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Trip of the Week

Time Changes All, So Sample the New Tijuana

February 14, 1988|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms of Laguna Beach are authors of "Away for the Weekend," a travel guide to Southern California.

TIJUANA, Mexico — Recently the chefs of this Baja border city tossed the world's biggest Caesar's salad. Besides being part of the pre-Super Bowl festivities, it was a salute to Tijuana as the home of this renowned dish.

To sample the real thing, visit Hotel Caesar's bar and grill. Maitre 'd Tony Espericueta will toss the romaine lettuce, raw egg, Parmesan cheese and other ingredients at your table.

And don't bother telling him to hold the anchovies--the original salad didn't include those salty little fish. He'll gladly give you a card with the recipe that was concocted in 1936.

Caesar's salad hasn't changed since then, but much of Tijuana has. If all you remember is a tawdry, tacky tourist town, it's time for another taste.

Street Photographers Wait

Included on the new menu of attractions is the Tijuana Cultural Center, which boasts a museum, concert hall, Omnimax theater and quality folk-art shops. There's even a luxury hotel in the city, the 430-room Fiesta Americana.

Nine blocks of the best-known shopping street, Avenida Revolution, have been dressed up with wider sidewalks, trees and outdoor cafes. The street photographers are still there, however, waiting at the corners with their vintage cameras and striped donkeys.

Some of the older storefronts have given way to two-story complexes with modern shops and restaurants, such as Plaza Revolution. A Sanborn's department store just opened. You can buy everything there from handicrafts to electronic goods, chocolates and Mexican guidebooks.

But take a hand calculator along so you won't be shocked when your bill for margaritas and lunch comes to 33,000 (about $15) because the peso is now trading in shops and restaurants for 2,000 to 2,200 per dollar.

Brake for Insurance Policy

Drive to Tijuana from Los Angeles on Interstate 5 south. Just before or beyond the border, stop at one of the insurance offices to buy Mexican auto insurance for the length of your stay; U.S. policies aren't valid if you have an accident.

To your right, just past the border, is a tourist information building where you can pick up a map of the city. Then follow the "Centro" signs to downtown Tijuana and drive along Avenida Revolution.

Park in one of the guarded lots on adjacent or side streets. A convenient lot is next to the Fronton Palacio, where the ancient Basque game of jai alai is played nightly except Thursdays; enter from Calle 7 (7th Street).

Here is a guide to some shops and restaurants along Avenida Revolution, between Calle 1 and Calle 9.

Be sure to bargain for the Mexican handicrafts in souvenir stores; prices are fixed in boutiques and the better shops. Some are posted in dollars rather than pesos.

A popular but boisterous place to eat and drink is TiaJuana Tilly's inside the jai alai building. Just north (at 8th) is the Sanborn's store that also has a restaurant and remains open until 1 a.m.

A few steps west on 8th you can dine on steak and seafood at Reno. Other favorites for seafood are Pedrin's, opposite the Fronton Palacio, and La Costa, around the corner on 7th.

Famed Folk-Art Store

Be sure to visit Tijuana's famed folk-art store, Tolan, in its third decade across from the jai alai building.

Other excellent craft shops, such as La Carreta, are north on Avenida Revolution before 5th. They line a bazaar-like arcade called Ciro's. Also look for Jorge Espinosa's jewelry store.

On the opposite corner is Yucatan clothing at Ina Maya. It's in Hotel Caesar, where you can order the salad ($3.50) as well as other international and Mexican dishes.

In the next block (at 4th), fashionable clothing is on sale at Sara and Maxim. Across the avenue at the Gomez arcade, La Especial restaurant is crowded throughout the day.

Two blocks north you'll spot the Bol Corona bar and restaurant that opened in 1934 and has expanded into the twin-level Plaza Revolution. Bol Corona's daily special is a Mexican meal featuring carne asada and a margarita for $5.95.

Shops with leather goods fill this modern plaza, but to see the work of outstanding artisans from all over Mexico, go to Galerias Fernanda at the rear of the main floor.

Take your car to reach the cultural center that's marked by an immense sphere on Paseo de los Heroes. It's across from another shopping destination, Plaza Rio Tijuana, a huge, covered complex of more than 100 stores in the city's reclaimed river bed.

Nation of Contrasts

The big ball houses the center's space theater that features Omnimax films on a 180-degree screen. At 2 p.m. daily is the English version of "El Pueblo del Sol" (city of the sun), describing the history of Mexico and the nations's vast contrasts--from ancient temples to ultramodern cities.

An adjacent building has a museum that portrays Mexican history and its variety of life styles. It's open daily from 11 a.m. and includes special exhibits, jewelry and government arts and crafts shops and a restaurant.

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