An overabundance of contributions to our September 5 Feast issue allowed us to offer these leftovers. Find Chad Deal's Baja leftovers below. Not in the mood for Mexi? Try Eve Kelly's Cheapskate's Corner or munch on Ambrose Martin's Old Familiar Ways.
San Diego is a nice place to visit, but I’d much rather live here. I’ve done foodie pilgrimages before, starting in 1994, when I drove to Berkeley to dine at Chez Panisse after hearing it rapturously described by a fellow student. But no matter what TripAdvisor tells you about San Diego having the best pizza in the country, San Diego is not the sort of place you go for a foodie pilgrimage. Restaurant-wise, it works much better as a place you settle into and explore over time, finding small but significant pleasures all around the city. The sorts of places that you find out about from friends and locals, not tourists posting on a world-travelers’ website. Chez Panisse was wonderful, but you know what? So is the bacon-and-egg burger at Alchemy in South Park. And if you must make a pilgrimage, why not follow Chad Deal over the border into Tijuana? It’s like a whole other country. — Eve Kelly
Tortas el Turco
Bulevar Fundadores #8490, Colonia Juárez, Tijuana, 01-664-383-9565
Few places are more regularly raved about on “Tijuana Makes Me Hungry” than this park-side torta stand, and a bite into their signature Torta de Lomo de Res ($3.80) reveals why. Slices of beef tenderloin (lomo) are slow-cooked in a marinade of adobo (a blend of spices akin to what makes adobada so amazing) and served with mayo, tomato, and avocado on a fresh bread roll prepared specifically for the shop. For another 75 cents, you can upgrade to the especial, which includes a slice of ham and cheese. The rest of the menu consists of a ham and cheese torta ($3.80), an order of five lomo flautas ($3.45), and fries ($1.50). Basic and to the point — it’s all about the lomo. The location opened in July 2012, nearly three decades after closing the doors on its original downtown home, and at this rate, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Paseo de los Héroes #10001, Plaza Fiesta, Zona Río, Tijuana, 01-664-200-2163
Sharing its name with San Diego’s recently inaugurated neighborhood of Little Saigon, this cozy eatery resembles most of the Vietnamese joints that you’ll find along El Cajon Boulevard except for one magnificent detail — the Bahn Mi Tacos (two for $3.45). A philosopher’s stone of fusion cuisine if ever there was one (misspelling and all), the dish does away with the traditional baguette-inspired bread (itself a product of French colonialism in Indochina) in favor of its common stuffings — pork leg slow-cooked in Vietnamese spices, pickled carrot and jicama, cucumber, and cilantro wrapped in a flour tortilla, served with a peanut-chili sauce. Also of note, the house tea ($1.50) comes chilled in ginger/star anise or jamaica/rose, and it’s delicious.
Nacozari #93-2, Chapultepec, Tijuana, 01-664-382-7665
It can be difficult to find a decent panadería in Tijuana, but this Ensenada transplant takes cues from European bakeries to offer delicate confections and rustic loaves in an appealing Old World environment. Eat upstairs by the sun-filled windows or head down to the cellar and be transported to rural Deutschland with one of 17 international wines, 9 liquors, and over 55 craft/imported beers (where else can you get Stone IPA for $3.45?). The Calavera American Pale Ale ($5.35) is complex and effervescent and makes a blissful companion to the croissant sandwich — baked fresh with just enough flour to hold the butter together and then stuffed with the perfect amount of prosciutto to salt the tomato, just enough lettuce to give the goat cheese substance, and a dish of pasta salad to cleanse the palate. Oh, and it’s only $2.30. The green-tea macaroons are a must.
Avenida Mutualismo #527, Zona Centro, Tijuana, 01-664-685-3670
As much a novelty as it is a culinary destination, the six-months-young Buda Burgers is located in the front window of a neighborhood convenience store called Igloo. You grab a stool on the sidewalk and order through the window by the giant ceramic hamburger. You pick a beer — Guinness, Sierra Nevada, Blue Moon, or locally brewed Frontera (you pick this one) — and the man in the window pours it into a Styrofoam cup. You drink your beer on the sidewalk as sticky-sweet wisps of caramelizing onions find their fractal paths up your nostrils. Your burger appears in the window. It’s BBQ ($5.40) — piled high with onions in a Jack Daniel’s sauce, blue cheese melting and becoming one with the tangy ooze, thick cuts of tomato and bacon glistening in the sunlight. It dissolves in your hands as it makes contact with your lips, and you go Zen.
Bulevar Benito Juarez #82, Zona Centro, Rosarito, 01-661-100-2525
Rosarito Beach is no longer the spring-break dystopia it once was famed to be. In fact, it’s quite pleasant. You can hop a ruta taxi from around Fifth and Madero in downtown Tijuana and get to Rosarito (albeit with a van full of strangers) for less than two dollars and within about 30 minutes. There, along the main beach drag, you’ll find the bucolic patio of Las Pencas, where you can feast like an Aztec emperor on lamb, slow-cooked over oak and maguey leaves in an earthen pit. The borrego is served in heaping, family-style portions of a kilo ($33.75), a half kilo ($18.35), a quarter kilo ($10.65), or a single order with consommé ($9.85) — meat juice and oak-y chickpeas. The guacamole and nopales salads are some of the freshest I’ve ever tasted, and the micheladas are out of this world.
Ruiz #57, Zona Centro, Ensenada, 01-646-178-1195
Ensenada is Mecca for seafood fanatics, with countless carts and restaurants to choose from, but I always find myself coming back to this waterfront-themed (it’s actually several blocks from the shore) bar. A bottle-toss west from the incessant hullabaloo of Papas & Beer sits Ultra Mario and the neighboring EuroBar. Both sure-fire destinations for live music and indie dance nights, Ultra Mario feels like Little North Park by the Bay. A band plays punk anthems from the spacious backyard stage. Skinny jeans and striped skirts mill around with pints of craft brew from Cucapa and Tijuana Beer ($4.20). The entire menu is recommendable, especially for the price, but is strongest with fried-oyster tacos ($2.50), marlin burritos ($2.15), and marlin wontons ($1.25). Oyster shooters are $2.50, or just chase one on the half-shell ($1.25) with a booze-spiked Clamato for five bucks. EuroBar serves a mean calimocho for about the same.
Hungry for more Baja? Keep munching.