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Tijuana Reaching New Culinary Heights
Tras/Horizonte was formerly known as Kokopelli and started out as a street cart selling tacos in 2011.

A sweet yet spicy aroma fills the room as patrons buzz around their food, the enticing sounds of their mother tongue bouncing off the walls.

Tucked away in the back of the restaurant, fresh tortillas and tostadas crackle on a grill that also functions as a fountain and fog machine.

At Tras/Horizonte by Kokopelli, indigenous, modern, experimental and traditional cultures have all come together to create something new and exciting for Tijuana.

Tijuana has become the scene of a new culinary revolution, with restaurants like Tras/Horizonte making waves in the border city.

Since 2008, Tijuana has seen a proliferation of restaurants and bars across the city. These new - or sometimes not so new but rather reinvented - restaurants have climbed their way to the top of Yelp and newspaper "Must-Try" lists. This has ensured an exciting array of dining options for tourists, who flock from all over the world to try this new style of modern fusion cooking.

The “Ceviche de Lolo de Atún Sellado” appetizer at Tras/Horizonte contains all the traditional ingredients of a ceviche: fish, onion, cucumber and avocado.

"Tijuana has a different gastronomic [scene] than the rest of the country - even richer than some other border towns," says Chef and Co-Owner of Tras/Horizonte, Oso Campos. "It's vibrant because everything is new.There's not this big tradition that prevents us from doing something different."

Tijuana is a young city with a mix of inhabitants from all over Mexico, which has made it into a very unique spot. In 2017, Tijuana was named the no. 8 place to visit on the New York Times list of the 52 Places to Go for its "vibrant culinary, arts and craft beer culture."

However, in the same year, Business Insider ranked Tijuana as one of the most violent cities in the world. The illicit drug trade and corruption are the main factors that have contributed to the violence in Tijuana over the past decade.

While the turmoil in Tijuana has pushed some tourists away, it has also allowed locals to reinvent the city for themselves, says Derrik Chinn, Founder of Turista Libre, a tour company which provides an "insider" experience of the city.

The salmon, mango, watermelon and tamarindo ceviche “Aluxe” appetizer at Tras/Horizonte. This dish combines traditional indigenous ingredients such as mole, chiles and herbs, adding a twist to traditional Baja California cuisine.

Out of Baja California grew a new style of cuisine known as "Baja Med," which combines Mediterranean cooking techniques, locally sourced ingredients and influences from other countries such as Asia.

Baja Med started creating ripples in the international food scene thanks to Chefs Javier Plascencia and Miguel Ángel Guerrero, who both have successful restaurants in Tijuana, Valle de Guadalupe and across the border in San Diego.

Over the past few years, tourists from all over the world have started to really notice and fall in love with the food and drink of Tijuana and Baja California. But as Chinn explains, Tijuana's culinary palette is much richer and more complex than Baja Med.

At the forefront of the Tijuana culinary movement is Mario Torres, the Head Chef at Seis Cocina Fusión, a restaurant that specializes in Mexican fusion cuisine. Some of the restaurant's most popular dishes include ceviches and tapas, which are inspired by the time Torres spent in Peru.

Torres says Peruvian cuisine itself combines influences from places like Japan, China and Italy to produce unique and vibrant dishes now essential to the region, such as ceviche and pasta. The chef has reinvented Tijuana's cuisine by combining it with new flavors and influences, creating the unique style found in Seis Cocina Fusión's offerings.

Torres believes that there are two perspectives when it comes to food: to eat, chew and savor, or to swallow. "Some people eat, but they don't savor, they don't taste. To know what each plate is and the ingredients it has is something so beautiful to me."

Chef Mario Torres says his love for cooking began as a child while watching his grandfather prepare dishes at his restaurant. According to his mother, Torres' food has the same flavor as his grandfather's, which makes him very proud.

Chef Mario Torres

Pulled Port
The Pulled Pork at HUMO consists of pulled pork, barbeque sauce, corn kernels, red cabbage, cotija cheese and cilantro.

Besides Baja Med, a new style of fusion cuisine has also arisen in Tijuana thanks to its close proximity to San Diego.

"One of the most exotic elements of San Diego is the presence of Tijuana, and one of the most exotic elements of Tijuana is the presence of San Diego," says Chinn. "The fusion of these two very different worlds happens so fluidly and effortlessly in the food, beer and wine."

Combining traditional American styles with traditional Mexican ingredients has created a new kind of craft fusion food. HUMO, a popular meat-centric food trailer at Telefonica Gastro Park, has reinterpreted the classic hot dog with Mexican toppings and flavors.

HUMO's menu consists of four different hot dogs: The Greek, The Bork, The Bacon and The Pulled Pork. Some of their interesting hot dog toppings include tzatziki sauce, pulled pork, corn, cotija cheese and cilantro.

Chef Campos combines food with political protest. These wooden boards served as plates at an exclusive dinner he was asked to cook at Coachella 2018. Each element on the plate represented the border and the negative effects keeping people separated

This food renaissance represents something deeper than just new flavors for Tijuana. For some, like Campos, it represents a new type of tourist in Tijuana: one that comes with high expectations and knows their stuff when it comes to food. For others, it simply means a new opportunity to redefine Tijuana's narrative. Chinn agrees. "I think there's a heightened desire among outsiders to finally understand the complex reality that is Tijuana."

Try the restaurants mentioned in this article:

Tras/Horizonte by Kokopelli
Address: Río Colorado 9680, Marron, 22015 Tijuana, B.C., Mexico
Phone: +52 664 622 5062

Seis Cocina Fusión
Address: Calle Unión 2161- A colonia marrón Tijuana, Baja California
Phone: +52 664 381 6456

Address: Blvd. Aguacaliente #8924 Tijuana, Baja California
Phone: +52 664 370 0821
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