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The Tijuana restaurant that popularized the Caesar salad has closed, an apparent victim of a tourism-dependent economy devastated by crime, drug violence and the swine flu.
The slump in visitors from the U.S. also appeared to have claimed another food innovator on the border -- an eatery linked to the invention of nachos in the town of Piedras Negras, across the Rio Grande from Texas.
Ironically, legend has it that both dishes were whipped up in a hurry to satisfy hungry U.S. visitors. Now they aren't coming, scared off by drug cartel turf battles that often occur in Mexico's border regions and by last spring's flu outbreak.
Employees at Caesar's restaurant said Friday that the business shut down Monday after decades of serving the romaine lettuce-and-dressing combination. The restaurant has ties to the Tijuana spot where the dish is believed to have been invented in the 1920s but had moved to a new location long ago.
"I showed up for work on Monday and I found all the furniture outside," said Miguel Angel Ventura Oros, who worked as a waiter at the restaurant the last three years. "The manager told us there was an eviction for not paying the rent."
Gabriela Mondragon, director of operations for the Tijuana office of the National Restaurant Chamber, said Caesar's "became famous for making a very classic, traditional version of this salad."
Martha Gonzalez, an employee of the Smart Price drug store next door to Caesar's, said the drop-off in tourism appeared to have done in the restaurant, which toward the end also functioned as a bar.
"They tried everything to revive it, but the tourism declined. It was mainly a bar, and occasionally they got a tourist who ordered the salad, but only for the sake of tradition," Gonzalez said.
Contacted by telephone, an employee of the Restaurant Moderno in Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas, confirmed the reputed birthplace of the nacho closed this summer.
A waiter at the Moderno, Ignacio Anaya, was credited with inventing the corn chip, cheese and jalapeno dish. The name came from Anaya's nickname, "Nacho."
The employee gave no reason for the shutdown, but local media quoted another employee as saying the closure in June was caused by a drop-off in business due to crime and the swine flu.