Tacky souvenir shops; donkeys painted as zebras; a seedy, often dangerous nightlife: these are just a few of the things that once made Tijuana unappealing to travellers. However, with craft breweries and hip coffee shops popping up around every corner, world-class Mexican cuisine on offer and an emerging urban art scene, Tijuana might just be back on the map.
That’s right—the famous Caesar salad was in fact invented in Tijuana during the 1920s prohibition era. Caesar’s Restaurant—an elegant dining room filled with sepia photographs, dark wood decor and black and white tiles—still uses the same simple recipe (consisting of cos lettuce, parmesan, olive oil, egg yolks and lemon juice) created by its founder Caesar Cardini almost 90 years ago. The pièce de résistance? The waiters prepare and serve the delicious salad right at your table.
Caesar’s, Avenida Revolución 1059, Zona Centro, Tijuana, Mexico, +52 664 685 1927
Like any major town in Mexico, at the heart of Tijuana lies a bustling food market. At Mercado El Popo you’ll find hundreds of waist-high wicker baskets filled with dried Mexican chilis, as well as cheeses, exotic fruits and home-made sweet treats. This is a great place to learn about local produce, shoot some great photographs and stock up on fresh (and very cheap) goodies.
A park filled with six to eight food trucks ranging from Japanese and Italian to Mexican and Argentinian, Telefonica Gastro Park is leading Tijuana’s cultural revival. This open-air space decorated with colourful fairy lights and big wooden benches made for sharing has a cool, laid-back festival feel. Don’t miss La Carmelita’s insane breakfasts, which feature perfectly cooked eggs served on crispy totopos (home-made nacho chips) and topped with refried beans, jalapeño, coriander, red onions and a sprinkling of cheese.
Avenida Revolución is where all the stereotypical Tijuana action happens: you’ve got rows of tacky souvenir shops, cheap drink deals and, of course, the odd donkey disguised as a zebra ready to pose for photos with tourists, a tradition that started in Tijuana over 100 years ago. However, Tijuana’s busiest street is changing. In between the craziness, you’ll find little gems like Container Coffee Roaster (which roasts Mexican coffee beans just behind the counter) and Azteca Craft Brewing leading Tijuana’s uber-cool transformation.
Pasaje Rodríguez, an alley filled with coffee shops, Oaxacan food stalls and tiny craft shops, is testament to Tijuana’s growing urban art scene. The walls here are covered with brightly coloured graffiti murals, many of which powerfully comment on current political and human rights issues; a must-see while in Tijuana.
Following in the tracks of its brewing neighbour San Diego, Tijuana is slowly establishing itself as a big player in the craft beer scene. While many breweries in the city serve the ever-popular hoppy IPAs, they’re also experimenting with their own ingredients and techniques to create beers with a true Mexican flare. To get involved, head to Plaza Fiesta, where, in place of seedy nightclubs, you’ll now find a cluster of top-class brewery tasting rooms.
Tijuana is considered by many to be one of the taco meccas of the world. Put it this way: visitors cross the border just to have lunch in the city. If you only do one thing in Tijuana, head to a street called Las Ahumaderas (also known as ‘Taco Alley’) and fill yourself silly with any of the taco street stalls there. They won’t disappoint.