Javier Plasencia is Tijuana’s most influential chef. After earning his chops in the first family of Tijuana dining, the Plasencia Group (Caesar’s, Casa Plasencia), he started his own restaurant empire and invented the most notable new Mexican cuisine in recent years: Baja-Med. Baja-Med takes Baja ingredients and prepares them with a Mediterranean flair (with some Asian influences snuck in here and there). Most of the time, we prefer classic Baja seafood to high-concept fusions, but Plasencia’s iconic fish bar is incredible. It’s really a love letter to the Baja coast with tasteful global flourishes.
Erizo means sea urchin. They and diver scallops are served in season. Such exotic shellfish will set you back some, but not everything is so expensive. Lunch of Peruvian ceviche with Pisco cocktails can be had for much less than you might fear. Add some tacos and Baja-Med innovations, and you’ve got an affordable seafood extravaganza.
Ceviche is made with ocean fresh fish and snappy vegetables. Very different from the gloppy mayonnaise version tyupical of Mexican seafood dives, ceviche blanco is a mix of fresh fish with lentils, barle,y and avocado. It eats more like tangy seafood salad that what we’d normally think of as a ceviche.
Full ceviche portions are sharable, but most ceviche is also available as a personal-sized tostada. Shrimp ceviche verde tostada, tinted emerald from tomatillo, serrano chili and avocado stars gently acidified shrimp that are plump and taste of the sea. It’s really more like an aguachile than typical ceviche.
One of the most impressive dishes on the menu is octopus carpaccio, which sees thinly pounded shavings of tentacle adjoined into a long sheet of octopus. It’s sorcery, appearing especially witchy drowning in the black soy/Worcestershire juice that it comes with. We don’t share Baja’s preference for pungent black sauce on delicate fish, but it works with meaty octopus.
If you want to do Erizo on a budget, you’d be fine just getting a few tacos and beers. The octopus and carnitas taco hit all the right notes for us. We like it drowned with a shot of leche de tigre with a fresh oyster floating in it. “Leche de tigre” (tiger’s milk) is the salty lime juice marinade left over after scooping out the fish for ceviche. It is said to give energy and help cure hangovers. High-rollers can shell out for a scoop of sea urchin in their tiger milk shots.
Also available are interpretations of such classic mariscos shack fare as fish tacos and seafood cocktails, along with freshly shucked shellfish.
In short: Erizo is the best restaurant in the upscale neighborhood of Tijuana’s Chapultepec. It’s an often-missed, genteel side of a gritty border town.