With Tijuana frequently being mentioned as one of the culinary capitals of Mexico, particularly in regard to modern cuisine, there is no shortage of great places to write about. When I think of groundbreaking, original food, that still manages to maintain its principles of authenticity and taste, I think of one place: Tras Horizonte.
When I have guests in town that want to be wowed, I take them to Tras Horizonte. Tras Horizonte has an enormous menu, in which every plate is a winner. It’s like listening to an album that has no bad songs. Even at some of the best restaurants, it’s extremely challenging to present a menu of nothing but winners, but yet somehow, Tras Horizonte has managed to capture that magic.
From Tacos Kokopelli to Tras Horizonte
Tras Horizonte started out years ago as Tacos Kokopelli, a humble street cart with four signature plates: three tacos and one ceviche tostada. It turns out that those four plates were so unique and flavorful, that the fledgling cart grew a cult-like following, with all four of those originals still carried to this day. Tacos Kokopelli is now Tras Horizonte (Spanish for “Beyond the Horizon”), located in a converted old warehouse next door to the Mega Dulces candy warehouse.
Chef Guillermo “Oso” Campos is a visionary, pioneer, and genius in my book. I’ve eaten a tremendous amount of food in Mexico, both classic and modern, but his inventions are unique in their DNA. They stand out as signature dishes that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else.
One of Chef Oso’s original four dishes is a signature taco called El Kraken (named after the legendary sea monster), which is grilled octopus, marinated in Mexican pesto sauce. El Kraken is crunchy on the outside, due to not only the octopus being grilled, but the entire taco being crisped on a grill before being served to you “dorado.”
It’s juicy, due to the soft, plump texture of the octopus, and has a nice balance of tang, earthiness, and salt, due to the pesto sauce and cheese. This is without a doubt, one of my favorite grilled octopus tacos.
Gringos en Vacaciones
The Gringos en Vacaciones is a taco containing a roasted chile california, stuffed with camarones adobados (shrimp in a tangy, mildly spicy, adobo sauce). Like most of Tras Horizonte’s tacos, it’s crisped to perfection before serving. The name jokingly refers to the red color of the chile california being similar in color to a sun burnt gringo. If you like any sort of chile relleno, this taco is a must for you.
The Black Harder (the name pokes fun at local Mariscos chain “El Negro Durazo”) is one the best ceviche dishes that I’ve had in Mexico. It contains expertly cut lenguado (sole), cured in citrus, soy sauce, squid ink, and other spices and seasonings.
The Black Harder is served on top of a flame crisped tostada and topped with ultra thin slices of purple onion, guacamole, cilantro, and sesame seeds. Despite it being served on a tostada, and its difference in color, this dish reminded me of the ceviche de lenguado that I had in Peru, and is by far the closest approximation in terms of fish flavor, curing time, and texture.
Rasta and Pibil
The Rasta is a taco containing grilled shrimp, marinated in chimichurri, with pimentos and black olives. Naturally, it’s also grilled to a nice crisp “dorado” perfection before being served to you. The Taco Pibil takes the smoked marlin that we all love to eat in tacos gobernadores, and instead cooks it in a Yucatecan pibil seasoning comprised of sour orange, achiote, and assorted spices.
Pambazo de Atún
The Pambazo de Atún is a Baja Californian modification of a Mexico City classic. Pambazos are essentially tortas made of pambazo bread (said to have been Italian in origin) that has been lightly fried in oil and chile guajillo on both sides. This gives the pambazo its slightly crispy outside texture and lovely red hue. The tortas usually contain chorizo con papas (sausage and potato), but I’ve had other variations in Mexico City as well.
I’d never had a pambazo with tuna (atún) in it, until I ate at Tras Horizonte. Not only does the Pambazo de Atún look amazing, being perfectly crisped and bright red on the outside, it tastes like divine perfection. The smoked tuna is guisado (stewed on low heat with spices), and then topped with a crispy cheese crust (much like a miniature chicharron de queso) and a cream made of chile poblano and chipotle. This is without a doubt, the best tasting pambazo that I’ve ever had.
Burrito de Escargots
Next up is the Burrito de Escargots. If you think Chef Oso’s other dishes are unique, this dish is something from another planet. Take escargot, prepared in the classic French manner: loaded with butter, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Now add local Mexican herbs, and wrap the Escargot in a perfectly fire-crisped, handmade flour tortilla, topped with heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced purple onions and pimentos, cilantro, sesame seeds, and salsa. This is one of the best escargot dishes one can eat in a lifetime.
Taco de Panza Ahogada
The Taco de Panza Ahogada is Chef Oso’s unique take on tacos de tripa (beef tripe). I love tacos de tripa from street carts, but I understand that not everyone else does. This version, however, would leave even the most staunch tripe hater in disbelief. In fact, they likely wouldn’t even know it were tripe at all. The tripe is cooked over low heat to a super soft state, then seasoned well and crisped inside its corn tortilla.
Upon being served to you, the taco is placed in a bowl and drowned in a consumé, and topped with thinly sliced purple onion, radish, purple cabbage, and herbs. The combination is surreal. The consumé has a spicy, tangy flavor, with an aroma like that of lemongrass combined with menudo, while the taco is crunchy like a fried wonton. The cabbage and herbs compliment the broth, and provide balance to the meat profile.
Hamburguesa de Costilla
The Hamburguesa de Costilla is a hamburger made entirely out of pork rib meat. It’s topped with nicely melted Gouda cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and mole rojo. It arrives with a side of crispy, breaded onion rings, and a salad dressed with escabeche de xoconostle (a sour variety of prickly pear).
This pork rib burger is the perfect antidote to something that we so frequently encounter at modern bars in the United States: the prototypical designer “steak-burger” on a flimsy, pretentious brioche bun. Unlike those burgers, the pork rib burger’s patty is sandwiched between two handmade buns that have enough surface area and volume to support it, along with its toppings. Unlike a pretentious brioche bun, this bun lacks any sweetness, as a bun rightly should. The juiciness and flavor of the pork rib meat, combined with the toppings and mole rojo, make this my award winner for best burger in TJ, hands down.
Mixiote de Pato
If you’ve eaten traditional barbacoa, you’ve likely tried a mixiote or two. Mixiote is similar to barbacoa, in that it takes large chunks of meat marinated in spices, and wraps them in maguey leaves (Maguey is the plant that provides us with pulque and mezcal), then cooked over hot stones in the ground. It differs from barbacoa in that it uses the natural parchment film of the maguey plant traditionally, though these days most just use parchment paper, as a way of not killing the plant.
Mixiote has different ingredients than barbacoa, with the spice combination usually leaving a bright red color on the meat. The meat can consist of chicken, fish, pork, lamb, beef, and rabbit. I’ve mostly had it made from rabbit, so finding a version made of of duck, something that I love to eat, really piqued my interest. The mixiote de pato at Tras Horizonte has a rich flavor and the spices greatly compliment the duck’s flavor. The tortillas provided with this dish are made from plantains, providing a wonderfully concentrated starch kick to match the delicious natural oils found in the duck meat.
Chilorio de Borrego
Chilorio is traditionally made in the state of Sinaloa. It consists of chunks of pork rendered in their own fat until soft, and then fried in a bright red salsa made from chile guajillo, garlic, onions and other spices. The Chilorio de Borrego at Tras Hoirizonte utilizes the flavor of lamb. The meat is then served on sopes, which are fried corn masa. Sopes are thicker than tostadas, so that they are less brittle and can withstand the weight and volume of toppings better.
Sopes also have elevated sides, which help to keep toppings and sauces within the sope. Lastly, since they are thicker than a tostada, they are initially crunchy on the outside, but are little doughier on the inside. The sopes are topped with beans, and then topped with the chilorio de borrego, which itself is topped with thinly sliced radish, purple onions and cabbage, and herbs.
Vegetarian Dishes That Actually Taste Good
Tras Horizonte also has vegetarian plates. The Taco Italiano contains a mesquite roasted portabello mushroom in cilantro pesto sauce and cheese. The Ensalada de Betabel contains roasted beets, various greens, gorgonzola cheese, candied peanuts, and balsamic vinaigrette with maguey honey.
Portabellinis are small portabello mushrooms stuffed with goat cheese, Oaxacan cheese, and Gouda. These dishes are well worth eating, even if, like me, you’re not a vegetarian. They’re rich, filling, and extremely satisfying, just like their meat counterparts.
The Six Salsas
Every meal at Tras Horizonte is accompanied by their salsa plate of six house made salsas. The salsas appear to be arranged in order of spiciness. The first salsa is a curtido of pickled purple onion and vinegar. The next is a mildly sweet pineapple salsa. Things begin to heat up with a salsa comprised of roasted chile de arbol peppers, peanuts, and olive oil.
Next, we have a salsa made with pepitas (pumpkin seeds), roasted jalapenos, and bell peppers. Our fifth salsa is the chef’s version of Xnipec (Mayan for dog’s nose), made with sour juices, cucumber, purple onion, and habanero. Lastly, is Lucifer’s Tears, a concentrated inferno made from pureed beet and habanero.
Don’t Forget the Booze
Did I mention that Tras Horizonte makes a mean drink? This restaurant makes freshly made cocktails (both alcoholic and virgin), in addition to carrying an assortment of beer and distilled spirits (including the occasional Sonoran Bacanora).
My favorite cocktail is the Chapulín Colorado: mezcal, purple prickly pears, lemon, bitters, and chapulín (grasshopper) salt. It comes with a cocktail stirrer topped with a crispy fried chapulín. It’s strong and tangy, with a small finish of salt.
Look Beyond the Horizon
One of the most surprising aspects of eating at Tras Horizonte is that it it won’t punish your wallet. This restaurant is insanely popular with locals, and can get rather crowded on weekend evenings. In spite of its popularity, creativity, and vast menu, it is surprisingly affordable, with wonderful service to boot. If you want innovation and authenticity under one roof, you have to look beyond the horizon and head out to Tras Horizonte.
Tras Horizonte is open from 1:00 PM to 10:00 PM, Tuesday through Thursday, 1:00 PM to 11:00 PM, Fridays and Saturdays, and 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM, Sundays.
Río Colorado 9680
Tijuana, BC 22015
+52 664 622 5062