Javier Plascencia, the chef behind Mision 19 and Finca Altozano, is alternately referred to as "the Tijuanense celebrity chef” and "Tijuana's hero." The reason behind the effusive monikers is two-fold: first, he is credited with saving the Tijuana fine dining scene; second, he played a large part in restoring the city's image following a wave of violence in 2007.
As a culinary destination, Tijuana is perhaps best known for its street food. But it also has a lesser-known tradition of fine dining. Plascencia’s family, which owns and runs 10 restaurants including Mision 19, has been at the heart of that tradition for almost 30 years. At Mision 19, whose name is a tribute to the artisanal food of Spanish missions from Baja to Northern California, every ingredient used and every wine poured is sourced from within a 120-mile radius, from the Tijuana markets to the vineyards of Guadalupe Valley to the farmer's markets in San Diego.
Plascencia, who was born and raised in Tijuana but attended high school and culinary school in San Diego, calls his cooking “Baja Mediterranean” or “Baja Med." It's a style defined by a fusion of traditional Mexican cuisine combined with Asian flavors and fresh local ingredients, among them wine and olive oil, that are the result of Baja California’s Mediterranean-like weather.
“This [Baja Med] is a fresher, more modern approach, but I still use maíz, masa, tortilla, and chile; not only because they are Mexican ingredients but because they are all part of my dishes," Plascencia said.
The restaurant, which recently celebrated its third anniversary, is located in the city’s business district, Zona Urbana Rio, on the second floor of a contemporary concrete building with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that create an open, friendly atmosphere. “When we opened we knew it wasn’t the best time to do it; yet it has evolved and we got a great response from people,” Plascencia said.
Though Mision 19 is his priority and where you'll find him most days, Plascencia's Finca Altozano, an outdoor restaurant-vineyard on a 2 acre plot in Baja California's Guadalupe Valley, will start taking more of his time. The reason? Expansion.
“This summer we want to have a villa with cabins so people have the option to stay with us.” said Plascencia. “Though we already have a presence here, we never expected this acceptance and success.”
What's next for Plascencia? Find out here.