A June 2007 trip
to Tijuana by El Gallo
Quote: This is Tijuana for those who have to stay the night in The City That Never Lets You Sleep
-The cheapest place to buy low-end booze and cigarettes is La Voz del Pueblo at the triangle of First Av. and Plaza Santa Cecelia.-The best sex/dance bar in the Cuahuila is Hong Kong, even with the .50 minimum beer.-The red and black collective cabs run the Boulevard all night.-Kentucky Fried Buches sells deep fat fried chicken necks.-There are no worms in Tequila unless somebody slipped one in on you. Tequila is not made from cactus. Cuervo is an inferior tequila.-Tecate, Bohemia, and Negra Modelo are much better beers than Corona. -The little Indian women begging with kids are placed there by pimps who take the money at night.-Those aren't really Cuban cigars, that's not really absinthe, silicon implants are cheap and you don't have to be a woman to get them, there are no donkey shows, that's not really a Rolex, any super-cheap pharmaceuticals are probably bogus.
The Catalina has a reputation among Tijuana connoisseurs (if that's the word) as the Last Cheap Hotel. Time was I always stayed in Tijuana hotels for under $10. Times they have a'changed. The sub-$20 TJ hotel is pretty much a thing of the past. At least for anywhere you'd stay if you're in your right mind. You can ask at the Enva and such, but they're mostly full of families now, not to mention American fugitives from criminal warrants. There goes the neighborhood.But there are still the Lafayette and the Catalina at around twenty bucks a night. And the Catalina is not right on Revolución. In fact, though absolutely nothing special, it's clean, well-run and easy to take for $20 for an interior room or $30 for a street room with TV. (Take the interior closet. Please. It's hard to tell which is more obnoxious in TJ, the street noise or the TV.) I last stayed there for about ten days and noticed there were a dozen foreigners staying there for that entire time. As you'd guess, there is a discount for longer stays. If pay for a week, you're in for like fourteen bucks a day.Okay, so it's not an executive suite, but you can sleep there and store your stuff... and take a hot shower. But there's also the immediate vicinity to consider. There is a very nice, friendly little coffeeshop/restaurant right off the lobby. Genuine American style breakfast for around $4 USD, blue plate lunch for around $3.50. And plenty of coffee. It's sometimes a sort of expat hangout. Look across the street and the first thing you see is an Internet café. And next door to it, for your medical/chemical needs, Farmacia Hollywood. The area is big on Vet and Pet stores, as well as several production art galleries where you can get huge ornate frames as well as real oil Kahlo knockoffs. But if you're into leather, this is the epicenter of Tijuana's commercial leather and leatherworking tool district. (No, not that kind of "into leather".) Want a goat skin? Or python? Wrestler-class belt buckles? Shearling? Suede? Rawhide? They got it. Not that there are many leather tourists. I'm just saying that if you are interested in this stuff, there it is, right next door.
The cross street, Madero, is a major "route taxi" lane. Catch the black and red vans to go out Aquascalientes Boulevard, the tan ones to zoom to Rosarito for two bucks. And if pet stores, frames, and leather punches don't trip your jaded trigger, well, that's Revolucion right at the other end of the block. A block east of Revolución on Fifth. (Turn off Revu at Caesars).
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 5, 2007
Calle 5ª No. 2039, Centro
+52 (664) 685 9748
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 6, 2007
Restaurant | "Los Polluelos"
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 4, 2007
Av. "D" Miguel "F" Martinez 782
Two places worthy of note in the downtown:
Chiki Jai is one of Tijuana's most venerable and recommended dining experiences. It's also in a totally nutso location inappropriate to what it is. The appearance is deceptive for two reasons. First, it blends in with all the junk shops, sex shows and taco joints, which could make you doubt it's a really good dining spot. But also, the tables under trees and umbrellas - especially since they are right up Seventh from the Cafe Frances' sidewalk tables - might lead you to believe that Tijuana is a good city for elegant sidewalk dining. It is not. Unless you like being marketed, gropes, honked, robbed, propositioned, scorned and possibly eaten by passers-by. Of course, people go to Tijuana to get their picture taken sitting on donkeys painted with white stripes, so maybe the sidewalk is right up your alley, so to speak.However it might clash, the location is handy. At Seventh and Revolución, right across from the Mexicoach station and the Jai Alai palace. No co-incidence there: both Jai Alai and Chiki Kai are Basque things and go way back to the forties. The Chiki may not look like much, but don't let that fool you. They know their business and turn out excellent meals. No point in running down the menu - if you want to explore Basque cuisine, just strike out boldly. The atmosphere is homey, even with the full-blown tourist circus right outside. Provecho!On another end of the spectrum convenient to the Popo Market and Cathedral, is one of my favorites, La Marinera. First door past the newly restored Old City Hall at Second and Constitución (a block west of Revolucion on Juarez), you might miss it if they didn't have a big skewer of pork and pineapple giro-ing around waiting for "tacos al pastor" to be sliced off it. But their big feature is seafood. I like the back of the place because of the huge painting of beautiful women on a beach. (The blonde is signer Gloria Trevi.) Though nowhere near expensive, this isn't an especially cheap place. And it's not fancy: this is a Mexican idea of a seafood place with plastic chairs and lots of kids running around. But I find the Marinera well worth it. They have fish and seafood cocktails, tacos, soups, tostadas, quesadillas, even fish hamburgers. If you want a shrimpburger they will fix it. I don't get whole fish or soup: I get about four tacos, then order more depending on how hungry I am. Usually a couple of "al pastor" for the smoky grease factor, then a shrimp quesadilla. That might not sound all that special, but when you wrap a tortilla around a mess of shrimps and melted cheese, it's something to smack of the lips for.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 5, 2007
Sanborns isn't quite Denny's. It's so much more than that - especially since it gobbled Denny's up for breakfast. And in Tijuana, it provides 24 hour splashdown for carousers, stranded travelers, and foreigners who want a "real breakfast" with real coffee.A venerable institution in Mexico City, where it's all-night hours, eclectic menu, fancy desserts, and bottomless coffee made it a mecca for nightowls, politicos, and clandestine, Sanborns branched out all over the country. Unlike the U.S, where Denny's or Carrows are blue-collar to no-collar eating utilities, in Mexico places like this with chrome and formica and uniformed waitresses are considered somewhat posh. Important guys bring beautiful women to eat there. They are places women dress up to go. Or course, a Mexicana would doll up for a dogfight, but you get my point.But even given Sanborn's cachet and esteem there are sure a lot of them in Tijuana. Two within four blocks on Revolución, for instance. That's because Denny's saw a good opportunity in Mexico, where a Denny's would be a semi-swank restaurant, and went for it. And it worked: Denny's was instantly a Place To Go. But foreign investors in Mexico frequently run into stacked decks and Sanborns pulled a reversal on the Capitalist Gringo Exploitation Myth and took over Denny's, turning them all into Sanborns. So there are actually shopping centers with two Sanborns.The Sanborns on "Revu" are the ones of most, if any, interest to travelers, of course. And they are the opposite poles of the Sanborns experience. Up at the corner of Eighth, and taking up a whole block South of the Jai Alai, is the classic Sanborns, a sprawling emporium in the style of the original mercantile cathedral in Mexico City. It has a bar the size of many restaurants, a huge dining room with porch tables outside, one of the better bookstores in the city (a source of foreign magazines and newspapers, by the way), and a long counter crammed with mouth-watering chocolates and other sweet fancies. And a huge sales floor offering perfumes, handicrafts, men's gadgets, stereos and music, jewelry, and all things elegant and expensive. It's a sort of time capsule, really. And not a bad place to eat, though it's even more over-priced than Denny's back home. An interesting place for breakfast or Sunday buffet, though. And you can sit there and eat pie or drink coffee refills all day (coffee refills are not commonly done in Mexico).Down between Third and Fourth, by the Caliente casino and frenetic marimbas of La Placita, is the Sanborns that obviously used to be a Denny's. Tourist buses drop their herds right in front of it. This is not a dress up place, actually. It mostly features foreigners, businessmen, and tourists. But it's open all night. Those little owls are not part of the Denny's drygulch, they're an original Sanborns concept and several TJ branches are 24 hour, including this one and the one in Playas. So what good is a 24 hour restaurant to a traveler? Tijuana is not exactly the City That Never Sleeps (though decidedly the City That Never Stops Making Noise).Well, you just might end up needing some coffee after closing down one of the many obnoxious discos on Revu. Or you might have messed up and need to wait six hours for a bus. Or, as often happens, you come out of a club at 2am and suddenly realize that you aren't going to make the last trolley, so your two dollar trip back to the San Diego Hostel just went up to forty bucks. And it's a weekend, so the town is full. By now even the whorehouses are renting out rooms for just sleeping. What to do until 5am when the trolleys start up again? Well, amigo... there's this place on Revu that's lit up all night.Meals are steep, but you can chip around the edges, so to speak. Consider Molcajetes - a split bolillo, or French roll, topped with refried beans with cheese melted over the top. Think of it as a Mexican mini-pizza. Sort of. The cakes are pretty good... try Tres Leches or just call for the dessert cart and grab something that looks right. And coffee, coffee, coffee. They even have decaf! The dark hours will pass. And look at it this way... at least they don't have a marimba band.
The whole reason for Cinco De Mayo is the Mexican's military expulsion of the French Empire. Prior to that there was an interesting period when Mexico was ruled by the Emperor Maximillian and his lovely, doomed wife, Carlota. They did it very ala francais, too. See their Sleeping Beauty coach in the museum in Guadalajara and you get the picture. You can still see the Gallic influence on architecture and, less happily, the legal system. And they never worried about whether they were seeing the Real Mexico. Until the Real Mexico came and killed them.Why is this historic drivel important to you? One word: bakeries. The French may have lousy law and government and self-esteem issues, but they sure can cook. One legacy of their aborted Napoleonic rule is that even the small towns in Mexico have good French bread. The most common form is the bolillo, a split top, tapered, loaf the size of your palm and thick as your wrist. Chewy and substantial. Many places also have baguettes, rolls, or various forms of Frog Bread. A traveler's standby for generations. But man doth not live by... etc. You also get a yin for some sweets now and then. So you're in luck. You probably didn't think you could get a yummily frosted, flaky-layered napoleon or sticky eclair in Latin America, but guess what? Those treats and many, many more await. There are dozens of bakeries in downtown TJ alone - and fresh-baked bolillos are available even in supermarkets like Gigante at Second and Revolucion or Calimax at Second and Constitution (in Gigante, a clear plastic spiral chutes hot rolls right down from the second floor bakery). But I've spotlighted three very special bakeries worth signalling out as worthy of attention. Starting with San Ysidro. Located on Second (Juarez) right next to the Cathedral (another thing locals doth live by) San Ysidro is a Cadillac of bakeries. Sure they have bread, if you want to be pedestrian, but first you have to get by racks of lavish cakes, towering stacks of donuts, baked sandwiches, tortes, cookies, fruit-topped tropic isles of glucose, multi-layered muthahs of munch, gooey little landmines of greed, cream-filled carambas, meringue mambos, and visions of sugarplums.
As with all Mexican bakeries, you grab a huge tray and snappy tongs when you come in, then wander around heaping the tray before taking it up for bagging and charging. If you haven't run amok and embarrassed yourself lately, this would be a good time and place. My only problem is meeting the eyes of children who are confined to one lousy cookie while I snatch pineapple danish and cream filled horns. Hell with the little snots: there has to be some payoff for getting old and having to work, and being childish is as good a reward as any.There's not much point in detailing this place. It's crammed full of incredible goodies and they don't cost much. Have at it. Oh, if that's not enough, the sidewalk window sells the chickens you see roasting on spits in front of you. Around four dollars with the trimmin's. Remember what Mom said, though: don't eat your dessert first.
Monkey Junction, Afghanistan