When it comes to northern Mexican carne asada, Baja California's tacos are standard when compared to the nearby prime cuts states of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Nuevo Leon–but that's okay for you and I. Compared to the nasty commercial grade meats cooked on a flat top plated on Guerrero tortillas and watery salsa we get a lot of up here in L.A. and O.C., the carne asada you can get in Tijuana will bring tears of joy–that is until you make it over to Sonora for the real deal.
The Baja peninsula likes their carne asada on corn tortillas, but the the beer guzzling city of Mexicali derives its tortilla tradition from the Sonorans, using flour tortillas for their carne asada. Mexicali serves a similar style of carne asada found in Sonora but adds its own regional touches like grilled chicken, making it the only place in the Republic to offer grilled chicken tacos. One of Mexicali's carne asada kings, El Nuevo Tecolote, has just opened a cart in Tijuana, which is fantastic news for carne asada lovers.
All meats are cooked on mesquite in this handsome trailer parked on Avenida Rio Bravo just off of Cuauhtemoc Sur in Tijuana's Zona Rio, and adds another layer of depth to Tijuana's very good carne asada options. In addition to classic Tijuana-style asada institutions Taqueria El Franc or Frances in Playas, El Ruso, El Poblano and Tacos Polo Sur, and the many solid Sonoran asaderos Sonora Mia and Asadero Baja Sonora, now a third and tasty dimension is on Tijuana's ever-expanding dining culture.
Mexicalenses like their carne asada in flour tortillas like the Sonorans, yes, but they prefer many creative salsa options, and Mexicali is the only city in Mexico bold enough to serve barbecued chicken on a taco. This isn't that Smart and Final dry chicken breast on a flat top, but tender, juicy chunks of marinated pollo over mesquite–these small touches give Mexicali-style tacos their own street food culture, which is respected all over Mexico.
You're thinking “Nah, I'm good on the chicken taco, bro”, but that'd be a mistake, an error that would deprive you of one delicious taco, so get the chicken and the asada, which is simply seasoned with salt and cut into larger pieces that the finely chopped Tijuana variety.
The taco de chile california is another Mexicali delight, a roasted Anaheim pepper filled with gooey, melted cheese with your choice of asada, pollo, or any other option–even better, campechano-style for the chicken and steak combo taco dressed a huge selection of roasted, fresh and cooked salsas on a thin flour tortilla.
Vampiros, or meat on a corn tortilla that's toasted until it's crisp and sturdy for stacked tacos (like a tostada, but this is a type of taco), are borrowed from Sinaloan taco culture, and mulitas, what we often refer to as a taco sandwich is another way to savor the fine grilled cuts here at El Nuevo Tecolote.
As much as I enjoy Tijuana-style carne asada tacos and the decent Sonora-style (it's not EVEN as good as in Sonora), this is the place to check out if you're only going to have one carne asada taco in Tijuana. Better yet, hit for the cycle and get all three permutations while you're in town. Give yourself a break from your usual grilling responsibilities and head down to Tijuana because it's never been a better time to treat yourself and your family to a good barbecue, Mexicali-style.
El Nuevo Tecolote, Calle Rio Bravo (between Cuauhtemoc Sur Poniente and Cuauhtemoc Sur Oriente, Zona Rio, Tijuana, B.C., 011-52-1-664-192-7105.