Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tijuana Street Food

Mexican food is my passion.  The fresh ingredients and simple recipes combine to create true comfort food.  So when I was in southern California back in November, I couldn't resist a day trip over the border to Tijuana.

Tijuana is really starting to see true growth in the food industry.  Although most of the best street stands and restaurants have been there for many years, there appears to be an increase in the exposure these vendors are getting. Whether it's through social media or a resurgence of tourism, TJ's streets are starting to attract young entrepreneurs and visitors.  More than ever, we are seeing food lovers explore what this city has to offer.  Food bloggers and life/culture reporters in southern California are now regularly writing about Tijuana. A touring dinner club "Club Tengo Hambre" that has begun hosting groups of hungry gringos for a day of eating and drinking at TJ's hottest spots.

I had three street carts on my list to check out and they did not disppoint...


Check out "el gato" waiting on the bottom left side of the cart.

TWM has been in operation since 1964 and was originally located outside of a car wash, thus the name. Although the car wash is no longer there, they have continued the tradition of offering unbelievable tortas to the working class of Tijuana. TWM was my first destination after walking across the San Ysidro border. After a short cab ride dropped me off at a nearby gas station, I followed the smokey cloud to a cart that serves one item only; Carne Asada tortas (sandwiches). I joined the small group of older men, who all appeared to be friends, in line for my breakfast. Steak was sizzling away over charcoal and friendly local cat lingered along side of the stand waiting for bits of meat to drop. The large messy steak sandwich on a freshly baked bun was the perfect start to my day.


Jalisco, just south of Blvd Agua Caliente. (map)
Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or whenever they run out of food.


I was admittedly very excited about Tacos Kokopelli. This large food trailer has gained a reputation for some of the best tacos in town, and definitely a "must do" on any street food tour. It's not often you see chef coats on street food carts, but you will at Tacos Kokopelli.  Here they seem to perfectly combine traditional ingredients with the the hipster taco vibe. I ordered both the Kraken (octopus) and Gringo en vacaciones (shrimp and queso) tacos. The Kraken taco was to this day, one of, if not the best taco I have ever eaten. They cook everything over a proper mesquite fire and offer homemade salsas. The guys working the cart were friendly, helpful and at least one of them spoke English, which helped with my broken Spanish issues...

The Kraken Taco (pulpo/octopus)
2 locations; 

Calle Ocampo, between 11th and Blvd. Agua Caliente.
Paseo Ensenada 2098. Playas de Tijuana.


I learned about this truck from one of my SoCal blogger colleagues, "Street Gourmet LA's" Bill Esparza. For the last 20 years, they have offered extremely fresh seafood items such as crab and grilled clam. I was hoping to get an order of the Cocteles de Jaiba (crab cocktail) but they did not have any fresh crab that day. So I opted for the seafood cocktail instead. It was served in a giant glass goblet, and unlike most American and Canadian food trucks, I just pulled up a stool to the side of the truck and was served right there. I couldn't help but to giggle to myself when noticing that the ladies working that day had a TV and satellite hooked up and were watching Telenovelas right there on the truck. They did their best to speak to me in their limited English, while I did the same with my Spanish. In the end, it all worked out.  The cocktail was so big, I had to get it in a take out container and struggled to finish it later that day along my walk back to the border.


Corner of 8th & Quintana Roo. Tijuana, B.C., Mexico

After spending the day eating at these carts and shopping at the Mercado Hidalgo (link), I wound my way through the streets and back to the border. Hoping to grab a quick snack of chicken necks at Kentucky Fried Buches, I was disappointed to find them closed at that time. Thankfully there is no shortage of street vendors to keep you well fed and hydrated along the path back to San Diego.  I grabbed a bag full of fresh churros for $1 (USD) and an ice cold horchata for the same price. 

Fresh churros being fried to order
I was sad to see the day end and already planning what to eat my next time around. Definitely looking to hook up with the Club Tengo Hambre crew sometimes next year as well as getting to know some of the beach side vendors in Ensenada and some local craft beers.

Gracias Tijuana, la comida era muy rica!