6 Tijuana Tacos Worth Crossing the Border

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Unofficially, Tijuana is the taco capital of the world. Yes, I’ve said it. And this is mainly because the border town is an immigrant hub for people of all over Mexico who bring their different cooking styles with them. With Sonora tortillas, Sinaloa style seafood techniques, beef from Coahuila and Baja’s own prime seafood, it’s no wonder you’ll find everything from carne asada to octopus tacos in Tijuana that are unrivaled anywhere else in the country.

And while San Diego is home to the top rated tacos on Yelp in the country (Tacos El Gordo, originally from Tijuana, duh), it is merely a consolation prize. Because even if they have their highlights, they’re not as good as the original. And why settle for U.S. tacos that will never measure up when Tijuana is right next door over a set of walls that very much already exist?

Long border waits and prick border agents might discourage a trip to Tijuana. However, if there’s anything that will change anyone’s mind, it’s these six tacos.

1. Chile Relleno and Asada Taco from Tacomiendo

As mentioned in a previous article, the carne asada tacos at Tacomiendo are bomb. And yet, it is possible to take it to another level by adding a chile relleno (stuffed chile pepper) on it. This double-decker taco (above) pairs a perfectly thin strip of New York steak with a chile güerito (yellow hot pepper) stuffed with Monterrey Jack cheese. Chile rellenos are mostly made with either chile pasilla or California, but Tacomiendo uses a chile güerito, which is a bit spicier and a sweet at the same time. It’s definitely a mouthful, but a satisfying one.

2. Adobada Taco from Tacos El Frances

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Like the U.S., Mexico is a big country made up of different customs and dialects in its different regions. So if you wouldn't ask for a pop in California (please say soda), don't come looking for for al pastor tacos in Tijuana. We have adobada tacos here. And the best place to get them is in the seaside neighborhood of Playas at Tacos El Francés. Another classic Tijuana establishment that's been around since the 1980s, you'll always find this place packed, and the reason is largely over its tacos de adobada. The adobada — pork marinated in a combination of chiles ancho and achiote, plus several other secret ones — is trimmed directly from the spit and is lightly griddled, along with two tortillas, before receiving a handful of avocado and onto your plate. This taco will only set you back 23 pesos ($1.16), and like the asada taco from El Ruso, everything is better once you make it a quesadilla. Unlike al pastor, adobada tacos don't generally have pineapple, but trust that the cilantro, onion, and lime are enough to enhance the flavor. But if you're looking for a crunch, just reach for the complementary radishes and cucumber.

3. Spicy Shrimp Taco from El Mazateño

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If you're discouraged from loud places with lots of people and sometimes even a wait to be sat down, Mariscos El Mazateño is not for you. And it would be a shame since you'd be missing out on all the different types of Sinaloa style seafood dishes, but most devastatingly, the spicy shrimp taco named after the restaurant itself. Locals flock to El Mazateño — especially after a night out — for the giant, two tortilla taco overflowing with spicy shrimp marinated in chile de arbol and dripping of juices and fat settled on a bed of Oaxaca cheese. Throw some shredded cabbage, sour cream, pico de gallo and lime, and if you dare, add more spice with the assortment of salsas they provide on the tables (pick the salsa verde one!). The El Mazateño taco is so big you'll only need one, especially if you want to try other items on the menu. And, most importantly, don't underestimate the spiciness.

4. Pesto Octopus Taco from Tras/Horizonte

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Not all tacos are traditional, especially not the ones at Tras/Horizonte. Over the past six years or so, Tijuana has been undergoing a culinary renaissance that focuses on local product and talent. Tras/Horizonte was among the key establishments that erupted from this new movement, starting out as a taco truck and eventually growing into a full-fledged restaurant. One of their most, if not the most, representative tacos is the Kraken; mesquite-grilled octopus marinated in a Mexican pesto consisting of poblano chile peppers, cilantro and herbs on a charred tortilla, garnished with avocado slices. Tras/Horizonte may not be your average blue-collar taquería, but it's certainly not on the snobby side, even if you can call their tacos gourmet. Chef “Oso” Campos took his formal training and skills learned at Michelin-starred restaurants and created eclectic concepts for typical dishes that people embraced.

5. Carne Asada Taco from Tacos El Ruso

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Tacos are what Tijuana does best, so of course more than a few taquerías have stood the test of time and have become institutions, serving generation of families. However, there must be a reason for it. For Tacos El Ruso in the neighborhood of El Soler, they do one thing and the do it well: carne asada tacos. For only 20 pesos ($1), expect your meat red on the inside, dripping with juice and always made to order. No such thing as reheated, over cooked, crispy as charcoal meat. Upgrade to a quesadilla for 60 pesos ($3), but, as mentioned earlier, don't come looking for other types of meat because you won't find them; this is a strictly carne asada place. So if you want to get a chance at trying the best carne asada taco in town, you better come early. Their tacos are so popular that they close when they run out of meat, well before 8 p.m. Every. Day.

6. Fish Taco from Tijuana Jr.

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If you want the best fish taco you will ever eat, you’ll have to go to Ensenada for it, where it was once invented by Japanese immigrants. But if you don’t feel like traveling over more than miles down south and paying the tolls, just head to any of the Tijuana Jr. restaurants and trucks around the city for a quick fix. The batter is just the right amount of crispy and does not overpower the fish, and while the portion is not generous, it’ll let you eat even more tacos. The tacos come dressed in chopped cabbage and pico de gallo, but you can add the cream, lime and salsas to taste. Go for the salsa verde for a non-spicy tang.