Originally published by Ladybud Magazine
Tijuana has gotten a bad rap. For years it has been known as San Diego, California’s dirty little sister just south of the border. After the Bush-era War on Drugs crackdown, Mexican border cities were plagued with violence, scaring away tourists from these otherwise great destinations.
Te quieres viagra? Tijuana is a pharmaceutical and strip club beacon (there are probably more pharmacies per capita in this city than there are dispensaries in the entire state of California)
Tijuana has seen a Renaissance in recent years, the violence has subsided and this major metro area has been expanding its restaurant and drink offerings, and being a liquor-aficionado I just had to follow up on a recommendation to check out Bar Mission 20, a rooftop bar overlooking central Tijuana and adjacent to Mission 19, a Zagat-rated 5-star restaurant with some of the most amazing food you will find on either side of the border– and luckily for Americans you get to pay in pesos, not dollars, making it far more affordable.
Next time you are in Southern California, make that trip south of the border, soak in the weather, the food and the culture, and most importantly- the amazing drinks. I took the liberty of trying all the cocktails (not alone, dear God!) Bar 20 has to offer, by far the most intense and amazing beverage experience was provided by the Martini Tamarindo.
Martini Tamarindo: Tamarindo, or tamarind in English, is part of the date family and is a native plant in Africa. It is smooth and sweet but not overpowering. It is used widely in standard and gourmet cuisines from all over the world (but somehow not the United States) and is a popular beverage all over Mexico and parts of the Southern U.S. The Tamarindo beverage is regularly found as an offering alongside Jamaica (pronounced huh-my-kuh) and Horchata as an “agua fresca.” It is the least sweet of the trio with a medium-bodied flavor and refreshing light sweetness.
The tamarindo pairs incredibly with the spicy-saltiness of the chile salt and with the coconut foam balancing both the flavors delicately it is hard to put this drink down but important to drink slowly and savor all the flavors. It is a uniquely Mexican cocktail with a medium alcohol content. While many alcohols pair well with food, I would recommend drinking this straight up, there is too much going on in this glass to cut the flavors with anything else.
The Mezcalero: Often when people think of Mexico they think of tequila with worms in the bottom of the bottle. Contrary to popular belief though, Mexican tequila never has a worm in the bottom, Mexican Mezcal does.
The Mezcalero. Ingredients: Pure de frutas tropicales, jugo de limon, mandarina, chile de arbol, mezcal blanco, sal de chapulin (Puree of tropical fruits, lemon and tangerine juice, chile, white mezcal, chapulin salt)
Mezcal is tequila’s sweeter, smokier cousin. It is also the type of spirit that evokes strong feelings: you will either love it or you will absolutely hate it. It is derived from the maguey plant, a cousin of agave, a succulent plant native to the Southern US and Northern Mexico that is used as a sweetener and to make tequila.
The Mezcalero was a shocking sensation of many different flavors that seem to have no logical reason to harmonize but magically do. The kiwi and fruit juices cut the edge off the chile, which adds a serious kick. The mezcal leaves you with a smoky aftertaste, cut nicely by the salt. Not for the faint of heart– word to the wise, eat the ornamental kiwi but not the chile. You will totally regret that.
Oxidante y El Ilegal: While both of these cocktails intrigued me on the menu, particularly El Ilegal with the ginger-lychee combo, which I absolutely love, they were just both too sweet for my taste. Maybe I just like a drink that bites back, and this wasn’t it. It just went down too smooth, too sweet, like filling a spoon full of delicious alcoholic sugar and drinking it down.
These are both delicious, but your stereotypical “chick” cocktails.
Left: El Ilegal, Right: Oxidante.
The Oxidante: Absolut, licor y jugo de granada infusion de Jamaica, te verde (Absolut vodka, pomegranate juice and liquor infused with pomegranate and Jamaica, green tea). El Ilegal: Lychee, sake sin filtrar, jengibre, Absolut Vanilla (Lychee, unfliltered sake, ginger, Absolut Vanilla.
El Oxidante is made with Jamaica, which is an agua fresca popularized in Mexico and derived from the hibiscus flower. It is not naturally sweet and is derived like a tea, but is usually served sweetened. The addition of green tea in a cocktail is alluring but the pomegranate juice overpowers the Jamaica-green tea combo I really wanted to taste.
Rattlesnake Tequila: So technically I did not drink this at Mission 20, but I drank it in Tijuana and it is just too fascinating to not share when discussing Tijuana cocktails.
At Los Arcos, a family-seafood chain throughout Northern Mexico, we drank tequila with a rattlesnake in it. A large jug or pitcher is filled to the brim with tequila anejo (gold tequila) and a live rattlesnake is drowned in it. The snake is believed by some to release medicinal properties in its death throes.
When the tequila is served, the snakes head is pulled out of the pitcher and shaken all over the glass, specifically, the mouth is placed along the rim to get some of the venom (which at this point is no longer poisonous what with all the tequila). I was a bit put off by this process but absolutely had to try it anyway.
Most tequila in Mexico is served neat and paired with sangria, which is not the tea/red wine/fruit combo that normally comes to mind. It is like a virgin Bloody Mary, a spicy tomato juice drink. You do not shoot the tequila, but rather sip it together in your mouth with the sangria to savor the flavor.
The infamous rattlesnake tequila.
Tequila purchased and consumed in Mexico is slightly different than what is served in the States, the agave is more pure, the alcohol content slightly lower and it gives you a warm melted buzz that doesn’t make you want to drink too much, but instead cuddle up somewhere and try to forget about the dead snake that was just in your drink.