The taste of Old Mexico
By Genaro Valladolid Reprinted with permission from SanDiegoRed.com
When the tourism boom in Tijuana started with Prohibition in the 1920s, people from all over the US came to Tijuana’s casinos, brothels and bars to experience “Old Mexico.” Nowadays, the city is going through a rebirth that is creating a new Tijuana. One of the places that is benefiting the most is the downtown area, known to locals as “El Centro.” This part of the city is home to Avenida Revolución that was once populated with dozens of bars and strip clubs. But in the new Tijuana, it is a place with reborn restaurants such as Caesar’s and re-purposed alleys like Pasaje Gomez and Pasaje Rodriguez, where a flourishing art scene takes place.
The Plascencia family has bet heavily on downtown with Caesar’s, Café Praga and now their newest addition Mama Tequila. On this night there was a fun atmosphere with a live mariachi, as there is every Thursday, and a Montaña Azúl tequila tasting. The decoration was very colorful and completely old school Mexican with “calaveras,” a large “catrina” and a couple of paintings by local artist Angel ValRa.
Brothers Julian and Juan Jose Plascencia run the place, and on this occasion I was able to speak with Juan Jose, known as Tana to everybody in Tijuana, about the inspiration behind Mama Tequila and their work to re-establish downtown as a go-to spot for dining and entertaining. Tana mentioned that during the 80’s, he and his friends would come to “La Revu,” as Avenida Revolución is known to the locals, for a good time; he wanted to recreate that atmosphere within the new Tijuana.
Mama Tequila is the only bar in all Tijuana whose only spirit served is tequila which you can accompany with a cold beer. Tequila is Mexico’s national drink and it can only be produced in specific areas of the country, primarily in the state of Jalisco, and has been around for over five hundred years. Tana gladly shared some of his best tequilas with us and also had the bartender Freddy mix up a couple of cocktails. Mama Tequila has around thirty brands with different variations of each label. There are blanco, reposado and añejo which vary in color and the time they are aged before being bottled. I asked Tana which was his favorite and he mentioned Hornitos Reposado and Montaña Azul which is bottled by a Tijuana company. In Mexico, tequilas are sipped like a whiskey or cognac to appreciate the taste and aromas and are not gulped down in a hurry.
After savoring the tequilas we moved on to the mixed drinks always with the mariachi as the background adding flavor to the night. First we had a “cantarito” which is named after the clay cup it is poured in and is made with lime, orange juice, grapefruit soda, tequila and is rimmed with chili powder. Cantaritos are traditionally served in central Mexico as a refreshing drink during local fairs.
Next, we tried a tequila based tamarind martini that Mama Tequila calls a tequilini. Finally, we tried the mango margarita which I thought was the star of the night. It was really tasty with the perfect dose of sweetness from the mango, just right amount of tequila to give it some zing and a secret ingredient that Tana would not share. I was afraid to ask!
The atmosphere was great with a good looking crowd so we walked up to group and asked them what brought them to Mama Tequila. One of the guests said she was in the mood for tequila and as they walked down Revolucion they saw the bar which brought them in with the Mexican décor and kept them there with the selection of music in the jukebox, excellent service and it goes without saying that the great selection of tequilas also played a part.
Downtown Tijuana is being reborn with great places like Mama Tequila. The bar has valet parking for about three bucks and you can go up and down Revolucion on pedi-cabs that charge around $1.50 per trip. Cantaritos and margaritas run around $5 and beers are around $1.50. You can have a drink inside or on the small patio in front and take in the view of bustling Revolucion.
All in all Mama Tequila has a lot to offer while staying true to old Mexico. When you visit remember to sip your tequilas and ask for the mango margarita.
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