Wednesday, May 04, 2005 | I don’t know what it is about TJ. Having been born in Mexico, I feel a sort of love-hate relationship with it. The moment I cross the border I see dust, dirt, poverty, and it makes me almost want to make a U-turn back to San Diego. Almost. Then I begin to hear the voices, and see the faces and I remember the life I left behind. No, I’m not waxing down a memory lane of my past, rather I speak of the life of the city itself, the country.

I’ve been living in San Diego for over 20 years now, and yet I think I can probably count on my fingers (OK, let’s include toes on that one) the times I’ve gone to Tijuana. As I said, I think of it as dirty, loud and ugly, so why am I writing about it? Well, I’ve been thinking: TJ may be all that, but it also has some very wealthy people and a growing upper-middle class. I’ve heard of some palatial digs, wonderful restaurants (more about these later), good theater and exhibits, clubs, sports and entertainment not found here. I think after 20 years, it’s finally time to get to know my neighbor.

Immediately upon crossing the border I feel assaulted by noise. Yes, there is the noise of trucks and buses belching out diesel fumes, but also there is the sound of street vendors hawking their wares, of mothers scolding children, and beggars assuring me that I will be one step closer to the gates of heaven if only I drop a coin in their wrinkled palms. I see kids jostling in the streets, and men outside shops arguing authoritatively about the last soccer game. The city is drowning in noise, and so full of life! I’m now looking forward to my adventure and have decided to begin my “Tijuana Encounter” through my stomach.

Which brings me to the restaurants – Tijuana has some wonderful eateries. You can find kiosks on the street offering tacos made with anything ranging from carnitas to sheep intestines and cow udders and pig cheeks and … oh yes, there is more. But, you can also find wonderful family- style restaurants serving delicious, more conventional fare for only a few dollars, and you can find some great restaurants that surpass any I have been to in San Diego.

Not only is the menu varied and the food spectacular, the ambiance, the service and the experience as a whole is unforgettable. Some restaurants are set in what appear to have been exclusive homes or ranch houses. Upon entering, I feel like I’m an important guest in an affluent home. There is no “Hi, I’m Tammy and I’ll be your waitress for the evening.” Rather, the service, as a rule, is always deferential and very accommodating. When I sit down, the waiter brings a stand with hooks so that I may hang my bag and not have it shuffled between my feet. What I like best of all is that the meal is a social and culinary experience, and time becomes meaningless. I never have the waiter come and tell me that his shift is ending or ask if I’m ready for the check; my meal can last many hours, or less than one, if I prefer.

At the risk of an ever-expanding derriere, I invite you to join me in the coming weeks as I get to know the restaurants and other hidden charms of Tijuana. It’s worth the effort.

Patricia von Euw was born in Mexico City and moved to New York City at the age of nine. After finishing college and graduate school, she returned to Mexico City for 10 years. For the past 20 years, she has lived in San Diego where she has worked in the technology and financial services industries.

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