Long under the influence of its northern neighbors, the relatively recent dip in tourism has given rise to a brave new breed of Tijuana restaurant. Aimed at feeding the local’s hunger for innovation and community, chefs are pushing the boundaries of Baja cooking.
Telefónica Gastro Park encapsulates this shift.
A brick warehouse on the edge of an semi-industrial zone holds a stainless steel heart fermenting barley and hops into the gastro park’s house beer (all house beer is vegan).
Colorful pinatas flutter overhead as the breeze and sunlight drift through. It’s hard to overlook the politics of the space. Murals evoke the U.S. immigration signs that once dotted the I-5 North in San Diego and a taco wielding Trump towers over the courtyard declaring “Food Has No Walls.”
White tile top tables crowd the outdoor courtyard, with Corona-branded umbrellas providing shade.
A stadium seating staircase dotted with potted palms and couples sharing burritos leads to a sunny deck overlooking the food stall of the Telefónica Gastro Park.
A black cat lingers in the dining area, collecting cuddles and scraps before darting into a kitchen whos windows steam with brothy ramens.
The food hall trips from mediterranean to poke to burgers and even includes an outpost of Tijuana’s iconic Caesar’s—and, of course, there are tacos.
Though much of the food in the gastro park is not vegan, quality vegan dishes are not hard to find. You can always jump straight into the arms of La Taqueria Vegiee, the park’s 100% vegan stall.
Tucked in the shady archway, La Taqueria Vegiee offers vegan Tacos ($30 - $45 MXN) brimming with fillings like adobado trigo—a chewy wheat, barley, and rye based seitan—and deep fried portobello “fish.”
The menu, lead by Tijuana’s Chef Antonio Quintero, is mirrored at the San Diego based food truck “Vegan Tacos San Diego” with a few exceptions.
One of these exceptions is the Mulita ($55 MXN). Two corn tortillas sandwiching a mix of asada (soy) and adobada (seitan) bound together with melted, coconut-based vegan cheese. A bit of cilantro, diced onions, and guacamole finish the dish. The same mix (minus the cheese) also appears on the Torta ($80 MXN).
The tacos here are the standout dish. They play to nostalgia—with the likes of battered tapioca shrimp under crisp cabbage and chipotle cream—that many vegans miss in their day to day; presented here in a beautifully unapologetic, animal-free form.
Sizzling, thick portobellos throb on an open air grill. They are soon replaced by chunky florets of cauliflower, broccoli, and yellow knobs of bell pepper. Though the menu runs heavy on meat, the Portobello Pita ($100 MXN) is one of the better vegan options in the gastropark.
Pillowy flatbread envelopes flame-licked mushrooms, pops of cherry tomatoes, paper-thin red onions, fat cuts of avocados, and the curling youth of baby greens (hold the basil aioli).
On the side, more greens are tossed with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers dressed in briny kalamata olive tapenade (hold the feta).
The regional Baja Med menu of Satabu falls somewhere between Mexican and Mediterranean. For vegans, Chef Jose Alberto Hernandez Garcia plays with the form of Hongos Mixtos (mushrooms) available as a Taco ($50 MXN) or Burrito ($138 MNX).
In the taco, a translucent flour tortilla lays open with roasted mushrooms and poblano peppers. Loose pintos beans and bits of corn hide under a tart purple cabbage slaw with cilantro and guacamole. Threads of fideos de arroz (rice noodles) seem to literally tie it all together.
Ordered as burrito, the kitchen rolls it all inside a double tortilla and adds a pile of fried potatoes for a plant-based meal that will stuff you silly.
A self administered splash of salsa blends the flavors together just moments before they hit your lips.