To the untrained eye, Caesar Salad looks simple—little more than lettuce, cheese and croutons. But the delightful tossing of romaine, fresh Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, egg, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and, often, anchovies is much more complicated than that. And the story behind the salad’s creation is a perfect example of how the intermingling of regional cooking can produce culinary magic. There are several legends about how the Caesar Salad was invented, but nearly all of them revolve around Caesar Cardini - a French-inspired Italian chef who immigrated to America before moving to Mexico to escape prohibition.
In 1896 Caesar Cardini was born near northern Italy’s Lake Maggiore. But other than that little is known about his early life until he moved to North America in the 1910s. A December 1919 ad in the Sacramento Union promoting the grand opening of “Brown’s Restaurant,” a joint venture from a Wm. Brown and Caesar Cardini, indicates he likely landed in northern California, (the ad also notes that they worked together at San Francisco's Palace Hotel, which still stands today). A few years later, Cardini made his way south to San Diego, where he operated a French restaurant in a building that's still standing on University Avenue. But in 1920, congress enacted prohibition across the United States. And while Cardini kept his business open in San Diego, he launched a second restaurant across the border in Tijuana where he could serve alcohol.
Throughout prohibition, Tijuana was the place for Southern California elites to go for a drink. The Los Angeles Times called Tijuana “the city that was Vegas before Vegas was Vegas.” Douglas Fairbanks, Jean Harlin and Charlie Chaplin were just a few of the stars known to frequent the Mexican border town for a little drinking and gambling. It was in this atmosphere that Caesar Cardini opened his restaurant along the then-hopping Main Street, today called Avenida Revolución.