At the beginning of this year, the New York Times named Tijuana one of its 52 places to go in 2017. This may have come as a surprise to those for whom Tijuana brings to mind less-than-savory associations. But the destination has reinvented itself as of late, most notably through its foodie scene.
"The foodie scene really took off when some high-profile American foodies/chefs like Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain and Rick Bayless did segments about Tijuana on their travel/food channel shows," said Albert Chan of Wild Foodie Tours, a San Diego-based food tour company that does day trips into Tijuana. "I think Tijuana has always been a haven for foodies because it's the closest place to San Diego that offers authentic street food without any type of pretense or showmanship."
"It has amazing options from street food to haute cuisine and everything in between," said Zach Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico. "There's even the fusion of North American with Mexico, which results in more Tex-Mex options, as well as the traditional favorites."
A can't-miss spot in Tijuana is the Telefonica Gastro Park, which is basically a food truck park with an onsite microbrewer. Try Humo, located within the park, or Kokopelli for its street-style tacos.
Breweries are another reason Tijuana has undergone a culinary renaissance. About 10 years ago microbreweries began to open. Today there are more than 20 tap rooms that have set up shop in the last few years alone, which are pulling pints from Baja California's more than 90 craft breweries. Most of Tijuana's tasting rooms can be found on Revolucion, which is the 24/7 party block, and Plaza Fiesta, which is a food and drink spot that used to be a sketchy club zone.
And speaking of sketchy, where does this food resurgence leave Tijuana in terms of safety? This border city has always played by its own rules, from red light districts, to eyebrow-raising nightlife, easily obtained pharmaceuticals and other dubious forms of entertainment. As a result, it has not always been the safest destination for tourists to visit, and was even considered downright dangerous.
"Tijuana is much safer than how the media portrays it," Chan said. "However, like any other city, it has its good and bad parts. In the daytime with many people out and about, it's very safe, especially in the tourist areas. After dark, the city suddenly becomes shady, especially way from the tourist areas. My advice to those unfamiliar with Tijuana is to stay in the tourist areas, which has a heavy police presence, and to stay away from dark alleys and the pedestrian bridges, especially at night."
So while Tijuana might not be the next luxury escape in Mexico, it is certainly a place to visit for a weekend of serious eating, a pint of something cold and a taste of another side of Mexico.