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The Mexico-U.S. Border Reopened Today. Here’s Why This Is Important to Tijuana’s Food Scene and Mexican Nationals

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]f crossing the Tijuana border into the U.S. felt like an eternity the last time you entered the scrum of SUVs and sedans angling for entry, you should have seen it last night.

On Sunday night at midnight, Covid-initiated border restrictions were eliminated after 20 months, allowing fully vaccinated travelers with visas and border crossing cards to enter the States again from Mexico and Canada.

This slackening of previous constraints unleashed a backed-up crush of vehicles running several miles long at the MexiCali port of entry, according to the L.A. Times. Eager lines of pedestrians waiting for the clock to strike at 12 AM were reportedly also dense. As of this morning, the paper reports that the flow across all Tijuana border crossings seems relatively light.

Tijuana chef José Figueroa
Tijuana chef José Figueroa

The last 20 months of restrictions have only made it possible for so-called “essential workers” to come into the U.S. from Mexico and Canada, keeping family members apart and straining businesses and workers that rely on some dependable sense of border fluidity and access.

Now, visitors and workers with visas or border crossing cards will not require an “essential” reason to come to the U.S., signaling another positive change as vaccinations help lift the suffocating shroud of Covid-19. The removal of these obstacles will likely help boost vehicular tourism back to Mexico, as well. Before the pedestrian and vehicle border entry to the U.S. was back open, the only way that Tijuanenses were able to travel to the U.S. was by airplane, which many border Mexican residents did in order to comply to the arbitrary laws.

Tijuana chef José Figueroa, the owner of La Carmelita and the Corazón de Tortas food trucks, as well as a concept called El Casimiro that opened just weeks before the pandemic, tells L.A. TACO that having more open access to the U.S. will surely hold beneficial impacts for restaurateurs like him.

“For some of us, it’s a relief,” Figueroa says. “We can now go and buy kitchen supplies, oil, plastic containers, you name it, for a way better price than in Tijuana. We're so used to being able to cross whenever we want, that these almost two years felt weird."

Figueroa lists the many reasons people like him cross the border into the U.S. on a daily basis, including small things like shopping, “nice dates,” and concerts, to uniting with family and friends. He also cites Tijuananses with dire needs to visit the States, not just for shopping and recreation, but to visit P.O. boxes and U.S. bank accounts.

Figueroa typically crosses by foot back-and-forth from TJ to San Diego and recommends this as the surest way to avoid spending half your life in border traffic, which could get extra thick in the weeks to come, given the collision of these new rules with a pending rush of holiday travel.

Tostada de ceviche tatemado, local Rosarito yellowtail, charred tomatillo salsa, smoked soy sauce, jícama, Persian cucumber and guacamole purée
Tostada de ceviche tatemado, local Rosarito yellowtail, charred tomatillo salsa, smoked soy sauce, jícama, Persian cucumber and guacamole purée
Figueroa's chepiche herb tamal, crispy potato, Ensenada sea urchin, pico de gallo salsa.
Chepiche herb tamal, crispy potato, Ensenada sea urchin, pico de gallo salsa.

And while we’re foaming at the mouth, imagining easier getaways to Tijuana for dishes like Figueroa’s Rosarito yellowtail ceviche tatemado with smoked soy sauce and his chepiche tamal topped with local uni, this newfound appetite for better border fluidity naturally works both ways.

“For someone who loves to eat, we can finally go over to San Diego and L.A. and enjoy your sick food culture,” the chef tells L.A. TACO. “I can’t wait to have my yakitori fix, Sichuan-style food, a really good pho, or even an In-n-Out Burger, jajaja.”

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