"Just when I thought I was out--they pull me back in."--Michael Corleone, Godfather Part III. There has been a lot of press about the Baja Med explosion, and Baja fine dining--on both sides of the border--what really makes our hearts flutter here in the U.S. is street food. In trends, you can always count on Mexico to be a decade behind, and food media in Mexico has been no exception. The rest of the world is gearing up for a street food congress in Singapore this coming May while Mexican food and drink coverage has remained in Polanco, Condesa, Roma, and the finest tables in Monterrey, Yucatan, Oaxaca, and Baja California.
We love it here, too--tasting menus, innovation, modern interpretations--but so many of us are just fine with a couple of really great tacos and a beer sipped from a paper cup sitting on a street corner for under $5. Chef Javier Plascencia couldn't take it anymore--he's a street food fan, and has been eating and making tacos all his life--he had to get in on the action. Plascencia has brought a fresh, yet traditional take on Tijuana's most popular street foods and has placed them all under one roof at Via Mercado: a modern taco cart complete with the most expansive Mexican craft beer menu, a fruit stand, regional cheeses and pickled foods, and robust tacos varios.
While we won't be seeing Plascencia roughing it on the streets of Tijuana, he has been active in getting the Tijuana street concept going, and has his right hand, sous chef Adria Marina on the plancha for the first month.
The taqueria is located in the atrium of the Via Corporativo building, right next to Mision 19, and a stall away from one of Mexico's best wine shops--La Contra.
He has brought in La Stazione--Tjuana's own top coffee shot pullers, and set them up right next to a fruteria, or fruit stand, for fresh squeezed juices and sliced fruit prepared with the flavors of Mexico: lime, chamoy(savory fruit sauce), pico de gallo powder, Valentina hot sauce, and sriracha sauce.
Pickled pig's feet
There is a deli counter for regional cheeses from around Baja, and other northern states including some outstanding products from Sinaloa and Zacatecas, and picklings of spicy vegetables, and pig's feet--the appetizers of sweet-brined chiles, carrots, and potatoes saturated with pickling juice so good you could drink it, is outstanding.
The Via Mercado also serves Mexican wine, and has just about every local craft beer in existence including some very small producers that are still brewing garage band style.
Plascencia has placed a street food play land in an office building. It's a little bit Mercado Hidalgo, a little Chapultepec, a little taste of comida callejera nais in La Cacho, and a bit of hard core street cart flavors.
Taco de fideos
The tacos are inspired by Plascencia's trips to the Mercado Hidalgo and his family recipes, like the taco de fideos, with refried beans and cheese. Our grandmothers make these tacos, or rather, they give us a plate of fideos(pasta in tomato sauce) with beans and crumbly cheese and we over stuff them, not caring to drop half of it on the plate. You wish it to spill everywhere so you can sloppily scoop the guisado up with your hands, as you wanted to do in the first place. There's a dollop of salsa verde in there, too, because when your a kid, that's how you want it--con todo!
Taco de chicharron con queso
The tried and true flavor of choriqueso, or chorizo and cheese is given a brand-new twist using chicharron prensado cooked on a flat top until it's brittle and lustrous--some of the best pig candy I've had--then placed in a greased tortilla with melted cheese.
Taco de pancita roja
Pancita en rojo I suspect is also another family recipe--a delicious braise of supple beef stomach with a red chile sauce mellowed by ample rice.
Torta de machaca
Tijuana has a pair of legendary torta stands--Tortas Wash Mobile and Tortas El Turco--Plascencia wisely respects their tradition while capturing the spirit of the city's sandwich culture with his torta de machaca. Sonoran machaca is cooked into a mouth watering spread that soaks into the bread--it's a Mexican sloppy Joe, or sloppy Jose--it's the best thing I had during this auspicious debut.
The guisados will be changing daily. Already, there's nothing like this place in all of Mexico, and in some ways this is Plascencia's best concept yet--it instantly obliterates any hip-casual concept ever attempted north of the border, and has no peer in Mexico. It's an office building cafe that makes Stupak's Empellon Taqueria and Bayless' Xoco look like the restaurant versions of Mariah Carey's Glitter.
It's a coup for people who work in the Via Corporativo to have such an exciting restaurant, and it's another lift for Tijuana's rising high urban cuisine campaign. I've been trying to convince the young Baja chefs to jump into the street food business--it's happening north of the border with Guerrilla Tacos and Puntas Cabras taqueria in Los Angeles, and the OC's own Tacos Maria and Soho Taco--once again, in Tijuana, Chef Javier Plascencia is paving the way for the future.
Via Mercado, Mision San Javier 10643, piso 2 (located in the Via Corporativo), Zona Rio, Tijuana, B.C., 664-634-7603, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.viamercado.com.mx/