Border Crossing–Lobster Lunch in San Diego/Mexico

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Border Crossing–Lobster Lunch in San Diego/Mexico

Border Crossing

Usually by eleven in the morning I’ve already started to prepare lunch. I’ll have chopped my vegetables into contrasting bite-sized pieces, washed and rinsed tender leaves of lettuce, and marinated fillets of fish or chicken in aromatic herbs with long thin pulls of zesty lemon or lime, but this particular weekend our friends had a different idea.

“Come on. Grab your sunglasses.” Phil said. “We are going to Mexico for lunch.”

“Mexico?” I checked my watch. It was 11:21. “Now?”

My husband, Patrick, and I were in San Diego visiting Phil, his wife, Mindy, and their children. I knew we were close to the border but Mexico was still another country away.

However, the one thing I’ve learned in twenty-five years of travel is to say yes to everything…unless it happens after midnight, then be wary.

The six of us piled into the car and zoomed south, singing songs with the kids and letting the sea breeze blow through our hair. It was an easy, fun trip with little delay, not counting my insistence to pull over to look at the Mexican pottery, wooden doors, and wrought-iron fences in the stands lining the road. It was barely one o’clock when we sunk into the plastic chairs of a rooftop restaurant and ordered a round of Dos Equis and Mexican cokes but a hunger had overtaken all of us with the tantalizing smell that hit us when we walked through the doors.

“I want lobster, Mama.” Presley smiled the gap-toothed grin of a seven-year old who knew exactly why we were there. She pulled on Mindy’s skirt before rushing off to join her brother, Rocco, in a game of duck-duck-cactus, something that made no sense to the adults but brought peals of laughter to the two of them.


“She eats lobster?” My small-town, middle-of-Canada upbringing was shocked.  “I think I was in my late twenties before I had my first taste of lobster.”

Mindy’s eyes, the color of the cilantro spiking the guacamole, reflected the hot sun overhead. “Just you wait. She does more than taste.”

No sooner had I finished my first beer and devoured a basket of warm salty tortilla chips with juicy piquant salsa when a platter of seared lobsters, beans, fresh soft tortillas, and tomato rice arrived. I couldn’t believe the number of tails on the platter, enough for three per person at least.

“Are we going to be able to finish all these?” I asked. They were small but there was a pile of them. In fact, they were so small there was no way they could be legal…although, this side of the border, just past Tijuana, legal may be relative.

“Presley will.” Mindy tucked a blond Southern-Californian curl behind her ear and reached for a tail while calling her children over. A three-man Mariachi band approached the table to serenade us with South of the Border and another round of cold beers appeared.


Presley and Rocco came running and before she was even seated Presley had grabbed a tail and was pulling the white meat from the shell.

The lobsters were firm, yet tender, and full of flavor, adorned with little more than a brush of butter and a sprinkling of seasoning. I wrapped mine in a tortilla and squeezed lime over the meat before dipping it in the brothy beans. The buttery seared flesh made me think I’d been serving the dish wrong for years. Between the men’s voices and strum of the guitar, the searing sun, the cold beer, and flavor of the food I was lulled into a hazy afternoon.

The hours rolled on as one platter was replaced by a second. Mindy was right, Presley tore through tail after tail, the smile on her face increasing with each bite. Before I knew it, the perfect afternoon had passed and we were back in the car headed north.

It was only then, on our way home that the real show began. I’d heard stories of long lines and hot cars at the border as US Immigration and Boarder Patrol checked passports and vehicles but nothing could have prepared me for the slow crawl of cars as far as the eye could see. Bumper-to bumper lines of traffic filled the front window long before the steel structure signaling the USA line came into view.

“I hope no one has to go to the bathroom.” Phil shifted the car into park knowing we weren’t going anywhere fast. I instantly regretted the last beer and felt guilty that our friends would have to suffer this line just so I could have lobster for lunch.


A man sporting a mustache and long black hair pulled into a low ponytail tapped on the car window. He held up a shiny brass Last Supper. It was almost as long as the car itself.

“You want, lady?”

I smiled and waved him off wondering just where I would put such a large piece of “art”.

Rocco laughed from his car seat and pointed out the opposite window at a boy, no older than himself, juggling five red, yellow, and orange balls as he weaved between the fenders of our neighbors.


Ahead, a woman held one shoe aloft calling out a price. One shoe, just one. Like Cinderella, she had a lot of work ahead of her to make a sale. Who would want just one shoe?

Both kids squealed as they spotted two men holding puppies aloft. Their pleas to let them in the car filled the air.

Wide-brimmed sombreros, plastic wresting mats, Day of the Dead dolls, and bobble-head turtles did not tempt us to roll down the window but the car erupted in unanimous agreement when the stand selling tacos and grilled corn came into view.

It could have been agonizing. It could have been painful. But in the end, it was entertaining. As the car pulled into the driveway in San Diego many hours later, I shook the kids awake. I couldn’t think of a better day. Tasty and entertaining. What better reason to cross the border into another country for lunch?



Puerto Nuevo Lobsters

pieces of fresh lobster being grilled


6 spiny lobsters (whole or just tails)

1 bottle of Dos Equis (+ more for the table)

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon onion powder

1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 limes

warm flour tortillas



Refried beans

Tomato rice


  • Bring large stockpot of water, beer, and 2 tablespoons sea salt to boil. Plunge the lobsters, two at a time, into boiling water. Remove from the heat and let steep for 6 minutes (lobsters will not be fully cooked). Using tongs, transfer lobsters to ice water to cool.  Repeat with remaining lobsters. Using a large knife, crack open each shell by cutting the lobster lengthwise in half. Remove the intestinal tract and rinse away green tomalley.
  • Place a heavy-bottomed frying pan on the stove to heat over medium-high. Mix the remaining sea salt, garlic, onion and chipotle powder and sprinkle evenly over the flesh of the tails. Add the butter and olive oil to the pan and, working in batches, saute the lobsters flesh-side down in the butter for 5 minutes until golden brown.
    • Arrange the lobster halves, meat side up, on a platter. Repeat with the remaining lobster, changing the butter for fresh if it becomes to dark. Drizzle remaining butter over the lobsters once they are all cooked and squeeze lime over the tails.
      • Serve the lobsters, still in the shell, with guacamole, salsa, fresh tortillas, refried beans  and tomato rice.

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