Did you know the venerable Caesar Salad had its birth in Tijuana?
I certainly didn’t before last week. The cradle of the Caesar Salad is the Caesar Hotel on Avenida Revolucion in the middle of Tijuana, just blocks from the border.
It was there where an Italian immigrant, Caesar Gardini, tossed his namesake salad for the first time in 1924. Gardini had left San Diego because of Prohibition. A true Caesar Salad as you probably know is made of romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and black pepper – all mixed tableside.
The tides of Tijuana’s destiny – gambling in the 1930s, prostitution and cantinas in the 1940s, quickie marriages, divorces and abortions in the 1950s through the 1970s, and drug cartels in the 1990s and last decade – have created an image of vice that some in the city are trying to shake.
Until 2010, the Caesar Hotel seemed to be in inexorable decline.
But I’m happy to report that the hotel and restaurant have been lovingly restored and are worth going out of your way – far out of your way – to visit.
See the photo I took Saturday afternoon before the evening rush. The waiters are in white aprons, starched just like the tablecloths. The black-and-white floor is retro classic, going hand in hand with the polished wood bar and walls. The chandeliers, paintings, huge copper coffee machine and pleasant din of a busy restaurant all add to the experience.
But that’s only the half of it. The food was really good, starting with a classic Caesar Salad. I had Seafood Newburg while one companion had seasoned bone marrow and another classic tortilla soup. We watched as the bartender whipped up tamarind martinis and served handcrafted local beer. The famed culinary Plascencia family took over the Caesar a few years ago, and their elegant touch is everywhere. Little wonder that the restaurant ranks No. 1 among 97 on tripadvisor.com in Tijuana.
A newer restaurant, Mision 19, is run by Javier Plascencia, one of the sons of patriarch Juan Jose Plascencia, and was just featured in The New Yorker. Click here and here and here to read more.
Nearly all the clients when we were at the Caesar were locals, not foreigners coming from across the border. Word still hasn’t seemed to filter up to San Diego that there is good reason to head south. A culinary renaissance is taking place.
I went to another restaurant, La Querencia, for lunch and was so awed at the quality that I went back again the next day with friends. Here are a few pictures. I had a tuna tostada with shallots, avocado and shitake mushroom that had me licking my fingers, followed by a venison hamburger. I think the bill was something like $12. Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero isn’t quite getting the press of Plascencia. But if I lived in Tijuana, I’d be making trips to his restaurant as often as I could.