Train passengers, on the other hand, tend to head for El Jardin. It's right on the square, and its outdoor tables are good for people watching, which proves better than the food. Women stroll past with their shopping bags as men wearing cowboy hats engage in animated conversations. A boy, probably in his early teens, weaves his way through the crowd, peddling a colorful variety of hard candies from his wheelbarrow.
For a better meal, the Schusslers amble north across the busy plaza to D'Arce, where the chef serves an all-day breakfast. Just beware of the red salsa that's served with the tortilla chips; it's red-hot.
Tecate, a town of 91,000, is enjoying an economic boom, thanks more to new manufacturers -- Toyota included -- than to tourism. The prosperity is evident a couple of miles east of the plaza at the town's newest, and finest, restaurant.
Perched on a hilltop, Restaurante Asao offers delicious meat and seafood dishes, delightfully presented with the panache of four-star restaurants in the U.S. but at lower prices. (The shrimp in mole sauce is outstanding.) Owner Jose Manuel Jasso offers free transportation around town for diners who book in advance.
Upon leaving Asao, guests may want to be dropped off outside El Mejor Pan for dessert. The town's most popular bakery, just two blocks east of the square, is well-known across northern Baja. More than 20,000 pastries, cookies and breads are baked here each day. Tecate isn't known for its handicrafts. "You don't find [craft items] in the center here," says Jose Villalobos, who manages the town's economic development commission. "That's a shame."
Villalobos and his colleagues are working on proposals to improve the visitor experience. His ideas include guided tours to various attractions, including the ancient petroglyphs near the town of La Rumorosa, and, not surprisingly, the development of an arts and crafts center.
"We can provide a lot more to the people who come by train," Villalobos says.
That may be true, but as the train's wheels squeal into motion for the return trip to Campo, none of the passengers is complaining about Tecate. In fact, they're singing its praises.
"I think it's pretty darn nice," says Bill Marthens, a retired trucker from Long Beach. "If you've gone into some of the [other] cities in Mexico, there's a big difference as far as cleanliness goes. It's quite clean here."
Marthens' wife, Gleda Anderson, agrees. "We didn't see any begging," she says. "We didn't have anyone approach us to ask for money. . . . Everybody we went by smiled."
It's also a relatively safe place for visitors. Bob Schussler says he'll never forget the trip on which he left his wallet behind in a restaurant. "They chased me for three blocks to give it back," he recalls.
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
If you go
Reservations must be made three days in advance. Here are more details:
The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum, (619) 465-7776), www.psrm.org. Operates trains between Campo, Calif., and Tecate, Mexico, one to two Saturdays a month. Schedules are on the website. Tickets cost $43 for adults and $23 for ages 3 to 12. Book well in advance, trips often sell out. The Campo depot and museum are on California Highway 94, 13 miles south of Interstate 8 (about a 75-minute drive from the junction of I-8 and Interstate 5 in San Diego). Passengers must have an official photo ID to present to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers upon U.S. reentry; beginning in June, a passport or passport card will be required. (For more information, visit www.cbp.gov and click on "Ready, Set . . . Go!")