Eating well and getting some travel in is the ultimate goal for busy parents. For Antonio and Kristin Díaz de Sandi, it’s also part of the job.
The couple behind lifestyle blog, Life and Food, and co-founders of culinary travel troupe, Club Tengo Hambre, never imagined they’d be able to pull off building a career around their love of food, entertaining, and tourism, especially with two young kids at home.
Rewind to 12 years ago, when mutual friends introduced Tijuana-raised Antonio to Kristin, an interior design student from Orange County, who was plotting a move abroad to continue her design education.
“I wasn’t really even looking for a relationship,” she laughs. “I was getting ready to move to Spain at the time, and this guy…”
Off she went, and the two “did the long distance thing,” until Kristin moved back to San Diego six months later.
“And here we are, married and two kids later,” he laughs.
While they come from different cultural backgrounds — he, Mexican-American, and she, from a large, Italian family — Kristin and Antonio’s shared passion for food and travel, and their respective creative backgrounds, spurred the idea for a creative digital outlet, which Kristin began in 2011.
“I love to cook; it’s my truest passion,” she claims, explaining that the blog began as a place to post recipes and photos of her growing family. “Then we started getting into posting photos of restaurants we went to, which naturally brought in Baja, because that’s just part of our life.”
The border into Baja California, their home away from home, is a roughly 10-minute drive from their true home in Chula Vista, San Diego. It’s a trip the family regularly makes, whether to visit Antonio’s family in Tijuana, or even just to grab tostadas for lunch. But in recent years, the region has gained major attention for its culinary scene — street tacos, gold medal wines, and freshly caught seafood for a sliver of the price you find in the States.
Says Kristin, “People started recognizing there’s a really cool food scene down there, and a craft brewery scene that’s just beginning to start, too. For ages, everyone associated Mexico with tequila, mezcal, and beer, but with wine, they’re suddenly like, ‘What?’”
“Tijuana doesn’t get its fair justification,” chimes in Antonio, who spent much of his life in a place that is merely known to many as a chaotic border town, rather than for its vibrant culture and buzzing food scene.
“People in California would ask us where to go locally for the best authentic Mexican food, and we’d say, ‘Uhh, Mexico.’ We started sharing our experience with our readers, and it went from there.”
With his background in graphic design, and hers in interiors and content, they’ve grown a lifestyle brand that not only inspires gringos to reconsider south-of-the-border travel, but actually helps them get there.
Club Tengo Hambre, which they operate with blogger friends based in Mexico City and Los Angeles, has been touted by Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue, and Forbes as one of the best ways to experience Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s gorgeous wine region, and one of Kristin’s all-time favorite places.
“It’s a completely different world, it’s just… wow,” she says, describing the rolling hills of vineyards, sunny olive orchards, and the fun of getting to experience the region transform from hidden gem to its recent heyday of hotel and winery openings, peaks in tourism, and unprecedented press coverage.
Her top three picks for wine lovers?
“You’re putting me on the spot,” she laughs. “It doesn’t seem fair, because there are so many, but JC Bravo, who’s kind of like the John Wayne of De Valle, makes an incredible red called Carignan. At Lechuza Winery, which is family-owned, there’s another red, a blend that was developed for the founder’s daughter’s wedding, called Amantes, which means ‘the lovers.’ And for a sparkling, Vena Cava’s is one of the best I’ve had, made in Mexico with the French Champagne method.”
On the food front, the duo says they make a variety of cuisines at home, depending on their mood.
“If Kristin could cook French every day, she would,” swears Antonio, “but sometimes, she’ll make things like caldo de pollo, a chicken soup that my mom used to make on cold days.”
“I also got access to his abuelita’s refried Peruano bean recipe,” she says smugly. “Which I consider the holy grail.”
For on-the-road recommendations, Antonio suggests: “The carne asada tacos from Tacos El Franc, in Tijuana — the smoky flavor, with guacamole, is my home dish, whether for lunch or at 3am. Fish tacos from El Fenix in Ensenada, that’s another winner. Oooh, or there’s the asada sorta from WashMobile, with mesquite-grilled meat, served on toasted ciabatta-style bread with guacamole, pickled onions, and salsa.”
Get the couple talking about food and wine, and it’s evident how they’ve built their business.
“It’s been a gift, merging our passions to find a niche and create this dream job,” says Kristin. “We love to host and entertain people, especially when there’s food and wine involved.”
Antonio says having a family makes it tricky at times, but totally manageable, and even more fun. “We tag team, we work from home, and it gets chaotic around the house sometimes of course, but we have an opportunity to balance family with work. Every day is a different day, and totally unpredictable.”
Their proximity to Baja and flexible work schedules allow them to make it a family affair, and they frequently bring their kids, Giovanni, 7, and Camila, 3, on the road with them.
“A lot of people are intimidated by traveling with kids, and its not always easy, unicorns and rainbows,” Kristin explains, “but that’s the fun of it.”
Though they love their lives in San Diego, the travel-minded Díaz de Sandia’s often consider taking their work on further, more longer-term voyages. France, Italy, the Caribbean, and even San Francisco beckon their curious appetites for food and culture.
But for now, they’ve got the best of both worlds in their sunny pocket of SoCal, where mind-blowing tacos and world class wines are just a road trip away.
“My favorite part has to be showing the true colors of Mexico — the cosmopolitan side of Tijuana and its wide variety of arts, and those moments when people realize it’s all really about family, friends, and culture,” explains Antonio. “I love telling people, ‘No pasa nada,’ — you’re here and everything is okay.”
Marie Salcido is a freelance writer based between Mexico City and San Francisco. Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the middle of seven children, family has always been a top priority, though her appetite for new places has pulled her far from her Midwestern roots. Whether posted in her home cities or exploring new locales, Marie’s keen interest in people has accompanied her throughout her travels, reaffirming her belief that the more you see of the world, the smaller it gets. Find her on Instagram at @mdsalcido.