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.
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
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.
only stands operated by two or more people. The food and the
money will be handled by different people - it's faster and
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
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.
taco stands specialize. Never go to a taco stand that also
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
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.
These stands are always crowded with savvy Tijuana locals:
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.
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
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.
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,
carne asada to quail, these street stands offer some real
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.
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.
Check this out, gourmets: it's a street-side grill that specializes
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.