Marshmallow pops at Donas Venecia. Photo by Enrique Limón.
The food landscape is quickly changing down south, and plans for Tijuana's first comfort-food eatery and the success of the monthly Granja Urbana organic farmers market prove it. While some people might not venture beyond the lowly street-taco stands—and the inevitable visit to the nearest farmacia to exercise their remedial Spanish with phrases like ¿Dónde está el Pepto—past the loud clank of the steel revolving doors at the pedestrian point of entry, a sea of unique culinary treasures awaits.
Call it reverse colonization. Like much of its upper crust, Tijuana's culinary staples have migrated to el Norte, offering the slew of expats a spicy slice of home. Craving a bacon, chorizo and “swine-style,” bean-topped slice of pie? Head to Mama Mia Pizza (2004 Dairy Mart Road) in San Ysidro, a sort of Mexi-fied Domino's. Got a hankerin' for tacos gobernador? The TJ-by-way-of-Sinaloa seafood staple awaits in Chula Vista at Los Arcos (89 Bonita Road). And to wash it all down, how's about a frosty cajeta (caramelized goat's milk) frappé at Cafe D'Volada (320 Third Ave., Suite B) in Chula Vista?
There's a rumor that Italian restaurant Giuseppi's might fence-hop next, and the people behind legendary WashMobile beef brisket tortas (a stationary cart with a cult following that includes a Facebook fan page) already offer Stateside catering services, which leads us to wonder: What south-of-the-border sustenance should follow? We've rounded up our best cross-border export bets.
Kentucky Fried Buches: In poultry, the buche (boo-shey) is the throat or gullet. Kentucky might have Col. Sanders, but Tijuana has General Escoto. Surpassing not just in rank but also originality, Salvador Escoto's family has been operating in the city's dubious Zona Norte (Ave. Constitución 670) offering deep-fried buches and nothing but deep-fried buches since 1963, or, as he likes to put it, “since this was the nice part of town.” Thirty-five pesos (about $3) gets you an order of buches—more chewy than crunchy—freshly scooped from their trough, ample salsa and a side of tortillas. The Escotos go through 100 kilos of buche a day and have recently acquired notoriety through foodie blogs praising their taste and trying to replicate their salsa. Eateries like The Linkery have also paid homage to KFB by offering local pastured buches on their menu. All that fried goodness leaving you feeling frisky? You can get a little deep buche action yourself—the locale is smack in the middle of TJ's red light district.
La Casa del Clamato: There are a lot of establishments claiming to be the house of this or that, from La Casa del Mole to Pozolandia—the magical land of pozole soup—but La Casa del Clamato (corner of Seventh and Ocampo in Downtown Tijuana) is the real deal. Norteño music blares as Pepelucas and Rose (the house parakeets) sway, and on any given day, you can find a line that rivals Phil's BBQ outside the humble walk-up storefront. The lure? Takeout Clamatos—the bastard child of the michelada and the Bloody Mary—prepared with your choice of beer, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and chamoy, rimmed with Tajín chili pepper seasoning and served on surplus In-N-Out cups. Seventy pesos score you a decent-size medium, and for just 10 pesos more, the Big Gulp size is enough for two. The best way around an open container law? Apparently covering it with a lid.
Donas Venecia: You can thank the French for two things: Cinco de Mayo and the boulangerie. One gives Americans yet another opportunity for public drunkenness while the latter spawned the concept of the panadería, or Mexican bakery, which is taken to new heights at Donas Venecia (Gral. Rodríguez 112-2 Col. Dávila). Founded in 1959 as Zürich, the owner quickly changed its name to a more romantic-sounding city, and a legend was born. Starting at five pesos each, more than 80 types of pastries are sold here—from the run-of-the-mill concha to the more exciting sounding “ox eye” and “apple taco.” The donut haven also doubles as a milk depot, custom cake shop and gourmet-treat provider (walnut-covered, bleu-cheese-rolled grapes, anyone?) and offers marshmallow lollipops in several pop-culture likenesses, from Dora the Explorer to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Take it from someone who knows, heresy never tasted so good.
Tante Jane: It's the city's best-kept secret. So much so that most Tijuanenses don't even know it exists. Located inside the Centro Social Israelita (Blvd. Cuauhtémoc Sur Ote., No. 3000 Col. Gabilondo). TJ's only Chabad-led community center includes a courtyard, events hall, Temple and a kitchen playfully dubbed Tante Jane (a Yiddish play on the city's name), which offers daily kosher food to members, hospitalized local and out-of-town Jews, and is also available for catering. “We're famous for our chips and salsa,” Buenos Aires-born Rabbi Mendel J. Polichenco, who scours both sides of the border for the best ingredients, tells CityBeat. Other Mexi-kosher creations include gefilte fish Veracruzana, and chilaquiles. A $15 sitting fee covers a four-course lunch and a soda; arrangements should be made in advance. “I have not pursued it further because I'm not a business man,” Polichenco says of the untapped Mexican kosher market. “But, if someone did, they'd make a killing.” L'chaim to that. More info at ChabadWithoutBorders.com.
Ricos Tejuinos: I know what you're thinking: Te-whaa? Hailing from Tequila's birthplace, Jalisco, Tejuino is an icy fermented corn drink that's not as gross as it sounds. Readily available at the pedestrian crossings at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, Jamba Juice's cholo cousin is thickened with masa—the same corn meal used to make tamales and tortillas, flavored with cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined sugar) and usually topped with a scoop of lime-flavored ice cream. “It's a natural hangover remedy,” says Genaro Díaz Montalvo, who peddles it out of a rolling cart in Otay. The combination of lemon and salt give it an electrolyte-solution quality.” If you're feeling daring, you might want to order it con piquete (spiked); just be aware that piquete is also slang for “fucking.” Don't say we didn't warn you.