Tijuana Uncovered | A Baja Culinary Adventure with Club Tengo Hambre During the 3rd Annual Baja California Culinary Fest

October 29, 2013

Thousands of foodies flocked to Baja this past weekend for the third annual Baja California Culinary Fest, a deluge of inspiration for the senses.  Of the many events held throughout the four day festival was the Tijuana Curbside and Craft Beer Outing hosted by the street savvy power couple, Antonio and Kristin of Club Tengo Hambre. Club Tengo Hambre, a roving supper club dedicated to the exploration of great food and beverage in and around Baja California, celebrates the social aspects of food by bringing together a group of strangers to embark upon a foodie adventure curtailed to their preference.  Due to our undying love for street food and beer, we were eager to jump aboard.

Kristin, Antonio and the rest of our crew shoveled into the van, immediately cracked some Funes Baja Beer, cheers'd our fellow adventurers/newfound friends with a smooth shot of Mezcal, and commenced our tour through the wild and scent-ridden streets of TJ.

Our hosts Antonio & Kristin
Our first stop was the age old Tortas El Turco, a famed little eatery with a helluva backstory.  This unique torta's history begins in 1951 at a hot dog stand on 5th and Revolucion, when the stand's operator reheated the lunch his wife had packed him on the hot dog steamer -  juicy, thinly sliced slow-cooked beef with avocado, lettuce, tomato and mayo atop a torta roll, making for a uniquely soft and moist torta sandwich.  Passersby were no longer interested in the hot dogs, but demanded the accidental but innovative creation.  Eventually this idea enabled the couple to open up several full service restaurants in fifties diner fashion, still using the hotdog steamers in their preparation.  Life happened - they divorced, remarried, and in true soap opera form, his second wife had him assassinated, and she and her family went to jail - leaving all of the Tortas El Turco businesses to close in the 1980s.

One tasty torta!
The deceased owner's first wife and the official creator of the famed tortas refused to share the recipe until she was 87 years old and decided it was high time to knight the next Tortas El Turco premier, her friendly neighbor Luis Fitch, our gracious host and current owner of the tortaria.  She gave Luis the recipe and he held onto it for nine years before opening this stand, and now throngs of devoted followers flock to Luis' corner restaurant for these famed tortas, fondly remembering sinking their teeth into them decades prior.  Luis' biggest satisfaction is fulfilling the nostalgia of his diners, knowing that the flavors of Tortas El Turco bring patrons right back to TJ's 5th and Revolucion in the 60s and 70s.

Our next stop was one of TJ's newest food incarnations, an upscale, indoor/mostly-outdoor food court aptly coined the Food Garden where the tagline is "Keep Tijuana Tasty," and that they do. The mastermind behind this new format food venue handpicks each vendor to fill the ten or so stands, ensuring that authentic, quality and delicious food is offered in this culinary enclave, creating a social setting wherein patrons can choose their preferred meal and mix and match as they please.  The smells of charred octopus, freshly pressed tortillas, sizzling meats and grilled fish poured out and mixed together in a Fantasia-like symphony, tickling our noses and piquing our appetites.  We indulged in a super flavorful, savory shrimp and New York Strip taco from La Taqueseria, the innards encased in crispy fried cheese, accompanied by a freshly pressed orange and ginger juice from neighboring stand La Barra (topped off with a bit more of that delicious Mezcal!).

We piled back in the bus and headed for the best tacos al pastor in TJ at the famed Tacos El Franc, a popular late night eatery.  The delicious scent of the gigantic, skewered tornado of meat, marinated in a red chili sauce wafted through the air, instantly prompting a drooling desire to indulge in the rotating spit of swine.  The pork was moist, flavorful and delicious - a simple, yet satisfying curbside delicacy. Served with guacamole, onion and cilantro, these tacos are some of the most delicious we've had.

To top off our bellies, our next stop was the Baja Craft Beer Tasting Room, better known as BCB.  This architectural masterpiece is hidden, unassumingly on a little traversed side road of TJ, boasting over forty tap beers and more than 300 bottled varieties.  We sampled a couple of their own brewed beers, and enjoyed a pint of one of our newfound favorite local TJ beers - Insurgentes' La Lupulosa, an American-style IPA.

As the sun set over Tijuana, our final destination was the BCC Fest's Culinary Expo, a free-to-attend congregation of local restaurants, taco stands, wineries, breweries and food vendors filling the Tijuana Cultural Center in the heart of the bustling city.  We sipped, sampled and toured the beautiful grounds, concluding a day of adventure, new experiences and hearty indulgence.  Salud!

For more information on Club Tengo Hambre and to book your own tasting tour of Tijuana, visit their website at clubtengohambre.com, and be sure not to miss next year's Baja California Culinary Fest.