At just fifteen or so minutes from downtown San Diego, Baja California is the Northern most State in the country of Mexico. One can cross the border as fast as walking past a gate and once there, you know you're in another country. I've been crossing for the past 40 years and this is what I have to say. Like life it's filled with what you bring with you. If you bring bad vibes or an attitude you'll be set straight fast enough. If you're respectful, wise and bring you're common sense, you'll have the greatest of times.
Tijuana is the largest city in the State and it boasts 1.6M people (The city of San Diego 21 mi. North has 1.3M). Apart from having the busiest border crossing in the world, Tijuana is very much a "sister" city to San Diego. Thousands of people cross the border to work and live on both sides every day. Tijuana received it's notoriety in the 20's during the U.S. prohibition against alcohol. Hollywood stars, athletes, politicians and regular folk would drive, ride and walk the 20 miles to cross the open gate and enjoy drinks, great food and a world class race track called Agua Caliente, which is still open to this day. It was during this era, on a 4th of July, that one of the local restaurants found itself packed to the rafters with several celebrities waiting at their tables for the filet mignon, lobster and Oysters Rockefeller which would be served on a daily basis. As the legend goes, when the kitchen found itself unable to serve so many with the ingredients at hand, the owner Caesar Cardini a resident of both Tijuana and San Diego instructed his staff to serve everything they had in the kitchen. That was:
- Romaine lettuce
- Olive oil
- Fresh crushed garlic – often in olive oil
- Wine vinegar
- lemon juice
- Worcestershire sauce
- Raw egg yolks
- Parmesan cheese
They added some salt, fresh ground pepper and tossed it in large wooded bowls to accommodate a whole table. The name of the restaurant was Caesar's Grill and this was the birthplace of the Caesar's Salad. The restaurant changed ownership a couple of times since but it still stands at the corner of 5th Ave and Revolucion.
In a strange repeat of history, after providing the north with illegal alcohol, Tijuana has traded its bootlegging past and has been at the forefront of the war on drugs. Being straddled between South America -the major producers- and the U.S. -the biggest consumer of Cocaine and Marijuana definitely took its toll on the city which was the site of extreme Cartel violence in the past fifteen years.
The last three years have seen the city begin a miraculous transformation. Businesses who in the past depended and thrived on the millions of tourists who poured in to the city every year, have now adapted to serving their own. The city has matured and shifted from the wild party town where Tequila Poppers, Donkey Shows and Prostitution were the norm to where cutting edge five-star culinary experiences are had. Certain areas have that "East Village/ Brooklyn" vibe to it. Little hang outs where serious musicians, and locavores trade stories, techniques and ground breaking paradigms.
So don't forget your passport and remember to cross back to the U.S. either late or early as this remains the busiest border crossing in the world and the lines can be brutal.
- There will be a followup with specific areas once I take the time for some proper 'research'