Day 2 of our epic Mexico trip began much earlier than seemed humanly possible, though that's a product, I assume, of eating street food until 4 AM the night before. So after an open-air bus tour through the streets of Tijuana, and an oddly appropriate morning shot of aged rum for our whole party, one of the more gut-busting food tours in recent North American history was underway.
The crawl began with a much-needed Styrofoam cup of murky, shrimp consommé. Things got even better at Tacos de Mariscos el Mazateño: plates of shrimp tacos, cooked in impressive quantities by the friendly cook manning the flat-top, served alongside smoked marlin tacos. The sight, I imagine, of twenty-plus Americans stepping in and out of a chartered bus all day to photograph food must have been something to the citizens of Tijuana trying to eating their lunch in peace.
Whether it was the excellent Spanish food at Lorca, including the gasp-inducing whole roast suckling pig; the wood-fired, pan-crisped Argentinian sweetbreads of Cheripan; the huitlacoche (Mexican corn truffle) crepes at La Differencia; or the traditional French onion soup at L'Abricot (by French-trained chef Maribel Villarreal Sosa), the dining scene in Tijuana was so much more than most of us could have possibly imagined.
While it wouldn't have been a surprise to discover upscale, modern Mexican cuisine in a place like Mexico City, I wasn't prepared for the stunning quality and innovation that was on display in the city of Tijuana.
Cien Años sent out refined twists on classic Mexican flavors, such as a bite-sized, citrus-smacked tostada of cactus salad, salmon ceviche, and marlin salpicón, which tasted like the smokey, ocean hash of your dreams.
La Querencia restaurant is the work of chef Miguel Angel Guerrero, a man who hunts his own animals, catches his own fish and grows as much of his own produce as possible. Guerrero is the inventor of Baja-Med cuisine, a fusion of local ingredients with Mediterranean flair. A trio of carpaccios--beet, zucchini and beef tongue, garnished with frizzled leeks and fried garlic--eaten on the outdoor patio, were a brilliant reminder of just how good individual ingredients can be when treated with the respect they deserve.
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For our final stop, we were ushered into the lavish, decadent digs of restaurant Villa Saverios. After a round of tamarind cocktails, we were blessed with yet another example of impressive Baja-Mediterranean carpaccio fusion, this time, in the form of thinly sliced octopus, refreshed with grapefruit and olive oil. The rest of the dishes were equally well conceived and executed, like chorizo spaghettini tacos, adobo marinated octopus on a bed of hummus, a creamy, "mussel cappuccino", tender short ribs with fig mole and a sweet berry tamale.
To be continued...
Tacos de Mariscos el Mazateño, Calzada Tecnologico, No.473, Tomas Aquino., Lorca Restaurante, Calle Brasill, No. 8630, Col. Cacho, Tel: (664) 634-03-66, Cheripan, 3151 Escuadron 201, Colonia Aviacion., Tel: 01152-664-622-9730., La Differencia, Blvd. Sanchez Taboada 10611-A., Tel: (011 52 664) 6 34 33 46., Cien Años, Calle José María Velasco 1407 Tel: (888) 534-6088, L'Abricot Patisserie, 1910 Antonio Caso Blvd., Zona Río., Tel:(664) 634-0643., La Querencia, Calle Escuadrón 201, Tel: +52 664 972 9935., Villa Saverios, Blvd. Sanchez Taboada, Esq. Escuadron 201, 22320, Tel: (01152) 664 686 64 42