If the thought of Tijuana only conjures images of sketchy neighborhoods and taco carts, think again. Yes, there are plenty of tacos, and great street food. But today, the food scene in Tijuana has so much more. Tijuana is becoming a foodie destination is its own right; one that has me constantly coming back for more.
When I take a day trip to Tijuana from San Diego, I park near the border, by the outlet mall (you can’t actually park at the mall, but there is a small pay lot across the street meant for people crossing the border on foot). It’s a quick walk across the border, where you can either walk or take an Uber to downtown Tijuana.
While I’ve never made it to across the border early enough for breakfast, there are some great breakfast spots in Tijuana. You can’t go wrong starting the day with chilaquiles. By the time I arrive it’s usually late morning, so my day starts with an early lunch.
Lunch at Erizo
If you have a chance on your day trip to Tijuana, you should eat at Misión 19. But even if the restaurant is out of your price range for the day, you can still sample chef Javier Plascencia’s food at Erizo Baja Fish House.
Venture off the touristy Avenida Revolución to try the fresh seafood Baja California is known for. Erizo is known for their fish, especially the ceviche. I scooped up every last bit of ceviche and I would have happily slurped down the liquid left in the large glass goblet. I loved my tostada cruda, with white fish, avocado, and marinated seaweed salad. The flavors were so clean, with some sweetness from the seaweed and a little fat from the avocado.
The taco Tijuanero was another winning recommendation. Grilled and crispy on the outside, it’s filled with mushroom, octopus, and goat cheese. The chicharrón de atún (crispy tuna skin) taco is another specialty worth ordering. Hot or cold, raw or cooked, the bounty of seafood options at Erizo is worth starting at the top of the menu and ordering one of everything on your way down. Fresh, raw ceviche? Check. Tacos with fish and cheese, two things I would never put together? Check. It’s so varied, and all so good. Come with a few friends so you can order sharing platters.
I first heard about Erizo from Eater’s Open Road series. Watch this video tour before you go to get your mouth watering in anticipation.
Snacks at Mercado Hidalgo
I prefer Hidalgo to the other famous market in Tijuana, El Popo. Mercado Hidalgo is a large covered market, and it’s the place to go if you want to sample fresh produce or buy Mexican candy to take home with you. I loved the selection of tropical fruit that effectively transported me to a beach somewhere. It felt like I wasn’t even in the city anymore.
Rows upon rows of produce greeted me every time I turned a corner. My dehydrated, day-tripping self finally gave in to the prospect of drinking from a coconut. A man kindly cut open the coconut for me, stuck a straw in, and told me to return after finishing the water so he could cut up the coconut flesh for me to take and snack on afterwards. I felt so out of place in the market, but everyone was friendly and made me feel welcome. After finishing the coconut water, as promised, the men sliced up the coconut flesh, covered it in fresh lime juice and tajín, and put it in a bag so that I could take it with me.
Dinner at Telefónica Gastro Park
I often dream about taking a short trip across the border just to spend a long lunch break at Telefónica. Home to some of the best food in Tijuana, it’s a permanent fixture housing lots of great food trucks, carts, and semi-brick-and-mortar vendors.
Otto’s Grill is one of my favorite trucks inside Telefónica. I always stop by for at least one seafood taco, while trying to save room to sample as much of a variety as I can. La Carmelita serves up Mexican home cooking, so of course I had to try their chilaquiles. They satisfied all my breakfast nacho cravings.
The beer at Telefónica is great, and they also serve a few cocktails. There are burgers, ramen, and poke for those feeling less taco-inclined. Though I’ve never tried it, I hear the pizza is excellent, too. One of these days, I’ll indulge my craving for cheeses from Quesos El Popo. You could easily spend a whole day here and not even see the rest of Tijuana.
Good news for me—Telefónica is reportedly in the process of opening a San Diego location called Telefónica Norte! While a day trip to Tijuana from San Diego isn’t too far to go to experience Telefónica, at least now I won’t have to bring my passport with me.