A less-traveled gateway to Baja is renowned for terrific tastes

By midday in the friendly Mexican town of Tecate, just overthe border in a rocky clutch of mountains near San Diego, therhythmic tunk-tunk-tunk of cleavers chopping sizzling carne asadadrifts down the sidewalks and tope-ridged streets. Topes are speedbumps, and they help determine Tecate's unhurried ambience―apace quite different from the blazing speed at which the town'smasterful taco chefs assemble paper-wrapped packets of puffy, hottortillas, grilled meat or beer-battered fish, and a dollop or twoof each stand's trademark salsa. Tacos are big business here; tastethem and you'll know why.

Many of the best taquerías are within walking distance ofthe tree-shaded main plaza. Finding the plaza is easy, but beforeleaving the United States, pick up one-day auto insurance ($10-$40;contact your insurance agency―standard U.S. policies are notvalid in Mexico). Cross the border via State 188, and head down thehill four blocks to Cárdenas and Juárez streets. Park asclose to the plaza as possible. We don't list many addresses or anyphone numbers because there are few posted street numbers andthere's no need to call ahead―of these four favorites,several are bound to be open on any given day.

If you fancy fish, from the plaza walk two blocks west onJuárez, then north on Obregón street to bright blueMariscos Chemel (230 Obregón). Its tempura-like seafood tacoshave a sublime crunch. Back on Juárez, walk west to Tacos LaGuerita (at Santana street) to sample tacos al pastor, made withspicy meats sliced from a vertical rotisserie. Ask for grilledgreen onions, charred and sweet.

Closer to the plaza, Los Amigos Taquería (corner of MiguelHidalgo and Ortiz Rubio, southeast of the plaza) sends clouds ofmesquite smoke into the air, heralding its popular carne asadatacos and quesadillas. Finally, on the plaza's east side, look forLa Placita (30 Ortiz Rubio), where you can sit in leather andsplit-wood chairs and watch the world go by while indulging in moreof Tecate's finest.

Travel Planner

WHERE: Tecate is 40 miles southeast of downtown San Diegovia State 188, a winding mountain road. FYI: To visit Tecate byhistoric train, contact the San Diego Railroad Museum: (619)595-3030 or www.sdrm.org.

CONTACT: Tecate Tourism Trust, on the plaza: 011 52 (665)654-5892.

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