Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana by Italian-Mexican brothers Alex and Caesar Cardini in 1924.
Caesar’s Sports Bar & Grill (Calle 5 at Revolución, tel. 664/685-1664, lunch and dinner daily, mains US$10–15), located next to the Caesar Hotel, still carries on the tradition. A server prepares the salad at your table, and the key ingredient is coddled eggs instead of raw.
The Sanborns department store chain has several of its popular cafeterías around town (Revolución at Calle 8, Revolución btw Calles 3/4, Revolución 737, and Plaza Río, tel. 664/668-1462, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, mains US$10–15). The food is good enough (think Denny’s) and so are the prices.
In business since 1947 under a couple of different names, Tia Juana Tilly’s (Calle 7 at Revolución, tel. 664/685-6024, reservations tel. 664/685-1213, www.tiajuanatillys.com.mx , noon–midnight daily, until 3 A.M. Fri. and Sat., mains US$15 and up) is popular with locals and San Diego folks for Mexican dinners as well as steaks and seafood. The friendly staff makes visitors feel welcome.
If you only have time for one “nice” meal in Tijuana, call La Diferencia (Sánchez Taboada 10521, Río Tijuana, tel. 664/634-3346, www.ladiferencia.com.mx , 8 A.M.–10 P.M. Mon.–Sat., 8 A.M.–6 P.M. Sun., US$10–20) for a reservation. The seasonally available chile en nogada or the duck with jamaica (hibiscus flower) sauce are standouts on an all-around excellent menu. Attentive service and a contemporary setting make the meal.
For truly authentic Mexican cuisine, La Casa de Mole Poblano (Paseo de los Héroes 1501, tel. 664/634-6920, 10 A.M.–11 P.M. daily, mains under US$10) matches its chili-chocolate, chili-almond, and sesame-seed sauces with a variety of meat and poultry. The high ceilings, ivy, and mariachi bands create an upbeat and family-friendly environment popular with locals.
A highlight on the menu at Mariscos Los Arcos (Salinas 1000, tel. 664/686-4757, 8 A.M.–10 P.M. Sun.–Wed., 8 A.M.–midnight Thurs.–Sat.) is Mazatlán-style pescado zarandeado—a whole fish rubbed in herbs and spices and then seared and broiled. This restaurant is part of a well-regarded chain with several locations in Mexico.
Vips Restaurant Cafetería (Sánchez Taboada 10750, tel. 664/634-6196, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, mains under US$10) is part of a large coffee-shop chain, and it offers a long list of breakfast and lunch fare, including Mexican plates. The locals like it, and it’s affordable.
Casa de la 9 blends coffee with independent films, art, and concerts (Calle 9 btw Quintana Roo/Pío Pico, tel. 664/688-0113, http://lacasadelanueve.blogspot.com ).
Chilaquiles are a popular breakfast order at La Espadaña (Sánchez Taboada 10813, tel. 664/634-1489).
Also in the Zona Río, Villa Saverios (Sánchez Taboada at Escuadron 201, tel. 664/686-6442, ext. 104, www.villasaverios.com , mains US$20) is a Mediterranean/Baja fusion restaurant with a 20-year history of serving creative cuisine. Start with a plate of local cheeses or yellow fin tostadas and then move on to heartier fare such as the twice-cooked pork belly served with huitlacoche polenta and sautéed kale. Internationally celebrated chef Javier Plascencia is a member of Slow Food International and the mastermind behind seven Tijuana restaurants, including the famous Caesar’s. He recently opened another trend-setting eatery, Misión 19 (Misión de San Javier 10643, tel. 664/634-2493, www.mision19.com , mains US$20).
Check the specials menu on the blackboard on your way in at La Querencia (Escuadron 201 No. 3110, Sánchez Taboada at Salinas, tel. 664/972-9940, www.laquerenciatj.com , mains US$10–25). It’s easy to get distracted by the strange combination of safari decor and industrial chic. The lamb chops are well prepared and not oversauced. Just make sure your cab driver doesn’t mistake it for the well-known La Diferencia.
Carnitas Uruapán (Díaz Ordaz 12650, opposite Plaza Patria, tel. 664/681-6087, 7 A.M.–5 A.M. daily, mains US$10–15, cash only) sells house-made carnitas by the kilo for family-style dining. Sides include rice, beans, salsa, and guacamole.
Food becomes art at Restaurant Uno (Av. de las Ferias 5202, tel. 664/681-3203), and Baja California wines play a central role in the performance.
Calimax has dozens of grocery stores around the city, including one at 791 Avenida Constitución (tel. 664/688-0737) in the Zona Centro and another at Boulevard Agua Caliente 11988 (tel. 664/681-2511).