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Arguably the classiest joint in Tijuana

No, the Caesar salad wasn’t named after Julius

The duck tortellini is served with sautéed spinach and parmesan in a generous portion of port-wine sauce
The duck tortellini is served with sautéed spinach and parmesan in a generous portion of port-wine sauce

The year is 1924. Bootleggers and feds are playing cat-and-mouse and legends such as Louis Armstrong are playing jazz. Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini, who had settled briefly in San Diego five years earlier, evades the pressure of Prohibition by going south of the border where Americans are flocking to imbibe in the liberty of libations.

This postcard is one of the earliest known pictures of Caesar’s, taken in the early 1920s

One busy weekend in July, Cardini is short on supplies and uses what’s on hand to make a refreshing appetizer for his patrons. Whole leaves of romaine are tossed in oil with fresh garlic, lime juice, coddled egg, salt, pepper, and, for the signature anchovy flavor, Worcestershire sauce. And the Caesar salad is born.

Today you can get that same Caesar’s salad in the heart of Tijuana, just a few blocks south of the arch on Revolución. It costs 85 pesos (around $5), but for an extra $2.50 American an ensaladero (Spanish for “dude who makes salads”) will prepare a serving for two, tableside.

Sponsored
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For an extra couple bucks, an ensaladero prepares an original Caesar salad at your table

I’ve been coming to Caesar’s for years, and it’s the one spot I never fail to bring friends visiting from the States. Since its remodel in 2010, stepping in from the streets bustling with honking cabs, flashing red-and-blues, and cheap pharmaceuticals is like stepping into a distant era. The staff wears white collars and black ties, and everything from an entrée to a salad fork is served on a tray. Sconce and pendant fixtures illuminate walls lined with framed black-and-whites of black Model Ts lining an unpaved Revolución, elegant galas, and even Caesar Cardini himself; checkered tile and white linen accent the mahogany bar and chairs; and the jazz playing low is a nice touch.

This being my first time coming to Caesar’s alone, I’m surprised and disappointed that the dining area is reserved for two or more. The only options flying solo are the bar or the patio. Preferring a table I opt for outside, but the congested and noisy street just opposite the glass partition kind of kills the vibe.

Ate con queso is a traditional dessert of guava paste, quince cheese, and manchago cheese served with fig compote, fresh fruit, and port-wine honey

The staff makes the joint, though. One of the three waiters working my table takes the drink order and returns with a bottle of Sol, $2.50, and a healthy pour of Centenario tequila over rocks, $4.50, before another has finished setting the table. My only gripe about the staff is they speak English even if you’re habla-ing the Español. But that’s just me; I like the practice.

The ensaladero gets cracking as I try to settle on what I’ll be having. I don’t let the selection of more than 20 appetizers trip me up — I always go for the escargot, $6. But with more than 30 main dishes to choose from, anxiety has a tendency to set in. Tonight duck tortellini, $9, takes the win.

The staff is mindful to avoid rushing the experience. The escargot comes just as I’m finishing the salad, and the tortellini doesn’t arrive until the empty escargot shells have been cleared. The basket of fresh sliced bread is another perk, considering the kitchen’s generosity with dressings, sauces, and broth. There is no shame in admitting that the extra carbs consumed while clearing the zesty salad dressing, the escargot’s basil garlic broth, and the rich port-wine pasta sauce have earned me an extra mile on tomorrow’s run.

In that case, there’s no shame in dessert, either. After a moment of rumination with the remaining tequila I finish the evening with an espresso, $2, and a traditional ate con queso, $4.50. Four courses of fine dining in arguably the classiest joint in Tijuana, and the bill is under 40 bucks.

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The duck tortellini is served with sautéed spinach and parmesan in a generous portion of port-wine sauce
The duck tortellini is served with sautéed spinach and parmesan in a generous portion of port-wine sauce

The year is 1924. Bootleggers and feds are playing cat-and-mouse and legends such as Louis Armstrong are playing jazz. Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini, who had settled briefly in San Diego five years earlier, evades the pressure of Prohibition by going south of the border where Americans are flocking to imbibe in the liberty of libations.

This postcard is one of the earliest known pictures of Caesar’s, taken in the early 1920s

One busy weekend in July, Cardini is short on supplies and uses what’s on hand to make a refreshing appetizer for his patrons. Whole leaves of romaine are tossed in oil with fresh garlic, lime juice, coddled egg, salt, pepper, and, for the signature anchovy flavor, Worcestershire sauce. And the Caesar salad is born.

Today you can get that same Caesar’s salad in the heart of Tijuana, just a few blocks south of the arch on Revolución. It costs 85 pesos (around $5), but for an extra $2.50 American an ensaladero (Spanish for “dude who makes salads”) will prepare a serving for two, tableside.

Sponsored
Sponsored
For an extra couple bucks, an ensaladero prepares an original Caesar salad at your table

I’ve been coming to Caesar’s for years, and it’s the one spot I never fail to bring friends visiting from the States. Since its remodel in 2010, stepping in from the streets bustling with honking cabs, flashing red-and-blues, and cheap pharmaceuticals is like stepping into a distant era. The staff wears white collars and black ties, and everything from an entrée to a salad fork is served on a tray. Sconce and pendant fixtures illuminate walls lined with framed black-and-whites of black Model Ts lining an unpaved Revolución, elegant galas, and even Caesar Cardini himself; checkered tile and white linen accent the mahogany bar and chairs; and the jazz playing low is a nice touch.

This being my first time coming to Caesar’s alone, I’m surprised and disappointed that the dining area is reserved for two or more. The only options flying solo are the bar or the patio. Preferring a table I opt for outside, but the congested and noisy street just opposite the glass partition kind of kills the vibe.

Ate con queso is a traditional dessert of guava paste, quince cheese, and manchago cheese served with fig compote, fresh fruit, and port-wine honey

The staff makes the joint, though. One of the three waiters working my table takes the drink order and returns with a bottle of Sol, $2.50, and a healthy pour of Centenario tequila over rocks, $4.50, before another has finished setting the table. My only gripe about the staff is they speak English even if you’re habla-ing the Español. But that’s just me; I like the practice.

The ensaladero gets cracking as I try to settle on what I’ll be having. I don’t let the selection of more than 20 appetizers trip me up — I always go for the escargot, $6. But with more than 30 main dishes to choose from, anxiety has a tendency to set in. Tonight duck tortellini, $9, takes the win.

The staff is mindful to avoid rushing the experience. The escargot comes just as I’m finishing the salad, and the tortellini doesn’t arrive until the empty escargot shells have been cleared. The basket of fresh sliced bread is another perk, considering the kitchen’s generosity with dressings, sauces, and broth. There is no shame in admitting that the extra carbs consumed while clearing the zesty salad dressing, the escargot’s basil garlic broth, and the rich port-wine pasta sauce have earned me an extra mile on tomorrow’s run.

In that case, there’s no shame in dessert, either. After a moment of rumination with the remaining tequila I finish the evening with an espresso, $2, and a traditional ate con queso, $4.50. Four courses of fine dining in arguably the classiest joint in Tijuana, and the bill is under 40 bucks.

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