Avenida Revolución 1650, Baja
I found myself in a bizarre, nerdy dreamland called Otaku Anime Café. Similar to Plaza Friki, this is where nerds congregate in downtown. Welcome to Nippon in Tijuana.
As I enter, a video of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu plays on a flat screen. Nyan Cat is painted on one wall next to two cosplay swords (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts), a huge anime character decorates the back wall, and there’s Hello Kitty soy sauce and a stack of anime on every table.
“We just had our two-year anniversary on February 24,” says Javier Zamorano, who opened the Japanese deli with his sister Monica. Javier led me through Japanese sliding doors to a projection room in the back where they show anime movies for free.
Everything in this small café is related to Japan, video games, or manga. The exit signs have Pokemons pointing you to the door (Jigglypuff, Meowth, Bulbasaur, and Charmander), and the sign next to the fire extinguisher is Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle. Outside the establishment in this particular Saturday, a Smash Bros. tournament was taking place.
“Our menu is based in original Japanese ideas from what we can get from our providers,” continues Zamorano. “Almost all of our ingredients are imported. We try to keep our flavors as original as possible, but we are obviously limited by distance and what products arrive in Mexico. Our customers are mostly between 13 and 24 years old. We are more of a deli. We try to keep it simple and cheap.”
And it is pretty affordable. The most expensive thing on the menu is a portobello walnut miso sando (Japanese-style sandwich) for $3.75. They have served more than 10,000 ramen dishes in just two years. They go for $3.25 a bowl, two for $5.25 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I opted for a traditional onigiri, spicy tuna maki sushi, and a miso soup, a combo for $3.75. For dessert I got a kawaii donut ($1) with an iced latte ($2.50).
Everything was simple and on point. The small miso soup had tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and chives. The onigiri was a triangle of white rice with a smiley face made out of seaweed. The spicy tuna did not have any avocado or cream cheese, just tuna, rice, and seaweed. The kawaii donut was not as sweet as I expected, but the latte was very sweet (basically coffee targeted to teenagers).
The deli is more than just nerd-food paradise. Javier makes sure that his café covers everything related to Japan. “We offer workshops like teaching Japanese, aikido, cosplay, video game analysis, and others. We did an anime drawing contest last week, and we have a video game tournament going on right now. We are always having events that in any form relate to Japan.”
Before I left, Javier handed me a weird Japanese snack, an oversized Cheetos-like product with shrimp flavor. I appreciated it; my palate didn’t.
You can find Otaku Anime Café in an alley off Revolución Avenue between 8th and 9th street. Cat Café is around the corner.