Craft breweries have arrived en masse in Tijuana, and it’s no surprise to those who know the city well. From parts of town, you could literally throw a rock over to San Diego, the oft-dubbed craft beer capital of the USA. As is typical with two nearly twin cities, trends are traded, and the beer horizons in Mexico quickly expanded beyond Corona and Tecate.
Add an incredible surge of excellent street food and fine dining along with the popularity of the nearby wine-producing region of the Valle de Guadeloupe, and suddenly craft beer is as obvious a fit to Tijuana as the salt on the rim of a margarita glass.
Plaza Fiesta, the first stop for suds in Tijuana
The epicenter of Tijuana’s burgeoning craft beer scene is Plaza Fiesta, a tic-tac-toe of rough, slap-up shops and alleyways sandwiched between an old mall and a parking lot. This Petri dish of bars is a beer connoisseur’s haven in a city better known for getting sloppy drunk.
Around a dozen taprooms are scattered between mezcal tasting rooms, sports bars, a couple of pulquerias (taverns that serve pulque) and discotheques. The beer on offer comes from shoestring hopefuls and rising stars who, thanks to the low-budget surroundings, can afford to try brewing techniques that hop maestros across the border could only dream of. Plus, it's no secret that a cold cerveza is the best accompaniment to Mexican food on a hot day. A few food carts provide tasty and cheap drinking food, and there’s even a Vietnamese option to mix things up. It may seem lowbrow at first, but no one’s ever going to complain about the food or drink at Plaza Fiesta.
Set on a prominent corner, Border Psycho is one of the bigger brewpubs in Plaza Fiesta, and their beers can be found around Mexico and at a few outlets in San Diego. Despite their success, it's still a gritty feeling place to drink — their beer pulls are fashioned from glass dildos and butt plugs and the smoking, black-eyeliner wearing clientele look like they crawled out of bed just in time for happy hour. Out of a flight of five beers, our favorites were their subtly yeasty Scottish Cream Ale and a hoppy-without-overdoing-it Guera Prieta.
The most internationally well-known brewery here is tiny Cerveceria Insurgente. The taproom has rustic white brick walls and a simple, polished, pinewood bar. Chat with the friendly staff (the men with well-coiffed beards and the women with lots of piercings) from one of a handful of seats. The brewery's fame comes mostly from their Lupuiosa, a beer brewed with five different American hops and plenty of malt that has a deliciously smooth finish. All of their beers, however, are worth a taste, and the venue couldn’t be more welcoming.
Cheers to downtown Tijuana
A giant mammoth fashioned out of wire gazes down on happy drinkers at Mamut (“mammoth” in Spanish), a snazzy brewpub in downtown Tijuana (they also have a taproom at Plaza Fiesta). Shiny vats grace the back end of the upstairs pub, while a terrace overlooks the busy street at the front. Plop yourself down at a wooden picnic table to enjoy a pint or a flight, and nibble on wings, hot dogs and burgers. Their coffee-tinged, dark and syrupy Imperial Stout is a winner as is their smooth yet hoppy Session IPA. If all else fails, or if you're just broke, you can also grab a Tecate here.
The savvy drinker's secret spot
To really feel like a beer adventurer, seek out Cerveceria Norte, which is located on the fifth floor of an unmarked building next to a parking lot. Your GPS will send you in circles and people on the street may look at you like you’re crazy if you ask where it is, but it's worth the effort. The minimalist taproom has cement floors, a black ceiling and the best view in Tijuana: the US-Mexican border and Monumental Arch. The Foreign Club Robust Porter is a must if you like dark beers – it has a nice touch of coffee yet it’s not too heavy for the warm climate. On the other end of the scale, Escort Blond Belgian Pale Ale is delicious, light amber thirst-quencher.
Tijuana beer adventure light
If searching out hard-to-find breweries and perusing pub-lined alleyways isn’t your mug of beer, not to worry: many of Tijuana’s up and comers are poured in restaurants around the city, in other parts of Mexico and even internationally. A good option while in Tijuana is to head over to BCB Tasting Room, which serves around 300 beers, including over 40 on tap. Its big, modern, slightly industrial building is in the more upscale Zona Rio part of the city, a far cry from the noisy clogged streets of downtown.
For those really wanting to check out the Mexican beer scene, time your trip for early June, when over 60 craft breweries exhibit at the Expo Cervecia Artisanal alongside lots of regional cuisines and live music.