Presenting the nuevo border town: tastier, sleeker and much more cosmo, but just as renegade as ever.
The corner of Miguel Aleman and Agua Caliente, on the western edge of Colonia Gabilondo, is all the proof needed that Tijuana is en fuego, thanks in part to the new La Caza Club. The ruggedly sleek supper den boasts taxidermy stags, lampshade chandeliers and real-deal local art. “We’re detonating the area,” says co-owner Omar Monroy, who is opening El Escoto, a Scottish-themed whiskey bar, just across the street. “It will be minimal, classy and cool.”
On any given night, Caza Club is teeming with dolled-up sophisticates slinking into the black leather booths or drinking mango martinis at the custom-carved white cocktail bar. From the kitchen, chef Humberto Aviles, a Culinary Art School darling, doles out an all-local, all-organic menu that includes grilled octopus so tender, it sells out nightly. “I go through 200 pounds a week,” says Aviles. No need to wander far for after-dinner plans. Upstairs at the cozy-cool Cafe Sabina, spoonfuls of Nutella accompany espresso brewed from veracruzano beans amid a colorful collage of rescued wood.
A tomatillo’s throw away, chef Miguel Ángel Guerrero holds court at his eatery, El Taller, where he reigns as the king of Baja-Med cuisine. The eatery is now famous for its wood-fired mole, beef tongue and shrimp pizza. The cuisine has been dubbed the most exciting in Mexico by the likes of Rick Bayless, who also applauded the Culinary Art School designed by award-winning architect Jorge Gracia. Guerrero’s ever-growing roster includes La Querencia and El Colegio, set to open this month on Avenida Revolucion, across the street from Hotel Caesar’s.
Meanwhile, a former gravel lot in Tijuana’s gastronomic district is now Foodgarden, featuring five hand-picked local artisan street food staples in a mod indoor-outdoor HQ, courtesy of designer Manuel Martinez. “Architecture-wise, Tijuana is like a lab because building permits are easy to get. Everyone is creating better design, period,” says Martinez. Here, picnic tables, decorative concrete block, retro tile and other nostalgic nods to Mexican domesticity set the mood, while the food—pesto octopus and marlin pibil tacos—lives up to the mantra, “Keep Tijuana Tasty.”
The rule-breaking design continues behind the kitschy seafood eatery La Corriente Cevicheria Nais, with El Tinieblo Mezcal Room. It’s a modern-day mix of Wild West saloon and border-town boudoir, decked out in baroque furniture and hunting trophies. Here, hipsters jam to cumbia disco remixes and sip tamarind mezcal slushies served in martini glasses.
One must-stop is Via Corporativo, the first LEED-certified structure in northern Mexico and home to Javier Plascencia’s famed Misión 19, an elegant ode to Baja-Med. One floor up is Bar 20, a must for a cocktail before dinner or a post-feast digestif around the fire pit.
Plascencia took another gamble across town in 2010 when he reopened Caesar’s in the old Hotel Caesar’s—where the eponymous salad was invented. Originally built in 1927, Plascencia restored it to its original state of old-school glam, replete with black and white floors and a vintage bar. Today, waiters in vests make the famous salad tableside in a restaurant reminiscent of 1920s Cuba.
Speaking of beer, the craft brew boom has exploded all over Tijuana, and Baja Craft Beers is the most sophisticated place to taste, with more than 30 local brews on tap. Sawed-off kegs serve as chandeliers and exposed rebar and quarry rock walls divide the cavernous warehouse space.
The art scene continues to sizzle thanks to Ceart, or Centro de las Artes de Baja California, the most recent addition. The structure, designed by famed architect Eugenio Velazquez, includes a 500-square-foot glass cube gallery, two auditoriums for classes and a cafeteria starring—what else?—the Culinary Art School cuisine.
Gallery-wise, Arturo Rodriquez leads the charge with his La Caja Galeria. In his Jorge Gracia-designed space, he throws intimate dinner parties themed around new exhibits, and he has opened an art school. On a recent Thursday night, he enlisted a nude model to pose for a group of wealthy housewives with paintbrushes (and wine from Guadalupe Valley) at the ready. Welcome to the new Tijuana.