Kevin and I love visiting Mexico. It’s a quick and easy trip from California, has delicious food and we get to practice our Spanish (or in my case, typically just repeating “YES” in Spanish no matter whether I understand or not!). But best of all? Mexico is cheap! We can’t pass up a deal. So when our friend Daniel suggested a trip to Tijuana, I immediately said, “Umm, Sí señor!” Clearly, I don’t need much of an excuse.
For our latest trip, Daniel suggested we do the “Tijuana Street Food + Craft Beer + Market Daycation” operated by the tour company Tengo Hambre. He took a culinary tour with them before and had a blast. Daniel not only convinced Kevin and me, but an entire crew of friends. We all met at the San Ysidro Border Crossing, located just 20 minutes from downtown San Diego on a sunny Saturday morning.
Last year, I visited Tijuana for the first time after reading about its growing food scene (check out the itinerary here). Kevin was shocked by how much Tijuana changed. The last time he visited was over a decade ago — when Tijuana was still favored by the Spring break crowd in search of cheap Tequila shots. And while Tijuana still attracts those looking to party, over the past few years it has built up a culinary and craft brewery scene. We enjoyed it so much that we had a hard time narrowing it down to our top five favorite things.
I was more than happy to let our guide Violeta take the lead this time. The tour is structured as a ‘roving supper club’ as we ate our way around Tijuana’s famed street food stands, drank plenty of mezcal, craft beer and visited a market. Within minutes of arriving in Tijuana, a white passenger van rolled up. Yep, that would be our ride! We loaded inside with Violeta, who welcomed us to Mexico by pouring shots of mezcal.
One shot down. But wait, it’s Kevin’s birthday. More mezcal shots! Daniel then informed Violeta that Kevin and I just got married (well, it technically was 4 months ago.). “Another round of mezcal!” Something tells me this tour will be turning into a party very soon.
We soon arrived at our first stop (please, I need some tacos to mix up all this booze!). The food truck (called Asadero El Nuevo Tecolote) is clearly for those in the know. Violeta ordered us their most famous taco called the “Taco Cachanilla” topped with cheese, meat and sour cream. Cachanilla means “of being from Mexicali” (the capital city of Baja, located about 2.5 hours east of Tijuana).
We loved it and were ready for some more. The next stop was a short drive away where we’d get to taste a seafood tostada. We rolled into Mariscos El Conchal, where we sat down at a nearby plastic table and opened up cans of Tecate beer to cool us down.
The stall offered typical food from the owner’s home Mexican state of Sinaloa. The seafood tostada is their specialty and was topped with cooked shrimp, octopus, abalone, red onion, cucumber, avocado as well as lime and a little soy sauce. And the staff here was working it the entire time — shucking oysters, clams and all things seafood on the street.
We were ready to start walking, and went across the street to stop #3, the Mercado Hidalgo. You’ll find just about anything you can imagine here — fresh produce, spices, herbs, souvenirs, piñatas, nuts, beans, teas… You name it.
We came to the market on a mission: to taste some sweets! We followed Violeta inside the market to the front of El Texano Loco where we were able to pick out a freeze pop. Violeta recommended the pineapple (which I ordered) as well as the cool green pistachio flavor (that Kevin nabbed).
Okay, onto stop #4. Clearly we are running low on alcohol at this point, so we head over to the main tourism drag on Avenida Revolución to taste craft beer at Border Psycho. But they don’t just have beer here. Within minutes, the bartender is breaking out shots of… you guessed it! More mezcal!
This is one of the new microbreweries taking off in downtown Tijuana. The region is becoming famous for its locally craft beers as well as beers from Monterrey and Colima, to name a few.
The next stop (#5) is just stumbling distance away. Cerveceria Transpeninsular (that’s a mouthful!) is located up a discrete staircase off the main tourist drag. You’ll feel worlds away from the chaos, as you look down on the packed Avenida Revolucion.
The microbrew is a prime spot to watch the spectacle of the traditional Mexican Quinceañera (a girl’s coming of age celebration on her 15th birthday). We saw stretch limos packed with kids dressed up in their finest (to the less elaborate version with kids popping out of the sunroofs of Toyota Corollas).
We’re about to reach our 6th and official final stop. We hopped in the van and rode just a few minutes away to Horario Tacos El Franc, which was packed wall-to-wall with Mexican families and workers (always a good sign!).
We would have two tacos here: a version with beef and another with pork. Each were topped with plenty of guacamole. After just one bite, we all had to agree, these were our favorite tacos we had all day.
Where did the day go? And how were we able to eat and drink so much? Before heading back across the border, we decided to grab a coffee at the very cool Container Coffee Roaster on Avenida Revolucion, and walk off some of that food.
There is great people watching and window shopping along the Avenida. And you’ll find no shortage of hawkers here — who LOVED calling out to us offering dates with their daughters…or sons (as one hawker astutely noted!). I guess a group of 6-foot white guys (well, Kevin and I excluded) strolling the streets of Mexico tend to stick out!
It’s time to go. Or is it!? One last stop: to grab drinks on top of Cine Tonala, which is an indie movie house/bar. The place was already packed since we were visiting on Mexican Independence Day and there was a big boxing match that night.
What a great trip! After closing out our bill, we walked back to the border. Allow at least 30 minutes — it feels so close, yet so far away! Parts of the walk were pretty empty/abandoned. So if you’re nervous about walking empty streets, especially at night, there are plenty of cabs to take you to the crossing. But we were ready to stretch our legs — after all, we ate and drank so much!
THE LOW DOWN:
- Club Tengo Hambre gives curated excursions of Mexico’s best culinary offerings. They currently offer tours in Tijuana, Mexico City and Valle De Guadalupe (Mexican wine country). They also offer tours in Los Angeles, given its strong Latino community.
- The founders, who started off as bloggers (go bloggers!) aim to celebrate both the social aspect of food in bringing people together and the rich culinary scenes of Mexico.
- We recommend checking out their weekend “Daycation” tours, which make a great side trip from San Diego.
- The “Daycation” tours meet at 11:30 AM at the San Ysidro border (easily accessed by tram or driving). You’ll wrap up around 5:30 PM (or later depending on whether you want to explore Tijuana on your own).
- The trips book out quickly! We made our reservation weeks in advance. To make a booking go directly to the Tengo Hambre website.