Two years ago the city of Tijuana announced a “sister city” relationship with Cuba’s capital in addition to the one they have had for years with nearby San Diego. I was working as a border reporter at the time, and my research led me to a Cuban restaurant that had been started by a Cuban chef and his Mexican wife. It was the only one, as far as I could tell, in this entire city of more than 1.5 million people.
I’m happy to report that Sabor y Son is still open, and doing brisk business. During a recent weekend, I snacked on a Cuban-style combo plate as the place filled up with other diners eating in the small but cozy space that looks out into the street. The restaurant, which has been designed to make you feel like you are in a palapa or thatched hut, has become a sort of informal meeting place for other Cubans. In deference to local tastes, the owners make sure to provide their mostly Mexican clientele with an ample supply of chiles (which aren’t part of traditional Cuban food).
An estimated 200 to 400 Cubans live in Tijuana, where they find the culture and language more familiar than life in el Norte. There’s been some recent news reports that more Cubans are crossing into the United States through Mexico, particularly in Texas. Conversely, Cuba is a popular destination for many Mexicans (who are known to pack jars of chiles for their personal consumption). Tijuana has regular flights to the island.
Mexicans sometimes feel caught in the middle of the chilled relationship between communist Cuba and the United States. Mexican border states in particular are economically linked to their northern neighbor, for better or worse. At the same time, many Mexicans privately respect Cuba for standing up to the United States. You can read the original story I wrote about the Havana-Tijuana sister city relationship here.
Directions: The restaurant is not in the main dining section of Tijuana. If you are going by car from Avenida Revolucion, you would go to the end of Revo where it curves left and becomes Blvd. Agua Caliente. Continue through Agua Caliente (as it becomes Blvd. Diaz Ordaz) about 10-15 minutes, passing the large hotel towers on your right. Look for the Geo municipal auditorium on your right. You will turn left at that intersection onto Blvd. Las Americas. Pass the railroad tracks and continue about two blocks. Look for the Cuban flag logo on your right. Restaurant is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday at #218 Blvd. Las Americas.
Photos: (top) Cuban chef Pedro Valdes Montero fries up some plantains.
(bottom) Guests dine on traditional Cuban food at Sabor y Son.