A Mexican wine in the heart of Tijuana’s downtown. Elegance hangs in here.
Tijuana! It feels like a lifetime. I’m down here checking on when Caesar Hotel’s opening. (They say they’re looking at mid-July.)
And, hey hey! There’s my fave cafe, Praga, right across Revolución.
Avenida Revolución 1070, Tijuana, BC
It’s not hard to get over. Traffic on this Sunday afternoon is, well, scanty. Mostly taxis, listlessly tapping their horns to get pedestrians’ attention. Except, not many pedestrians either. No mariachis. And definitely no striped zebra-donkeys.
Praga (Prague, in Spanish), on the other hand, is open. Of course, they’ve reduced their outside tables from 12 to 6. They also now have a gal named Aracely who unhitches the chain across the entrance, takes your temperature while you stand on a water-filled rubber mat, squirts antibacterial gel on your hands, and checks your mascara (that’s mask, not make-up). She’s wearing hers, plus a curved face shield.
Aracely keeps us germ-free.
She guides me to one of the six white tables on the sidewalk patio. Glad not to have to go inside, even though you can see at a glance it really has that Bohemian feel — like you imagine from Bohemia itself. Black marble counter, white tables, sepia photos. On the other hand, hey, Bob Marley’s “Jamming” on the system.
Carlos brings the menu. “It is simplified,” he says. Only three other tables with customers, but the patio feels cozy, with black planter boxes and their red-flowered shrubs protecting you from the foot traffic of the street into which we’re jutting out. Hmm. Menu has desayunos, sandwiches, pizzas, and a pasta dish. This is around six o’clock in the evening, but they’re still doing breakfasts.
I’m sort of tempted by the breakfast dishes, specially the 85-peso combo deal: Two eggs your way, frijoles (refried beans), toast, Cafe Americano. Eighty-five pesos is about $4.
The two main breakfast dishes are chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are a basic “leftover” breakfast idea. You fry corn tortillas chopped up into quarters, and add whatever’s left over from yesterday. But in restaurants, those “leftovers” are usually red or green salsa, chunks of chicken, cheese, frijoles, scrambled eggs. I’ve always been interested in them because for starters, they are delicious, as only refried leftovers can be, and then there’s the fact that they come in a direct line from the ancient cultures of Mexico. Of course, what you get depends on where in Mexico you eat them. Central Mexicans like them crisp, with the salsa added at the last moment, whereas Tapatios — people from Guadalajara — seem to love them thick and soggy, like polenta. Chilaquiles means “chiles and greens” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. So here, you can have it with green or red salsa, plus eggs or chicken, for 130 pesos, say $6, or without the eggs or chicken for 110 pesos, maybe $4.85. Hot cakes or French bread go for $4.50, and the chipotle chicken salad sandwich and club sandwich with chicken are both $4.50. Revolución prices, but still a deal if you’re from across the line. Pizzas go for 130 pesos, maybe $5.75. And sweet crepes are about $4.
Carlos, rigged up like a covid warrior, brings a chocolate mousse dessert.
Then I spot their one pasta dish. The “fettuccine con pollo” in a “creamy Alfredo sauce,” with chunks of chicken breast a la plancha — grilled — comes in at 145 pesos, less than $6.50. Love that Alfredo. Gotta go for it, even though we’re talking Italian.
“To drink?” says Carlos.
Fettuccine con pollo. Lots of pollo.
Hmm. As the evening comes on, I’m thinking at these prices, a glass of wine would go down a treat with creamy Alfredo. “Do you have a red house wine?” I ask. I know, Alfredo pasta, should ask for a white, but I’m hoping they have one of those really robust reds from Mexico’s wine-growing Guadalupe Valley.
“I will show you,” Carlos says, and a moment later, comes out with this classy bottle of “Nostro vino de la casa,” from Grupo Plascencia. Oh, so the Plascencia family, which owns Caesar’s, and a bunch of other restaurants on both sides of la linea, owns Praga too. And even the wine they serve here.
“From Guadalupe?” I ask Carlos.
“From Guadalupe,” he says.
Inside - mousse, banana, biscocho.
Done. And what a beautifully robust gulp of red it is. And only about $3.50 a glass.
Carlos brings my fettuccine. And yes, the Alfredo sauce is rich and creamy, and the cut strips of roasted chicken have a great taste of Parmesan and garlic. They give plenty of chunks of baguette to soak up the puddle of Alfredo. Nice. But it’s the atmosphere that seduces you. Something about the place. You think Paris, Madrid, New York, Mexico City. Three businessmen at the next table are sipping on complicated coffee drinks and chatting like they’re old school pals. Conversation is everywhere, along with a retro track of north-of-border tunes like “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” What’s more, a bunch of Sunday cruisers are out. Guy slides by driving a red and white ’65 Thunderbird, I’m guessing. And dig those big whitewall tires.
I finish up the plate of pasta and the glass of wine no problem. Dang. So good. I’m thinking of heading for the border when Carlos comes up. “Dessert? We have a very good charlotte, chocolate mousse with banana and a bizcocho base.”
Ayee! Can’t resist. I get that ($3.50), and another glass of the delicious house wine ($3.50). A guy could swoon at the perfect match.
Cost for the whole meal? It comes to $22.05.
When is it a good time to go down to TJ? Authorities are talking of opening the border July 21st. How bad are things down here? One big billboard says, “Let’s Support Tijuana.” All the others have nothing but one word: Disponible.
- The Place: Praga, 1074 Revolución Avenue, Tijuana, +52.664.685-7793
- Hours: 10am-7pm, daily
- Prices: Two eggs, refried beans, toast, coffee, $3.75; chilaquiles with green or red salsa, $4.85; with eggs or chicken, $5.75; hot cakes or French bread, $4.50; chipotle chicken salad sandwich, $4.50; club sandwich with chicken, $4.50; Greek pizza with chicken, Alfredo sauce, $5.75; hot cakes, $4.50; sweet crepes, e.g. red fruit with cream cheese and Nutella, $4.20
- Cab to border: about $6