mexico border. One of Baja California’s largest cities is Tijuana. 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 😀 Here’s what to eat in Tijuana on the go 😊 And if you’re curious of my other food adventures, check out my other posts.

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 🙂 Getting across the border from the US to Mexico is easy-peasy. I was already prepared, with my passport in hand, all excited about the cross. Well… nobody actually checked us getting across. We passed a certain point and we found ourselves in Mexico (the only thing I could thing about, apart from the food I was going to eat, was that this cross is definitely not like in the movies :))

Now… most of the people I have told about my trip to Tijuana had a lot of comments and warnings for me – 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 and, of course, there are those places where you shouldn’t go as a foreigner, so all was ok 🙂 – you can find these places in every city you go, so nothing new here.

Tijuana exerts a strong influence on local economics, education, culture, art, and politics. Tijuana is also a lovely city, with great, 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.

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.

In this case, it 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 – no doubt about that.

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 😀

All in all, our 3- people lunch cost us about 10 US dollars. The owners were more than happy to accept the US currency, as we did not have local currency. most of the stores and businesses in Tijuana accept US currency, although it was not clear me what exchange rate they were using.

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 haven’t done it until now, so I figured than was not the time to try new things 😀

One of the things that you definitely need to try out in Tijuana (apart from delighting your taste buds) is shopping. They have local markets, big places, where you can find hand-made products, local, traditional objects, which you can buy as souvenirs. Of course, the locals will try to make you buy everything – this happens everywhere, not just in Mexico. 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. Before coming back to the US from Mexico, no matter your citizenship, you might want to check out the US Customs and Border Protection website. 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.

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). We had the 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 it was really funny because they were not speaking even a tiny bit of English, so sign language was very used!) made this early dinner just perfect. Not to mention that we again paid a small amount of money (in our understanding!). The entire meal, along with soft drinks was approximately 20 US dollars. Neither in the US, nor in my home country Romania, could you have eaten that much and spend so little.

We topped up the meal with the most tasty coffee I have ever had. I am a coffee aficionado (another way of saying coffee addict!). The small coffee shop was just outside the restaurant we had dinner in 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 🙂

 

13 comments

  1. Tijuana just seem like the dream destination! I love love love Central American cuisine and I had tacos in Playa del Carmen which were, frankly, underwhelming- BUT I’m sure the rest of Mexico knows how it’s done!

    1. You have to try the ones from the places where locals eat… those are the best. the touristic ones are horrible 🙂

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