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Surf and salad

Tijuana is exploding with vegetarian and vegan restaurants

Negro Durazo's tacos gobernador
  • Negro Durazo's tacos gobernador

Tijuana is an undeniable pescaterian paradise. Seafood influences from coastal states such as Sonora, Sinaloa, and Nayarit are well suited for the warmer climate of the North, making for adventurous reinterpretations of Sea of Cortez classics. Meanwhile, the city is exploding with vegetarian and vegan restaurants and delivery services that reinvent traditional tacos in healthy, flavorful, meat-free alternatives. The result is a number of ingenious dishes so compelling, even die-hard carnivores will find something to sink their teeth into.

Negro Durazo

415 Broadway, Chula Vista

Negro Durazo

9190 Sanchez Taboado Boulevard, Baja

Negro Durazo

Plus four more locations, including one in College Grove and three in Tijuana. Rocking the byline, “A Sinaloan pride,” Negro Durazo brings east Sea of Cortez–style seafood to six locations. The namesake taco ($4.25) is a refreshing mix of fish, shrimp, and octopus, but the real MVP is the shrimp enchilado ($4.25). Served on a crispy tortilla, the shrimp comes unbreaded, basking in an oil-based chili sauce with melted white cheese, plenty of cabbage, and crema. The taco gobernador ($3.95), meanwhile, is a shrimp-forward delight of chopped, unbreaded crustacean, grilled onion and peppers, diced tomato, and white cheese on a soft corn tortilla. Live banda and norteño on weekends. $7.95 pitchers.

The Green House, Tijuana

The Green House, Tijuana

The Green House

2261 Paseo Ensenada, Playas de Tijuana

A newer addition to Tijuana’s ever-expanding vegetarian scene, the Green House is a cozy hole-in-the-wall that feels like a botanical garden café. The locale specializes in fresh fruit and vegetable juices along with light, summer-time fare. Tacos can be had on a grilled corn tortilla (17 pesos; about a buck) or a lettuce leaf (19 pesos), all served with cilantro, cabbage, onion, and avocado. My favorite is the broccoli mushroom taco, a savory, well-seasoned veggie/fungus sauté. A close second is the sweet and earthy beet with squash, followed by the hearty portobello and pepper taco.

Yeyo

Yeyo

La Cahua del Yeyo

8761 Pio Pico, Zona Centro, Tijuana

For 25 years, this unassuming but renowned eatery has been serving Sinaloa-style manta ray dishes. For those unfamiliar with manta ray, I recommend a cahua/marlin taco (25 pesos), in which the ray is dense, hearty, and dry, resembling chicken, while the marlin is smoky and reminiscent of bacon. All tacos come with optional stewed green bean, green chilies, onion, and a garnish of fresh red onion and cabbage. The more daring may enjoy the aleta taco (35 pesos). Made with cartilaginous cuts of tuna fin, the taco is fishy, buttery, and bizarre, yet it’s a constant pleaser for regulars.

TacoNveggie

Calle Colima and Colombia, Colonia Cacho, Tijuana

TacoNveggie is a perfect example of how a classic Tijuana format, in this case the taco de guisado, has been adapted to a vegetarian diet. The cart looks like any other tacos varios, except they serve a rotating menu of stewed veggie taco fillings from their street-side steam table. Favorites have included hibiscus flower with goat cheese, stewed eggplant, a toothsome soy birria, the southern Mexico–inspired huauzontle and chinchayote, yucca and asparagus, and pretty much any other seasonal combination you can imagine. Don’t wait until too late in the day to eat, however, hours run 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

La Corriente Cevichería Nais

8320 Avenida Madero (at Sexta), Zona Centro, Tijuana

Prized for their red-snapper tostadas, La Corriente is home to a handful of unique seafood tacos. Take, for example, the Taco el Placer, a hybrid taco-tostada of breaded shrimp and pico de gallo served on a slice of crisp jicama with tamarind sauce. Its capricious character makes a perfect fit for the restaurant’s cabana interior and tropical electronic tunes curated by local DJ Chucuchu. Just as spontaneous, the Tako Kalifornia stuffs a green California chili with unbreaded shrimp, splashes it with crema and rolls it all up in a warm corn tortilla. The house quartet of salsas is unmatched.

Tupidos

Tupidos

Tacos Menudo Tupidos

1941 Calle Octava, Zona Centro, Tijuana

Continuing in the tradition of tacos de guisados (home-style food) this city hallmark offers a rotating variety of stewed meats and vegetables. Fresh-pressed masa dough is cooked to order on the plancha, smeared with pinto beans and a dollop of Spanish rice, and then filled with your choice of guisado. Top with chopped onion, cilantro, lime, and salsa, and you’ve got a timeless Tijuana taco (14 pesos). The chef’s special of the day varies, but count on vegetarian standards such as stewed squash or scrambled egg and nopales on the daily lineup. Open-air grill is great for meeting regulars.

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