The Caesar salad: the pride of Tijuana
The Caesar salad is from Mexico. Who knew?
Well, it’s true. While many people consider the Caesar salad an Italian restaurant staple, turns out that it is Prohibition-era Tijuana that we have to thank for the invention of this divine dish. It’s debatable who exactly concocted the very first one, but at some point in the 1920’s Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant in Tijuana, started serving this new salad at his restaurant, Caesar’s. Soon, everyone was coming to watch waiters in black ties mix together garlic, anchovies, lime juice, egg yolk, and olive oil, in a large wooden bowl, table side. Some high quality Parmesan cheese and a few freshly toasted croutons were the finishing touches. And then, as it is still suggested, diners used their fingers to pick up the crisp Romaine lettuce spears and enjoy.
The scene was hopping back then with Californians making the trip south of the border to get around Prohibition laws and get their drink on. Since then, the restaurant, like the rest of Tijuana, has seen some ups and downs mostly due to the crime waves and increased border security that have made it difficult for California patrons to cross into Mexico for a night out.
But today, the food scene is becoming more locally focused with chefs like Javier Plascencia and adventurous Tijuanense diners breathing new life into not just this classic restaurant, but also into this city’s culinary scene as a whole.
Plascencia is Tijuana’s biggest booster and a rising star. He was born into the restaurant business. His grandfather and father both worked at Caesar’s and the family now owns several of the most successful restaurants in Tijuana. But, it’s Javier who is white-hot right now. He was just profiled in a lengthy spread in the New Yorker. The New York Times, Food and Wine magazine, and Anthony Bourdain are all knocking on his door. And the dishes he is serving up at his latest restaurant, Mision 19, are pushing boundaries and bringing new respect to a city that has endured some very tough times.
It’s a “farm-to-table” restaurant, he says, where he uses local products to serve up innovative, exquisite dishes –- short ribs in a black mole sauce are among his most famous creations -– in a modern, informal dining room (in an LEP green building, no less).
Caesar’s still has a special place in his heart though. Just a few years ago, the whole neighborhood was suffering and it looked like Caesar’s would have to be shut down forever. But Plascencia and his family refused to let that happen. And now, people are coming back.
There are young Tijuana customers who want a glimpse of the past, but there are also those who remember Caesar’s as it was and who are returning and adding pictures to the already crowded walls.
Plascencia sat down with Univision News to talk about their famous salad and why it’s the pride of Tijuana.