In 2019, my friends Fernando Cuevas, Francisco “Paco” Perez and I launched Three Amigos Taco Tours. Our mission is to take the curious and hungry across the border to sample the best Tijuana street tacos. Fernando operates Tours in Baja and provides transportation and tour commentary. Paco, owner of the Aqui es Texcoco Mexican barbacoa restaurant chain, is our taco expert — having grown up in Tijuana with a broad knowledge of the city’s best. I co-host and promote our tours on the web and social media.
During our adventures – before COVID interrupted the fun last March – I fell in love all over again with Tijuana street tacos. Especially the spots Paco uncovered for us that have been serving a wide variety of scrumptious tacos for decades.
It’s in this spirit that I wrote An Ode to Tijuana Tacos in the style of Eschenbach Wolfram, a 13thcentury German knight and scribe who penned the epic poem “Parzival”. Though Wolfram’s epic poem describes a mere quest for the Holy Grail, our quest is far more lofty — the quest for the perfect TJ taco.
An Ode to Tijuana Street Tacos…
Once upon a time, not very long ago,
I set out with some good knights, to eat a good taco.
Okay that’s a lie, we ate a good deal more than ten,
And someday when this plague lifts, we’ll do it all again.
Sir Fernando is our driver, into his steed he lends a hand,
Sir Paco is our leader, and hails from this delicious land.
And me I’m Squire Gringo, I’m just a humble scribe,
I document our journeys, as we venture and imbibe.
Across embattled wall, Tijuana in our sights,
Our pilgrims numbered twelve, armed with their appetites.
They also brought their sunscreen, as the day was Baja bright,
We sought Sir Emilio’s cabeza, in the early morning light.
Emilio chopped some tongue, and then he chopped some cheek,
Then tossed in a little head, his chopping game on fleek.
And if you’re really hungry, and have a few more pesos,
Emilio doth abide, and adds some squishy sesos.
The tacos are mighty but tiny, so we ordered more than one,
But ate them really quickly, because again we’re on the run.
From Emilio’s cart we swept away, so nicely satisfied,
Next up was birria and tripa, the latter nicely fried.
We all had heard the tale, of Mexico’s fastest taquero,
And would still remember him that night, when we ate with the vaquero.
We tied our horses at the market, and trekked across the street,
Where we were promptly greeted with the smell of cooking meat.
Castle Fito’s is victorious, in taco fight mano y mano,
Especially when battling, with scrumptious tacos campechano.
As we got closer to the cart, we heard the crowd start singing,
In tones so admirable, about the taquero who was slinging.
He loaded up some slow stewed meat, into a warm tortilla,
Then threw in some crunchy tripa, to complement the birria.
Just when we thought we saw it all, he threw us a surprise,
And started slinging consomé, before our very eyes.
The consomé took flight, through the air from spoon to taco,
I gazed on with much amazement, as did Fernando and Sir Paco.
The meat juice gained some altitude, then finally found its target,
It drizzled down our chins, as we walked back to the market.
Once we’d stormed the market, we continued on our quest,
To eat some blue tortillas, fully loaded with insects.
In Oaxaca and Chiapas, they eat them every day,
And since the pre-Hispanic age, it’s always been this way.
Speaking of Oaxaca, this shop doth share its name,
Their grasshoppers, ants and larvae are renowned with much acclaim.
Ant eggs are cooked in garlic, butter, and just a little lime,
Oft called “Mexican caviar”, it’s nutty taste’s sublime.
And then upon conclusion, of our crunchy, buggy brunch,
We headed to see Mirta, and have seafood for our lunch.
Mirta’s truck had claimed this land one score, twenty years ago,
And it’s still parked there today, in TJ’s Zona Rio.
Mirta’s truck is known for coktels, and agauachile callo de hacha,
And a line of many bottles filled, with house-made salsas and some macha.
And though her seafood cocktails rule, with mariscos oh so fresh dear,
It’s her tacos of smoked marlin, which really are the best here.
The succulent smoked fish is piled high, and in tortilla rolled,
Then flamed directly on mesquite, so its smoky story can unfold.
She then drizzles it with crema, and serves it on a paper plate,
And presents it to you with much love, and that’s what makes it great.
We bid Mirta farewell, and patted bloated belly,
But our quest had just begun, so we pressed on to Kokopelli.
“Hipster tacos” are the way, that they first paved their path,
But say that to their face, and you’ll face chef Oso’s wrath.
But no matter what you call them, they’re a change from the erstwhile,
And if Oso adds his magic spell, they’re sure to make you smile.
He commands a mighty beast, known far and wide as Kracken,
Stuffed with octopus in pesto, this beastly taco’s crack-a-lackin’.
But take heed, there is no time to waste, nor is there time to brabble,
For in Fernando’s scheduled wake, our party needs to scrabble.
We point our steed east to Otay, high atop a mesa,
To rendezvous at El Gallito, so we can stuff our face-as.
Suadero brisket’s standard fare, down in Mexico City,
But it’s hard to find in TJ, and once that was a pity.
But family Mejia’s got it closer, just across yon border,
Add a taco adobada, and that completes your order.
But then just as our party, started feeling crapulous,
There lay ahead birria and marrow, we’d heard was fabulous.
Our band’s taste buds were adventurous, so just like Marco Polo,
We ventured further east, and ate at Tacos Xolo.
Then we heard the battle call, from the brave and proud Sir Paco,
And jauntily embarked, for a barbacoa taco.
Just steps away Paco announced, “Hark! Here lies Texcoco!”,
If this name doth sound familiar, no, you’re not just plain loco.
They set abundant table, in the land of San Diego,
Where their roasted lamb is on the lips, of every homesick pocho.
But it’s here in Tijuana, where Paco’s mom first set up shop,
And on our taco journey, It’s a mandatory stop.
Their barbacoa tacos, go best with salsa drunk,
Poured very liberally, over every mutton chunk.
With lust we tear off meaty bites, of a sheep’s now severed head,
And pack it into tacos, and eat them in good stead.
Though fish tacos were first borne, in Ensenada further south,
Sometimes when you’re in TJ, you want fried fish in your mouth.
We had a vision of an Angel, whose light did shine the way,
And enjoyed the best pescado that we ate that sunny day.
And speaking of pescado, we sought another place,
That also had mariscos, and they make them with much grace.
Smoked marlin, once again, but with some tuna fin,
There is no doubt you will proclaim Sir Walter for the win!
And so our fine steed mounted, we continued our crusade,
Into the hectic Centro where the best tacos are made.
Birria de res or spiced beef stew, is the local’s favorite dish,
And it’s patron saint Martin will add some tendon, if you wish.
Birria’s our holy grail, and Martin commands the throne,
And his minions are jargogle as they cut meat off of the bone.
Atop each outdoor table there lies a mighty radish tower,
And it never seems to topple, no matter how many we devour.
Our journey wouldn’t be complete without tacos varios,
Elsewhere they’re called guisados, why not in TJ? No one knows.
But upon my breast I’ll swear, that there’s one thing that is known,
Lord Mike for sure has THE best cart for fatty chicharron.
We then steeled our mighty stomachs, to see good old King Franc,
Where the taco styles are varied, and the flavors are quite dank.
We ordered up some lengua, tripa and a hot mulita,
Any taco that you want, Franc always has just what you need-a.
In taco tales of yore, there’s a magical encampment,
Where a river of Tres Salsas, runs all night and verily quite rampant.
From spits of enchanted pork, taqueros with swords shave,
Bright red bits of carnal gold, into tortillas that we crave.
Our numbers then did call, for savory grilled asada,
And we knew that good Count Chuy’s was not the same old yada yada.
We found our destination in mists of fiery oak,
Emitting from a chimney tower spitting dragon plumes of smoke.
Taqueros stabbed their swords deep, into a serpent beast,
But by the time the vision cleared, it was just tripa for our feast.
They chopped the monster into bits and threw it on the fire,
My thirst not slaked by one, two more tacos I desired.
Seeking the Pinnacle of Pork, we enquired of Sir Pepe,
From the kingdom of Jalisco, where swine they’re known to slay.
He fries his victims first, then renders them delicious,
For tacos or drowned tortas, and a myriad of piggy dishes.
To end our taco expedition, we decided on one more-a,
From the fires of vaqueros from the region of Sonora.
As apracity gave way to the shroud of TJ night,
We ordered sirloin tip and savored every juicy bite.
And so back across the border, we finished where we’d started,
Our voyage now full circle, satiated and good hearted.
There I contemplated, did we find our holy grail?
It was every taco conquered on that mythic taco trail.