Club Tengo Hambre tours for a while, and this time the stars finally aligned. Their tours to the Guadalupe Valley look like a lot of fun, as do the tacos and beer tours of Tijuana - but this one was an introduction to three of Tijuana's newest prominent dining destinations - Verde y Crema, La Querencia and Mision 19. We met on this side of the border and crossed over on foot - then hopped in a mini bus for the short trip to Verde y Crema. On the way they treated us to shots of tequila - a great start to any adventure.
Verde y Crema is Jair Tellez' new spot just off Agua Caliente Blvd in a converted bus depot. The art and light filled space was by far my favorite stop on the tour and the menu appealed to me the most of the three for a return visit.
The dining room is covered but flooded with natural light through clear plexiglass. There is a bar along the long shaded area on the right and club like space upstairs. They serve beer and wine, no cocktails (for now anyway) but these spaces look like a great spot to while a way a couple of hours in the evening.
Our tour group sat together at one long table. It was brutally hot and it being indoor/outdoor there was no air conditioning in the restaurant, but they set up some fans to give us a little air circulation. We ordered bottled water and cold beer and felt better immediately.
At each stop on the one beverage option was included. Here it was a lightly smoky young Mezcal - pictured below. At La Querencia it was beer and at Mision 19 it was wine - all local of course. We ordered more than what was provided at every stop - beer, bottled water, cocktails, etc. so we wound up at each stop with a bit of a bill, which was fine, but just not something I thought about. It would definitely be a good idea to bring some cash along - but you're not likely to cross the border without some cash anyway, right?
The first of our two food courses at this stop were the "verdure" (vegetable) tacos - fresh, soft blue corn tortilla pockets toasted with melted cheese and filled with roasted beets, fresh salsa, watermelon radish, cilantro and scallion. The soft slightly crisp tortilla and warm melted cheese contrasted well with the fresh toppings and made these radical but welcome change from our usual San Diego style Mexican food. James said they were his favorite dish of the tour.
Our second course was my favorite, a light citrusy ceviche with fresh uni. To my surprise, several people in the group did not eat this at all. At first I didn't want to be too greedy, but eventually I found myself scraping more and more onto my plate. I couldn't bear to see it go to waste, but of course I didn't want to overdo it with two more stops and six more courses to come.
At Verde y Crema they cook primarily with wood - behind the chefs below is a complex wood burning grill, and in the corner is a wood burning oven. This window to the kitchen is at the back of the restaurant, we swung by and took these pictures on the way upstairs.
The upstairs bar was peaceful and quiet in the afternoon. The bar was closed, but it looked like a nice place for a drink with friends in the evening or after dinner.
In the parking lot just adjacent to the restaurant sits a food truck, Troca Lonche. They do some cooking and preparation for the restaurant, and apparently serve breakfast. I read that they plan to hit the streets soon with more offerings, so keep an eye out for that.
Before boarding the bus, we posed for a group photo in front of the mural in their parking lot which made a fun backdrop for a group photo up top.) Jair Tellez is best known for Laja - the "French Laundry of the Guadalupe Valley." About a million years ago we went to Laja and I wrote a blog post about it. We enjoyed the meal but to be honest it wasn't amazing. I think it may have been a bit of an outlier though, and I've been wanting to go back and try it again. The Guadalupe Valley has changed quite a bit since 2006 and I can't wait to experience all of the new places that have opened in the past few years. We're hoping to make a trip down there this fall - now that we have SENTRI passes that whole ordeal just became a whole lot easier.
If you are not already aware, SENTRI (or Global Entry) is a must for visiting Mexico - if you can afford it. Frankly, it disgusts me a bit that the Feds are asking people to pay to skip the line rather than simply doing their job more efficiently - but they haven't solicited my feedback recently, so I'm guessing it doesn't really matter what I think. We forked over our $125. earlier this year after a three hour wait coming back from a camping trip in Baja in December. You pay a $25. deposit and fill out a form online, then wait for them to contact you for an interview. At the interview, they collect another $125 from you, fingerprint you, take your picture, and ask you a few questions. It's a lot like a trip to the DMV. Shortly thereafter - assuming you are accepted - they will give you a Trusted Traveler Number and issue your card. The whole process took about six months for us, and may be longer now depending on where you are trying to book your appointment. Your Trusted Traveler Number also gives you access to Global Entry and TSA Pre benefits - as long as the name associated with your Trusted Traveler Number matches your reservation.
If you don't live near the Mexican border and don't plan to drive across, you don't need SENTRI - you can get Global Entry for the trusted traveler benefits for air travel including TSA Pre. (NEXUS is the equivalent to SENTRI for crossing the Canadian border.) If you decide you want to add SENTRI later, you can just add it to your account by requesting it after the fact. The guy who interviewed me told me to tell everyone to get Global Entry and add SENTRI because they'll add it for free if you already have Global Entry. If you apply for Sentri from the start, it costs $25. more. Not a big deal for one person, but for a family it could add up, and everyone in your car has to have SENTRI in order to use the dedicated lane coming back.