3:40 p.m. Stop number six on the Baja culinary blitz brought our group of roving gourmands to Juan Pablo Ussel’s La Diferencia. Located in the zona gastronomica, this nine-year-old restaurant differentiates itself from neighboring temples of alta cocina with its adventurous, Mexico City-inspired menu.
The bill of fare offers a panoply of delights, from national treasures like chiles en nogada to Oaxacan snacks like chapulines (grasshoppers), escamoles (ant eggs), and gusanos de maguey (maguey worms). There truly is something for everyone at La Diferencia.
Our group settled in nicely in the Don Fernando patio—a shady space accented with bold colored tablecloths and chairs. We were served cool tamarind margaritas to start. The icy shards of sweet and sour were incredibly refreshing, especially in the late afternoon heat with impending food comas threatening to take hold.
Under normal circumstances, like when I haven’t eaten five meals prior, I would’ve killed the chips, salsa, and bean dip. However, with limited gastro real estate available, I could only muster two nibbles. The black bean dip sprinkled with cotija cheese was served just warm enough and was so hearty that I wished it was cold out.
Creepy critters were unfortunately out of season during our visit to La Diferencia, so we had to settle for dramatically less crawly options. We started off with spears of Mexican-style caprese salads (left). The skewers included nopales (cactus), panela cheese, red onions, and tomatoes drizzled in a green salsa. My first encounter with nopales was extremely positive. Its okra-like texture and bell pepper-like flavor was a novel treat for my jaded palate.
Next, came molotes—fried corn cakes stuffed with cheese and jalapeños (right). The molotes were dense pockets of cheesy peppery goodness; a definite crowd pleaser.
The star of the La Diferencia show were the crepas de huitlacoche, a classic Mexico City dish of corn fungus crepes smothered in poblano salsa. Interestingly, crepes arrived in Mexico during the period of French intervention. I was expecting some major funk in the fungus department, but both the flavor and texture of this dish were very mild and delicate. While I frown upon colonization, I do approve of the French imposing their culinary values upon others. The results are almost always delightful.
10611 Sánchez Taboada, Zona Río
Tijuana, BC, Mexico