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New to Chula Vista, Las Ahumaderas invokes classic Tijuana street tacos

Belly up to the kitchen counter and don’t forget to tip your taquero

If you must take a photo of your adobada taco, do it quickly. This thing is best eaten immediately.
If you must take a photo of your adobada taco, do it quickly. This thing is best eaten immediately.
Video:

New to Chula Vista, Las Ahumaderas invokes classic Tijuana street tacos



I used to be one of those mythical San Diego taco fiends who could jump in the car to chase a craving, and wind up feasting on Tijuana street tacos 30 minutes later. Because — and I try not to admit this often — eating tacos on this side of the border has never quite felt the same.

Place

Las Ahumaderas Chula Vista

1011 Broadway, Chula Vista

For better or worse, I don’t get to just bounce across the border anymore. My work and family lives have progressed to the point where, I should at least be in the country, if anybody asks. But I can be in Chula Vista. And that’s where the new taco shop, Las Ahumaderas, opened last month, behind a bold tagline: “The Original Tijuana Taco.”

A Tijuana inspired taco shop, new to Chula Vista


In Tijuana, the name refers to a storied strip of taco stands along Avenida Guillermo Prieto, in La Cacho neighborhood. The Chula Vista shop’s owner, Pedro Rodriguez, credits his Uncle Guadalupe for first calling the cluster of shops Las Ahumaderas — which my colleague Matthew Suárez translates as “the smokey spot” — owing to the near constant clouds of smoke produced by five or six 24-hour eateries in one place grilling meat nonstop since 1960.


Rodriguez mentions his father and uncles counted among the original taqueros working the strip, including with their own stands, Las Quince Letras and Tacos El Poblano. And though he notes there’s no continuity of ownership between his shop and those in Tijuana, it’s clear his goal is to transmit that tradition across the border to Chula Vista.


And my first impression did recall the initial moment of indecision when visiting the original Las Ahumaderas: trying to figure out where to go first. Here, it’s because the business is carved up like a food hall, splitting into four paths as soon as you walk through the door.

Wander off to either side and you’ll pass through a dining room, fit for tacos as well as the nutella crepes and Mexican street corn sold by cohabitating food counters in the back corner.

Sponsored
Sponsored
A taco shop split into a food hall with cinder blocks, wire mesh, and neon


A large island counter, stocked with multicolored jugs of horchatas and aqua frescas, dominates the center of the room — go left or right when you hit it, and you’ll find a register where you can order from a spreadsheet of a menu. Ten rows of meat include adobada, carne asada, cabeza, and campechano (a mix of any two meats). Seven columns of preparation complete a grid showing prices for the such items as tacos ($4-6), mozzarella cheesy quesatacos ($5-6), mulitas ($6-7), and tortas ($14-15). Keen eyes will also spot the option for vampiros($6-7), which sandwich two crispy, tostada-like tortillas around meat and melted cheese.


Order from the counter for the richest street taco experience


But I recommend following the advice of Mr. Rodriguez: bypass the front counters, and instead grab a stool at the back counter, belly up to the kitchen. Because here you can order the same items directly from the taqueros preparing them, then pay at the bar when you’ve had enough. Back here, you can hear the meat sizzle, smell the smoke, see the toppings loaded into the tortilla in the moment before it’s placed before you, wrapped in thin parchment and still hot. As much as anything, it’s this kind of immediacy that puts the Tijuana taco experience over the top.

Tacos are wrapped in thin parchment printed with a cheeky cartoon about taco etiquette


I planted myself directly in front of the kitchen’s trompo, an upright rotisserie slowly turning a spit overloaded with marinated pork, and ordered a taco adobada. I watched as the taquero shave strips of the roasted outer layer of the pork with a long knife, as he finished the assembled taco with generous schmear of guacamole. And when I sunk my teeth into the taco moments later, the whole thing was saucy and warm, the masa fresh and oozing with chili spiced oils.


Too embarrassing a many years have passed since I drove south with my global entry card in tow, seeking this experience: I can’t rightly sit here and tell you a taco on either side of the border is the same or better one way or another. But sitting at the back counter of Las Ahumaderas, Chula Vista, definitely invokes that hot from the griddle ecstasy I used to chase to Tijuana. To those who can still turn south on a dime: more power to you, be safe, take pictures. For those of us who can only plan such outings on a calendar anymore, belly up to the kitchen in Chula Vista, and don’t forget to tip your taquero.


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If you must take a photo of your adobada taco, do it quickly. This thing is best eaten immediately.
If you must take a photo of your adobada taco, do it quickly. This thing is best eaten immediately.
Video:

New to Chula Vista, Las Ahumaderas invokes classic Tijuana street tacos



I used to be one of those mythical San Diego taco fiends who could jump in the car to chase a craving, and wind up feasting on Tijuana street tacos 30 minutes later. Because — and I try not to admit this often — eating tacos on this side of the border has never quite felt the same.

Place

Las Ahumaderas Chula Vista

1011 Broadway, Chula Vista

For better or worse, I don’t get to just bounce across the border anymore. My work and family lives have progressed to the point where, I should at least be in the country, if anybody asks. But I can be in Chula Vista. And that’s where the new taco shop, Las Ahumaderas, opened last month, behind a bold tagline: “The Original Tijuana Taco.”

A Tijuana inspired taco shop, new to Chula Vista


In Tijuana, the name refers to a storied strip of taco stands along Avenida Guillermo Prieto, in La Cacho neighborhood. The Chula Vista shop’s owner, Pedro Rodriguez, credits his Uncle Guadalupe for first calling the cluster of shops Las Ahumaderas — which my colleague Matthew Suárez translates as “the smokey spot” — owing to the near constant clouds of smoke produced by five or six 24-hour eateries in one place grilling meat nonstop since 1960.


Rodriguez mentions his father and uncles counted among the original taqueros working the strip, including with their own stands, Las Quince Letras and Tacos El Poblano. And though he notes there’s no continuity of ownership between his shop and those in Tijuana, it’s clear his goal is to transmit that tradition across the border to Chula Vista.


And my first impression did recall the initial moment of indecision when visiting the original Las Ahumaderas: trying to figure out where to go first. Here, it’s because the business is carved up like a food hall, splitting into four paths as soon as you walk through the door.

Wander off to either side and you’ll pass through a dining room, fit for tacos as well as the nutella crepes and Mexican street corn sold by cohabitating food counters in the back corner.

Sponsored
Sponsored
A taco shop split into a food hall with cinder blocks, wire mesh, and neon


A large island counter, stocked with multicolored jugs of horchatas and aqua frescas, dominates the center of the room — go left or right when you hit it, and you’ll find a register where you can order from a spreadsheet of a menu. Ten rows of meat include adobada, carne asada, cabeza, and campechano (a mix of any two meats). Seven columns of preparation complete a grid showing prices for the such items as tacos ($4-6), mozzarella cheesy quesatacos ($5-6), mulitas ($6-7), and tortas ($14-15). Keen eyes will also spot the option for vampiros($6-7), which sandwich two crispy, tostada-like tortillas around meat and melted cheese.


Order from the counter for the richest street taco experience


But I recommend following the advice of Mr. Rodriguez: bypass the front counters, and instead grab a stool at the back counter, belly up to the kitchen. Because here you can order the same items directly from the taqueros preparing them, then pay at the bar when you’ve had enough. Back here, you can hear the meat sizzle, smell the smoke, see the toppings loaded into the tortilla in the moment before it’s placed before you, wrapped in thin parchment and still hot. As much as anything, it’s this kind of immediacy that puts the Tijuana taco experience over the top.

Tacos are wrapped in thin parchment printed with a cheeky cartoon about taco etiquette


I planted myself directly in front of the kitchen’s trompo, an upright rotisserie slowly turning a spit overloaded with marinated pork, and ordered a taco adobada. I watched as the taquero shave strips of the roasted outer layer of the pork with a long knife, as he finished the assembled taco with generous schmear of guacamole. And when I sunk my teeth into the taco moments later, the whole thing was saucy and warm, the masa fresh and oozing with chili spiced oils.


Too embarrassing a many years have passed since I drove south with my global entry card in tow, seeking this experience: I can’t rightly sit here and tell you a taco on either side of the border is the same or better one way or another. But sitting at the back counter of Las Ahumaderas, Chula Vista, definitely invokes that hot from the griddle ecstasy I used to chase to Tijuana. To those who can still turn south on a dime: more power to you, be safe, take pictures. For those of us who can only plan such outings on a calendar anymore, belly up to the kitchen in Chula Vista, and don’t forget to tip your taquero.


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The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

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