Home of Original Caesar Salad Reopens in Tijuana

In June of last year I posted about The Magic of Tableside Caesar Salad at the Dal Rae.  In it I waxed poetic about my love of a great Caesar and how the Dal Rae in Pico Rivera was my favorite haunt for first class tableside preparation.  Since then, a miracle has occurred.

Recently, a New Yorker article profiled the dynamic young Tijuana-based chef Javier Plascencia’s successful efforts in establishing a gourmet food culture in his native city.  His focus on creating exciting new dishes utilizing local ingredients has led to the emergence of Tijuana as a foodie destination for locals and adventurous Americans.

In 2010, Javier’s brother Juan Plascencia reopened the long dilapidated Caesar’s Restaurant on Tijuana’s faded Avenida Revolucion following a complete renovation.  As you will recall from my earlier blog, the Caesar Salad was invented by Caesar Cardini at his Tijuana restaurant in 1924!

Cardini had originally operated a restaurant in San Diego, California, but relocated to Tijuana with the advent of Prohibition.  Like many restaurateurs, Cardini believed a fine meal on-the-town required cocktails before dinner and wine with dinner.  In Tijuana, he could offer both.

Caesar's Restaurant in 1924 at its original site before moving to its current location in 1927.

According to Caesar’s daughter Rosa, her father invented the dish when a Fourth of July 1924 rush depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the tableside tossing “by the chef.”  Whether or not this is actually the salad’s origin, the result is the most spectacular salad in the world.

Caesar's Restaurant in the 1940s

Caesar's Restaurant today

Last Saturday, Polynesian Pop historian Sven A. Kirsten, merchandising maven Naomi Alper, and I made a pilgrimage to Caesar’s Restaurant to experience the original recipe for ourselves. We drove to the border, parked our car, walked to the Mexican side, and took a $5 taxi ride to Caesar’s door.

Pete and Naomi at Caesar's entrance

And, just as when the restaurant was supervised by Caesar Cardini, a formally dressed ensaladero prepared the original Caesar Salad recipe tableside.

Ensaladero Efrain Montoya Gaxiola tosses the Caesar. Note the custom preparation cart, wood bowl, and whole pieces of Romaine lettuce

To me, the return of the Caesar Salad properly prepared by a skilled ensaladero in its restaurant of origin is nothing short of a miracle.

Montoya carefully arranges each leaf. Unlike American Caesar, the original requires a knife as well as a fork.

Here’s the original recipe:

Crisp Romaine lettuce, fresh garlic, anchovy paste, olive oil, ground pepper, dry mustard, coddled egg, Worcestershire Sauce, lime juice, and grated Romano cheese.  A single large crouton crowns the row of whole lettuce leaves.

Differing from the original, the American version adds red wine vinegar, Tabasco Sauce, and lemon juice instead of lime to the recipe.

Witnessing the Master at Work

And the result?  HEAVEN!

A Very Happy Mr. Pete

In addition, the restaurant is top drawer – first rate.  Excellent cuisine, terrific service, beautiful interior with walls lined with historic photos of old Tijuana.   Prices are reasonable.  And the bar is fully stocked and tended by a knowledgeable bartender.

 
Caesar’s restored interior. An island of civility on Avenida Revolucion

Following our cab ride back to the border we waited about 45 minutes in a line with some fascinating people to pass through U.S. customs (you need a passport now).   Oh, and by the way, there were no narcoterrorists roaming the streets and we felt completely safe.  Sadly, because of irrational fear, there were few American tourists on Avenida Revolucion, which is very weird if you remember what that once-crazy street was like in the 1990s.  So, the point is, there is no excuse for you not to follow our lead and get on down to TJ and the original Caesar’s!  

About Peter Moruzzi

Historian Peter Moruzzi is passionate about the middle decades of the 20th century: its nightlife, classic dining, and architecture. Born in Concord, Massachusetts and raised in Hawaii, Moruzzi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and later attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. In 1999, he founded the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) an architectural preservation group. In 2006, Moruzzi produced "Desert Holiday," a jaunty documentary chronicling the history of the Coachella Valley as seen through vintage postcards. He is also the author of "Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground" and "Palm Springs Holiday: A Vintage Tour From Palm Springs to the Salton Sea." Moruzzi's latest book is titled "Classic Dining: Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants" with photography by Sven A. Kirsten. Peter Moruzzi resides with his partner in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles and in Palm Springs.
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10 Responses to Home of Original Caesar Salad Reopens in Tijuana

  1. Pingback: “Cheap Foodie Thrills in TJ” – San Diego Reader

  2. Kellie Cracker says:

    Hey Peter! Some friends and I took your advice and ventured down to TJ to eat at Caesar’s about a month ago. It was delicious! We had a great time. Everyone was super friendly (except for a drunk guy that hassled us at the border) and accommodating. We felt totally safe and enjoyed that fact that there weren’t hoards of American tourists getting sh*t faced everywhere (although it’s not good for the TJ economy). It was a great weekend adventure and we owe it all to you!!

    • I’m so happy that my blog post motivated a visit to Caesar’s. It’s a very different world there from 15 years ago…but the fact that the restaurant can thrive on a local clientele is encouraging.

      Avanti!

      Peter

  3. Pingback: Making plans for my trip to Tijuana with friends « It's Richie Again! Humor, Politics, Religion, Travel, and More!

  4. Joanne O'Sullivan says:

    Lovely to see you yesterday, Peter and thank you for providing me a lovely distraction from chemistry with your blog! ¡Amo ensalada de Caesar!
    Joanne

  5. Richie says:

    I would LOVE to visit that place! As a kid, I loved Tijuana so much, the glorietas without stop lights on Paseo de los Heroes, betting in Jai Alai and then going to Hipódromo de Agua Caliente, etc. Now, the glorietas are not the same with stop lights and Jai Alai’s been closed for ten years. I have always wanted to try the original Caesar Salad but I thought it was near Jai Alai, where Tijuana Tilly used to be. I have always wanted to visit the right spot where Caesar Salad was invented. Nobody believed me when I insisted it was invented in Tijuana!

    • Well, hopefully they’ll believe you now! Tijuana is a fascinating place with a remarkable history. My friend Chris Nichols celebrates the vast Agua Caliente resort that existed there in the 1920s and 1930s in his book “The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister.” Now, with the new gourmet restaurants that have opened, there’s more of a reason to visit than ever.

  6. I love discoveries like this!! Your book about Havana inspired me to write a fictional mystery set in pre-Castro Havana, and now I’m learning to speak Spanish. Really enjoyed this write-up, just wish I lived closer to Mexico!

    • It’s wonderful to hear from readers who appreciate my Havana book, which took years to gather the images depicting its fascinating pre-Castro atmosphere. Let me know when your fictional mystery is published!

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