Before I really had a sense of what was good and bad Mexican food, or good and bad food in general, I had the chance to take a few trips down to Tijuana with some friends and coworkers from a university internship I had in San Francisco. Even back then I knew something special was in my mouth with each bite, as I wondered why Mexicans weirdly ate their tacos with soft shells.
Now that Old El Paso bakeable hard shells have been almost two decades removed from my life, those road trips down to Tijuana can be put in context. The city may get a bad reputation for its seedier dealings, but it also has one of the most vibrant food cultures in all of the country, a product of being an immigrant city. I would love to go back now that I have had a half dozen trips to other parts of Mexico and seen what can really happen, take a list of stands and vendors to patronize, and gain five kilos.
A $2.50 mug of avena
The Sunset Park address that is now home to Tacos Tijuana B.C (their punctuation) has been a purveyor of estilo Tijuana for a while now, as the old Tacos Cachanilla has morphed into this current rendition. What truly set the old and the new apart was their tortillas, which were always made in house, and make such a difference when biting into their delicious tacos.
On our first visit, we were literally told to stop ordering as the woman kindly noted that what we had was already too much for two people. We assured her we would take home the leftovers and went ahead. Prices here for a plate of tostadas ($12, below) are above the norm, so you know the plate will be a large order. Our cecina (salted beef) was nicely done, and the avocado and cream on top were simple but make you realize they care about ingredients here.
Carne asada seems to be the meat they promote most highly, and for good reason. The steak is terrific in the equally enormous tacos ($7.50, below), using good cuts of beef and more fresh greens. As stated before, the tortillas here are all fresh and it shows. Rather than being a tasteless vehicle, here they add to the depth and color of the flavors.
Another meal-sized portion of food arrived with the giant taco placero de huevos ($5, below), using a significantly larger homemade tortilla.
It is tough to realize the scope of this beast in one photo, so these three will do. The taco is brought out wrapped and held together by a toothpick so as not to burst on to the table.
The main ingredient is rice, but there are also slightly spicy peppers and fried potatoes in here along with whatever meat or topping you choose. It was before noon, so we went with eggs, which come hardboiled.
On a successive visit, we spotted a hungry customer eating the pancita de res ($10, below), a deep brown and red soup of beef tripe, and wanted to follow suit. The broth is not as flavorful as the color leads to imagine, but the tripe is clean and goes down easily. The pieces are quite large and could stand to be cut into smaller sizes, but the dish comes with tortillas and these can be used to cradle the intestine or soak up soup.
A small daily specials sign on the table that seems more permanent than daily offers six items, including the rollitos de pollo con rajas poblanas (below), rolls of chicken with pickled green poblano peppers. Served with a nice sour and salty broth, the dish is a good creation and is served with the house rice and beans.
Those house refried beans are actually the only disappointing thing about this restaurant, as they are thin and almost tasteless. A plate of them and rice is also served with another daily special, the albondigas enchipotladas (below), two meat and rice balls in a tremendous chipotle soup. Had the restaurant been less full, I may have licked the plate.
Luckily, I could use one of those tortillas instead.