TIJUANA. Food Garden Plaza Rio held it's inaugural event the evening of Tuesday, May 19th, marking the official opening of Mexico's only mall-based food hall. Food Garden Plaza Rio was designed around similar food hall concepts - such as Mexico City's Mercado Roma - with the distinction that it's the only food hall in the country to be based inside of a shopping mall.
Unlike typical shopping mall food courts, however, there's not a Sbarro or Panda Express to be found in this 11,000 square foot space located behind the Cineopolis in Tijuana's Plaza Rio. But there are 12 unique, very individualized kitchens that feature some of the region's best chefs and cuisine. From acclaimed chef Martin San Roman's French rotisserie La Rotisserie San Roman to young chef Jose Figueroa's elegant take on Mexican classics at Don Zefe, the variety of food on offer here will require repeat visits in order to sample everything.
Additionally, there are 13 market stalls that sell regional products such as homemade tapenades, cheese, bon bons, ice cream and more. Hugo and Gloria D'Acosta's national wine store La Contra has a space in the Food Garden where they sell fine mezcals in addition to wide array of Valle de Guadalupe wines. A cantina which will be open later than the kitchens and markets - was just completed. And celebrity chef Javier Plascencia's demonstration kitchen is coming soon.
Tijuana officials, including Undersecretary of Baja California Tourism Ives Lelevier, kicked off the inaugural event with a press conference. Immediately after, owner Ricardo Nevárez and the dignitaries in attendance cut the ribbon to officially open the Food Garden Plaza Rio. Hungry guests rushed in to enjoy restaurant and market samples, chat with chefs and mingle with fellow foodies and press.
The guest list was a "who's-who" of the Baja California and San Diego region's most noted culinarians and supporters. Spotted were Fernando Gaxiola of Baja Wine + Food, Patty Villareal and Marco Bejarano of Think Blue Seafood, photographer Josue Castro and Karla Navarro of The Kitchen, chef Ryan Steyn and Suzie Monsalve of El Jardin de Adobe, and "eater's advocate" Javier Guerra aka: Opinólogo Gastronómico Tijuana, among others.
When we met with Ricardo Nevárez during construction phase earlier this year, he described the Food Garden Plaza Rio concept as a "gastronomic ecosystem". "The food hall in Zona Rio will provide the space and opportunity for culinary experimentation," he explained. "Established chefs can experiment here with new ideas. And startup is a lot easier for young chefs since there's a low initial investment and a pre-designed scheme that removes most of the guesswork that comes with restaurant or retail planning."
If the Food Garden Plaza Rio inauguration Tuesday night was any indication, Mexico's first mall-based food hall will be culinary ground zero to catch up with acclaimed chefs and regional products, and to get acquainted with some new ones as well. Buen provecho!
Food Garden Plaza Rio is located at the Plaza Rio shopping mall at Paseo de los Héroes #96, Zona Río, 22010 Tijuana Baja California. Facebook: Food Garden Plaza Rio. Open from 10AM