Boy are things changing in Mexico! Here in San Diego the craft food and beer scene is heating up and stimulating the foodie culture south of the border in Tijuana. Craft breweries are popping up, stylish high-quality eateries, and places designed with a rustic/modern aesthetic that tucked between touristy crap factory shops and dive bars catering to spring breakers. You think you know what a Tijuana tostada looks like? Think again. Here’s a beauty courtesy of La Justina:
When you sit down at this place you are presented with a paper bag of fire-roasted spicy popcorn. On the bag is a stamp of a bearded man. I don’t know if this is La Justina but she needs a shave. Have some serving dish eye candy:
I was on an office holiday party excursion and we started off with the food above before hitting a classic TJ dive bar. There were some career drinkers and smokers in there, caballeros hunched over a 40-oz Tecate and staring at the wall. While our party drank some mezcal that doubled as tapeworm killer and paint stripper I stepped into the restroom. Here’s what I love about TJ: creative solutions to non-difficult problems. In a restroom with multiple toilets you usually put up partitions, even cheap ones. Hell, you could make them out of plywood. But no, the Tijuana version builds what looks like the bottom half of a confessional booth with dual swinging saloon shutters at the front. So while you sit and make numero dos, hombres stumble in, stare blearily at you through the 4-inch gap between the stall “doors”, then stand at the urinal next to you and get a bird’s eye view, since the stall walls are only about 3′ high. After that fun you get this warning as you are leaving the bathroom:
I don’t know why they needed to make this so clear. Even the glass in the bathroom door was translucent. I guess people get up to the Mexican version of shenanigans in the bathroom.
The next bar was even better, a dive bar version of a dive bar. Young men stared sullenly from the back and here were some bodies sprawled out in a banquette with torn vinyl, amidst a landscape of empty bottles and puddles of stale beer. And it was three in the afternoon. At one point one of the bodies reanimated and a man got up and rushed out, as if he’d suddenly realized he was late for a dental appointment. At one point I did get an offer for a $1 shoe shine in the bathroom which I would’ve accepted if A) I had any cash, B) I hadn’t just polished my shoes last week, and C)I was convinced that a “shoe shine” wasn’t border lingo for something else. But the guy did have polish and rags so he was at least committed to the cover story. Next time, señor.
Then it was on to a completely modern and not-yet-open brewery. Great beer, knowledgeable brewers. By next summer, Insurgente Cerveceria will be open. Go there and have some of their awesome beer–I recommend the saison bottle-conditioned with brettanomyces.
Final stop for the evening was Tacos el Franc. I could tell you about the throngs of happy locals, the smells of fresh meat and grilled vegetables, the guy with the clown face-paint selling balloons in a creepy falsetto, but all you really need to see is the giant rotating meat cylinder.
The guy in the hat in the foreground went after that meat with a sword and in about six seconds you had a fresh tacos with lime wedges, radish, and all in a gut-warming fresh corn tortilla. I had eight tacos and, if I’d had my wits about me, would probably have kept eating until I woke up the next morning with clown makeup and a handful of balloons to sell. Viva Tijuana!