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Revolutionizing La Revu

Tijuana cantina serves up a deconstructed margarita.

A new Revolución envisioned at the former Cafe La Especial
A new Revolución envisioned at the former Cafe La Especial

About a year and a half ago, Jaime Brambila and five associates began transforming the 1800-square-foot curio stall above his family’s former restaurant, Café La Especial (1952–2008), into a contemporary gastro bar. La Justina — named after Jaime’s grandmother — opened doors in early February, touting an inventive selection of cocktails (co-owners Donato Perez and Christopher Caro recently closed their Hipódromo speakeasy, Bar Jinx, to focus on the restaurant) and locally sourced cuisine.

“We went treasure-hunting for everything here,” says Donato, who constructed the bar with the help of his associates, local craftsman Seth Sullivan (aka Art Pusher), contractor Eduardo Guerrero (brother of foundational Baja-Med chef Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagües), and architect Ignacio Lopez de Maturana.

Now, La Justina’s repurposed, rustic-industrial aesthetic is evinced by rope chandeliers, Edison bulbs, chairs fashioned out of wood reclaimed from the ocean, and a bar top of 10,000 individually placed pennies — all illuminated by the Café’s original neon yellow sign.

“I envision a new Revolución with quality offerings,” Jaime says. “I see locals and tourists wanting to come to El Centro [downtown] to have a good time, eat at quality restaurants, admire some art, and drink beer and wine from Baja. Bottom line, I want to inspire more people to believe in La Revu.”

Chef Chad White (Sea Rocket Bistro) certainly believes in Revolución’s, uh, revolution. He teamed up with executive chef Iker Castillo to formulate a seasonal menu that highlights Baja’s natural bounties in unorthodox combinations. But we’re here to talk drinks, so a relevant starting point is the Revu. Conceived by La Jolla–based consultants Snake Oil Cocktail Company, the concoction pulls the margarita away from the bedlam of balcony bars and reinvents it in a next-generation cantina. The deconstructed marg matches tequila with lime, agave nectar, a slice of cactus paddle, and a black ash–salt rim. It’s complex, invigorating, and effective.

However, the secret thriller is the Clandestino, created by house mezclalogist Fernando Villalobos, a former cocktailero at Tijuana’s renowned Bar 20. Recently added to the menu, the chili-infused Alipús mezcal, orange juice, and St. Germain cocktail is the best in the house. The liqueur’s flowery notes lilt over the mezcal’s wisp of smoke. The chili, meanwhile, is just barely detectable, despite the whole chile de arbol garnish, which is coated in powdered maguey worm.

  • La Justina, between Third and Fourth on Revolución, Tijuana, 664-229-4205. facebook.com/lajustinatj
  • Attire: Classy casual
  • Prices: Cocktails, $5; beer, $2–10; wine $25–45/bottle.
  • Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m.–midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.–1:30 a.m.
  • Capacity: about 75
  • Food: Seasonal, affordable Baja-Med cuisine
  • Cards: Yes
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A new Revolución envisioned at the former Cafe La Especial
A new Revolución envisioned at the former Cafe La Especial

About a year and a half ago, Jaime Brambila and five associates began transforming the 1800-square-foot curio stall above his family’s former restaurant, Café La Especial (1952–2008), into a contemporary gastro bar. La Justina — named after Jaime’s grandmother — opened doors in early February, touting an inventive selection of cocktails (co-owners Donato Perez and Christopher Caro recently closed their Hipódromo speakeasy, Bar Jinx, to focus on the restaurant) and locally sourced cuisine.

“We went treasure-hunting for everything here,” says Donato, who constructed the bar with the help of his associates, local craftsman Seth Sullivan (aka Art Pusher), contractor Eduardo Guerrero (brother of foundational Baja-Med chef Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagües), and architect Ignacio Lopez de Maturana.

Now, La Justina’s repurposed, rustic-industrial aesthetic is evinced by rope chandeliers, Edison bulbs, chairs fashioned out of wood reclaimed from the ocean, and a bar top of 10,000 individually placed pennies — all illuminated by the Café’s original neon yellow sign.

“I envision a new Revolución with quality offerings,” Jaime says. “I see locals and tourists wanting to come to El Centro [downtown] to have a good time, eat at quality restaurants, admire some art, and drink beer and wine from Baja. Bottom line, I want to inspire more people to believe in La Revu.”

Chef Chad White (Sea Rocket Bistro) certainly believes in Revolución’s, uh, revolution. He teamed up with executive chef Iker Castillo to formulate a seasonal menu that highlights Baja’s natural bounties in unorthodox combinations. But we’re here to talk drinks, so a relevant starting point is the Revu. Conceived by La Jolla–based consultants Snake Oil Cocktail Company, the concoction pulls the margarita away from the bedlam of balcony bars and reinvents it in a next-generation cantina. The deconstructed marg matches tequila with lime, agave nectar, a slice of cactus paddle, and a black ash–salt rim. It’s complex, invigorating, and effective.

However, the secret thriller is the Clandestino, created by house mezclalogist Fernando Villalobos, a former cocktailero at Tijuana’s renowned Bar 20. Recently added to the menu, the chili-infused Alipús mezcal, orange juice, and St. Germain cocktail is the best in the house. The liqueur’s flowery notes lilt over the mezcal’s wisp of smoke. The chili, meanwhile, is just barely detectable, despite the whole chile de arbol garnish, which is coated in powdered maguey worm.

  • La Justina, between Third and Fourth on Revolución, Tijuana, 664-229-4205. facebook.com/lajustinatj
  • Attire: Classy casual
  • Prices: Cocktails, $5; beer, $2–10; wine $25–45/bottle.
  • Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m.–midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.–1:30 a.m.
  • Capacity: about 75
  • Food: Seasonal, affordable Baja-Med cuisine
  • Cards: Yes
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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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