Plaza Fiesta, 10001 Paseo de los Heroes, Zona Rio, Baja
“If you don’t have anything to nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It’s an English proverb that I tend not to follow. Family, friends, and strangers are always recommending places for me. I always warn them that if it’s not spectacular, I’m probably not going to say nice things.
One recommendation I get often as the best place to eat inside Plaza Fiesta is El Local by Slow Burger.
“You have to try their pizza de chicharrón,” insists a friend, despite me telling her that I’m not that big a fan of chicharrón. “Their fries are so damn good,” insists another friend, who is perpetually stoned. “The best burgers in Tijuana” I have heard from a bunch of different people (and the positive reviews online support them).
I went to El Local more than a year ago when it had been open for only a couple of weeks. I got a burger and a beer. Memory betrays the details, but I remember not liking it. I also remember the waitress, though very pretty, had an attitude of not wanting to be a server (she doesn’t work there anymore). The lasting first impression made me not want to return.
But I have a group of friends who I frequently see sitting outside El Local. Because of them, I decided to give Legion beer another go. It’s not as bad as I first thought, but it’s nothing amazing. They offer other craft beers that I usually opt for from other brewers such as Insurgente or Wendlandt (for $3.50 a pint). The space is neatly decorated with signs to encourage people to drink local beer. Bottles decorate the walls and ceiling, there are plenty of unfinished-looking wood tables and stools, and the logo for Legion Brewery is plastered on every wall (an eagle with its wings spread).
My stoner friend offered me some of the fries that he claims are amazing. They are not even fries, they are burnt potato rounds. I watched him as he slathered them with the five condiments that sit on the table. He masks the flavorless burnt potatoes with a colorless concoction of ketchup, ranch, spicy cheese, Sriracha, and mustard and devours them to satisfy his munchies.
My friends rave about the chicharrón pizza. They reassured me that even if I didn’t like pork rinds, I would love this pizza. They were wrong. I ordered the pizza with a friend who was visiting from Arizona, and neither of us found it appetizing.
The dough is frozen store-bought crust, a gigantic flat cookie with no flavor. A bean spread is used instead of tomato sauce since the topping is chicharrón instead of a regular pizza topping. The bean spread was minimal. The cheese looked and tasted like a plastic latex glove spread and melted on top of the sad pre-frozen crust. The chicharrón was actually good — chunky meaty pieces instead of the regular pork rind. However, we couldn’t stomach it and ended up getting it to go to and pawned it off to a hungry stranger.
I recently returned to where it all started, the burger. They offer ten different types of burgers (including vegetarian) for 115-130 pesos (roughly $7). I opted for the Hamburguesa de la Casa, which is described as 50/50 pork leg and smoked pork chop, cheese, sauce made with coffee porter, and IPA from Fauna (a brewery), marmalade made out of tomatillo, green apple, ginger and morita peppers, a slice of fresh tomato, and pancetta (Italian bacon).
That description is a mouthful, and so is the burger. I could barely finish it and the potato rounds (which, this time, were not burnt but were actually good). The burger feels more like three meals in one. The meats, cheese, and other flavors do not complement each other. All of the ingredients by themselves are quite good, but all together it confuses the palate. I ended up taking out the pork chop (which fared well with the sweet marmalade). The beef patty was good but a bit ruined with flavorless cheese. I slushed it all down with Legion’s IPA, which was nothing memorable.
Many people won’t agree with my assessment; most Tijuanenses seem to adore Slow Burger. As the hefty burger left me immobile in my seat, a friend from Louisiana saw me sitting outside and joined me for a beer. I decided to give Legion Grapefruit IPA a chance. It was a mistake. It didn’t taste like an IPA. It was more like a wheat beer that sat under the sun mixed with Lucky Charms cereal.
“They have the best cheese pizza in Tijuana here,” added my Louisiana friend as he ordered a pizza to go. In detail, I explained why I didn’t like the pizza. Perplexed, he tried to debate why the pizza was so great. His pizza arrived in two separate Styrofoam boxes, he ate two slices, and closed the box back up. “You are right, but I’m still going to eat it all,” the Southern boy concluded.