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A Quick Lunch in Mexico

The cool thing (well, one of them, anyway) about living in San Diego is the proximity to Mexico. But despite the fact that the border is 20 minutes from my house, I (and most San Diegans) rarely go. My friend hasn’t been since 1992. For a while, rumors buzzed back and forth across the border about how violent Tijuana had gotten, thanks to the drug cartels. But they’ve cleaned all that up, and it’s once again safe to cross the border.

About five years back, we drove down to Rosarito for a little beach vacation. I remember seeing trucks with police armed with machine guns drive through the Wal-Mart parking lot and being concerned.

“They’re here to protect us, the tourists,” my husband pointed out. It’s true: border towns rely on American tourists to spend dollars there, so it behooves them to ensure it’s safe.

Getting Across the Border

My husband goes to Mexico more frequently than I do, just for a slice of something different, and maybe to pick up cheaper medicine at one of TJ’s many pharmacies. I’ve been begging him to take me for years, and once we got our Global Entry cards (which allow us to zoom past the long line waiting to re-enter the US), it was on.

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We decided to hop on down for lunch. Yes, just pop down to another country for lunch and be back home before the kid got home from school. It’s like that.

Getting into Mexico is pretty easy. Going through the border crossing station requires little more than showing your passport (or passport card).

Once in, we were bombarded with taxi drivers. “Taxi? Taxi?” But my husband likes to take an Uber (it’s half the price; we paid under $2 to get to the main street, versus the flat $5 fee for taxis) so we walked away from the hubbub outside of the crossing station to summon an Uber.

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A Diamond in the Rough

Once we got in the car, I just observed. It still trips me out that there is such poverty so close to the expensive San Diego. The streets of TJ were run down, only faint evidence of their former glory when more young people would cross over because they could drink beer and watch a donkey show (don’t ask) for a few pesos. We saw one very tired donkey painted like a zebra, and it made me sad.

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The stores lining Avenida Revolución were pharmacies, small eateries, and tourist junk stores. Nothing held my interest. Then we arrived at the restaurant.

Amidst all the grime was one of the food institutions of Tijuana: Caesar’s. This throwback restaurant dates back to 1927, and is the home of the Caesar salad. Wood gleamed on the bar, the bottles glowed with a faint light against the wall, and American jazz from the 1930s filtered down. What a contrast to the world outside!

We ordered papas fritas and beef carpaccio as appetizers, then I had the plentiful Plata Mexicana and he the Camarones Costa Azul. Don’t forget the margaritas! Everything was perfectly prepared and delicious.

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While we didn’t order the famous Caesar salad (I hate anchovies) we enjoyed watching it be prepared. A waiter would wheel a cart tableside, toss the lettuce, add ingredients, and drizzle the dressing. It was a show in and of itself.

While everything on the menu was slightly cheaper than at home, it was still an expensive meal. Next time we’ll grab tacos al vapor for a cheap lunch.

Back to the Real World

We took a taxi back to the border (and I was sure our driver was on cocaine). When I saw how long the line was to cross, I was glad we’d spent a little over $100 each to get the Global Entry card (which also helps us go faster through international customs in other countries as well as gets us free TSA Pre-Check at airports). We showed the customs agent our paltry bag of Mexican snacks and he waved us through. We were home within half an hour.

It’s a good exercise to step into another world and get out of my comfort zone for a while, even if it does involve a 5-star lunch.

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