Getting Wild in Tijuana (And The Best Taco of My Life)

Though I loved my time in sleepy Chula Vista, I knew I also wanted to venture south of the border to nearby Tijuana. Tijuana, or TJ as the gringos call it, is a debatably seedy border town that is located only 15 minutes south of Chula Vista.

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To cross the border, we parked the car on the American side and simply walked across the frontera. After flashing our passports and ambling past several heavily armed men, we were in Mexico!

The first item on our Mexican bucket list was obvious- food. Luckily my Couchsurfing host’s friend Gerardo is a Tijuana local and culinary student and knew where to go. He took us straight to Kokopelli, a gourmet taco stand that specializes in local Bajan seafood.

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And at $2 for a gourmet taco, I indulged in several. When in Mexico, right? Which I washed down with fragrant, magenta-colored hibiscus water. Heaven.

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Marinated octopus with Mexican pesto sauce. My favorite one!

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Crickets over marlin. The crickets were actually good: salty, crunchy and weirdly delicious.

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A magical array of salsas: pumpkin, chili oil and pickled red onion

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Sole ceviche in squid ink. Even though I’m a huge ceviche lover this was definitely not my favorite!

IMG_7888Smoked marlin in poblano sauce with mushrooms and elotes tatemados. Not the prettiest taco but so good!

After tacos we made our way to a bar for our second indulgence of the day- beer.

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We then spent the next few hours whiling the afternoon over a cubeta of beer. Thanks to our local Tijuana friend, we learned lots of Mexican slang (vete a la verga, guey!), and received insight on everything from Mexican gender relations to Tijuana gang violence.

Next,we headed back to California for a few hours of much-needed napping. And  though I wasn’t feeling remotely up for going back to Mexico that night with a fever and a respiratory infection, I was somehow convinced to cross the frontera again to experience Tijuana nightlife.

I agreed to go, but made one demand- I wanted broth for dinner.

And what do you know- right when we got to Tijuana, we stumbled upon a little hole in the wall that advertised “consomés” or broths, right in its window. Minutes later a huge, steaming bowl of caldo de res was sitting in front of me. It’s a comfort food that in my experience is exactly the same throughout Latin America- I’ve had a nearly identical soup from Tijuana to Quito to Valparaiso, Chile.1209036_10153157989750144_457157188_n

While I inhaled my broth, Victoria tasted her first quesadilla,which I’m happy to report was oozing super flavorful Chihuahua cheese. During our time in the states it was such a treat to introduce my English friend Victoria to Mexican food- when she first crossed the pond she didn’t know the difference between a taco and a burrito!

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After our sumptuous meal we met up with our host’s guy friends in town and spent a few happy hours in the dive bar to end all dive bars. Empty of patrons, littered with stacks of Corona and Victoria beer cartons and boasting one functioning light, this wasn’t a swanky addresse, but the beer was dirt-cheap and there was a jukebox in the corner. While the rest of the group amused themselves by playing pool, I called it upon myself to DJ all evening. A.k.a. I played lots of Shakira and Suavemente.

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The next order of business was some dancing, so we took a taxi to a Mexican club where I danced salsa with a cute American guy for hours. It was kind of the best night ever as I noticed I felt much less self-conscious south of the border- it was easy to stop comparing myself to others when I was the only foreigner in the room anyway.

So, the verdict? Tijuana is a ton of fun. And if you ever drive to Tijuana, please listen to this song as you make your way into the city. We certainly did.

http://youtu.be/qw2Pny_N_Tg

Have you ever visited Tijuana?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

20 thoughts on “Getting Wild in Tijuana (And The Best Taco of My Life)”

  1. Loved this post! Two things: One—I love that all of your tacos are garnished with healthy slices of avocado (or should I say aguacate). Simply the best!!! Did you ever get to try tacos de lengua (cow tongue)? It sounds gross but the meat is so tender…it’s my favorite variety.

    Two—when I studied abroad in Costa Rica, every so often my host mom would cook that EXACT SAME SOUP, corn cob and everything. I had no idea that was a pan-Latin-American thing! So cool.

    • I love cow tongue tacos! There weren’t any on the menu because it was all seafood but I totally would’ve gotten them if I could’ve :). And yes, I’ve had the same experience! It’s one of those great things that’s almost exactly the same in all of Latin America.

  2. I’ve been to Tijuana! I went in 1973 and have a picture sitting on a donkey pulled carriage with a big sombrero hat. Sounds like it hasn’t changed much! :)

  3. This is so incredible that you can just park the car on the American side and simply walk across the frontera. and you are in Mexico! This is such a mouth-watering post. I am the biggest fan of Mexican cuisine and I keep thinking of tacos and this marinated octopus with Mexican pesto sauce looks so yummy!

  4. Wpw! Crickets—ugh! Mexican food, sorry to be a wet blanket—-not much of it do I like. The food , the place, the people, all make for your magic.

    Love,
    Gamma

  5. I’ve been away from South America for one week and I already miss it! Reading this also gives me huuuuuuuuge food envy – gourmet tacos sound right up my street.

  6. I love that you could just walk over the border — I didn’t know that was possible! And oh my, the food looks so good!! I love Mexican food, but I’ve been wondering how authentic it is in Europe… Time to fly to Mexico ASAP!

  7. Looks like you had an awesome time, despite the sickness! You also got lucky to have such an authentically Mexican experience in TJ! Those tacos with crickets? I’ve never even seen those!

    I applaud you for not being scared to go down there, most people are. It’s not scary though, right?

    Hope Asia is treating you well!!

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