Food Stand Facts

Finding the best tacos, the cleanest stand, the freshest food anywhere in Mexico is easy. Day or night, stop at the stand with the most Mexicans around it.

Regardless of outward appearance, locals frequent only the places with the best food and flavor, so the meat gets consumed faster and is always fresh. These busy little sheds may not be beautiful to look at, but trust the judgment of the people who eat there regularly.
Avoid stands surrounded only by Americans. Spiffy, freshly painted stands near Mexico's main tourist drags may be crowded, but take another look. If you don't see any Mexicans, keep going until you do. Otherwise you'll pay more for your meal while helping someone use up yesterday's food.

Choose only stands operated by two or more people. The food and the money will be handled by different people - it's faster and cleaner, too.

At Mexican taco and food stands, you never pay until you're ready to leave. Street stands operate on trust, so it's up to you to keep track of what you eat and drink. Since everyone usually has at least one more taco, the logistics of figuring out what you ate, what was on it, and then adding it all up and making change twice – without a cash register - really seems insane to Mexican stand proprietors. The honor system prevails.

As for dining, experiment. If it looks great and smells terrific, try it. At current rates of about 80 cents per taco, you can afford to try new things.

Most great taco stands specialize. Never go to a taco stand that also sells hamburgers.
Street-side stands have limited beverage choices: usually non-diet soft drinks in bottles that require a deposit, or agua de arroz, a wonderfully sweet, light drink that tastes like liquid rice pudding. Opt for the arroz. Invented to go with tacos, it takes the tears right out of your eyes and puts the feeling back in your tongue after too much of that killer salsa.

Lighten up on the salt, and squeeze fresh lime onto your taco or torta instead. This is the way Mexicans eat them. And be sure to nibble on some radishes -- they're always free.

TIJUANA
These stands are always crowded with savvy Tijuana locals:

Tacos El Gordo
The king of Tijuana's taco stands, El Gordo serves up about 4,000 tacos a day. At midnight, folks hang out six deep around the big stand with the bright red-and-white-striped awning and overflow to the picnic benches on either side. El Gordo is equally famous for its fine carne asada and its tacos al pastor (lean, juicy pork slices prelayered with special barbecue sauce and formed into a haunch-shaped hunk that's flame-roasted on a vertical spit and sliced onto warm tortillas). All tacos are 10 pesos (about $1) each. Quesadillas with meat are $2. Open 10 a.m. to 5 a.m. daily. This stand is located at Boulevard Sanchez Taboada and Calle Javier Mina in the Zona Rio.

Tacos Fitos
Here's the best little birria stand in the city, and one that will probably never get robbed. Squads of Tijuana's elite Special Forces make Fitos a regular midmorning stop to fill up on their famous goat stew, served up on warm corn tortillas. Perhaps because of these frequent customers, the cooks claim that they have been making the same delicious recipe for 13 years, "with hands that have never sinned." Goat meat is lean and juicy, and the special birria spices make it tasty without turning your mouth into a tornado. Add onion, cilantro and lime to taste. And go before 1:30 p.m.: Birria is breakfast food in Mexico. Fitos also serves tacos de tripa (tripe, fried crisp in oil and served with optional salsa). All tacos are nine pesos, or about 90 cents each. Open 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily. Calle Javier Mina, between Paseo de los Heroes and Boulevard Sanchez Taboada in the Zona Rio.
Wash Mobile Tortas

After more than 40 years in the same spot -- adjacent to a big gas station with a huge Wash Mobile sign -- this busy little white stall is so famous that it has outlasted the carwash for which it was named. The only item on the menu is the best sandwich (less than $3) that you'll ever eat. Breast of beef is marinated in a secret spice mixture and grilled over a mesquite fire, then heaped on a square, Mexico City-style pambaso roll, ladled with great guacamole, topped with a pickled mix of thinly sliced red onions and tomatoes and drizzled with salsa. Just say "con todo" for the works. Tortas are less than $3. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or until they run out of rolls. This stand is located off Boulevard Agua Caliente, on Jalisco Street, about 15 blocks after Avenida Revolucion turns into Boulevard Agua Caliente.

Asadero Kino
While not technically a stand, this informal and unpretentious Tijuana grill caters to the same kind of meat lovers that true taco stands attract. Top-quality beef is the order of the day here, and the open-range, vaquero-style cooking of the Sonoran cowboy is the popular preparation method. The cabreria, or mixed grill, is the most popular item, and platters feature various cuts of beef, including rib-eye and tripe, grilled over an open mesquite fire and drizzled with specially spiced oil. Another popular house specialty is cecina, a jerky-like meat that can be served dry or softened with special salsa. Immaculate, airy and informal, this is just the place for a quick beef fix. Rib-eye steaks, mixed-grill platters and brochettes are $13.50. Open daily from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visa and Mastercard are accepted. Ample parking. This eatery is located at Avenida Padre Kino No. 4307, Zona Rio, Tijuana, 011-52-66-823814.

From carne asada to quail, these street stands offer some real deals.

ROSARITO

Yaqui Tacos
This stand serves carne asada tacos so good, people have missed planes waiting for one more. First, they marinate finely sliced flank steak for 24 hours. The meat is then is grilled over mesquite, chopped and heaped onto a huge flour tortillas and topped with frijoles, killer salsa, guacamole and onions. At twice the size of regular tacos, each Yaqui creation is a meal in itself. A block off the tourist track, Yaqui's is Rosarito's best-kept secret. It's probably also the only taco stand in Mexico with its own immaculate restrooms. Tacos with the works are $1.50; with melted Jack cheese $1.75. Grilled jalapenos are free. Demand was so great that Yaqui extended his hours to accommodate his voracious fans. Open 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, until 9 p.m. weekends. Yaqui's is one block off Rosarito's main street at the south end of town. Turn east onto the side street directly across from Festival Plaza's parking lot; Yaqui's is on the first corner.

Ruben's Fish and Shrimp Stand
Sure, Ruben's makes the freshest, fattest fish tacos you'll find on Baja's Pacific coast, but the real draw at this cheerful roadside eatery is the rest of the menu. Tacos also bulge with San Felipe shrimp, which can be ordered lightly battered or grilled. Ruben's crispy, paper-thin tostadas can be heaped with a tart whitefish ceviche or with Ruben's shrimp ceviche. Whole cabrilla, a local fish, is flash-fried and served with slaw and tomatoes; whole crab is deep-fried, Puerto Nuevo style. Homemade salsa Mexicana -- and 10 other kinds of hot sauces -- are available to customize your selection. Adjacent to Rosarito's best fresh-fish market, Ruben's offers the freshest seafood from both coasts, plus comfy outdoor booths for good people-watching. Shrimp tostadas are $1.80; fish tacos and ceviche tostadas are 80 cents. Whole fish dinners, priced by the kilo, cost about $7 and include rice, beans and salad. Whole jaiba crab soup is $5.50. Open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily in the summer, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday and Wednesday in the winter. Ruben's is on Rosarito's main street, across from the Rosarito Beach Hotel at the south end of town.

Mexico Lindo II
Check this out, gourmets: it's a street-side grill that specializes in mesquite-grilled
rabbit, quail and chicken. All three are so skillfully tended here that they are always tender, juicy and perfectly done. Grab an order to go or eat on the spot in the clean but no-frills restaurant behind the stand. All orders come with rice, beans, salsa, grilled chilies and warm tortillas, and the food is so cheap you'll feel like a bandido. A full dinner with three quails or a whole chicken is $10; a half chicken is $5; dinner with a whole rabbit (3 pounds or more) will set you back $15. Prices are substantially lower for take-out, so consider taking a picnic to the beach. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. At the north end of Rosarito's main street, just a few doors from the prominent Tecate beer facility.

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