Argentinean empanadas, straight from Tucumán

When you’re short on cash and tired of tacos

Lengua and portobello empanadas covered in chimichurri
  • Lengua and portobello empanadas covered in chimichurri

El Tucumano

Avenida Revolución and Segunda, Baja

Since my brother married a Tijuana local, most of the recommendations I receive on where to eat in Tijuana have come from the two of them. When I was short on cash and tired of tacos, my brother recommended El Tucumano. Empanadas have since become a favorite of mine, and I have been a regular of the restaurant for four years.

Original location behind Jai Alai

Original location behind Jai Alai

When the Argentinean restaurant first opened it was situated in a tiny area in downtown Tijuana and could not seat more than 14 people, which made me feel guilty occupying a table solely for myself as people waited outside. They moved to a much larger space half a block away to the back of the iconic Jai Alai building two and a half years ago (Avenida Revolución between 7th and 8th Street).

Revolución and Segunda

Revolución and Segunda

The inside of the new establishment

The inside of the new establishment

Then, Tucumano recently opened a second location a mere six blocks away from the main restaurant at the corner of Segunda on Avenida Revolución. I went to the new location a few times a week this month to get empanadas and yerba mate. The new place is a replica of its big brother with American, Mexican, and Argentinean flags, paintings of Che Guevara, traditional instruments of South America, and colors of the soccer team Boca Juniors decorating the walls.

I spoke to Ruby, who is my usual waitress, and she told me about Chef Arroyo, who migrated from Tucumán, Argentina to the border area 15 years ago with the intention of working in San Diego and then moving back to Argentina. Arroyo fell in love with the Tijuana area and decided to stay and open his own restaurant.

Five empanadas: spinach/ham/cheese, chicken, rajas (chiles) with cheese, portobello, and lengua

Five empanadas: spinach/ham/cheese, chicken, rajas (chiles) with cheese, portobello, and lengua

From their 16 types of empanadas ($1 to $2), my favorites are lengua and portobello. The fillings for the beef, chicken, and lengua empanadas include hard-boiled egg, onions, and peppers. The portobello, as well as the spinach, ham, rajas, and bean versions, come with lots of mozzarella. Other empanada options are chicharrón, shrimp, squid, turkey, and cod. No matter which empanada I get, I drown them in the chimichurri sauce (others prefer the spicy one).

Though I haven't ventured much further than their empanadas, El Tucumano has a huge menu with English translations included (with a few grammatical mistakes). In Argentinean fashion, there are many choices of salads, burgers, tortas, sandwiches, meat, poultry, fish, pastas, sausages, desserts, and drinks, with nothing over $20. No alcohol is available, but you are welcome to bring your own bottle of wine. As if over 60 choices wasn’t enough, lasagna is offered on Sundays and gnocchi is available the 29th of each month (a tradition in Argentina).

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The last time I was down at their original location, they were still making dough in there - ostensibly to supply the new places. I can also vouch for their tortas, which they sometimes offer on special at a great value.

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