Blvd Agua Caliente 521, Baja
My friend Dan from San Diego matched with a Tijuana girl through Tinder. They agreed to meet on a Monday night on a double date, accompanied by my roommate and his girlfriend who was celebrating her birthday week. When Dan arrived to my apartment in Tijuana that afternoon, he realized his Tinder date had deleted the phone application.
“Come on, man. I’ll buy you a drink if you come,” Dan pleaded. With nothing to do on a Monday night, and to not leave Dan behind, I joined in what was supposed to be a fancy double-date dinner.
We arrived at Oryx Capital at 10:08 p.m. only to find out that the kitchen closed at 10 p.m. We opted to have some drinks at Nortico, the speakeasy on the back of the restaurant. After drinking some cocktails and beer, we discussed our possibilities for a late sit-down dinner that wasn’t tacos. A bit of a “mission impossible” past midnight on a Monday in Tijuana.
I knew of two 24-hour restaurants near the area: Big Boy and a classic Mexican food joint. We opted for Big Boy, a spin-off of the 1936 original Bob’s Big Boy Diner. Originally founded in Glendale, only six remain in California and all are in the Los Angeles area. Most of the other Big Boys are located in Michigan, where they are headquartered since 1987. Despite living in both Los Angeles and Michigan, I have never been to a Big Boy.
The front of the menu offers menudo Friday through Sunday. A distorted version of the Big Boy logo is displayed under the cow’s stomach-soup offer. There is even a poorly done replica of the famed Big Boy statue outside. The menu is gigantic, covering dishes of diners from both the United States and Mexico (somewhat overpriced for Tijuana’s standard).
Tijuanenses that I know have fond memories of Big Boy. They all recall when Big Boy was a big deal. They tell me that it used to be packed with the Tijuana elite, politicians, business owners — the crème de la crème. All that remains is the skeleton of what used to be that popular diner.
It was built in the ’60s, and it seems that nothing has changed since then. Surrounded by exposed wood, the inside feels like a cabin. Dust covers the lampshades on the old iron chandeliers. The restaurant was almost empty, except two cops that drank coffee on a booth on the opposite side of the restaurant where we sat.
“Sorry, no cerveza past midnight,” the tired waitress told us. Round of water for everyone.
I wasn’t very hungry, so I opted for a slice of pineapple cream cheese pie and bottomless coffee ($3 for pie and $1.50 for coffee). Everyone had a piece of the pie, and we all deemed it delicious and not overly sweet. The coffee was your standard greasy-spoon coffee.
Dan ordered the replica of the famous Double Decker Big Boy burger. My roommate got a Cuban sandwich, while his girlfriend, a vegetarian, opted for the house special sandwich with the flank steak on the side. She also ordered Mexican hot chocolate.
The food came in less than ten minutes. All meals included Thousand Island dressing, a key ingredient to the original burger.
The burger for $7 looked like a cheap but delicious eat to sober someone up. Dan devoured it in a matter of seconds and said it was as good as it needed to be.
The Cuban sandwich “Miami style” for $6 didn’t look like an original Cubano. It featured a baguette that wasn’t flatly pressed, and there wasn’t enough cheese (which wasn’t even Swiss). The pork, ham, pickles, and mustard all were standard. It was quickly consumed.
The house sandwich turned vegetarian meal for $8 was a sad-looking affair. It was the same baguette as the Cuban but with only a couple of tomato slices, lettuce, and white unflavorful cheese (and a lot of Thousand Island). She didn’t finish it and concentrated on the fries.
Everyone tried some of the hot chocolate, and it was all the Mexican Abuelita goodness you could expect. It came with a couple of galletas Maria on the side, traditional Mexican cookies that apparently my American friends have never seen.
Sobered up and broken-hearted, Dan drove back to San Diego around 2 a.m. to take advantage of no wait at the border. The rest of us went home.