July 19, 2009

The Baja California Food Decathlon - Part 1

I've had my share of food marathons, a delightful epicurean rundown of multiple restaurants, eateries, and the like. But nothing was close to the incredible experience I and a number of bloggers and writers had this past weekend in Baja California, mainly thanks to the brave, arduous efforts of one Bill Esparza of StreetGourmetLA and the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.TijuanaOnline.org)

Though media reports of Baja had been alarming, with detailed and repetitious coverage of the violence associated with the drugs cartels and police, we agreed to proceed with a trip through some fascinating eateries over the course of two days. Little did we really know what to expect since most of us have this conception that Mexican food is mostly rice, beans, and some sort of grilled meat. Even though I've expanded my conception of Mexican food with good meals at La Cabanita and La Casita Mexicana, I was ill-prepared for the gastronomic tour de force that Baja had to offer. Notable guests on the trip included friends Josh Lurie of FoodGPS, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, HC of LA-OC Foodventures, Cathy of gast*ron*o*my, Pat of Eating LA, Abby of Pleasure Palate, Chef Ramiro of La Casita Mexicana, and Javier of Teenage Glutster. It was great also meeting Noah of the probably world-famous Man Bites World and currently of Squid Ink, as well as Barbara Hansen, a veteran food writer who was formally with the LA Times Food Section and now writes TableConversation.

We hopped onto the Crucero bus at Union Station, which transports travelers in a comfortable charter bus to Tijuana. We arrived famished and tired in a quiet section of Tijuana at our modern hotel of Palacio Azteca. The rooms proved comfortable and well-portioned though we quickly dropped off our gear for a late-night taco run.

Though we in Los Angeles seem to have embraced the humble taco as its greatest culinary earmark, along the lines of New York's pizza and Chicago's hot dog, virtually no taco stands or trucks can rival the best of Tijuana, where a glowing fluorescent joint with a sheen of oil amid ragtag chairs makes for the ultimate in griddled meat incased in tortilla.

tacos el poblano chopping carne asada

At Tacos El Poblano, the taqueros combine three meats to make a savory, toothsome carne asada. Dressed amply with salsa and fresh guacamole, it couldn't have been a better classic taco. The flavors of the meat were unparalleled based on the carne asadas I've had in LA, though just slightly superior to some great carne asada I've had in San Diego. The three meats, comprised of loin, round, and some other hearty meat, made me think of the difference between a cuvee (in winespeak) and a single varietal - a multifaceted melange of flavors exceeding the common carne asada experience. The hardened tortillas were perhaps the only weak spot of the $1 portion, though a crispy/crunchy tostada provided a heartier foundation for the tres carnes. In between we had an intermezzo of crispy, chewy jerky laid out on a platter for our anxious fingertips. I consumed three tacos before I could blink, washing it down with a refreshing Coca-Cola. I was ready for bed.

carne asada taco jerky

tostada the single mariachi


Then again, I soon realized that this trip wasn't going to be the sort of leisurely affair one would normally call a vacation. It was going to be an end-all, be-all gorge fest and drink fest with an unrelenting pace, something an ancient Roman would jump at with open arms. If General Lucullus had his way around Baja, he'd be leading this trip, but instead we have a modern day version in the plucky Bill Esparza.

mariachi band

We mercifully ended the first night with beers and free appetizers at La Vuelta, with a rambunctious mariachi band, complete with raging violinists, striking trumpeters, grounded guitarists, and a swooning singer. The music was oppressively loud, exactly how I wanted it, while I downed beers from a large ice bucket. A nice nightcap before a long journey through Tijuana and Ensenada's food scene.

Tacos El Poblano
7813 Boulevard Diaz Ordaz in the Tijuana community of La Mesa

La Vuelta


Food, she thought. said...

Beautiful pictures & prose, as always. I feel like I really missed an experience here and look forward to seeing it through your eyes.

ar said...

Wow! That's a taco!
I wish I could find in Los Angeles, a taquero o taqueria like the ones in Tijuana. I love those taqueria style tostadas! I remember that EL Poblano used to be one of the best.
Tijuana really is a taco lovers dream.

Thanks for sharing.

kevinEats said...

Well your Twitter sabbatical didn't last too long. ;)

In any case, I'm beginning to think I should've gone on this trip. I'll be looking forward to the coming parts.

burumun said...

Hard working Matt, you're already writing it up?
Great photos, not just the food but of the mariachi band and cooks - they really have a nice feel to them.

Kung Food Panda said...

Tacos and beer, very nice! I do have to say, that taco with the guac looks mighty delicious right about now! I wish I went to this trip....

Gastronomer said...

So this is what went down while I was warm and cuddly in my bed! I curse my need for nine hours ;-) Great photos! You make me wanna make an investment.

Jin said...

that looks delicioso!!!

streetgourmetla said...

Matt, you nailed that first night.And, yes, bloggers that missed, you will have to just suffer these reports.You shoulda been there, too, Food SHe Thought!

glutster said...

Hey Matt,

It was cool eating with you along the way, never going to forget how you sharply would sway your hands suddenly to capture all these amazing shots, ha, ha.


Eddie Lin said...


I could almost taste those tacos again from your great photos. I can practically hear the music from those vivid snaps. And I definitely feel that Baja hangover... still but in a good way!

Nanciful said...

As always, great writing and awesome photos!

Noah said...

I don't know about "world famous", but it certainly makes me sound cool.

One thing I do know, though, is that those pictures kick some serious ass.

Diana said...

Considering that my knowledge of Mexican food is mostly of the El Cholo-style rice, beans variety, I'm excited to hear the full report. I'm doing Breed Street this Friday though -- should be an eye-opening experience! Bring on the corn fungus!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Way too wordy buddy. Cut down on trying to be a poet and simply get to the point. Let your pictures and succinct descriptions speak for itself. Remember, you're writing a blog about a place. Using large vocabularies do not translate to sophistication, but instead, demonstrates immaturity and fear for certain unpublished insecurities.

Don't get me wrong and I am not trying to bash you. A brief description that say a lot is often associated with great writing, never the other way.


mattatouille said...

Anonymous, you derailed your point with your own loquacious comment.

How about just saying: brevity can be effective; sometimes, vocabulary can be a crutch.

Oh, and check your grammar. And since you weren't putting me down or anything, thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

Now why would you delete a comment? Obviously, you do not take any critiques well.

Are you simply too immature to take it like a man or do you only keep comments that you feel would stroke your little eagle?

Tsk Tsk


mattatouille said...

Actually, it wasn't a matter of the critique. That's fine. I'll even copy the comment here for viewing:

"um...A-Okay. I will try to check my grammar, but then again, I am writing to you. So, why even bother?

Sorry, but it is a comment, not a writing contest. My point was about how your post was so long.

Then again, I understand. You feel the need to be a "man" and so you point one fault for another, rather than listening. A good listener only comes with age, just like virtue. You lack both."

It's just that you took made it personal in the last section, and I don't think that's appropriate for this venue. If you want to cite immaturity to me, you should consider your own when mentioning something like that here. Also, if you're hiding behind the veil of anonymity, you are doing perhaps the most childish and cowardly thing one could do on the internet.

If you were a regular reader of my blog, you would see that this style of writing is consistent with the rest of my posts. If you have a problem with it, then don't read my blog, very simple. If you have a personal vendetta against me, then feel free to email me away from the public sphere.

Anonymous said...

Sad indeed. Again you deleted my comments and post. What are you afraid of?

Are you spending the hours on how to provide a rebuttal with SAT words again? SAT words are for high school boy.

You must really enjoy stroking that little eagle of yours.

Tsk Tsk.


Anonymous said...

Haha, what a laugh. I guess you couldn't stomach how much truth was spilling out you required a "Blog owner approval".

Well, my message is for you and not others.

Enjoy Little Boy.

citynitz said...


It seems like you should start a blog, I'm sure it would be very good, since there's a "right/wrong" way to do blogs.

Adam said...

Times like these you sometimes wish Blogger had a minimum age limit.

On to actually interesting things: Part 2 awaits!

Ezra said...

fuxing awesome pictures. Man, you're lucky-- glad to hear you had a great time in Mexico. The armpit of North America. Just kidding.


Aaron said...

Nice pictures. Proper white balance really makes a huge difference. I like how you're incorporating many shots of people. I feel like people take too much of a backseat to food in our blogs, but for a tourism promotion, Tijuana's draw is the culture too.

weezermonkey said...

I really hope that "eagle" is not code for "penis."

Chin up, Matt. Don't let Anonymous bruise your ego.