This past Saturday, I took a quick trip to Tijuana. It was my first time visiting the city, and overall it was a really good experience.
I did a bit of research online (on Chowhound and elsewhere) before going, and also had some tips from Club Tengo Hambre (who unfortunately weren't leading any tours the weekend I was there). Because I had our stops planned out, everything was logistically pretty easy.
We drove to San Ysidro and parked at the border. We ended up in a $15 spot, right next to the Jack in the Box, though we could have parked a bit farther for cheaper. We crossed into Mexico at about 11:30 AM, and walked toward downtown. In order to reach downtown, you have to pass through some seedy areas, though I will admit that some of the taco stands we passed looked OK. It didn't feel dangerous or sketchy---just seedy.
We made it to the arch, and then walked down Calle Santiago Arguello. By this point, there were more people eating in restaurants, and some of the spots (although touristy looking) seemed interesting. But we kept walking, eventually making it to El Popo market. We walked around the market for a bit, which was cool. Lots of chiles, candies, and other bulk goods. After that, we walked south down Av. Constitucion for a few blocks, passing more interesting looking taco places (especially for al pastor/adobada, though we didn't try anything), and then at around 6th Street we caught a cab to Food Garden in Zona Rio.
Our taxi cost 60 pesos, and took about 10 minutes. Food Garden is a pleasant little spot, with a few stands selling packaged/prepared goods (we sampled some great guava syrup, tamarind syrup, and mango cheesecake) and a few food stalls. We got two tacos from Kokopelli and two from Taqueseria. From Kokopelli, we had the octopus taco and the mushroom one, which was vegetarian. I thought the mushroom one was pretty boring, but I liked the octopus more—nice chewy texture. The salsas that come with the tacos are really nice, and ranged from hot to less-hot down the tray. See picture. From Taqueseria, we had the taco that comes with fried cheese (we had carne asada inside it), and it was great. This was topped with homemade ranch sauce that almost overtook the other flavors. Meanwhile, on the shrimp taco we tried, the same sauce was a bit too overpowering. But overall, I liked the two Taqueseria tacos and the one octopus Kokopelli taco the best. We also had agua frescas: lemon with lavender, and watermelon/mint/iced tea. Both were great. Prices were really reasonable (total bill for all of this was about $14 US dollars).
Food Garden has a Facebook page here:https://www.facebook.com/foodgardentj
It's located at General Rodolfo Sanchez Taboada 10650, between Mision Santo Tomas and Mision de San Diego. It reminded me of what I'd find in Portland, Oregon at the various food truck pods.
After this, we walked south toward Cebicheria Erizo, which was on Av. Sonora 38081, about a 10 minute walk away. Once we got there, we decided to skip eating there, since we wanted to save room. But it looks like a nice spot. Tablecloths, sit-down, though not otherwise very fancy. From near there, we caught another taxi to take us to Mariscos el Mazateño.
The taxi ride to Mariscos el Mazateño cost seven US dollars, and took about 12-15 minutes. It's located at Calzada Tecnologico 473, right where it hits Av Popolo. It's right by a soccer field, basically the west end of Calz. Tecnologico. The place is casual, with plastic tables and chairs, but I was surprised by its size. I would guess more than 100 people were there eating when we arrived. We sat down, and our server asked if we wanted the complimentary seafood consomme, to which we said yes. The broth was salty, but a squeeze of lime helped balance it out. We ordered two of the shrimp tacos (the house specialty) and one tostada de ceviche de pescado. We got some complimentary tortilla chips which were freshly fried and delicious. I later used them to eat our ceviche. But first up were the shrimp tacos, which were the best I've ever had. Lots of plump shrimp cooked in tons of garlic and a bit of chili. Basically it was a delicious, spicy shrimp al ajillo, all stuffed into a tortilla with melting cheese. The tacos were greasy, hot and hard to heat, but eating this alone made the entire trip worthwhile. The ceviche was also nice, with tomato, onion, cilantro and citrus. It was a big version and tasted very fresh. Not sure what kind of fish it was, but it was the most basic version available. This entire meal cost around $10, if I recall correctly. Definitely worth the visit. What kind of cheese is it in those tacos?
After this, we had thought about trying to hit up Taqueria Franc for some tacos al pastor, but we were too full. I guess I'm getting too old for true food crawls, since I fill up after just two places! So we caught a taxi from Mazateño back to the border crossing at San Ysidro, which was five US dollars.
The line to cross back to the US was a bit long, so in total we spent about 3 hours in Mexico, and then almost 2 hours getting back! There are a fair number of snacks available in the customs queue, but we weren't hungry enough to try any.
I do speak Spanish, which made the taxi part of the trip pretty easy (we only took the Taxis Libres, which are white taxis.) All prices were arranged w/ driver; we didn't use the meter. Our entire lunch trip to Mexico cost us about $40 or $45 US Dollars, and that included enough food to fill us up, plus all transportation.
Probably not something I'd do every weekend, even if I could, but I'm really glad I went.