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Mexicali hot as hell, but beer is worth it

“We don’t get tourists like Tijuana or Ensenada"

Cervecería Averno was named after an ancient volcanic crater in Italy that the Romans believed was the entrance to the underworld.
Cervecería Averno was named after an ancient volcanic crater in Italy that the Romans believed was the entrance to the underworld.

In 2014, Reader beer writer Brandon Hernández visited Mexicali, and wrote: “Our driver, whose humor was as dry as the Baja desert, jestingly told us he was taking us to ‘Hell.’” Brandon suffered temperatures of 105°F, but he liked the beer. Beer is one reason to go to hell.

All the beers at Cervecería Averno are named after mystical hellish creatures: Beast (IPA), Hunter (honey wheat), Wicca (Irish stout), Hellhound (milk stout), Nymph (blonde ale), Lilith (Berliner Weisse), Warg (NEIPA), and more.

My former roommate Chad Deal also covered the Mexicali beer scene in 2014 and 2015. He once wrote, “Mexicali’s known for sweltering hot summers, a relaxed, rural demeanor, Chinese food and an abandoned underground Chinatown, carne asada, outlandish music, and beautiful women (some attribute it to the immense volume of water one drinks to survive).” Beautiful women are another reason to go to hell.

Recently, I developed a crush on a petite tattooed model who calls herself Little Satan on her social media. Little Satan kept posting that she wanted a boyfriend taller than 6’, despite her tiny stature of only 4’10”. I’m 6’4, so I volunteered. To my surprise, she replied. After a couple of weeks, I told her I was visiting her in hell. Our schedules dictated a mid-July meetup, a time of year when temperatures in hell — sorry, Mexicali — can reach 125*F.

To make sure I didn’t back out of my Mexicali plans like I have a dozen times before, I booked three non-refundable nights at the Hotel Colonial — total, $228. Getting there is easy: 120 miles east on Interstate 8 to Calexico (pop. 40,000), and through the brown border fence into Mexicali (pop. 1,200,000 and growing). But my car was not up for the journey, so I rode the bus from Tijuana. Three hours and around $25 after my 12:40 pm departure, I arrived in hell.

Day 1: Thursday

Hotel Colonial was a 15-minute walk from the bus station. But after feeling the 114 degrees of heat outside, I summoned a $3 Uber. Once I was settled in my hotel room, I texted Little Satan. She replied, “I would pick you up, but I have to run some errands for my grandma.” I told her not to worry; I had an interview set up with Luis Larios of Cervecería Fauna, Mexicali’s largest brewery.

“We don’t get tourists like Tijuana or Ensenada. No one comes here. Our beers are for our people,” says Luis Larios of Cervecería Fauna, Mexicali’s largest brewery.

The ride to the brewery took me away from the city and into the industrial areas of Mexicali, home to its roughly 180 maquilas (factories). My first impression of Mexicali was not a pretty one.

At the entrance of Fauna’s warehouse, co-founder Luis Larios was ready to receive me. Luis is bald with a long grey beard. His brother, fellow co-founder Alejandro, is the opposite: clean-shaven and keeping as much hair as possible. “I believe we brew around 60,000 liters a month,” said Luis as we walked around the facility’s large fermenter tanks of 45 and 60 BBLs (and other smaller ones). Then we retreated to the recently opened bar adjacent to the warehouse to drink and chat.

Compared to the brewery’s other tap rooms around Mexico, the bar was simple: a place to drink a beer after work and get the rest to go. It made sense: only beer nerds like myself would make this trek. Luis agreed: “We don’t get tourists like Tijuana or Ensenada. No one comes here. Our beers are for our people,” (Fauna’s taproom in Tijuana closed in 2017 when Plaza Fiesta stopped being about craft beer and turned into crappy bars with loud music.)

He gave me a little history. “Mexicali craft beer started with Cerveza Cucapá [in 2002], but they sold out [in 2014 to Grupo Modelo] and they don’t even brew in Mexicali anymore. Later on, Dos Pistones with Pepé Martínez. That place used to be called Cervecería Reforma, it was one of the first here after Cucapá. Then 3B (Big Bad Brewery), then us (Fauna) — and Amante came around the same time. The brewer of 3B is now working in Alaska at 49th State Brewing; they just won an award at the Beer World Cup. As for Pepé Martínez, he doesn’t even brew anymore. He is making knives or something interesting like that, but no more beer.”

I tried eight different beers at Amante, and the big winner was Marie, their Saison, a very well-balanced beer with earthy tones and citrusy flavors, without the funky yeast flavor that other farmhouse beers give.


Luis poured me four ounces of Vi, their guayaba Berliner-Weisse. I remarked that it tasted lighter than I remembered. “It’s because of the different seasons of guayaba,” Luis said. “There is guayaba all year; summer and winter guayabas give the beer a different character.” He poured another. “We made this beer with a brewery I thoroughly recommend to you, but you are shit out of luck; they just closed their taproom last week,” he continued. It was an IPA they made with Cervecería Malbicho called Ipanema. The nose gave me heavy tropical notes with a lot of maracuya (passion fruit).

On the first sip, I knew it was something special and so far, my favorite beer of 2023. “That’s what thiolized yeast does!” Luis explained. “We are very privileged to have our own yeast laboratory called Lev-Mic. They make excellent yeast; before that, we used White Labs. We went heavy on the mash hopping, and you will never guess what hop we used: Saaz!” Saaz, a noble hop, is usually used for lagers and pilsners, not IPAs.

Luis kept pouring. “This is a Belgian single; we were trying for a Belgian white, but it got clarified so it ended up as a single.” Another: “Our last batch of our Hazy Lycan also got clarified, so it’s not that hazy. We bought different brand of oatmeal because we couldn’t find the one we always use, and that was enough for the result to look different.”

I told him I was thinking of visiting Calexico Brewery across the border. “Calexico is fucking horrible, don’t go,” he replied. “I haven’t gone in years. I don’t even go to Wal-Mart. The only reason to go is to pick up things we need for the brewery, but I don’t cross. Still, the border is calmer than in Tijuana, because no one wants to cross when it’s over 100 degrees. You should come back in November for Mexicali’s Beer Fest. The weather is much better, and we get all sorts of beer celebrities that no other festival in Mexico gets. Last year, Stan Hieronymus came to the fest; he is the writer of Brew Like a Monk. People are fighting to be on the judges’ panel for the fest. We have the best beer festival; props to the guys that organize it, because I don’t do shit but show up. Also, the whole city’s attitude changes during winter. People go outside and do stuff.” Mexicali’s 11th Beer Festival is set for November 11, 2023.

MOMO’s surprise gratis serving of fresh tuna on top of a big tostada cut in the shape of a pizza with ponzu mayo, red onion, truffle oil, and microgreens. The oil enhanced the tuna flavor, leaving a pleasant lingering taste over the whole palate.

Luis drove me back to town and dropped me off right outside Cervecería Ícono — situated in the former home of Cerveceria Mexicali, which ran from 1923 to 1973, and site of the second biggest beer garden in Mexico. On the drive, I texted Little Satan to let her know my plans. “Perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow night,” she replied. “But it will most likely have to wait till Saturday!” I supposed it was time for more beer. The place was packed — more women than men — and I ordered a pint of their “Nueva” (new) Neipa and people watched. Nice, solid, and juicy, packing a hoppy punch — what you’d expect from the style. From there, I walked half a mile through the hot, flat city to Fauna’s tasting room — an old house steps away from the border wall. Packed again. I got a pint of their not-so-hazy Lycan.

I was hungry as a wolf, and for 80 pesos ($5), I was served a basket of grilled red sausages with burnt edges with salsa Valentina and lemon slices. Something 10-year-old me would cook. Still, it was an okay snack, and gave me strength for the walk to Pintito Cerveza Artesanal. I arrived around 9:30 pm to find a well-decorated and large space, but I was the only person there (besides the bartender). The brewery is named after the Mexican idiom “el hijo del tigre pintito,” which translates to “the son of the striped tiger,” meaning, “like father like son.” In late 2018, father and son, “Trino” and Josué “Trinito” Valadez joined forces. Josué started brewing with Calexico Brewing before moving to San Diego to brew with Ballast Point. He came back to brew with his dad.

The menu at MOMO was mostly Japanese and Mexican seafood fusion, with offerings like ceviche, aguachile, tacos, poke, sashimi, clams, oysters, seafood cocktails, and more.


I got a flight of four: Sour, Kölsch, Brut IPA, and a Hazy IPA. I remember I wished the sour had more of a punch and that the Brut could be dryer, but they were all good. Even when drunk, I remember either a bad beer or an excellent one. These were fair standards.

By this point, I had been joined by a couple of friendly locals I had met online: Icono brewer Gilberto Lomeli, and local beer fan Berenice Cabuto. I have foggy memories of our 10-minute drive there to Cerveza El Sarmiento, but clearer ones of the food menu: interesting offerings like beef head gyozas, beef tongue bao tacos, mole chun kun (spring rolls), togarashi fries, and more. However, the kitchen was closed when we arrived. I got another flight of beers: Berrynice Blonde, a New Zealand light lager, a Belgian haze IPA, and an American IPA. I liked them all but made special reference to the fruity blonde ale with blueberry and raspberry, calling it the perfect introductory beer for girls who tell me that they don’t like craft beer. After that, Berenice drove me back to my hotel, where I gave her a signed copy of my book.

Day 2: Friday

I woke up at 9 am to take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. After that, with nothing to do in the blistering 115-degree heat, I took a quick dip in the pool and swam some laps to tire myself out for a nap. Before napping, I texted Little Satan to see if we would meet that day. I woke up around 1:30 pm to Little Satan’s text: “I’m not sure if I can see you today. I’m going to see a friend of mine sing at BolBol. But I’ll let you know when I’m free.” I told her not to worry; I had another list of breweries to visit. And my friend Adly, a local who I met over 10 years ago through an old Tijuana roommate. She used to come party in the city and crash on my couch. These days, she shows up in Tijuana once a year and I take her to my newest food finds. Now it was her turn.

I got to meet Caty Rocha and Moisés Sánchez, the couple that runs Cervecería Colmena. Moisés has been brewing for over a decade, but under the name Cerveza Península. They opened their new space during the pandemic.

Adly suggested we meet at MOMO, a place she hasn’t tried but heard good things about. Before I could leave, I heard from a Tijuana friend, Willy. “Hey! I just got to Mexicali for work. Let’s grab lunch, I’m outside your hotel in 10 minutes.” I knew work was just an excuse. Like me, Willy had driven to hell to meet a woman.

The menu at MOMO was mostly Japanese and Mexican seafood fusion, with offerings like ceviche, aguachile, tacos, poke, sashimi, clams, oysters, seafood cocktails, and more. I was dubious. I was supposed to be eating Chinese food. “Yes dude, we have great seafood here,” said Adly when I asked about the quality. “Mar de Cortez and Laguna Salada are right there. The Pacific is not that far either. And we’ve had an influx of Sinaloenses, and though they ruin sushi, they bring with them great seafood.” So I ordered the callo ceviche for 205 pesos ($13). It offered copious amounts of scallops bathed in serrano vinaigrette, with cherry tomatoes, fried onions, Persian cucumbers, avocado, cilantro, and hibiscus tapioca. I’ve never seen hibiscus tapioca. In fact, I’ve rarely seen tapioca in Mexico (though my mother made a fantastic vanilla tapioca pudding). And I’ve never thought about pairing it with seafood. But the combination worked. Adly and Willy had less luck, but we were all pleased by the surprise offer of free drinks and a gratis serving of fresh tuna on top of a big tostada cut in the shape of a pizza with ponzu mayo, red onion, truffle oil, and microgreens. The oil enhanced the tuna flavor, leaving a pleasant lingering taste over the whole palate.

After lunch, Willy went to “work.” I hopped in Adly’s car to go to her favorite brewery. We paused at the classic drive-in diner Merendero Manuet’s for a michelada and some people watching, then headed for Amante Brew Company, situated side by side with Gato Gordo Brewery. The green, grey, and brown space was decorated with hop-shaped lampshades, local art, and a small merch shop. I tried eight different beers, and the big winner was Marie, their Saison, a very well-balanced beer with earthy tones and citrusy flavors, without the funky yeast flavor that other farmhouse beers give. Their blonde beer, appropriately named Marilyn, was also one that I’ll be seeking again. (I also tried Diana, a light barley wine that seemed to miss the mark, and a disappointing Imperial Russian Stout named Prima Nocte. Adly remarked, “I don’t think there is a single good stout in this town.”)

Malgro had a watermelon seltzer I didn’t care for and five beers on tap: Grecia (blonde ale), Honey (honey blonde), Bangkok (Belgian blonde), Kiss the Sky (hazy IPA), and 7 am (coffee stout).

We drove around the city, Adly narrating the whole time, and ended up at a place named Haiku, near the border in old downtown Mexicali. The small establishment was squished between a Haitian eatery and a cleaner’s. Inside was a bar, an art gallery, and a traditionally decorated Japanese restaurant. Adly explained that the owners are first-generation Japanese-Mexican, and the family pictures on the wall were of their ancestors back home. We sat by the bar and got the tofu and hibiscus inarizushi as well as three pieces of karai maguro temaki (hand-rolled cone with spicy tuna). Haiku also offered their house beer, a tall can of Matcha IPA brewed by Hornet Brewery. It poured neon green, almost like a Mountain Dew, but darker. From the pour and the nose, I had a bad feeling about it. It didn’t taste like matcha, it didn’t taste like an IPA, and it barely even resembled a beer. It was the first Mexicali beer that I didn’t finish.

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While at Haiku, Berenice texted me that she wanted to join the party. I told her where I was and shortly after, she showed up with her 24-year-old daughter, Vania. We journeyed from the old downtown to the new downtown, and reached Cerveza Urbana, another well-established Mexicali brewery from more than a decade ago. They are home to two of the most recognizable hop-forward brews in Baja: Crossover IPA and Mosaico Session IPA. They had only four house beers: two Berliners named Shon Penn and Yoli Rancher and two nameless beers, a light lager, and a brown ale. Their most famous beers were not to be found. I disliked Shon Penn as much as I dislike the person it was named after. Yoli Rancher was sweet as the red Jolly Rancher with a nice sour bite. The nameless beers were forgettable. I was disappointed.

Happily, just 200 yards away from Urbana, there was a warehouse shared between Coralillo Brewing Co. and Desertor Cerveza Artesanal. Though it was only a three-minute walk, Adly decided to drive. Once there, she told me she was going to go hang out with her boyfriend, and left me at the mercy of Berenice and Vania, the mom-and-daughter drinking duo. It was past midnight, and the warehouse was packed with people (as usual, several tables with pretty women). “Beer straight from the tank” is the slogan from Coralillo. A handful of fermenter tanks of 3 BBLs and smaller are situated right above the bar and two big mashing tuns were on the side. The girls got half pints and munched on the free popcorn, I got a flight of 5 beers: an unnamed IPL, 1846 (Kölsch), Goofy (Vanilla Blonde), San Patricios (Weissbier), and a West Coast IPA. The first four were forgettable; the west coast IPA was very well done.

Giant micheladas with the Mexicali crew at Cervecería Mandala.

A three-minute drive took us to Media Sangre Cervecería just before 1 am. As we sat down at one of the back tables, Berenice realized she had left her phone at the previous brewery and bolted out. I got a chance to talk to Vania. She had worked as a beertender at Casa Alta with Malbicho, the place that closed the week before I arrived. She told me that Malbicho left with plans to do something bigger and better. She also praised their brewer Alfredo “Freddy” Rodríguez as one of the best brewers in town.

The blackboard at Media Sangre displayed a list of nine house beers and it read that July 1st was their fifth anniversary. I got a sampler of four: Por Sangre (gose + sangrita), Sandra Dee (watermelon Berliner), unnamed rice ale, and Black Snake Moon (vanilla bourbon imperial stout). I’ve been a massive fan of sangrita since I was a kid. It translates to “little blood,” a non-alcoholic drink made of citrus juice and peppers, giving it a red appearance. It is usually accompanied with tequila. As a kid growing up in Mexico, I took shots of sangrita during holidays when saying cheers with the grown-ups. This sangrita gose nailed the taste of my childhood nostalgia. The watermelon Berliner was also a nice puckery sour. Stout and rice ale were forgettable. I tried a sip of Vania’s “Lazy Daisy” hazy IPA, it was good, yet another hazy of thousands.

There was a drunk American in the bar, a big bald guy with a long grey beard. He was trying to fight the bartender, shouting that he had been overcharged. His two female companions tried calming him down and dragged him out the door. But he was adamant, and rushed into the bar again. I was ready to help in the fight, but this guy was huge. Luckily for everyone at the bar, the two women came back and dragged his ass out again, apologizing profusely. Berenice came back with her phone, but before she could order a beer, the bar started kicking everyone out.

Day 3: Saturday

I woke up around noon. I already had a text from Little Satan, sent at 11:14 am. “Where are you going to take me today?” I told her I needed coffee, and the list of breweries I still planned to visit, but it was her choice. “Well… It’s my best friend’s birthday today. So I’m not sure when I’m going to be free. I have to run errands and pick up my cousin so I don’t think I could meet up for coffee. What time are you leaving tomorrow? Perhaps early tomorrow.”

It didn’t seem like I was going to meet her at all. I still wanted coffee, I texted Berenice and Adly for recommendations. Berenice replied promptly. She told me she was getting out of yoga class and could take me for coffee and brunch. She was at the hotel lobby shortly thereafter.

Berenice took me to a trendy bakery in a strip mall called Plaza Vista Hermosa. We got a couple of Americanos and decided to split a croque madame panini: sourdough, roasted garlic aioli, ham, Swiss cheese, fried egg, and béchamel sauce. I’m glad we split it, because the sandwich was pretty big and it came with copious amounts of fries. The savory factor of the croque madame was on point, but the sourdough was extremely chewy, to the point I couldn’t cut it with the knife and could barely tear it apart with my teeth. What could’ve been a great sandwich was downgraded to just good because of the bread.

Because of the heat, most bars and breweries don’t open until 4 pm or later. Shortly after Cerveceria Colmena opened at 5 pm. I arrived and met Caty Rocha and Moisés Sánchez, the couple that runs the place. Moisés has been brewing for over a decade, but under the name Cerveza Península. They opened their new space during the pandemic. They had eight beers on tap and I asked for a flight of all eight: Zumbale collaboration with Hornet (double hazy IPA), Bala Negra (black IPA), Junior (session IPA), Tostada (brown ale), Xoco (oatmeal stout), Coffee & Cream (golden stout), and an unnamed gose and Berliner. The big winner was the gose brewed with cilantro. It might be the heat that pushed me into loving the gose-style beers, or it could be that Mexicali just makes damn good goses.

Adly picked me up at Colmena around 6:30 pm. I needed dinner and asked if we should get some Chinese food. “Fuck Chinese food, I’m going to take you to my favorite Korean restaurant,” she replied. “Yes, we have great Chinese food. But you know how in Mexico we call anyone who is Asian a Chino. Well, when I say Mexicali has the best Chinese food, I also include Thai, Japanese, and Korean.” She took me to Choga, a restaurant located in… you guessed it, another strip mall with three other Asian restaurants and a casino. It gave me the same feeling as walking into Chon Ju Jip or many of the great Korean restaurants on Convoy Street. The menu included all the Korean standards: teokbokki, gimbap, bulgogi, and the like. We settled for a 10-piece of fried mandu and 500 grams of samgyeop-sal, grilled pork belly (500 pesos, around $32). The pork belly was grilled at our table with onions, jalapeños, and garlic. It also included side dishes: kimchi, daikon salad, sliced potatoes, noodles, lettuce, and orange slices. The pork was tender, juicy, salty, and outright delicious, but we over-ordered and couldn’t finish it.

Adly drove me to Cerveceria Once Perros, situated in a warehouse next to an Oxxo on Justo Sierra Avenue, a block before the border wall (the new downtown area). The place was decorated with surfboards and skateboards, pictures of happy drinking people, art, and colorful murals. It was busy when we got there at around 8:30 pm. We sat at the bar and I ordered a flight of the eight beers they had on tap. All their beers are named after dog breeds: Irish Terrier (Irish red ale), German Shepherd (hefeweizen), Golden Retriever (kölsch), Perro del Desierto (Mexican cream ale), Great Dane (IPA), and more. The taps are in the shape of bones. The IPA was passable, the rest were not good.

Just a block away, we found Cerveceria Averno, named after an ancient volcanic crater in Italy that the Romans believed it was the entrance to the underworld. All their beers are named after mystical hellish creatures: Beast (IPA), Hunter (honey wheat), Wicca (Irish stout), Hellhound (milk stout), Nymph (blonde ale), Lilith (Berliner Weisse), Warg (NEIPA), and more. There was a live band of old hardcore anarchist punks named Contrapoder playing on a small stage, yelling political charge lyrics over heavy power chords. It was loud (and I loved it) but it made it difficult to communicate with the waiter when I told them I wanted to sample all their beers. He brought me the first five samplers but couldn’t tell me which was which. He then brought me the other five and told me he repeated a style, but again, didn’t tell me which was which. I figured out what beer corresponded to what style. They were all on point except the milk stout, which was plain bad.

Little Satan finally texted at 8:57 pm: “I’m almost free, where are you?” I informed Adly that a date might happen. At 9:44, Little Satan texted, “I like Averno. I’m leaving my house, I’ll see you there.” She finally made it at around 10:30 pm. There she was. The tiny succubus in the flesh. Wearing a tiny black dress with white stripes, jet-black hair, chains around her waist, platform shoes making her slightly taller, big black eyes, multiple piercings and tattoos, full red lips, and freckles painted on her nose and cheeks. I was immediately smitten.

She asked if I was drunk. I lied and said I wasn’t. We went to the upstairs patio of the brewery that I had failed to notice. We had a couple of beers each. I drank the Warg NEIPA and she drank the Nymph blonde ale. The date went smoothly for an hour, but it was cut short by the closing time of the bar. Little Satan drove me to the hotel past 1 am. I invited her into the room, but she refused, telling me her cousin was alone in her apartment. I tried to steal a kiss goodnight, but all I managed was a peck on the lips. “Goodnight, perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, and then drove away.

I texted Adly that the date was over and that I was back safely in the hotel. She texted back, inviting me to a bar called “Crazy Horse.” She said she had a ton of beer someone bought her, and there were a ton of pretty women. Craving more Mexicali adventure, I called a ride. Crazy Horse seemed to be a horrible dive bar. It was empty except for four not-pretty prostitutes who sat lonely at a table, and a handful of waiters. This didn’t seem like it was the place Adly told me she was at. But when I exited, I noticed a crowd of people on the terrace, dancing to electronic music. “Grab a beer,” said Adly when I found her, “I have no idea who bought them but we gotta drink them all!” She was with a handful of her friends, who were indeed all pretty women. But just thirty minutes after I got to the party, everyone was kicked out. One of Adly’s friends yelled there was going to be an after-party at her house. We said we were going, but as soon as we got to Adly’s car, she said “Fuck that party, I’m taking you back to your hotel.”

Day 4: Sunday

My Sunday plan was simple. Check out of the hotel at noon, grab a coffee and breakfast, and head back to Tijuana via bus. But then my friend Willy texted me: “I’m going to Mexicali to drop off my date, ride back with me later today.” So I informed Little Satan that I had more time in hell.

“My cousin is going to be with me all day. She wants ramen, you want to join us?”

“Sure,” I said.

“We won’t be ready until 2 pm… Also, her boyfriend is coming as well, also my friend Diego.”

With time to kill, I grabbed my things from the hotel and called an Uber to downtown Mexicali. Cine Curto (a movie theater) was founded in 1946 by Adolfo Curto, a Spanish businessman. It went on to become an icon of the city, receiving the biggest Mexican celebrities and actors of the ‘50s and ‘60s. But modern cinemas pushed the old theater out of business. By the turn of the century, it was abandoned. With the help of the government, it was refurbished in 2021. It is now called Mercado Cine Curto. Between the tiles, the chandeliers, the art, the old thick concrete walls, the large mirrors, it feels like a building from Mexico City. I grabbed an espresso Americano from the lobby (good coffee for $4) and walked around. Momma Bakery had free samplers of their croissants, and after taking a small bite, I knew that was my breakfast. Though I only had one baked good in Mexicali, my chocolate croissant was better than any I’ve tried in Tijuana.

Outside, I saw a sign that read “Mexicali Rose.” After some research, I found out that it’s one of Baja’s oldest songs — perhaps the oldest. It was written by Jack B. Tenney in the 1920s when he worked as a musician in Mexicali. It is supposedly about a big old lady who drank and cried at the bar Tenney’s orchestra was playing. It became a hit in 1935, thanks to Gene Autry’s version, which in 1939 became a movie with the same name. Filmed in California, the movie is an hour long. It’s about a singing cowboy who saves an orphanage from bad oil salespeople. It’s free on YouTube.

I was drenched in sweat after walking around just a few blocks and headed back to Cine Curto just for the air conditioning. Two breweries of the four were opened, and luckily for me, they were two I hadn’t tried before. Malgro Cerveceria had a watermelon seltzer I didn’t care for and five beers on tap: Grecia (blonde ale), Honey (honey blonde), Bangkok (Belgian blonde), Kiss the Sky (hazy IPA), and 7 am (coffee stout). The Mexicali pattern held: the IPA was solid, the honey blonde was the tastier one, and the stout was bad.

Hornet Brewery redeemed itself after the bad matcha IPA. They didn’t have samplers, but I talked the beertender into letting me borrow their glasses. There was a gose with kiwi, starfruit, and guayaba on the board and I was excited to try it, but they informed me the had run out. They poured me three beers: a pale ale, an IPA, and a hazy IPA. As I sat down to drink them, Little Satan texted me that she was outside. I chugged all three; the hazy left me with a good lingering hoppy taste as I ran out of the Cine Curto.

Little Satan and her party of four picked me up just after 2 pm, and Little Satan drove us to Ichiban for ramen. Berenice had told me that the place was no good, but I didn’t say anything. We were looking at the large menu when suddenly Little Satan said: “Let’s go, I do not want to eat here.” We got back into her car and drove to Umai, a restaurant owned by the same group as MOMO. Similar to MOMO, the place was spacious, clean, and nicely decorated with Japanese fixtures. The menu had sushi, ramen, noodles (including pad thai), and rice bowls. Both the girls got the pork belly ramen, and both the guys got the same tempura sushi, which they covered in different sauces. I got the Maguro roll: tuna, cucumber, shrimp, furikake, and bonito flakes. I accompanied it with a Sake Fizz: house sake, ginger syrup, lemon juice, fig liquor, and aquafaba (to give it the fizz, imitating egg white). Little Satan gave me some of her ramen to try. It was rich and flavorful. Though I didn’t try the other sushi, I am confident that I made the better choice.

From Umai, Little Satan drove us five miles east, towards the end of Mexicali, near the second border crossing. On the drive, the party sang loudly along with the radio to songs by Calle 13, Molotov, and Arctic Monkeys. On the corner of another strip mall (Plaza Duara) is Nuvo Café, we found a small coffee shop, and sweet goods bakery. I got a cortado, Little Satan got an iced latte, the cousin got a tiramisu, the cousin’s boyfriend nothing, and Diego a chai matcha. We all sat at the coffee shop as a couple going on a double date (plus Diego), chatting, taking selfies, and making fun of our height differential. (As I was decade older than the group, I also felt the age differential.)

It was getting late, and my friend Willy was nowhere near Mexicali. As it happened, there was an accident on La Rumorosa, the treacherous road connecting Mexicali to Tijuana. Willy would be stuck in traffic for hours. With more time to kill, the group asked me what other place I haven’t visited.

Cervecería Mandala? It turned out we were less than a mile away from their tasting room on the second floor of Café Proyecto Xocolate. A neon sign read #TomaConciencia, a play on words: take conscience and drink conscience (toma can mean both drink and take). They didn’t offer tasters, but the beertender was kind enough to give me a sample of all their beers for free: Mantra (Belgian blonde), Dharma (coffee lager), Goldfish (golden ale), Sunshine (hefeweizen), Elixir (IPA), Frida (hibiscus red ale), and Onix (stout). Plus a hibiscus red ale which they didn’t have on tap. Though the coffee lager was excellent, I was done with coffee drinks and opted for the Elixir IPA, a solid standard. The rest of my crew were not craft beer drinkers and ordered giant Micheladas instead. Little Satan got the Mantra Belgian blonde at my suggestion, which was on the sweeter fruitier side of a Belgian with less malt flavor. I ended up drinking most of it.

After Mandala, we dropped off her cousin at the far end of the city in the neighborhood of Valle de Puebla. This was where Mexicali got ugly. It was dusty and grey with small houses that repeat forever. Burnt mattresses littered the street where the dogs slept. Somehow, there were still well-done art murals untouched by graffiti.

Willy finally made it to Mexicali at around 9 pm. He was hanging out at Ícono Cervecería with his date. Little Satan dropped me off at the brewery. I said my goodbyes and gave her a tight hug.

I found Willy and his date drinking beer and eating ribeye. I grabbed a beer (the same hazy IPA from days prior) and started telling them about my Mexicali adventures. We dropped off Willy’s date and started the drive back to Tijuana. I finally made it home at around 1:30 am. Smile on my face. Obsessed with beers from hell. Infatuated with Little Satan.

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Cervecería Averno was named after an ancient volcanic crater in Italy that the Romans believed was the entrance to the underworld.
Cervecería Averno was named after an ancient volcanic crater in Italy that the Romans believed was the entrance to the underworld.

In 2014, Reader beer writer Brandon Hernández visited Mexicali, and wrote: “Our driver, whose humor was as dry as the Baja desert, jestingly told us he was taking us to ‘Hell.’” Brandon suffered temperatures of 105°F, but he liked the beer. Beer is one reason to go to hell.

All the beers at Cervecería Averno are named after mystical hellish creatures: Beast (IPA), Hunter (honey wheat), Wicca (Irish stout), Hellhound (milk stout), Nymph (blonde ale), Lilith (Berliner Weisse), Warg (NEIPA), and more.

My former roommate Chad Deal also covered the Mexicali beer scene in 2014 and 2015. He once wrote, “Mexicali’s known for sweltering hot summers, a relaxed, rural demeanor, Chinese food and an abandoned underground Chinatown, carne asada, outlandish music, and beautiful women (some attribute it to the immense volume of water one drinks to survive).” Beautiful women are another reason to go to hell.

Recently, I developed a crush on a petite tattooed model who calls herself Little Satan on her social media. Little Satan kept posting that she wanted a boyfriend taller than 6’, despite her tiny stature of only 4’10”. I’m 6’4, so I volunteered. To my surprise, she replied. After a couple of weeks, I told her I was visiting her in hell. Our schedules dictated a mid-July meetup, a time of year when temperatures in hell — sorry, Mexicali — can reach 125*F.

To make sure I didn’t back out of my Mexicali plans like I have a dozen times before, I booked three non-refundable nights at the Hotel Colonial — total, $228. Getting there is easy: 120 miles east on Interstate 8 to Calexico (pop. 40,000), and through the brown border fence into Mexicali (pop. 1,200,000 and growing). But my car was not up for the journey, so I rode the bus from Tijuana. Three hours and around $25 after my 12:40 pm departure, I arrived in hell.

Day 1: Thursday

Hotel Colonial was a 15-minute walk from the bus station. But after feeling the 114 degrees of heat outside, I summoned a $3 Uber. Once I was settled in my hotel room, I texted Little Satan. She replied, “I would pick you up, but I have to run some errands for my grandma.” I told her not to worry; I had an interview set up with Luis Larios of Cervecería Fauna, Mexicali’s largest brewery.

“We don’t get tourists like Tijuana or Ensenada. No one comes here. Our beers are for our people,” says Luis Larios of Cervecería Fauna, Mexicali’s largest brewery.

The ride to the brewery took me away from the city and into the industrial areas of Mexicali, home to its roughly 180 maquilas (factories). My first impression of Mexicali was not a pretty one.

At the entrance of Fauna’s warehouse, co-founder Luis Larios was ready to receive me. Luis is bald with a long grey beard. His brother, fellow co-founder Alejandro, is the opposite: clean-shaven and keeping as much hair as possible. “I believe we brew around 60,000 liters a month,” said Luis as we walked around the facility’s large fermenter tanks of 45 and 60 BBLs (and other smaller ones). Then we retreated to the recently opened bar adjacent to the warehouse to drink and chat.

Compared to the brewery’s other tap rooms around Mexico, the bar was simple: a place to drink a beer after work and get the rest to go. It made sense: only beer nerds like myself would make this trek. Luis agreed: “We don’t get tourists like Tijuana or Ensenada. No one comes here. Our beers are for our people,” (Fauna’s taproom in Tijuana closed in 2017 when Plaza Fiesta stopped being about craft beer and turned into crappy bars with loud music.)

He gave me a little history. “Mexicali craft beer started with Cerveza Cucapá [in 2002], but they sold out [in 2014 to Grupo Modelo] and they don’t even brew in Mexicali anymore. Later on, Dos Pistones with Pepé Martínez. That place used to be called Cervecería Reforma, it was one of the first here after Cucapá. Then 3B (Big Bad Brewery), then us (Fauna) — and Amante came around the same time. The brewer of 3B is now working in Alaska at 49th State Brewing; they just won an award at the Beer World Cup. As for Pepé Martínez, he doesn’t even brew anymore. He is making knives or something interesting like that, but no more beer.”

I tried eight different beers at Amante, and the big winner was Marie, their Saison, a very well-balanced beer with earthy tones and citrusy flavors, without the funky yeast flavor that other farmhouse beers give.


Luis poured me four ounces of Vi, their guayaba Berliner-Weisse. I remarked that it tasted lighter than I remembered. “It’s because of the different seasons of guayaba,” Luis said. “There is guayaba all year; summer and winter guayabas give the beer a different character.” He poured another. “We made this beer with a brewery I thoroughly recommend to you, but you are shit out of luck; they just closed their taproom last week,” he continued. It was an IPA they made with Cervecería Malbicho called Ipanema. The nose gave me heavy tropical notes with a lot of maracuya (passion fruit).

On the first sip, I knew it was something special and so far, my favorite beer of 2023. “That’s what thiolized yeast does!” Luis explained. “We are very privileged to have our own yeast laboratory called Lev-Mic. They make excellent yeast; before that, we used White Labs. We went heavy on the mash hopping, and you will never guess what hop we used: Saaz!” Saaz, a noble hop, is usually used for lagers and pilsners, not IPAs.

Luis kept pouring. “This is a Belgian single; we were trying for a Belgian white, but it got clarified so it ended up as a single.” Another: “Our last batch of our Hazy Lycan also got clarified, so it’s not that hazy. We bought different brand of oatmeal because we couldn’t find the one we always use, and that was enough for the result to look different.”

I told him I was thinking of visiting Calexico Brewery across the border. “Calexico is fucking horrible, don’t go,” he replied. “I haven’t gone in years. I don’t even go to Wal-Mart. The only reason to go is to pick up things we need for the brewery, but I don’t cross. Still, the border is calmer than in Tijuana, because no one wants to cross when it’s over 100 degrees. You should come back in November for Mexicali’s Beer Fest. The weather is much better, and we get all sorts of beer celebrities that no other festival in Mexico gets. Last year, Stan Hieronymus came to the fest; he is the writer of Brew Like a Monk. People are fighting to be on the judges’ panel for the fest. We have the best beer festival; props to the guys that organize it, because I don’t do shit but show up. Also, the whole city’s attitude changes during winter. People go outside and do stuff.” Mexicali’s 11th Beer Festival is set for November 11, 2023.

MOMO’s surprise gratis serving of fresh tuna on top of a big tostada cut in the shape of a pizza with ponzu mayo, red onion, truffle oil, and microgreens. The oil enhanced the tuna flavor, leaving a pleasant lingering taste over the whole palate.

Luis drove me back to town and dropped me off right outside Cervecería Ícono — situated in the former home of Cerveceria Mexicali, which ran from 1923 to 1973, and site of the second biggest beer garden in Mexico. On the drive, I texted Little Satan to let her know my plans. “Perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow night,” she replied. “But it will most likely have to wait till Saturday!” I supposed it was time for more beer. The place was packed — more women than men — and I ordered a pint of their “Nueva” (new) Neipa and people watched. Nice, solid, and juicy, packing a hoppy punch — what you’d expect from the style. From there, I walked half a mile through the hot, flat city to Fauna’s tasting room — an old house steps away from the border wall. Packed again. I got a pint of their not-so-hazy Lycan.

I was hungry as a wolf, and for 80 pesos ($5), I was served a basket of grilled red sausages with burnt edges with salsa Valentina and lemon slices. Something 10-year-old me would cook. Still, it was an okay snack, and gave me strength for the walk to Pintito Cerveza Artesanal. I arrived around 9:30 pm to find a well-decorated and large space, but I was the only person there (besides the bartender). The brewery is named after the Mexican idiom “el hijo del tigre pintito,” which translates to “the son of the striped tiger,” meaning, “like father like son.” In late 2018, father and son, “Trino” and Josué “Trinito” Valadez joined forces. Josué started brewing with Calexico Brewing before moving to San Diego to brew with Ballast Point. He came back to brew with his dad.

The menu at MOMO was mostly Japanese and Mexican seafood fusion, with offerings like ceviche, aguachile, tacos, poke, sashimi, clams, oysters, seafood cocktails, and more.


I got a flight of four: Sour, Kölsch, Brut IPA, and a Hazy IPA. I remember I wished the sour had more of a punch and that the Brut could be dryer, but they were all good. Even when drunk, I remember either a bad beer or an excellent one. These were fair standards.

By this point, I had been joined by a couple of friendly locals I had met online: Icono brewer Gilberto Lomeli, and local beer fan Berenice Cabuto. I have foggy memories of our 10-minute drive there to Cerveza El Sarmiento, but clearer ones of the food menu: interesting offerings like beef head gyozas, beef tongue bao tacos, mole chun kun (spring rolls), togarashi fries, and more. However, the kitchen was closed when we arrived. I got another flight of beers: Berrynice Blonde, a New Zealand light lager, a Belgian haze IPA, and an American IPA. I liked them all but made special reference to the fruity blonde ale with blueberry and raspberry, calling it the perfect introductory beer for girls who tell me that they don’t like craft beer. After that, Berenice drove me back to my hotel, where I gave her a signed copy of my book.

Day 2: Friday

I woke up at 9 am to take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. After that, with nothing to do in the blistering 115-degree heat, I took a quick dip in the pool and swam some laps to tire myself out for a nap. Before napping, I texted Little Satan to see if we would meet that day. I woke up around 1:30 pm to Little Satan’s text: “I’m not sure if I can see you today. I’m going to see a friend of mine sing at BolBol. But I’ll let you know when I’m free.” I told her not to worry; I had another list of breweries to visit. And my friend Adly, a local who I met over 10 years ago through an old Tijuana roommate. She used to come party in the city and crash on my couch. These days, she shows up in Tijuana once a year and I take her to my newest food finds. Now it was her turn.

I got to meet Caty Rocha and Moisés Sánchez, the couple that runs Cervecería Colmena. Moisés has been brewing for over a decade, but under the name Cerveza Península. They opened their new space during the pandemic.

Adly suggested we meet at MOMO, a place she hasn’t tried but heard good things about. Before I could leave, I heard from a Tijuana friend, Willy. “Hey! I just got to Mexicali for work. Let’s grab lunch, I’m outside your hotel in 10 minutes.” I knew work was just an excuse. Like me, Willy had driven to hell to meet a woman.

The menu at MOMO was mostly Japanese and Mexican seafood fusion, with offerings like ceviche, aguachile, tacos, poke, sashimi, clams, oysters, seafood cocktails, and more. I was dubious. I was supposed to be eating Chinese food. “Yes dude, we have great seafood here,” said Adly when I asked about the quality. “Mar de Cortez and Laguna Salada are right there. The Pacific is not that far either. And we’ve had an influx of Sinaloenses, and though they ruin sushi, they bring with them great seafood.” So I ordered the callo ceviche for 205 pesos ($13). It offered copious amounts of scallops bathed in serrano vinaigrette, with cherry tomatoes, fried onions, Persian cucumbers, avocado, cilantro, and hibiscus tapioca. I’ve never seen hibiscus tapioca. In fact, I’ve rarely seen tapioca in Mexico (though my mother made a fantastic vanilla tapioca pudding). And I’ve never thought about pairing it with seafood. But the combination worked. Adly and Willy had less luck, but we were all pleased by the surprise offer of free drinks and a gratis serving of fresh tuna on top of a big tostada cut in the shape of a pizza with ponzu mayo, red onion, truffle oil, and microgreens. The oil enhanced the tuna flavor, leaving a pleasant lingering taste over the whole palate.

After lunch, Willy went to “work.” I hopped in Adly’s car to go to her favorite brewery. We paused at the classic drive-in diner Merendero Manuet’s for a michelada and some people watching, then headed for Amante Brew Company, situated side by side with Gato Gordo Brewery. The green, grey, and brown space was decorated with hop-shaped lampshades, local art, and a small merch shop. I tried eight different beers, and the big winner was Marie, their Saison, a very well-balanced beer with earthy tones and citrusy flavors, without the funky yeast flavor that other farmhouse beers give. Their blonde beer, appropriately named Marilyn, was also one that I’ll be seeking again. (I also tried Diana, a light barley wine that seemed to miss the mark, and a disappointing Imperial Russian Stout named Prima Nocte. Adly remarked, “I don’t think there is a single good stout in this town.”)

Malgro had a watermelon seltzer I didn’t care for and five beers on tap: Grecia (blonde ale), Honey (honey blonde), Bangkok (Belgian blonde), Kiss the Sky (hazy IPA), and 7 am (coffee stout).

We drove around the city, Adly narrating the whole time, and ended up at a place named Haiku, near the border in old downtown Mexicali. The small establishment was squished between a Haitian eatery and a cleaner’s. Inside was a bar, an art gallery, and a traditionally decorated Japanese restaurant. Adly explained that the owners are first-generation Japanese-Mexican, and the family pictures on the wall were of their ancestors back home. We sat by the bar and got the tofu and hibiscus inarizushi as well as three pieces of karai maguro temaki (hand-rolled cone with spicy tuna). Haiku also offered their house beer, a tall can of Matcha IPA brewed by Hornet Brewery. It poured neon green, almost like a Mountain Dew, but darker. From the pour and the nose, I had a bad feeling about it. It didn’t taste like matcha, it didn’t taste like an IPA, and it barely even resembled a beer. It was the first Mexicali beer that I didn’t finish.

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While at Haiku, Berenice texted me that she wanted to join the party. I told her where I was and shortly after, she showed up with her 24-year-old daughter, Vania. We journeyed from the old downtown to the new downtown, and reached Cerveza Urbana, another well-established Mexicali brewery from more than a decade ago. They are home to two of the most recognizable hop-forward brews in Baja: Crossover IPA and Mosaico Session IPA. They had only four house beers: two Berliners named Shon Penn and Yoli Rancher and two nameless beers, a light lager, and a brown ale. Their most famous beers were not to be found. I disliked Shon Penn as much as I dislike the person it was named after. Yoli Rancher was sweet as the red Jolly Rancher with a nice sour bite. The nameless beers were forgettable. I was disappointed.

Happily, just 200 yards away from Urbana, there was a warehouse shared between Coralillo Brewing Co. and Desertor Cerveza Artesanal. Though it was only a three-minute walk, Adly decided to drive. Once there, she told me she was going to go hang out with her boyfriend, and left me at the mercy of Berenice and Vania, the mom-and-daughter drinking duo. It was past midnight, and the warehouse was packed with people (as usual, several tables with pretty women). “Beer straight from the tank” is the slogan from Coralillo. A handful of fermenter tanks of 3 BBLs and smaller are situated right above the bar and two big mashing tuns were on the side. The girls got half pints and munched on the free popcorn, I got a flight of 5 beers: an unnamed IPL, 1846 (Kölsch), Goofy (Vanilla Blonde), San Patricios (Weissbier), and a West Coast IPA. The first four were forgettable; the west coast IPA was very well done.

Giant micheladas with the Mexicali crew at Cervecería Mandala.

A three-minute drive took us to Media Sangre Cervecería just before 1 am. As we sat down at one of the back tables, Berenice realized she had left her phone at the previous brewery and bolted out. I got a chance to talk to Vania. She had worked as a beertender at Casa Alta with Malbicho, the place that closed the week before I arrived. She told me that Malbicho left with plans to do something bigger and better. She also praised their brewer Alfredo “Freddy” Rodríguez as one of the best brewers in town.

The blackboard at Media Sangre displayed a list of nine house beers and it read that July 1st was their fifth anniversary. I got a sampler of four: Por Sangre (gose + sangrita), Sandra Dee (watermelon Berliner), unnamed rice ale, and Black Snake Moon (vanilla bourbon imperial stout). I’ve been a massive fan of sangrita since I was a kid. It translates to “little blood,” a non-alcoholic drink made of citrus juice and peppers, giving it a red appearance. It is usually accompanied with tequila. As a kid growing up in Mexico, I took shots of sangrita during holidays when saying cheers with the grown-ups. This sangrita gose nailed the taste of my childhood nostalgia. The watermelon Berliner was also a nice puckery sour. Stout and rice ale were forgettable. I tried a sip of Vania’s “Lazy Daisy” hazy IPA, it was good, yet another hazy of thousands.

There was a drunk American in the bar, a big bald guy with a long grey beard. He was trying to fight the bartender, shouting that he had been overcharged. His two female companions tried calming him down and dragged him out the door. But he was adamant, and rushed into the bar again. I was ready to help in the fight, but this guy was huge. Luckily for everyone at the bar, the two women came back and dragged his ass out again, apologizing profusely. Berenice came back with her phone, but before she could order a beer, the bar started kicking everyone out.

Day 3: Saturday

I woke up around noon. I already had a text from Little Satan, sent at 11:14 am. “Where are you going to take me today?” I told her I needed coffee, and the list of breweries I still planned to visit, but it was her choice. “Well… It’s my best friend’s birthday today. So I’m not sure when I’m going to be free. I have to run errands and pick up my cousin so I don’t think I could meet up for coffee. What time are you leaving tomorrow? Perhaps early tomorrow.”

It didn’t seem like I was going to meet her at all. I still wanted coffee, I texted Berenice and Adly for recommendations. Berenice replied promptly. She told me she was getting out of yoga class and could take me for coffee and brunch. She was at the hotel lobby shortly thereafter.

Berenice took me to a trendy bakery in a strip mall called Plaza Vista Hermosa. We got a couple of Americanos and decided to split a croque madame panini: sourdough, roasted garlic aioli, ham, Swiss cheese, fried egg, and béchamel sauce. I’m glad we split it, because the sandwich was pretty big and it came with copious amounts of fries. The savory factor of the croque madame was on point, but the sourdough was extremely chewy, to the point I couldn’t cut it with the knife and could barely tear it apart with my teeth. What could’ve been a great sandwich was downgraded to just good because of the bread.

Because of the heat, most bars and breweries don’t open until 4 pm or later. Shortly after Cerveceria Colmena opened at 5 pm. I arrived and met Caty Rocha and Moisés Sánchez, the couple that runs the place. Moisés has been brewing for over a decade, but under the name Cerveza Península. They opened their new space during the pandemic. They had eight beers on tap and I asked for a flight of all eight: Zumbale collaboration with Hornet (double hazy IPA), Bala Negra (black IPA), Junior (session IPA), Tostada (brown ale), Xoco (oatmeal stout), Coffee & Cream (golden stout), and an unnamed gose and Berliner. The big winner was the gose brewed with cilantro. It might be the heat that pushed me into loving the gose-style beers, or it could be that Mexicali just makes damn good goses.

Adly picked me up at Colmena around 6:30 pm. I needed dinner and asked if we should get some Chinese food. “Fuck Chinese food, I’m going to take you to my favorite Korean restaurant,” she replied. “Yes, we have great Chinese food. But you know how in Mexico we call anyone who is Asian a Chino. Well, when I say Mexicali has the best Chinese food, I also include Thai, Japanese, and Korean.” She took me to Choga, a restaurant located in… you guessed it, another strip mall with three other Asian restaurants and a casino. It gave me the same feeling as walking into Chon Ju Jip or many of the great Korean restaurants on Convoy Street. The menu included all the Korean standards: teokbokki, gimbap, bulgogi, and the like. We settled for a 10-piece of fried mandu and 500 grams of samgyeop-sal, grilled pork belly (500 pesos, around $32). The pork belly was grilled at our table with onions, jalapeños, and garlic. It also included side dishes: kimchi, daikon salad, sliced potatoes, noodles, lettuce, and orange slices. The pork was tender, juicy, salty, and outright delicious, but we over-ordered and couldn’t finish it.

Adly drove me to Cerveceria Once Perros, situated in a warehouse next to an Oxxo on Justo Sierra Avenue, a block before the border wall (the new downtown area). The place was decorated with surfboards and skateboards, pictures of happy drinking people, art, and colorful murals. It was busy when we got there at around 8:30 pm. We sat at the bar and I ordered a flight of the eight beers they had on tap. All their beers are named after dog breeds: Irish Terrier (Irish red ale), German Shepherd (hefeweizen), Golden Retriever (kölsch), Perro del Desierto (Mexican cream ale), Great Dane (IPA), and more. The taps are in the shape of bones. The IPA was passable, the rest were not good.

Just a block away, we found Cerveceria Averno, named after an ancient volcanic crater in Italy that the Romans believed it was the entrance to the underworld. All their beers are named after mystical hellish creatures: Beast (IPA), Hunter (honey wheat), Wicca (Irish stout), Hellhound (milk stout), Nymph (blonde ale), Lilith (Berliner Weisse), Warg (NEIPA), and more. There was a live band of old hardcore anarchist punks named Contrapoder playing on a small stage, yelling political charge lyrics over heavy power chords. It was loud (and I loved it) but it made it difficult to communicate with the waiter when I told them I wanted to sample all their beers. He brought me the first five samplers but couldn’t tell me which was which. He then brought me the other five and told me he repeated a style, but again, didn’t tell me which was which. I figured out what beer corresponded to what style. They were all on point except the milk stout, which was plain bad.

Little Satan finally texted at 8:57 pm: “I’m almost free, where are you?” I informed Adly that a date might happen. At 9:44, Little Satan texted, “I like Averno. I’m leaving my house, I’ll see you there.” She finally made it at around 10:30 pm. There she was. The tiny succubus in the flesh. Wearing a tiny black dress with white stripes, jet-black hair, chains around her waist, platform shoes making her slightly taller, big black eyes, multiple piercings and tattoos, full red lips, and freckles painted on her nose and cheeks. I was immediately smitten.

She asked if I was drunk. I lied and said I wasn’t. We went to the upstairs patio of the brewery that I had failed to notice. We had a couple of beers each. I drank the Warg NEIPA and she drank the Nymph blonde ale. The date went smoothly for an hour, but it was cut short by the closing time of the bar. Little Satan drove me to the hotel past 1 am. I invited her into the room, but she refused, telling me her cousin was alone in her apartment. I tried to steal a kiss goodnight, but all I managed was a peck on the lips. “Goodnight, perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, and then drove away.

I texted Adly that the date was over and that I was back safely in the hotel. She texted back, inviting me to a bar called “Crazy Horse.” She said she had a ton of beer someone bought her, and there were a ton of pretty women. Craving more Mexicali adventure, I called a ride. Crazy Horse seemed to be a horrible dive bar. It was empty except for four not-pretty prostitutes who sat lonely at a table, and a handful of waiters. This didn’t seem like it was the place Adly told me she was at. But when I exited, I noticed a crowd of people on the terrace, dancing to electronic music. “Grab a beer,” said Adly when I found her, “I have no idea who bought them but we gotta drink them all!” She was with a handful of her friends, who were indeed all pretty women. But just thirty minutes after I got to the party, everyone was kicked out. One of Adly’s friends yelled there was going to be an after-party at her house. We said we were going, but as soon as we got to Adly’s car, she said “Fuck that party, I’m taking you back to your hotel.”

Day 4: Sunday

My Sunday plan was simple. Check out of the hotel at noon, grab a coffee and breakfast, and head back to Tijuana via bus. But then my friend Willy texted me: “I’m going to Mexicali to drop off my date, ride back with me later today.” So I informed Little Satan that I had more time in hell.

“My cousin is going to be with me all day. She wants ramen, you want to join us?”

“Sure,” I said.

“We won’t be ready until 2 pm… Also, her boyfriend is coming as well, also my friend Diego.”

With time to kill, I grabbed my things from the hotel and called an Uber to downtown Mexicali. Cine Curto (a movie theater) was founded in 1946 by Adolfo Curto, a Spanish businessman. It went on to become an icon of the city, receiving the biggest Mexican celebrities and actors of the ‘50s and ‘60s. But modern cinemas pushed the old theater out of business. By the turn of the century, it was abandoned. With the help of the government, it was refurbished in 2021. It is now called Mercado Cine Curto. Between the tiles, the chandeliers, the art, the old thick concrete walls, the large mirrors, it feels like a building from Mexico City. I grabbed an espresso Americano from the lobby (good coffee for $4) and walked around. Momma Bakery had free samplers of their croissants, and after taking a small bite, I knew that was my breakfast. Though I only had one baked good in Mexicali, my chocolate croissant was better than any I’ve tried in Tijuana.

Outside, I saw a sign that read “Mexicali Rose.” After some research, I found out that it’s one of Baja’s oldest songs — perhaps the oldest. It was written by Jack B. Tenney in the 1920s when he worked as a musician in Mexicali. It is supposedly about a big old lady who drank and cried at the bar Tenney’s orchestra was playing. It became a hit in 1935, thanks to Gene Autry’s version, which in 1939 became a movie with the same name. Filmed in California, the movie is an hour long. It’s about a singing cowboy who saves an orphanage from bad oil salespeople. It’s free on YouTube.

I was drenched in sweat after walking around just a few blocks and headed back to Cine Curto just for the air conditioning. Two breweries of the four were opened, and luckily for me, they were two I hadn’t tried before. Malgro Cerveceria had a watermelon seltzer I didn’t care for and five beers on tap: Grecia (blonde ale), Honey (honey blonde), Bangkok (Belgian blonde), Kiss the Sky (hazy IPA), and 7 am (coffee stout). The Mexicali pattern held: the IPA was solid, the honey blonde was the tastier one, and the stout was bad.

Hornet Brewery redeemed itself after the bad matcha IPA. They didn’t have samplers, but I talked the beertender into letting me borrow their glasses. There was a gose with kiwi, starfruit, and guayaba on the board and I was excited to try it, but they informed me the had run out. They poured me three beers: a pale ale, an IPA, and a hazy IPA. As I sat down to drink them, Little Satan texted me that she was outside. I chugged all three; the hazy left me with a good lingering hoppy taste as I ran out of the Cine Curto.

Little Satan and her party of four picked me up just after 2 pm, and Little Satan drove us to Ichiban for ramen. Berenice had told me that the place was no good, but I didn’t say anything. We were looking at the large menu when suddenly Little Satan said: “Let’s go, I do not want to eat here.” We got back into her car and drove to Umai, a restaurant owned by the same group as MOMO. Similar to MOMO, the place was spacious, clean, and nicely decorated with Japanese fixtures. The menu had sushi, ramen, noodles (including pad thai), and rice bowls. Both the girls got the pork belly ramen, and both the guys got the same tempura sushi, which they covered in different sauces. I got the Maguro roll: tuna, cucumber, shrimp, furikake, and bonito flakes. I accompanied it with a Sake Fizz: house sake, ginger syrup, lemon juice, fig liquor, and aquafaba (to give it the fizz, imitating egg white). Little Satan gave me some of her ramen to try. It was rich and flavorful. Though I didn’t try the other sushi, I am confident that I made the better choice.

From Umai, Little Satan drove us five miles east, towards the end of Mexicali, near the second border crossing. On the drive, the party sang loudly along with the radio to songs by Calle 13, Molotov, and Arctic Monkeys. On the corner of another strip mall (Plaza Duara) is Nuvo Café, we found a small coffee shop, and sweet goods bakery. I got a cortado, Little Satan got an iced latte, the cousin got a tiramisu, the cousin’s boyfriend nothing, and Diego a chai matcha. We all sat at the coffee shop as a couple going on a double date (plus Diego), chatting, taking selfies, and making fun of our height differential. (As I was decade older than the group, I also felt the age differential.)

It was getting late, and my friend Willy was nowhere near Mexicali. As it happened, there was an accident on La Rumorosa, the treacherous road connecting Mexicali to Tijuana. Willy would be stuck in traffic for hours. With more time to kill, the group asked me what other place I haven’t visited.

Cervecería Mandala? It turned out we were less than a mile away from their tasting room on the second floor of Café Proyecto Xocolate. A neon sign read #TomaConciencia, a play on words: take conscience and drink conscience (toma can mean both drink and take). They didn’t offer tasters, but the beertender was kind enough to give me a sample of all their beers for free: Mantra (Belgian blonde), Dharma (coffee lager), Goldfish (golden ale), Sunshine (hefeweizen), Elixir (IPA), Frida (hibiscus red ale), and Onix (stout). Plus a hibiscus red ale which they didn’t have on tap. Though the coffee lager was excellent, I was done with coffee drinks and opted for the Elixir IPA, a solid standard. The rest of my crew were not craft beer drinkers and ordered giant Micheladas instead. Little Satan got the Mantra Belgian blonde at my suggestion, which was on the sweeter fruitier side of a Belgian with less malt flavor. I ended up drinking most of it.

After Mandala, we dropped off her cousin at the far end of the city in the neighborhood of Valle de Puebla. This was where Mexicali got ugly. It was dusty and grey with small houses that repeat forever. Burnt mattresses littered the street where the dogs slept. Somehow, there were still well-done art murals untouched by graffiti.

Willy finally made it to Mexicali at around 9 pm. He was hanging out at Ícono Cervecería with his date. Little Satan dropped me off at the brewery. I said my goodbyes and gave her a tight hug.

I found Willy and his date drinking beer and eating ribeye. I grabbed a beer (the same hazy IPA from days prior) and started telling them about my Mexicali adventures. We dropped off Willy’s date and started the drive back to Tijuana. I finally made it home at around 1:30 am. Smile on my face. Obsessed with beers from hell. Infatuated with Little Satan.

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