¡Mexi-size it!

Tijuana may be the birthplace of the clandestine acid-filled dumpster narco grave, but it’s also home to Our Lady of Guadalupe edible marshmallow likenesses, fermented corn slushees, and oh yeah, killer kosher-quiles.

While most pussy foodies might not go past the lowly street taco—and the inevitable visit to the nearest farmacia to exercise their remedial high school Spanish with phrases like ¿Dónde está el Pepto?, Past the decibel-piercing clank of the steel revolving doors in its pedestrian point of entry, the beer buckets, and its kitschy zonkey photo ops, a sea of unique culinary treasures awaits.

Call it reverse colonization. Much like most of its upper crust, Tijuana culinary staples have migrated to el Norte offering the slew of expats a spicy slice of home. Craving a bacon, chorizo and “swine-style” bean-topped slice of pie? Head to Mama Mia Pizza in San Ysidro, a sort of Mexi-fied Domino’s. Got a gander for tacos gobernador? Its creator, Los Arcos—the TJ by way of Sinaloa seafood staple awaits in Bonita. And to wash it all down, how’s about a frosty cajeta (caramelized goat’s milk) frappé at Cafe D’Volada? Our sister city to the south’s answer to Starbucks plans to open its third U.S. location this year, adding to their roster of 47 franchises.

There’s a rumor that Italian restaurant Giuseppi’s might fence hop next, and the people behind legendary WashMobile beef brisket tortas (a stationary cart with a cult following that includes a Facebook fan page) already offer Stateside catering services; which begs us to wonder: What south-of-the-border sustenance should follow?

We’ve rounded up our best cross-border export bets. Pussy foodies need not apply.

Kentucky Fried Buches

Third generation buchero, Salvador Escoto Jr. fires up the good stuff under the watchful eye of his dad

 Buche (boo-shey), noun. In poultry, the throat or gullet. Kentucky might have Colonel Sanders, but Tijuana has General Escoto. Surpassed not just in rank but originality, Salvador Escoto’s family has been operating in the city’s dubious Zona Norte (Ave. Constitución 670) offering deep-fried buches and nothing but deep-fried buches since 1963, or as he likes to put it “since this was the nice part of town.” No Double Down gimmicks needed here. Thirty-five pesos (about 3 bucks) gets you an order of buches freshly scooped from their trough, ample salsa and a side or tortillas. More chewy than crunchy, the Escoto’s go through 100 kilos of buche a day and have recently acquired notoriety through foodie blogs both praising their taste and trying to replicate their salsa. Eateries like farm-to-table The Linkery have also paid homage to KFB by offering local pastured buches on their menu. All that fried goodness left you feeling frisky? You can get a little Deep Buche action yourself—the locale is smack in the middle of TJ’s red light district. Screw the Caesar salad. Mark my words, one day Tijuana will be known as the post deep-fried chicken gullet bj capital of the world.

La Casa del Clamato
There’s a lot of establishment claiming to be the house of this or that, from La Casa del Mole to Pozolandia: the magical land of pozole soup—Disneyland knockoff logo and all, but La Casa del Clamato (corner of 7th and Ocampo in Downtown) is the real deal. Norteño music blares as Pepelucas and Rose (the house parakeets) sway, and any given day you can find a line that rivals Phil’s BBQ outside its humble walk-up storefront. The lure? Takeout Clamatos—the bastard child of the michelada and the Bloody Mary prepared with your choice of beer, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, chamoy, rimmed with Tajín seasoning and served on surplus In-N-Out cups. Seventy pesos score you a decent sized medium and for just ten pesos more, the Big Gulp size is enough for two. The best way around an open container law? Apparently covering it with a lid.

Donas Venecia
You can thank the French for two things: Cinco de Mayo and the boulangerie. One gives Americans yet another opportunity for public drunkenness while the latter spawned the concept of the panadería, or Mexican bakery which is taken to new heights at Donas Venecia (Gral. Rodríguez 112-2 Col. Dávila). Founded in 1959 as Zürich, the owner quickly changed its name to a more romantic-sounding city and a legend was born.  Starting at five pesos each, over 80 different types of pastries are sold here—form the run-of-the-mill concha to the more exciting sounding “ox eye” and “apple taco.” The donut haven also doubles as a milk depot, custom cake shop, gourmet treat provider (walnut-covered, bleu cheese-rolled grapes, anyone?) and offers marshmallow lollipops in several pop culture likenesses, from Dora the Explorer to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Take it from someone that knows, heresy never tasted so good. Krispy Kreme, eat your heart out.

¡Muy geshmack!

Tante Jane
It’s the city’s best kept secret. So much so, that even most Tijuanenses don’t even know it exists. Located inside the Centro Social Israelita (Blvd. Cuauhtémoc Sur Ote., No. 3000 Col. Gabilondo). TJ’s only Chabad–led community center includes a courtyard, events hall, Temple, and a kitchen playfully dubbed Tante Jane (a Yiddish play on words on the city’s namesake) which offers daily kosher food to members, hospitalized local and out-of-town Jews, and is also available for catering. “We’re famous for our chips and salsa,” Buenos Aires-born Rabbi Mendel J. Polichenco who scours both sides of the border for the best ingredients says. Other Mexi-kosher creations include gefilte fish Veracruzana, and chilaquiles.. A $15 sitting fee covers a four-course lunch and a soda, arrangements should be made in advance. “I have not pursued it further because I’m not a business man” Polichenco says of the untapped Mexican kosher market. “But, if someone did, they’d make a killing.” L’chaim to that. More info here.

Ricos Tejuinos
I know what you’re thinking: Te-whaa? Hailing from Tequila’s birthplace, Jalisco, Tejuino is an icy fermented corn drink that is actually not as gross as it sounds. Readily available at the pedestrian crossings of both San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, Jamba Juice’s cholo cousin is thickened with masa—the same corn meal used to make tamales and tortillas, flavored with cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined sugar), and usually topped  with a scoop of lime-flavored ice cream. “It’s a natural hangover remedy,” Genaro Díaz Montalvo who peddles it out a rolling cart in Otay says. The combination of lemon and salt give it an electrolyte solution quality.” If you’re feeling daring, you might want to order it “con piquete” (spiked), just be aware that horny taxistas abound and piquete is also slang for fucking. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

A version of this his award-winning article (I know, right?) was first published in San Diego CityBeat‘s 2010 Food Issue.

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