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“Ernest Hemingway sat right in that corner,” says one of the managers of the Chiki Jai Basque Restaurant (corner of 7th and Revolución, Tijuana).

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The corner seat is supposedly where Hemingway used to sit and write

“Right there. When these were booths, he would sit in the first on the right or the third on the left.”

The Chiki Jai (“Little Party”) is one of the venerable restaurant survivors in Tijuana from its Golden Age.

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Waiter Miguel welcomes customer to Chiki Jai

Hemingway admired the jai alai player Pedro Garate, and some say he helped him take over this place back in the 1940s.

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Statue of Jai Alai player in front of the Fronton Palace, next to Chiki Jai

Others say Ernest never came here but sent cards to his friend here.

The place has definitely seen plenty of other celebs though: Ava Gardner, Ronald Reagan, and Errol Flynn all caroused on vino tinto in here. Matadors would come in after their bullfights, and professional Spanish jai alai players would come in at one in the morning after finishing their games next door at the Fronton Palace. The place would stay open till dawn.

Ava probably flirted with all of them. Even Richard Nixon came down but stayed at the Coronet motel opposite.

Chiki Jai was started for and by the Basque country jai alai players -- and Basque, not Spanish or Mexican, is what most of its food is still.

“The paella? Good,” says Rafael Ramirez.

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Rafael Ramirez, paella champion

He should know. He won this year’s L. A. Cetto contest to cook the best paella at the festival of paella and wine last May. He shows me a picture of his winning paella.

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Cell phone photos of Rafael's winnning paella

The paella here costs $9. It’s worth it: you’ll hardly squeeze through the exit door by the time you finish.

But the dish I love most from this beautiful little eatery is camarones al ajillo. Garlic shrimp. Think it’s about $7. Worth every penny.

So did he or didn’t the great man come here? I really wanna know.

BTW: no extra charge to sit in “his” seat. Just the thought gives you a buzz.

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