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The Many Faces of Tijuana

A Graffiti Portrait of the Gateway to Latin America

All photos courtesy of Fred from Bombing Science

The Many Faces of Tijuana

How does one create a portrait of a city? What is the best, most complete way to showcase the passion and personality of an urban area will well over a million residents? Which faces are most representative? What does it really mean to live in this place?

These questions are even more complicated when it comes to Tijuana, the most populous community in Baja California, and home to the world’s busiest border crossing.

It has been said that there are three Californias:  Alta, Baja and La Frontera. Tijuana inhabits the borderlands – a space with psychological as well as physical boundaries and dimensions – straddling the line between two countries, two cultures, and two languages.

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

For the mononymously known photographer Fred, the true portrait of any city – even one as complex as Tijuana – emerges from its street art, the unfiltered, uncensored and often defiant images that, in their totality, are a strong declaration of self-identity.

For the last 20 years, Fred has traveled the world in a never-ending quest to find the best graffiti art for his website, Bombing Science. He recently stopped in Tijuana and managed to take over 500 graffiti pictures in only a few days. Touring Tijuana on his bicycle, Fred witnessed the burgeoning street-art scene of the city.

“I was really surprised,” he said, “with the quantity and the quality of the graffiti you can find on the streets of TJ. The local graffiti artists are just top notch, and you have that sense of a global city for arts when you can see so many artists from other Mexican states, the U.S., and even Europe.”

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

Mexico, of course, has a long history of public art, from the Baja California peninsula’s prehistoric cave paintings to the great murals that sprang up around the country in the decades immediately following the Mexican Revolution. The mural movement was effectively used as an educational tool for the masses during the 1920s and 30s, in the process producing indelible works from modern masters like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco.

There is a big difference, however, between public art that is commissioned and comes with official permission, and that which is not. The former produces murals, the latter graffiti.

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

Graffiti culture was energized in the 1970s via its association with vibrant musical genres like punk rock and hip hop. In Tijuana, street art began to proliferate in the late 1980s, and has remained the most honest and immediate form of artistic expression ever since. Neighborhoods have developed their own styles, but what they share in common is a politically unmediated sensibility.

What does it mean to be Tijuanense? Local artists are offering their own answers on outdoor canvases all over the city.

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

For those who’d like to embark upon their own graffiti tour of Tijuana, Fred recommends starting in the following areas.

  • Zona Centro (downtown)
  • The alleys and passageways off Avenida Revolucion
  • The beachside boardwalks

The Many Faces of Tijuana

The Many Faces of Tijuana

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Aeromexico Increases Service Between Tijuana and Los Cabos

Aeromexico adds a fourth weekly flight between the two premier destinations on the Baja California peninsula

TIJUANA, Mexico, Aug. 24, 2016 — In a meeting held to report on the progress of the local tourism sector, State Governor Francisco “Kiko” Vega de Lamadrid and the Secretary of Tourism (SECTURE) announced that in the month of August, Aeromexico, Mexico’s global airline, added a fourth weekly flight from Tijuana to Los Cabos.

Aeromexico increases service

Aeromexico is adding flights between Tijuana and Los Cabos.

The carrier also improved its weekly seat offering in the market by adding its Embraer 190 jet airliner with increased seat capacity for 99 passengers -11 in Clase Premier, Aeromexico’s Business Class Cabin-, with the following flight schedules:

Los Cabos – Tijuana* Tijuana – Los Cabos*
AM2104 1:20 p.m. 2:29 p.m. Tues*, Thu, Sat, Sun AM2105 9:50 a.m. 12:52 p.m. Tues*, Thu, Sat, Sun

*Times are published in local time and are subject to changes without notice. *New service.

Aeromexico’s Corporate Sales Director, Jorge Goytortua, said “We continue to strengthen our presence in Tijuana, a major destination for the airline because of its geographic location, by increasing our weekly seat capacity to Los Cabos by more than 50%.”

“Passengers from Los Cabos can now connect directly from Tijuana to seven domestic destinations across the nation and toShanghai in China, and use the new binational Cross Border Xpress (CBX) that reduces border crossing times to San Diego from two hours to just 15 minutes,” added Goytortua.

According to Baja California Secretary of Tourism Oscar Escobedo: “Air traffic flows through the Tijuana International Airport were up 26% in July alone, compared to July 2015.” He added that “Tijuana is a city that offers great connectivity options as reflected in the numbers, and we continue promoting actions to help boost our touristic offer.”

The airline and the state agency continue working to provide more and better travel options from Baja California to Mexico Cityand the world, through an extensive route network offering great flight connections.

About Grupo Aeromexico

Grupo Aeromexico, S.A.B. de C.V. is a holding company whose subsidiaries provide commercial aviation services and promote passenger loyalty programs in Mexico. Aeromexico, Mexico’s global airline, operates more than 600 daily flights from its main hub in Terminal 2 at the Mexico City International Airport. Its route network spans more than 80 cities on three continents including 45 in Mexico, 17 in the United States, 15 in Latin America, four in Europe, three in Canada, and two in Asia.

Grupo Aeromexico’s fleet of close to 130 aircraft is comprised of the Boeing 787, 777 and 737 jet airliners and next generation Embraer 190, 175, 170, and 145 models. In 2012, the airline announced the most significant investment strategy in aviation history in Mexico, to purchase 100 Boeing aircraft including 90 MAX 737 airliners and ten 787-9 Dreamliners.

As a founding member of the SkyTeam global alliance, Aeromexico offers customers more than 1,000 destinations in 177 countries served by its top 20 airline partners rewarding passengers with benefits including access to 672  premium airport lounges around the world. Aeromexico also offers travel options with its code share partners Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, Avianca, Copa Airlines, and WestJet with extensive connectivity in countries like the United States, Brazil, Canada, Chile,Colombia, and Peru. www.aeromexico.com and www.skyteam.com.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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Aeromexico Adds New Direct Flights from Tijuana to Los Cabos

Carrier boosts its on-board capacity from Tijuana by more than 2,000 seats per week

TIJUANA, Mexico, March 16, 2016 — Aeromexico, Mexico’s global airline, is set to consolidate its presence in Tijuana by launching two new direct flights from the city, as well as expanding another. The carrier will begin operating four weekly flights to Chihuahua and three weekly flights to Los Cabos, as well as adding a second daily flight to Hermosillo, for a total increase in capacity of 2,000 seats per week from the border city.

The new routes will be operated using Embraer 145 and 170 aircraft with 50 and 76 passenger seats respectively, with the following schedules:

Hermosillo – Tijuana* Tijuana – Hermosillo*
AM2884 11:15 a.m. 12:40 p.m. Daily AM2339 01:41 p.m. 03:33 p.m. Daily
AM2100** 06:40 p.m. 08:07 p.m. Daily AM2101** 08:30 p.m. 09:54 p.m. Daily
Chihuahua – Tijuana* Tijuana – Chihuahua*
AM2102 01:20 p.m. 02:35 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday AM2103 09:50 a.m. 12:53 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday
Los Cabos – Tijuana* Tijuana – Los Cabos*
AM2104 01:20 p.m. 02:29 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday AM2105 09:50 a.m. 12:52 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday
*Times are published in local time and are subject to changes without notice.
**New service

On announcing the new services, Aeromexico’s Corporate Sales Director Jorge Goytortua, said, “As a major city on the Mexican side of the border, Tijuana is a key destination for the airline that enhances connectivity throughoutSouthern California on account of its geographical location and the availability of direct service with our carrier to eight destinations in Mexico and to Shanghai, China, allowing us to cater to leisure and business customers alike.”

Speaking on behalf of the State of Baja California, Secretary of Tourism Oscar Escobedo, explained that the state is ranked as the second best destination in terms of air connectivity in Mexico, having reported 5% year-over-year growth in 2015.

Aeromexico Adds Direct Flights from Tijuana to Los Cabos

“With the opening of the new Cross-Border Express Bridge at Tijuana airport, we are looking to attract new routes in association with our main partners such as Aeromexico to enhance the state’s reputation as a tourist destination that offers world-class food, wine, accommodations, and eco and adventure tourism, plus many other services.”

With this service expansion, Aeromexico continues to consolidate its position in Tijuana, offering enhanced connectivity throughout the region, Mexico and the world, as it looks to provide passengers with more and better travel options.

About Grupo Aeroméxico

Grupo Aeroméxico, S.A.B. de C.V. is a holding company whose subsidiaries provide commercial aviation services, and promote passenger loyalty programs in Mexico. Aeromexico, Mexico’s global airline, operates more than 600 daily flights from its main hub in Terminal 2 at the Mexico City International Airport. Its route network includes 80 cities on three continents with 46 in Mexico, 16 in the United States, 16 in Latin America, three in Canada, four inEurope, and two in Asia.

Grupo Aeromexico’s fleet of close to 130 aircraft is comprised of the Boeing 787, 777 and 737 jet airliners and next generation Embraer 190, 175, 170, and 145 models. In 2012, the airline announced the most significant investment strategy in aviation history in Mexico, to purchase 100 Boeing aircraft including 90 MAX 737 airliners and ten 787-9 Dreamliners.

As a founding member of the SkyTeam airline alliance, Aeromexico offers customers more than 1,000 destinations in 178 countries served by the 20 SkyTeam airline partners rewarding passengers with benefits including access to 636 premium airport lounges around the world. Aeromexico also offers travel options with its code share partners Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, Avianca, Copa Airlines, and WestJet with extensive connectivity in countries like the United States, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia and Peru.  www.aeromexico.com and www.skyteam.com.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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Border Psycho Craft Beer Now Available in California

Border Psycho Jumps the  Border

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico – Today, Border Psycho launches distribution of their award winning beers in California. Often called the rebel brewery of the border, but known for their sincere and passionate focus on producing incredible beers, Border Psycho aims to create a unique experience for craft beer enthusiasts.

“This is an exciting day for Border Psycho and we want to thank our friends in the United States that have supported our growing brewery along the way and helped to make this possible,” says co-founder and CEO Roberto Albarran.

Border Psycho

Photo courtesy of Lilia Hernández and San Diego Red.

Border Psycho’s core beers to be distributed in California include: Imperial Psycho Ale, a double pale ale, La Pervesa (translates to “the wicked one”) a double IPA, La Belga Sicotica (translates to “the Belgian psycho”) a black saison, Brutal Imperial Stout, and Cream Ale. Collaboration beers and seasonal brews will also be available.

“Our focus is to make really great beer. We also like to enjoy life and have fun. Work hard, play hard,” says Albarran, “Hopefully our branding reflects this approach. We really are crazy about great beer.”

Border Psycho was started in 2010 in Tijuana and is distributed in major markets across Mexico. Border Psycho is working with Newport Beach, CA based GRDLOC Partners LLC to import its products and coordinate distribution.

About Border Psycho Brewery
The brewery is located in the Colonia Libertad neighborhood and the tasting room is located in the Zona Rio neighborhood of Tijuana, BC, Mexico. Brothers Roberto and Javier Albarran founded the brewery in 2010. To learn more visit: www.borderpsychobrewery.com/

About GRDLOC
GRDLOC imports and wholesales craft beer and fine wine, with an emphasis on products from Mexico. To learn more visit www.grdloc.com or contact by email: jay@grdloc.com or phone: 949) 229.3994.

 

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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10 Things to Do in Tijuana (That Don’t Involve Tequila)

by Katherine Belarmino

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

Historically Tijuana has been a drinking mecca.  Its proximity to Southern California cities like San Diego and Los Angeles and its legal drinking age of 18 meant Tijuana was a popular place for the under 21 crowd to come for drinking and clubbing.  Tourism from the United States to Tijuana dried up for years when stories of crime and drug wars filled the news.  Now Tijuana is a safe place to visit again, and the implementation of a passport requirement means the demographic of the traveler looking for a day trip or weekend trip to Tijuana has shifted.  Tijuana’s streets are no longer overwhelmed with rowdy underage drinkers.  Now they are being strolled by couples and families looking for things to do that celebrate Tijuana’s beauty and culture.

Tijuana Cultural Center

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

The Tijuana Cultural Center is the most important center for culture in northwest Mexico.  Founded in 1982, the Tijuana Cultural Center portrays the culture of Mexico close to the border.  The center has art galleries, a botanical garden, an aquarium, an IMAX theater, a performance hall, and an outdoor area that is a great place for events, festivals, and outdoor exhibits.  There is constantly something going on at the Tijuana Cultural Center.  The center hosts concerts, theatrical productions, movies, documentaries, and many other events, some of which are free to the public and others which require paid tickets.

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

During our visit, the Tijuana Cultural Center was featuring a beautiful exhibit of the works of Massimo Listri, a photographer of interior spaces like libraries, churches, and palaces, some of which you may recognize from your own travels.  The Museum of the Californias is a permanent exhibit covering different times in the history of the Baja peninsula including European explorers, missions and missionaries, the Mexican Revolution, and more recent history.  Did you know Tijuana had an airplane factory in the 1920s?  We also visited an exhibit featuring the work of local Baja artists.

Plaza Saint Cecilia

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music, and music is what can be found in Plaza Saint Cecilia.  This is where the locals go to hire mariachi bands for their parties.  While we were walking through we got to see two young people performing the Mexican hat dance for a large crowd.

Plaza Saint Cecilia is a colorful reminder of old Tijuana.  In addition to the music, this pedestrian street, the oldest street in Tijuana, also has a number of restaurants, bars, and shopping kiosks.  We had a wonderful breakfast at Restaurante La Tradicion.  La Tradicion is a family-owned restaurant opened in 1997 which prides itself in being a restaurant of the people.  La Tradicion’s owner Martín Muñoz is also the president of Tijuana’s restaurant association.

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

I was introduced to a new dish for me, and La Tradicion’s signature dish, molcajete.  Molcajete is named after the vessel in which it is served.  A molcajete is a Mexican stone tool similar to a mortar and pestle.  In this sizzling dish, there is chicken, tender beef, tequila shrimp, chorizo, cactus, queso fresco, and all sorts of other delicious ingredients that blend together to make a dish bursting with flavor.

Mercado El Popo

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

Near Plaza Saint Cecilia is the Mercado el Popo, a traditional market located within the alleys of a downtown Tijuana block.  Here you can buy fruits, vegetables, cheese, herbs, spices, piñatas, prayer candles, and anything else you might desire.

Pasaje Rodríguez

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

A block away from the Mercado El Popo is the Pasaje Rodríguez.  While Plaza Saint Lucia is old Tijuana, Pasaje Rodríguez is new Tijuana.  The new generation took over this alley and filled it with art and trendy shops selling records, clothing, and books.  Pasaje Rodríguez really took me by surprise and I hope to see more places like this in Tijuana.

Downtown Tijuana Shopping

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

When walking around downtown Tijuana it is guaranteed that you’ll be approached by ten different men selling the exact same silver necklace for a dollar, a necklace that is sure to turn your neck green while in the process of falling apart.  But there is some good shopping that can be done in Tijuana.  An example is the Hand Art Store, a store that has been around since 1955 and sells items handmade in Mexico in the traditional ways.  When shopping in downtown Tijuana, keep on the lookout for stickers in the window pronouncing the shop as being on the Outstanding Host list created by CeturMex and the Baja Secretary of Tourism.  These shops have been around for decades and provide honesty, quality, and service.  If you are looking for a silver necklace, the Emporium Plateria and The Silver Mine are on the Outstanding Host list, as well as other shops selling leather goods, wine, chocolates, and more.

Caesar’s Restaurante Bar

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

Caesar’s Restaurante Bar is a downtown Tijuana institution which has been around since 1927.  Did you know the Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana?  Well it was, and this is the restaurant where it was invented.  There are conflicting stories of exactly when and how the Caesar salad was invented and who invented it.  But there is no dispute that Caesar’s is the home of the Caesar salad, and you can still order it prepared table-side.

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

While Caesar’s is an institution, it is also a modern fine dining establishment.  Caesar’s has been owned by the Plascencias, Tijuana’s famous culinary family, since 2010.  This means the restaurant is both historic and really, really good.  In addition to the Caesar salad, we had roasted beef marrow and a Mexican combination plate of grilled beef tenderloin, cheese enchiladas, and Chile Relleno.  Caesar’s also brews their own pale ale.

Playas de Tijuana

Playas de Tijuana is an area I only explored for a couple hours but would love to explore in more depth.  These are the beaches of Tijuana.  Playas de Tijuana is not full of sun-worshiping tourists but is rather mostly filled with middle-class people of Tijuana out for some family fun.  The beach can be reached by multiple staircases that lead down from the street and a wooden boardwalk provides a walkway to stroll along the sand.  Between the street and the boardwalk are multi-storied buildings, some housing restaurants and bars selling cold beers and fresh seafood, some housing private homes, and some vacant and ramshackle. Along both the street and boardwalk are colorful examples of street art.

At the northernmost point of Playas de Tijuana is where fun and relaxing beach community turns into sad dose of reality.  Here is where you can see the colorful fence that separates Mexico from the United States, which extends 300 feet into the Pacific Ocean.  This area is called Friendship Park / El Parque de la Amistad, a meeting place where families, friends, and loved ones come to meet, separated by a fence.  It was heart wrenching to witness these tearful meetings

GSalinas Vinos de Mexico

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

If you’re having a weekend getaway to Tijuana, enjoy wine, but won’t have a chance to get down to the Valle de Guadalupe, you can taste some of Baja’s great wines at GSalinas Vinos de Mexico.  This little shop carries some of the best wines the Valle de Guadalupe has to offer.  In addition to Mexican wine, the shop also sells mezcal and Baja craft beers.  GSalinas is family owned, having been started by the patriarch of the family 50 years ago, and is both a shop and tasting room.

Caliente Casino

I’m not much for gambling, but if you like hitting the tables or the machines, Caliente Casino is a large casino catering to all of a gambler’s needs.  The casino also holds Greyhound races every night and they are currently building a soccer stadium.  There is also a good restaurant and bar in the casino, Mujeres Divinas Restaurant Bar.  (While this article is about the Tijuana that doesn’t involve tequila, Caliente Casino’s restaurant does serve one of Tijuana’s weirdest shots of tequila.)

El Trompo

10 Things to Do in Tijuana

El Trompo is something to do in Tijuana only if you have little kids. But for the kids this is a fun museum to visit with six interactive rooms that allow kids to both have fun and learn.  Kids can play with bubbles, look at animals, learn about plasma, play learning games, create things in workshops, and do lots of other fun stuff.

Where to Stay in Tijuana

A visit to Tijuana can be either a weekend trip or day trip from San Diego.  It’s always fun to be able to take a two-nation vacation.  If you decide to overnight in Tijuana, be aware that Tijuana is not a city of luxury hotels.  The accommodations in Tijuana are not as luxurious as those we had during our Ensenada weekend getaway or at the historic Rosarito Beach Hotel.   However, one option for a safe, clean, and comfortable Tijuana hotel is Hotel Palacio Azteca.  The hotel is a short nine-minute drive to downtown Tijuana and an 11-minute drive to the San Ysidro border.  Hotel Palacio Azteca has a pool, a restaurant whose head chef was amongst the first graduating class of Tijuana’s Culinary Art School, and a bar. They will also book tours for guests, including whale watching, culinary, and wine tours.

I remember the years, long ago, when it wasn’t unusual for families to cross the border on a whim for shopping and dining in Tijuana.  Happily those days are back and there are plenty of things to do in Tijuana to keep friends, couples, and families entertained for the day or the entire weekend.

Thank you to Descubre Tijuana for hosting our weekend getaway to Tijuana and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Katherine BelarminoKatherine Belarmino lives in San Diego just miles away from the border.  She works full-time but travels as much as possible with her husband Romeo, including weekend trips to Baja.  Katherine is author of Travel the World, a travel blog to help others get the most out of their limited vacation time by sharing the best experiences to have at each destination.  She is also co-author of Passports & Cocktails, a travel/alcohol blog featuring local breweries, wineries, distilleries, and the best places to enjoy a cocktail while traveling.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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Mexico’s First Mall-Based “Food Hall” to Open in Tijuana

Food Garden Plaza Rio to Open in April, 2015

 

TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA – Food Garden, an operator of culinary spaces, has announced that Mexico’s first mall-based food hall will have its grand opening in Tijuana in April 2015. The new concept will include over 11,000 square feet of space within the city’s prestigious Plaza Rio.

The new space will include 12 kitchens run by some of the region’s most notable chefs, a specialty coffee shop, two bars that will serve beer, wine and spirits and a demo kitchen for culinary workshops and classes. Additionally, a Marché-style gourmet market will offer an array of regional products such as cheese, wine, chocolates and homemade desserts.

The set of projects is based on a “gastronomic ecosystem” designed to benefit Tijuana and Baja California’s producers, suppliers and restaurateurs. Food Garden will follow the city’s lead in its effort to encourage new talents to participate in Tijuana’s burgeoning culinary scene.

While the space’s culinary tenants have yet to be announced, El Gringo has heard on good faith that the lineup may include a celebrity chef recently featured on a network television food show, a rotisserie from Tijuana’s most renowned French-trained chef, a longtime family-run restaurant that makes the best carnitas in Tijuana and a popular new burger joint.

“The food hall in Zona Rio will provide the space and opportunity for culinary experimentation,” explained Ricardo Nevárez, Food Garden president and Tijuana resident for over a decade. “Startup is a lot easier for young chefs since there’s a low initial investment and a pre-designed scheme that removes most of the guesswork that comes with restaurant or retail planning.”

Tijuana

Ricardo Nevárez started Food Garden as a collective of Tijuana’s best cuisine and continues with Plaza Rio.

Food halls have become a haven for foodies as well as neighborhood populations around Mexico and the globe. At food halls costumers can enjoy imaginative cuisine and shop for quality handmade products in an environment that offers value and expedience in service. Food halls represent an evolution of the proposal of “food courts” – which are based on the model of franchises and fast food.

I’m hungry for April already! Check back with El Gringo for more information on the Food Garden Plaza Rio, and check out our very first video blog at the top of this page, if you haven’t already. Buen provecho!

Your Gringo in Mexico,
Scott

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

 

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Savoring Tijuana with KPBS’ Su-Mei Yu

On location in TJ with the host of public television’s Savor San Diego

TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA – When El Gringo amigo Juan Jose Plascencia of Grupo Plascencia invited me to join KPBS television personality Su-Mei Yu on a location scout of Tijuana’s culinary hotspots for a season 3 episode of Savor San Diego, I jumped at the chance. We enjoyed her Valle de Guadalupe show last season with chefs Martin San Roman and Juan Jose’s brother Javier Plascencia and had met Su-Mei in 2013 at a press event at Whole Foods Market.

I met our “fixer” Erika Santana in San Ysidro on a bright Saturday morning. Erika is the founder of the Slow Food Foundation in Baja California and has grown its membership from just a handful to over 70 in the past year. So many Baja California chefs and restaurants are already adhering to the foundation’s best practices and the region is becoming a world-class culinary destination, so Slow Food having a presence here just makes sense. You’ll be hearing more about Erika and Slow Food in Baja California muy pronto!

Savoring Tijuana

Juan Jose Plascencia, Erika Santana, Su-Mei Yu and photographer Josue Castro at Punto Siete, Tijuana.

Once Su-Mei arrived with her crew – creator/producer Lorena Whiteside and cameraman/DP Eric Naso – we loaded into Erika’s van and headed south into “TJ”. Celebrating it’s 60th year in 2014, Tijuana’s historic Mercado Hidalgo was the perfect place to begin our scouting and story. As we were there on November 1st, the Mexican Day of the Dead, there was an ornate four-sided ofrenda (shrine) in the parking lot as well as sugar skulls, Catrinas (decorative skeleton figures) and pan de muerto (bread of the dead) for sale at its many shops. The mercado is unique in Baja California as it offers products from all over Mexico – from Oaxacan moles to medicinal herbs from Michoacan.

Savoring Tijuana

Catrinas (skeleton dolls) at the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana.

At the mercado, we visited Carnitas Jerezanowhere owner Doña Josefina and her son Jesus concoct carnitas in the Zacatecan style – using local suckling pig which is very tender and makes for a much less greasy plate of carnitas. In addition to carnitas, Josefina laid out a spread of her traditional specialties for us to taste, including gorditas (corn cake stuffed with pork), a chile relleno (stuffed poblano chile) and her excellent chicharron (fried pork skin) – perfectly crispy on the outside and all soft, slightly salty goodness within. Su-Mei was so happy with our first feast that she threw her arms around Josefina in a big abrazo as we were leaving.

Savoring Tijuana

Erika Santana, Owner Josefina and Su-Mei Yu of KPBS’ Savor San Diego at Carnitas el Jerezano in Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana.

Savoring Tijuana

The absolutely perfect carnitas at Carnitas el Jerezano, Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana.

After a stroll though some of the mercado’s shops, we visited the birreria El Rincon del Oso.Jovial owner Fernando Palomares greeted Su-Mei with a cup of his award-winning birria de chivo – a marinated and spiced goat soup with its origins in the state of Jalisco. She happily slurped her birria as Fernando described the dish and its many ingredients which include cinnamon, cumin, allspice and a dozen other herbs and spices which comprise this savory stew.

Savoring Tijuana

The Birria de Chivo at El Rincon del Oso, Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana.

La Cava del Queso sells cheese from all over Mexico and Baja California. We sampled their queso añejo, an aged white cheese with a very sharp bite. Owner Homar Rubio explained the cheese making process for Su-Mei and gave her a tour of their processing equipment and extremely large wheels of cheese in the back.

Savoring Tijuana

Su-Mei Yu with owner Homar Rubio of La Cava del Queso, Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana.

Saying adios to Mercado Hidalgo, we drove to nearby Caffee Sospeso, a “third wave” coffee shop in Tijuana that’s takes its Joe very seriously. The first thing that struck me was the sign saying, essentially, don’t even ASK for cream and sugar. The barista emphasized the importance of not diluting the drink in order to best enjoy the essence of the bean’s flavor. The second thing I noticed were the cold brewing apparatuses. It can take a day for the water to drip through the myriad glass coils and chambers of these tall glass machinations, resulting in a very good, very caffeinated cold brew.

Savoring Tijuana

Caffe Sospreso is a “third wave” coffee house that takes it’s brews seriously.

A 10 minute drive from Caffe Sospeso brought us to the Tijuana Culinary Art School, run by El Gringo amigo Javier Gonzalez, nearly deserted on this late Saturday morning. We toured the facility designed by Jorge Gracia – also known as the architect behind the pods at Encuentro Guadalupe – and interrupted a craft beer making class where Su-Mei sampled the student’s frothy, dark coursework and enjoyed a piece of sweet pan de muerto.

Savoring Tijuana

Su-Mei Yu checks out the “pan de muerto” at the Tijuana Culinary Arts School.

Next up was Verde y Crema, chef Jair Tellez’s farm-to-table restaurant in the tony Chapultapec neighborhood (El Gringo’s full review of Verde y Crema can be found here). Jair’s brother Vladimir Tellez showed us around the dining room and kitchen and we enjoyed a mezcal tasting at the restaurant’s eclectically cool bar. Su-Mei squealed with delight upon her first taste of sal con gusano, the extract of dried maguey worm mixed with salt and chiles typically served on oranges as an accompaniment to joven (young) mezcal. “I LOVE this little worm dust!” she exclaimed between sips. This is a public television host after El Gringo’s own heart!

Savoring Tijuana

Enjoying Mezcals and “worm dust” at Verde y Crema, Tijuana.

After a quick stop at BCB (Baja Craft Beers) to check out their selection of regionally-produced cervezas, we parked next to Tacos Kokopelli, Tijuana’s venerable taco truck in Zona Rio. Su-Mei jumped onboard, enthusiastically questioning the cook on technique, ingredients and the challenges of preparing and serving their street side menu. As we enjoyed our “Gringo on Vacation” and “Kraken” tacos, another gaggle of gringos rolled in led by my amigos Club Tengo Hambre, Baja California’s “roving supper club”.

Savoring Tijuana

Smoked Marlin and “The Kraken” (grilled octopus) tacos from Tacos Kokopelli.

Just across the street from Kokopelli is the new Telefonica Gastro Park, a collection of seven- and growing – food trucks serving everything from handmade smoked bacon sausage at Humo to a surprisingly fantastic seared tuna sandwich with mole negro from Pobre Ruedas. We were pressed for time here, but El Gringo had visited earlier in the week and found everything to be fresh, imaginative and very, very good. Oh, and all but one of the trucks – Otto’s Grill – are owned and operated by Culinary Art School grads.

Savoring Tijuana

Otto Sohn of Otto’s Grill, Telefonica Gastro Park, Tijuana.

Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero’s Baja Med restaurant, La Querencia was next on our list. The interior is lined with stuffed deer heads, trophy fish and even a small black bear, just a few of Miguel Angel’s hunting conquests and possibly entrees at one of his restaurants. We enjoyed the beet carpaccio; cucumber salad with pine nuts, veggies and queso fresca; house salad with grilled shrimp and octopus; beef cheek tacos, and tacos of smoked marlin and abalone. Everything was fresh, delicious and wholly satisfying.

Tana Plascencia greeted us at the entrance of Villa Saverios, Grupo Plascencia’s restaurant that offers tapas and entrees with a Spanish flair. After a brief tour of Saverios, we drove to Casa Plasencia, which features “Mediterranean” cuisine and is an El Gringo favorite. Leading us upstairs, Tana pointed out the bullfighting photos and posters, giving Su-Mei an overview of the family’s long restaurant history in Tijuana.

Savoring Tijuana

Juan Jose Plascencia and Su-Mei Yu at Villa Saverios, Tijuana.

Upon hearing that I’d never tried the trout baked in a crust of rock salt, Tana insisted we order this house specialty. Our server wheeled out a cart with our trout, cracking open the rock salt encasement and filleting the tender pescado table-side. The fish was delicate and delicious and Su-Mei happily munched on the remaining bones and head, a favorite delicacy enjoyed during her childhood in Thailand. To accompany our trout, we sampled the black rice – which gets its color from squid ink – and calamari, also exceptionally good.

Savoring Tijuana

Serving the salt-encrusted trout at Casa Plasencia, Tijuana.

Savoring Tijuana

Su-Mei Yu at Casa Plasencia, Tijuana.

Punto Siete is a new Japanese fusion restaurant in Tijuana’s Zona Centro on Constitucion and 7MA, part of the Bustamante Group‘s 7MA Lofts project which represents the area’s only new construction in 60 years. Tijuana photographer Josue Castro – whose studio The Kitchen is housed at the 7MA Lofts – joined us for an early dinner there. TJ Culinary Arts School grad chef Moisés Arredondo is one of the young guns expanding the boundaries of Baja cuisine. Punto Siete fuses regional ingredients with Asian concepts of balance, technique and presentation. The pork belly with tequila miso and guava is presented as a succulent “sushi roll” served atop a piece of encino oak which is lightly burned with a blowtorch to give the pork a smoky flavor, and was cameraman Eric’s favorite dish of the day. We also enjoyed a yellowtail triadito and the house salad with goat cheese.

Savoring Tijuana

Moises Arrendondo of Punto Siete discusses his cooking philosophy with Su-Mei Yu.

Appropriately, given that restaurant Mision 19 sparked the current wave of interest in Tijuana with it’s Baja Med cuisine, our night ended in the kitchen with Javier Plascencia, Ryan Steyn, Drew DeckmanZahie Tellez and other notable Baja California chefs – busily preparing the night’s sold out dinner for the 2014 Baja California Culinary FestFinishing up at Bar 20 just upstairs from the restaurant, we sipped our mezcals, a fitting and necessary digestif after a day of eating our way through the culinary corridors of Tijuana.

The Season 3 Tijuana episode of Savor San Diego with Su-Mei Yu will film sometime in early 2015 and air as part of Season 3 during the year. Follow El Gringo on Facebook for more behind the scenes and airing information.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Who’s Shooting the Great Chefs of Baja California?

Chefs of Baja California

Inside Tijuana Photographer Josue Castro’s New Photo Series: “Puro Hedonismo. Hedonismo Puro.”

TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA – Photographer Josue Castro’s Tijuana studio – The Kitchen –  is similar to Warhol’s 60’s era Factory in a number of ways. Josue and business partner Andrew Sheiner opened the space in 2012 after they outgrew their studio La Tentación in Tijuana’s Pasaje Gomez. The Zona Centro-based location on Constitution & Seventh has since become a thousand square foot romper room in which the artist can “play” – fostering and executing upon a number of creative multimedia projects.

Chefs of Baja California

Josue Castro at The Kitchen with one of his “Equals” photo series portraits.

Unlike Warhol’s parade of drugged-out debutantes, wannabe artists and sycophants seeking their 15 minutes, however, The Kitchen has played host to and engaged the “who’s-who” of Tijuana’s business, music, media and artistic community during events such as local craft beer tastings and a series of invitation-only clandestine dinners.

Chefs of Baja California

The Kitchen plays host to a series of clandestine dinners, known as WTF (Where’s The Food?)

And lately, Josue has welcomed some of Baja California’s best chefs, enologists, winemakers and choclatiers to The Kitchen to pose for a series of photographs he’s titled Puro Hedonismo. Hedonismo Puro. (Pure Hedonism. Hedonism Pure.). El Gringo has been following the series on Facebook and wanted to get the story behind the lens from the man himself, so we met Josue recently on a Saturday afternoon in TJ and sat down at The Kitchen table to chat.

Rock Stars, Identity and Bondage

Originally from Mexico City and having lived in Tijuana in the past, Josue has spent most of the last decade in San Diego. “Three years ago, I chose to come back to Baja California because everyone is paying attention to the region – The New York Times, Playboy, airline travel magazines and many other international publications,” Josue began. “The chefs here right now – everywhere due to the media and television – are becoming like rock stars. The chefs here in Baja California really ARE rock stars.”

Josue continued, “Most of my projects start by accident. I’d been talking to some friends at a party about doing a series on Baja California chefs. I started with Karla Navarro, the cook for our WTF (Where’s The Food) clandestine dinners. She was at CECUT (the Tijuana Cultural Center) and saw some of my work – the ‘Equals. Secret Identities.’ series. The images were a bit dark and she liked that.” Indeed, Josue’s starkly contrasted black and white portraits depict a series of models in various stages of facial bondage, seeking to portray the secret identity or mask that we all wear.

Chefs of Baja California

Karla Navarro and friend. Cook for The Kitchen’s WTF clandestine dinners. PHOTO: JOSUE CASTRO.

Josue’s transition from the Equals to the Hedonismo portraits occurred quite naturally. “One of my last Equals models was Hanis Cavin, the chef at Kensington Grill in San Diego. Hanis is Jewish, so I asked him to pretend that he was getting ready to cut his tattoo (of a sectioned pig) off his arm, because his mother hates it. Then I covered him with a (bondage) mask to hide his identity.” The portrait of Hanis is featured on a large 6’x10′ canvas in The Kitchen and serves as a dramatic focal point.

Chefs of Baja California

Hannis Cavin, Kensington Grill. PHOTO: JOSUE CASTRO.

Josue had already worked with chef Chad White of Común in San Diego and La Justina in Tijuana. “That was on assignment for a publication. They wanted me to shoot more chefs from San Diego, but all of the restaurants they referred me to had Mexican chefs working in the back. Chad was one of the only American chefs there I could find at the time!”

Chefs of Baja California

Chad White, Comun and La Justina.

“Our next chef was Miguel Angel Guerrero,” of El Taller and La Querencia in Tijuana and La Esperanza in the Valle de Guadalupe, “and he brought all his toys with him- the bow and arrow, the antlers.” Props are a central part of the photos in the Hedonismo series. Josue explained his process, “The chefs bring what they want to play with during the shoot, their props. We put them all on the table and they tell me a story about each item. We sit down and talk first to break the ice. Who they are, where they’ve worked, where they came from. Sometimes they come 2 or 3 times, so it’s a progression.”

Chefs of Baja California

Miguel Angel Guerrero, El Taller, La Querencia.

When I asked Josue about some of the other memorable subjects in his series, he enthusiastically listed Baja California’s most revered culinary artists without skipping a beat…

“Ryan Steyn from El Jardin de Adobe at Adobe Guadalupe is one of my favorite chefs now after my experience with him. It’s funny because I haven’t been in the Valle de Guadalupe lately and I’ve never eaten his food, but I really liked working with him.”

Chefs of Baja California

Ryan Steyn, El Jardin de Adobe, Valle de Guadalaupe.

“Sabina Bandera from La Guerrerense in Ensenada is always happy, always laughing. So when she was here, I asked her to try to stop smiling. She brought clams, a fish and even an octopus and we started to play with them. At the end, I just asked the question, ‘Do you want to put the octopus on your head?’ She didn’t mind so we put it on her like a wig.”

Chefs of Baja California

Sabina Bandera, La Guerrerenese, Ensenada.

“Drew Deckman of Deckman’s en El Mogor in the Valle de Guadalupe seemed a little uncertain at first, but by the end he really got into it and we were having a lot of fun.”

Chefs of Baja California

Drew Deckman, Deckman’s en El Mogor, Valle de Guadalupe.

“The young ones are kind of crazy, the Tijuana Culinary Institute graduates who are typically 26 to 28 years old. One that I photographed the other day (Ian Ciapara formerly of Los Danzantesin Oaxaca) is a young chef whose mother was one of my first models in TJ. Her mom is very fit because she’s a dancer, so she asked her to get on the table so she could act like she was going to cut her like a piece of meat. This was one of the most creative ideas somebody has come up with.”

Chefs of Baja California

Young chef Ian Ciapara, formerly of Los Danzantes in Oaxaca.

Other chefs who have appeared in the series include Edgar Chong, Moises Valencia, Daniella de la Puente, Jaime Galindo and Flor Franco.

Chefs of Baja California

Flor Franco, Convivia, Valle de Guadalupe and Zarco, San Diego.

The Problem with Winemakers as Models

Josue’s amigo and colleague Fernando Gaxiola of Baja Wine + Food suggested he aim his lens next toward the Valle de Guadalupe’s top enologists and winemakers. Josue smiled, then sighed and confided, “The problem with having winemakers as models is that they bring a lot of wine with them to the studio. We open a bottle to pour in a glass as a prop and it starts there. With two photo shoots a day, there are some mornings when I wake up a little hungover.”

“The winemakers are also a little more challenging to shoot, because they tend to be older and it’s difficult for them to get into the mood. Victor Torres Alegre of Torres Alegre y Familia vineyards was the opposite. He’s 72 years old, he has great hair and he brought a football helmet, so we put his wines in it.”

Chefs of Baja California

Leonardo Torres, Torres y Allegre Familia Vineyards

“I was supposed to photograph Alvaro Alvarez of Alximia a week after he’d injured his back in a hang glider accident. His brother Manuel Alvarez called to cancel, but then eventually Alvaro was better and able to do it. We photographed him with his walker and a hang glider in the back like he was crashing. But he was laughing about what happened and trying to save the bottles at the same time.”

Chefs of Baja California

Alvaro Alvarez, Alximia Winery

“Abel Bibayoff of the Bibayoff Vineyards in the Valle de Guadalupe brought his little baby in. You know, they are Russian, and there’s a long Russian heritage there in the Valle, so the baby and the bottle in the photo with him represent another generation.”

Chefs of Baja California

Abel Bibayoff, Bibayoff Vineyards, Valle de Guadalupe.

Josue has also photographed notable winemakers including Phil and Eileen Gregory, Julio Benito Martin and Hugo D’Acosta – widely considered the father of Baja California’s modern winemaking techniques and processes.

Chefs of Baja California

Hugo D’Acosta, Father of modern winemaking in the Valle de Guadalupe.

The Power of Equality

Eager to get to our Japanese Baja fusion lunch at the new restaurant Punto Siete located just downstairs from The Kitchen, we concluded our talk with Josue, who emphasized the artistic and creative goals of Puro Hedonismo. Hedonismo Puro. “I take a lot of photos from low to high, so it’s like a saint in church. Catholic churches move away the images so you have to look up to them. They are not your equal. They are saints. In Chiapas, there is a church with Catholic saints at a high level. But the indigenous people are not into looking up to other people. For them there is just god. So there is a mirror that you look into that reflects the image of the saint (in front of you), so they are saying, ‘you are no better than I am. We are equals.’ Every time I put a photo in an exhibit, I don’t give it a name. I just title it ‘Chef’, ‘Winemaker’ or ‘Accountant’ or whatever. So there is no notion that this person is bigger than you.”

“My images are not for a culinary magazine. Some may not understand that this is an artistic project. It’s not something that you have to do really fast to hit a magazine deadline. I’ve done 47 portraits so far. The goal is to have 99.”

Once Josue creates that 99th portrait, the series will be curated by MOPA (San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Art), projected for students at the Culinary Institute of Tijuana, exhibited at one of Mexico’s largest food shows and the portraits will also be on exhibit at CECUT.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Verde y Crema: Farm-to-Table Tijuana Dining

Verde y Crema: Farm-to-Table Tijuana Dining

Although his new Tijuana restaurant, Verde y Crema (Green & Cream) is still less than a year old, Hermosillo-born Chef Jair Téllez is no stranger to farm-to-table and use of the freshest, local ingredients in creating a memorable dining experience. His Valle de Guadalupe restaurant Laja (one of the Diners Club’s Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants this year) is primarily supplied by its own orchard, farm and vineyard. The Diners Club noted, “Laja’s cuisine pays homage to the natural richness of the Baja California peninsula on which it sits. While continually creative, the underlying theme of Téllez’s dishes is strictly seasonal, with classic techniques respecting regional culinary traditions.”

Tijuana dining

Verde y Crema, Tijuana.

These themes are applied at Verde y Crema with thoughtfulness and attention to detail – bearing delicious results in a welcoming, rustic and relaxed environment. The first thing El Gringo noticed when we rolled up were the number of colorful murals that ringed the private parking lot buildings. Local artists were commissioned by the restaurant to create the murals and the overall impression is one of an outdoor urban gallery.

Tijuana dining

Tijuana Artist “El Norteño’s” Mural is a highlight in the restaurant’s parking lot.

Walking past an eclecticly-painted gas pump and reclaimed wood panel walls in the front, we found ourselves in an open, arbor-style dining area, whose dark wood floors, tables and bar are also made of primarily reclaimed materials – some of the wood literally pulled from the trash. The front of the bar, set off from the main dining area, is built of green shutters in various states of paint decay, salvaged from a sunken Turkish ship.

Tijuana dining

The bar at Verde y Crema, built partly with reclaimed green shutters.

The dining patio is open-air and spacious. We rolled in at about 7:30 p.m. on a beautiful Friday evening (early for dining by Mexican standards), and only a few parties were there. Our 6 p.m. reservation thankfully became a moot point. Later the restaurant was full of hungry and happy TJ locals. A large window gives a great view of the entire kitchen and all of the wood fired activity therein (more on that wood in a moment). The eclectic design of the restaurant’s exterior continues on the inside as well with fun touches and art motifs throughout the rustic, reclaimed interior.

Tijuana dining

Verde y Crema’s dining area. Open, reclaimed, relaxing. On a perfect day.

Tijuana dining

The busy and efficient kitchen at Verde y Crema.

Our party was seated, and we were presented with menus in both English y Español containing 28 choices under the categories, “First Course, Second Course, Veggie Course, Third Course and Desert”. Vegetarians rejoice…Verde y Crema takes full advantage of their fresh local produce and creates some imaginative dishes, such as Roasted Beet Tacos, Veggie Blue Corn Guaripa with Summer Squash, and an Heirloom Tomato Salad, sprinkled with fresh queso from Valle de Guadalupe.

Most of the meats, seafood and produce used by the restaurant are organic. Tijuana-based Sous Chef Martin Vargas (who joined us later in the evening to discuss Verde y Crema) told us, “About 70-80% of what we use is organic. We buy produce from the market here, and source our seafood, meat and vegetables from all local sources.” Indeed, the restaurant’s sources include companies based in Tijuana, Tecate, Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada and San Diego.

TIjuana dining

Grilled organic chicken with adobo, roasted vegetables salad. Organic and sourced from Centennial Farm in Tijuana.

Martin continued, “The most fun part of our job is planning the menu. We always have 25-28 items, but everyday, we change 15-20% of the menu based on what’s available and fresh. With seafood, it may be yellowtail one day, but it may be swordfish the next. So we plan accordingly.”

Okay, so with all of this buildup, you must be getting hungry. But wait, there’s one more very important thing about Verde y Crema that REALLY make them special. Chef Vargas let us in on their not so secret secret, “There is no stove in our kitchen. We have the winch grill, and we have the wood oven. We do have a fryer, because we found it doesn’t work so well to deep fry over wood. But that’s it. And we only use olive wood imported from Valle de Guadalupe. It’s dangerous sometimes, but it’s the best way.” At this, Chef Vargas showed us the latest of several burn wounds on his arms. Now THAT is dedication to food, my amigos!

Tijuana dining

Verde y Crema cook only with olive wood. No gas or stove in this kitchen.

Onto the food. We started out with two of the ceviches under “First Course”. The first was the Yellowtail Tiradito with Jicima, Spring Onion and Sea Beans. The sea beans were a great addition and added a nice snap to the tenderness of the fresh yellowtail. The spring onion was just mild enough not to interfere with anything and was a nice complement. This plate didn’t last long.

Tijuana dining

Yellowtail Tiradito, jicima, spring onion, sea beans. Fresh. Delicious.

The next item was one of El Gringo’s favorites of the night, having a weakness for jumbo Callos de Hacha, or Diver Scallops. Verde y Crema’s Callos de Hacho Ceviche with Pickled Red Onion, Lemon Verbena and Cucumber was perfection on a plate. The scallops were thinly sliced and super fresh. The lemon worked, the pickled onions made me think of a pibil in the Yucatan. Look for this particular dish to be toward the top of my Chowzter picks for Tijuana soon!

Tijuana dining

Callos de Hacha (Diver Scallop) Ceviche, pickled red onion, lemon verbena and cucumber.

Both the yellowtail and scallop ceviches were served with thick, delicious blue corn tortillas, fresh off the olive wood fire from the kitchen. Alongside these tasty tortillas were three salsas of peanut, habañero and roasted tomato and chiles. Fantastic.

Tijuana dining

Verde y Cremas blue corn tortillas are baked over olive wood.

It was time for some tacos. The Blue Corn Gorditas with Grilled Octopus, Cheese and Pickled Vegetable were delicious. The standout of this round though were the Korean Tacos with Carne Asada, Kimchi, Japanese Peanuts and Blue Corn Tortilla. The flavor of the kimchi and familiar Korean BBQ tanginess of the sauce spread on the perfectly grilled carne asada was right on.

Tijuana dining

Korean BBQ Tacos with carne asada, kimchi, Japanese peanuts, blue corn tortilla.

At this point, we were still hungry and hesitated for a moment…should we just order another round of exactly what we just had? It was that good. But instead, decided to move down the menu and onto some heartier fare. The Grilled Organic Chicken with Adobo and Roasted Vegetables Salad (shown earlier in this post) was moist and the adobo on the skin had great texture and taste. We also ordered the Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Birria de Res, Heirloom Tomato Salad and Fried Potatoes. Hearty and mouthwateringly good. Not feeling that adventurous? Verde y Crema also grill a mean hamburger which we duly ordered and devoured.

Tijuana dining

Grilled cheese sandwich with birria de res, heirloom tomato salad & papas.

Tijuana dining

Local beef hamburger, gouda cheese, home made brioche and papas fritas

Toward the end of the meal during our conversation with Chef Vargas, he brought out a bottle of Joven (young) mezcal called “La Panca”. Made from wild agave, this smooth mezcal is made exclusively for Verde y Crema and goes great with some oranges and sal con guano (salt with Maguey worm extract). As we raised our glasses and said “Salud”, Chef Vargas concluded, “We are so happy to be in Tijuana right now with all of the great food happening here. We set our own standards and are more mature every day. We know that if we enjoy it (the food), you’ll enjoy it.” We undoubtedly did and El Gringo will return to try some of their other dishes muy pronto!

Crema y Verde is located in the Chapultepec area of Tijuana at Orizaba 3034, Colonia Neidhart. Visit their website at www.verdeycrema.com for more information.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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12 Hedonists, 12 Courses, 1 Vision: WTF at The Kitchen in Tijuana

12 Hedonists, 12 Courses, 1 Vision: WTF at The Kitchen in Tijuana

In the 1930’s, artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were at the vortex of the “Mexican Renaissance”, surrounding themselves with an inner circle of intellectuals and creatives, such as Trotsky and Andre Breton. The group asserted some influence on society with regard to their views on socialism and liberal politics, giving Rivera the leverage he needed to paint as he desired and include images of communist leaders in his mural work.

While based in Tijuana, not Mexico City, and lacking the tempestuous relationship that Diego and Frida shared (they’re just good friends), Josue Castro and Karla Navarro combined their powers of art and cuisine to bring together their own circle of influencers from the worlds of business, art, music, education and media. Called WTF (Where’s The Food), 12 “hedonists” gathered around a table Saturday March 17th at Josue’s “The Kitchen” in the Zona Centro neighborhood of Tijuana for a clandestine 12 course meal, drinks, art, photography and some stimulating conversation about the evolving reinvention of Tijuana.

WTF at Tijuana's "The Kitchen"

Business people, teachers, artists, chefs, and media share ideas, great food and drink at WTF in Tijuana.

Josue and his business partner Andrew Sheiner have been hosting events at The Kitchen for 12 months, including multi-course meals, films and concerts (In April, The Kitchen hosted an intimate performance by Tijiuana’s Madame Ur y sus Hombres). Although they still house Josue’s gallery there, the pair felt that they needed a larger space for these types of events than they currently have at gallery La Tenacion in Pasaje Gomez. Prompted by Castro’s need for 1000 square feet of space, a former Avon cosmetics warehouse in Zona Centro at 7th & Constitucion was rehabilitated to house The Kitchen and other businesses desiring new space for restaurants, galleries and shops.

WTF at Tijuana's "The Kitchen"

What’s cooking in The Kitchen? Josue Castro and Andrew Sheiner’s loft space in Tijuana’s Zona Centro. Photo: Josue Castro

El Gringo was privileged to be invited to WTF at The Kitchen as one of the twelve hedonists (I have a bit of experience, so was not intimidated). Other guests included local business people, artists, musicians, educators, and members of the media. All 12 of us enjoyed 12 courses of amazing food prepared by Karla Navarro, a kitchen staff of three, and an attentive wait staff. All of the courses were based on Baja California classics such as locally-sourced fish, ceviche, quail, shellfish, Puerto Nuevo style lobster and oxtail. The meal was accompanied by Valle de Guadalupe wines, local Tijuana craft beers and a mezcal from Oaxaca that had been custom crafted for one of Tijuana’s top chefs.

WTF at Tijuana's "The Kitchen"

The table is set for WTF at Josue Castro’s The Kitchen, Tijuana 22000.

Although WTF really stands for “Where’s The Food”, there were a few WTF? touches around The Kitchen. Most prominent were Josue’s large portraits of Baja California chefs grittily photographed in black and white with an S&M motif (he’s currently working on this series). Another WTF? touch was the hostess, a silent, masked model in a black bra and tutu who served hors d’oeuvres and drinks as we mingled before the event. Josue had also set up a corner of the room with lights and black paper to photograph the hedonists with the model, as well as with Karla. He explained the concept to me, “I’m a hedonist. I like beautiful women, good food, good wine, good music. And The Kitchen is a place where they all come together.”

WTF at Tijuana's "The Kitchen"

Karla Navarro at staff at The Kitchen, Tijuana.

During the meal, Josue took time between courses to further explain his vision for The Kitchen, Zona Centro and Tijuana’s image in the US media, “When people think of Tijuana in the US, they think of migrants, drug dealers, prostitutes. Those are a part of Tijuana, like most major cities, but not all of Tijuana. There are a lot of people in the community here that are working very hard to improve the image of our city and get people from the US to come back to Tijuana. Galleries, businesses, restaurants, all of us working together. TJ is a cool city, and we want people to know that.”

WTF at TIjuana's "The Kitchen"

Hedonists at the table, The Kitchen, Tijuana.

Genaro Valladolid, of Bustamante Realty Group and real estate agent for the property at 7th and Constitution, waved his hand across the spacious outdoor balcony at The Kitchen, indicating the neighborhood before us. “If you look around Zona Centro here in Tijuana, all of the buildings are old. There’s been nothing new built here for a long time. Years ago, this neighborhood was where all the wealthy people lived. Then, like so many other cities, they started to move out of the center and into the suburbs, and then even further. The lofts here represent the FIRST new development that’s happened in Zona Centro in sixty years.”

WTF at Tijuana's "The Kitchen"

Josue Castro and Karla Navarro at The Kitchen in Tijuana.

El Gringo also had the pleasure of meeting Ramon Bostich and Pepe Mogt from Tijuana band Nortec Collective. On the balcony talking to Pepe, a car drove by and somebody screamed, “HEY PEPE!”, just another rockstar moment for these musical innovators. Pepe had worked with Anthony Bourdain on the Baja California episode of No Reservations, and really enjoyed the experience. “Anthony was cool to work with. That was good exposure for Tijuana, but not enough. Many people are working to get the middle and upper middle class people from the US and Mexico to come visit the city. There’s so much good that’s happening here.”

WTF at Tijuana's "The Kitchen"

The Lofts at 7th and Constitucion in Tijuana. Photo: Josue Castro

Most of the evening’s conversation focused on the topic of Tijuana’s evolution, the great things about the city and the overall perception of Tijuana in the US. “Tijuana is constantly changing,” Josue told me. “In fact, the next time you come back, there will be something new, different, exciting. The Kitchen is a part of that. We are available for different functions, for groups or individuals, and will host art, performances, whatever anyone can think of that would work well in this space.”

WTF at Tijuana's "The Kitchen"

Ramon Bostich and Pepe Mogt from Norte Collective. The muse silencing the artists.

The night ended with strong coffee, brewed in the Japanese style by Tijuana’s Gerardo Grijalva, owner of Jacu. The coffee and his Cold Brew were fantastic, and Gerardo warned us that we might have trouble sleeping after consuming (it was nearly 2AM, and El Gringo had NO problem passing out whatsoever back in his hotel room). At the end of the night, we hedonists parted ways, exchanging embrazos, handshakes and business cards. We headed out into the Tijuana night. Unafraid, inspired and hopeful for Zona Centro, Tijuana and the people who are living and creating here, trying to bring about a “Tijuana Revolution” just as Diego and Frida did for Mexico so many years ago.

 
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