San Diegans and Angelinos alike are gaga about tacos in Tijuana. There are innumerous articles and passionate threads in discussion boards about the best tacos, stands, and what lengths one will go through just to get good tacos.I've read of some crossing the border just to grab a few real tacos.
I always find that looking for the regions specialties yields the best results, and every state in Mexico has their local fillings and preparations in the taco species. The variances occur even within states and can differ from city to city and town to town.
Tijuana is becoming known for its own proud culinary traditions in the last decade, but great tacos are an important part of a city's style and flare.
Many visitors come looking for the classics, carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, etc.But, while they will be better in Tijuana, this border town really shines when you delve into its taco masterpieces.
Does Tijuana have its own taco traditions? You'd better believe it, and here are some that define the spirit and taste of the Tijuanenses.
Tacos Fito's(Zona Rio)
Tacos de birria with family and friends is a Sunday event in Tijuana, and the choice of protein is beef. Fito's is known for its lightning quick "taqueros", perhaps the fastest in all of Mexico.
There are great birria de res(beef) carts all over Tijuana, but this little yellow beacon of taco trancendence is the best. They are located on Calle Javier Mina in front of the Mercado Hidalgo in Zona Rio.
The cumin loaded beef birria is stewed over night at low heat until tender.The tortillas are grilled in the juices of the stock, the taquero grabs a chunk of beef with tongs and begins chopping on the cutting board in a seamless transition.The onions, and cilantro are tossed on the vessel and then the flash of ladle and spoon finish the taco, seemingly in one motion.It's handed to you a martial arts fashion.You almost expect an unsychronized, dubbed voice saying,"hey......my taco is superior to your taco!"
Tacos Salceados is unique, a place I first visited in early 2008, a taqueria unlike any in all of Mexico.Started by Tijuana's Javier Campos Gutierrez, a sous chef, the no address taqueria in Otay Mesa known to locals as La Ermita, is a center of taco evolution. These are traditional tacos and a few new traditions thrown in made with high ingredients, creative salsas like tamarind and almond thickened with egg whites, and a line of chefs with street taco in their soul.
The taco de pina, or taco dulce is a clever interplay of sweet and savory. Steak or shrimp is encased in a fried cheese envelope resembling a tamale,then topped with onion, then mango,strawberry, and cherry purees, and amply finished off with chopped pecans.
Quesatacos, which I now see all over town are best here at La Ermita.The monterrey jack envelope, basically a chicharron of cheese like you'd find in D.F., can be served with your choice of meats and seafoods, as is, or atop a tortilla.Surf and turf is a great way to go, steak and scallops or perhaps succulent shrimp and arrachera steak.All the tacos at La Ermita are out of this world, but these two are what Tijuana tacos are all about. They are located at Avenida Ermita Norte 30 in Otay Mesa.
Kentucky Fried Buches(Centro)
It doesn't matter that this may be the only taqueria in Mexico that only makes chicken neck tacos and nothing else, Kentucky Fried Buches is a Tijuana institution.
Deep fried chicken necks(buches), a perfect salsa, and fresh tortillas are sold one order at a time in the nocturnal playground of la Zona Norte.
These are full-flavored chicken skin with a bit of neck meat you will have to forage from hot greasy necks, so satisfying and marvelously paired with the house salsa. They haven't changed a thing since 1963!
Tacos Franc(Zona Rio)
Don't go looking for al pastor here. Tijuana is adobada(marinated pork) country.Al pastor is best in Mexico City, Puebla, or the Yucatan.
Tacos Franc is the late night taco hit for the locals. They serve fine grilled meat tacos, mulitas(like a taco sandwich), but the adobada is the reason to come here.Adobada is cooked on a rotating spit and is the regional name for al pastor--90% of the time it will be called adobada here in Tijuana.I first came here with good friend Alex, from chowhound.
Tacos Franc uses a marinade of ancho chiles, achiote,and secret spicings for their superlative version of this TJ street taco.Avenida Sanchez Taboada between 9th and
Adobada is trimmed from the spit and then griddled for a moment before landing in a fresh tortilla, unlike al pastor, which should go straight from spit to corn tortilla.Tacos Franc makes a succulent adobada, the perfect late night jam for the taco virtuoso.
El Mazateno(Tomas Aquino)
Sinaloans make up the largest migrant group in Tijuana and there culinary presence is felt in the seafood street carts and restaurants. Mariscos El Mazateno is jam packed every day with Tijuanenses hungry for their tacos de camaron enchilados(chilied shrimp) and tacos de marlin.
The taco de camaron enchilado is found in many Sinaloan establishments, also Sonoran,but these are a must when tacoing in Tijuana.
They are rubbed in a chile de arbol paste with other privileged ingredients, and then deftly fried in oil. Fine shredded cabbage, pico de gallo,and crema mexicana are at your table awaiting to be greedily assembled. Turnover is fast here due to the fact that they don't last long on your plate.It's a trek, but well worth the effort. Located at Calzada Tecnologico,No. 473-E in the Tomas Aquino neighborhood.
Tacos El Poblano(Otay Mesa)
Sonora and Sinaloa are the carne asada capitals of Mexico,Chihuahua, and other northern states are notable, too.But Tijuana has its own carne asada patrimony. El Poblano grills a house blend of sirloin, New York, round, and loin steak over mesquite and chops it into small bits.
They serve it two ways, on a crispy,grilled to order tostada for a more smoky punch.
Or, in a conically formed taco, both with ample amounts of creamy guacamole. Get these both ways. The flavor is intense and found uniformly throughout each millimeter of blended steak.Located at Bl. Diaz Ordaz, 7813 in Otay Mesa.
Having mistook these carts for the generic grilled meat trucks of LA, I had to eat my words recently, literally.
In Tijuana, tacos varios are the tacos de guisado(stews) found on nearly every corner in Mexico City. They are home cooking tacos, grandma's leftovers plopped onto a tortilla on your way to school. It's whatever the taquero decides to bring.
I found this stand walking across the border when I recognized the iconic guisado of rice and hard-boiled eggs, possibly the most common filling in this genre.
Today is was tortitas de carne(ground meat and egg battered torts), and bistec con papa(steak and potatoes in a mildly spicy tomato and pepper based sauce.Look for the various aluminum cylinders filled with real Tijuana home cooking.Tacos Varios are all over the place, check out a busy stand and give one a try. I came across this splendid cart you walking back to the US, near the overpass where the taxis drop you off to cross the border.It's a fine place to start your guisado education.
Next time you have the taco impulse, and Tijuana is your destination, give these a try. Take a tour of these street sensations and find out why Tijuana is truly a taco lovers paradise.
Things I’ve Written This Week - An Illustrated History of Ramen [First We Feast] Delicious Meats On Sticks In Los Angeles [KCET] Best Taco Joints in Los Angeles [Food Network]