The fact that Mexico is just 20 miles from San Diego still boggles this former East Coaster’s mind. And the fact that you can just walk across the border? Insane! I’m getting to know our neighboring country more now that I live in San Diego, since before I moved out West in 2013, I had never even been to Mexico! For shame.
But as much as I like exploring on my own, I wanted some guidance for this new-to-me Baja world, a tour that didn’t reek “follow the flag” and “this way please,” but something that felt more hip and modern. My search led me to Club Tengo Hambre, a roving supper club started by a collective of bloggers based in both San Diego and Los Angeles. Their trips focus on dining and drinking in Tijuana, Ensenada, Valle De Guadalupe, and now Mexico City, and they bring a wealth of knowledge with them. For example, our guide, CTH co-founder Antonio, grew up on both sides of the border and had been to many of the spots on our trip.
My friend, Lauren, and I went on their Tijuana Tacos + Craft Beer tour last weekend and had so much fun pushing our taco boundaries (i.e. a manta ray, tuna fun, and blood sausage version) and getting a feel for the high-low food options and emerging craft beer scene.
Check out the Tijuana spots you need to know:
We walked across the border from San Ysidro, which was new to me, since I’ve only ever driven over the border. (Tip: Either take the trolley or get dropped off. Parking around the border, especially on weekends, is horrendous. We paid $18 for a lot only to be yelled at on the way out for not having a ticket…even though we were never given one!) Interestingly, Lauren and I turned out to be the only San Diegans on the trip. The rest of our group was from Orange County and L.A. CTH keeps groups small—ours totaled 11—and once we crossed over to Mexico, we were driven around in a small van. Mezcal shots may or may not have been imbibed.
Our first stop was at La Cahua del Yeyo, a hole-in-the-wall joint that used to specialize in turtle tacos before it became gauche to use shelled reptiles in food. The aforementioned blood sausage taco was tasty, as long as I told myself it wasn’t blood sausage. It’s all mental, really. I’m not a big beer drinker, so I polled the group about our brew pairing, an Imperial Stout from Funes Hand Crafted Baja Beer, made with blue corn, hibiscus, and Mexican corn sugar. This was the unanimous favorite of the day. I also loved how even though it was a pairing at the taco shop, the brewery teams were all on hand for info and questions.
Mention tacos in Tijuana, and Kokopelli is sure to come up. This taco eatery, which now boasts three locations along with a most recent opening in Chicago, is a TJ institution that specializes in grilled seafood tacos. Their chef consults at Tacos Perla in San Diego’s North Park, and that octopus taco at Perla? Yeah, it originated at Kokopelli. We tried that octopus taco, dubbed the “Kraken,” and it was fantastic, thanks in part to the cilantro- and poblano-based pesto. The second beer, an oyster stout by Hellixir Beer, is made with Baja oysters!
Our last food stop was at Tijuana’s very cool, very hipster Food Garden, an outdoor food court, with crepes, Asian eats, and tacos among other choices. It’s located near Tijuana’s ritzy enclave, so you can expect well-heeled Tijuanese (and visiting gringos) to populate the Garden. We tried a taqueso with New York steak and shrimp paired with a Mamut Brewery Co. beer. This was another amazing taco—I mean, the filling was wrapped in fried cheese!—but also the most tourist-friendly.
Our final stop wins the award for coolest decor. BCB Tasting Room, located down a nondescript street, is like an industrial, dimly lit den with old kegs turned into lights. Really, this tour is a beer-lover’s dream. For $75, along with transportation, a guide, and mezcal shots, we had one taco at each stop and beer “tastings” were full-to-the-brim cups. In fact, at BCB, the number of tastings seemed endless. Much of our group was fairly toasted by this point and our 4 p.m. departure time was so not happening.
We got to the border at around 5:30 p.m. and while our guide waved goodbye and hopped over to the fast pass-style Sentri lane, we were stuck in a god-awful line that took more 2.5 hours to pass through. CTH has warned us that the line to cross back can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I understand he didn’t have to wait for us and the length of the line wasn’t in his control and it was the worst possible time to cross (a Saturday evening), but it might’ve helped to have him there for moral support. We were all going a little crazy during those hours, but a few rounds of hot-from-the-fryer churros were a wonderful emotional salve. That’s one plus about waiting—so many snacks to purchase! One guy in our group even went to get tacos, because you can never have enough tacos.
The tour was a wonderful primer on Tijuana’s food scene, but I can’t wait to go back on my own: Another Food Garden is opening in the next few weeks, Kokopelli is worth multiple visits, and there are more broder-crossing churros to be eaten.
Disclaimer: Club Tengo Hambre sponsored my tour. As always, all opinions are my own.