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Jun 12, 2007 11:31 AM

Best Mexican in San Diego?

I'm visiting next week and based on Chow suggestions, I'm going to check out Izakaya Sakura. But what about Mexican? Whet's the best place I should try? ANy other restaurants that I shouldn't miss? Thanks from Cleveland (go Cavs!)

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  1. Well, this should stir up an interesting debate. Choosing the "best Mexican" in San Diego depends on what type of Mexican you want and where you are. Without that info, I'm just going to suggest my can't miss recommendations.

    Carnitisa Uruapan in Lemon Grove -- for carnitas, of course. It's worth the drive.

    Mama Testa Taqueria in Hillcrest -- for tacos. Not your hole-in-the-wall taco shop, but a great sampling of all kinds of tacos from different areas of Mexico. My favorite is the Yucatecos. in Casa de Oro -- again, it's east of the city, but worth the drive.

    Although I've not been there yet, Super Cocina in City Heights gets raves here.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Divamac

      I'm always surprised when people haven't gone to Super Cocina. Go already!

      1. re: Josh

        I'll second, triple and quadruple the suggestion for Super Cocina. My wife and I went there when we were visiting SD a few weeks ago. Wow! Don't let the look or all Spanish menu intimidate you. I had the chicken mole poblano and chicharrones in a piquant salsa verde sauce. My SO had chicken empanadas, enchiladas and chicken in some sort of verde-like sauce. The guy behind the counter was super friendly and gave us samples of everything. Coming from Boston where the Mexican food can't touch the stuff in California, this place rocks. This is the real deal.

        1. re: alsaman

          ditto on super cocina...and especially the recommendation about not letting the menu intimidate you. in my review from my visit last year, i commented that i wished i would have been more adventurous. it really is an amazing menu, and altho i was conservative, my meal was GREAT! Go - you won't regret it.

        2. re: Josh

          Alright, already! I'll go this weekend!

          1. re: Josh

            and i never get tired of it. it seems like there's always something new to try since they rotate some of their dishes.

            1. re: Josh

              As good as super cocina is (and I do like a good mexican style stew 6 days a week) its really hard to go with someone who avoids land animals or when its too warm for a stew.

              1. re: afinkle

                It may be worth asking them about vegetarian options. Certainly, most Mexicans eat vegetarian on most meals (well almost vegetarian as most of the sauces do have animal based broth and/or lard)... but if that is not a deterrent most of the stews are also great with vegetables like Nopales, Musrooms, Cauliflower, Squash or deep fried greens as the main ingredient.

            2. re: Divamac

              I third Mama Testa's and second El Cuervo for cheap, fast and good burritos, tacos, etc.

              1. re: daantaat

                i second el cuervo. especially if you're looking for you basic shredded beef taco.

                1. re: daimyo

                  I tried two things there. The al pastor mini tacos were probably the best I've had in SD, the carne asada was downright nasty.

                  1. re: mangiatore

                    carne asada is not from the best cut of meat. Their machaca is good as well as the basic rice, bean and cheese burrito. Their tacos and taquitos are basic and good.

                    1. re: daantaat

                      Are you saying that carne asada itself is not from the best cut of meat, or their carne asada specifically?

                      I'll try your suggestions. Thanks!

                      1. re: mangiatore

                        The carne there does not work in the mini tacos but it tasty in the carne asada burritos. Don't know why but that is the way it works.

                        1. re: jturtle

                          I had a carne asada burrito...maybe it was just a bad day?

                          1. re: mangiatore

                            Maybe. Their carne is not the best ever. But the bf really only orders carne at taco shops and he seems to enjoy it quite a bit. I usually snag a bite and it is better in the burritos then when I would get it as one of my mini taco choices. His favorite carne is at a taco shop in Tierrasanta called Tierra del Charo (in the Albertson's center).

                    2. re: mangiatore

                      I didn't like the carne either. i thought it was pretty bland, tough, and dry. plus, i really don't like their guacamole. too many tomatoes for my taste. in general, i stick to their shredded beef tacos. i can't get enough of them.

                2. re: Divamac

                  I second Rana' Very good, unpretentious Mexico City-style food and a great deal.

                  I go to El Agave for tequila and appetizers, but their prices on entrees have gone through the roof.

                  And based on this thread, I am definitely trying Super Cocina and Mama Testa's ASAP.

                  1. re: Divamac

                    I don't get the Mama Testa hype. I went there today during a visit from Los Angeles. After hearing all the raves, I figured it would be a great experience and was looking forward to it for my entire drive. I love taquerias, and have done my best to sample as many of the highly rated places on Bandini's Great Taco Hunt blog (about regarding LA taquerias) as possible.

                    I was profoundly disappointed by Mama Testa's. First, the fact that you cannot order single tacos really sucks if you are on our own. The only tacos you can mix and match are the steamed tacos. So in order to sample a variety, I wound up getting an order of the chorizo tacos (three of them) and a four-taco sampler of steamed tacos (two rajas, one potato, and one carnitas). I was bummed that i couldn't try the conchita pibil, but what I ordered was already $14.

                    Second, with respect to the tacos themselves, they should have been a lot better. The chorizo were quite good, and by far my favorite, but the tortillas were nothing special. The steamed tacos were so soggy that it was nearly impossible to separate them. The rajas -- peppers and cheese -- were okay. The potato was fine, but had little taste. The carnitas were a few string pieces of pork inside the soggy tortilla. Really bad. The tacos came to $2 each, but were smaller than most of the $1 tacos I can get in LA.

                    The third disappointement was the vaunted salsa bar . . . How is it possible to have twelves salsas at once and not to have single one with any kick? A couple were tasty, most notably the tomato and chipotle and the tomato and jalapeno, but even the three-chili salsas (the spiciest out there) lacked heat. I actually asked the owner about it and he responded that they cater to their "audience" which would cry if he put the hot stuff out. He then said they keep the hot stuff "in back" for him and the staff. Okay, so maybe they would share it with someone who wanted something spicy? Oh, but then he said that they didn't have any made.

                    If that's the best in San Diego for tacos, you have my pity. Given the proximity to Mexico, however, I'm sure there must be much better places.

                    1. re: Jwsel

                      Thank you, Jwsel. I have not had the nerve to say all these things and more about this place.

                      1. re: Jwsel

                        Next time you're down from LA, go to Super Cocina. They cater to quite a different audience than MT. While I do agree that MT salsa isn't super hot, some of them are really flavorful. The chile de arbol with sesame seeds, for example.

                        1. re: Jwsel

                          I agree, I've never understood why Mama Testa get such high marks on Chowhound. I've been there maybe 6 or 7 times for lunch and nothing has been memorable.

                        2. re: Divamac

                          I could not agree with you more that the whole topic of best Mexican food in San Diego brings forth passion, opinion, and many suggestions. The quest for very good Mexican food is one of our favorite past times in San Diego. So, I will offer just one restaurant so as not to duplicate the recommendations made in this string.
                          For an authentic and different approach to Mexican food, try Cantina Mayahuel (Adams Avenue at 30th). The Cantina is owned and run by an American artist to who spent many years traveling in Mexico and picking up recipes along the way. He only serves beer (Mexican) and wine at this time. He also serves Coca Cola in the bottle from Mexico and he makes his own aguas de fruta.

                          What makes Cantina Mayahuel unique and authentic is that the meals are served on clay plates, the drinks are served in the glass with the blue lip, and the drinks come to your table on the real decorated tin trays that are used in Mexico. The menu is pretty simple - appetizers, tacos, tortas, salads, and daily specials.
                          The food is healthy, fresh, and full of flavor. No cans. But the best part is that the owner/chef grinds his own seeds to make his mole. It takes him a couple of days to make the mole sauce so it is not on the menu everyday. He also makes cochinita pibil from scratch. And his Ceasar salad is made the way it was made when it was invented in Tijuana.

                          The interior decor is artistic and the walls are full of color. Remember that the owner is an artist so the place's look can change in between visits. What doesn't change is the consistently good food. Oh, what does Mayahuel mean? According to the owner, it means Goddess of the Agave. Provecho!

                        3. Depends on the type of Mexican food you are looking for. I really enjoy eating at El Agave but at the same time a lot of the great Mexican food places are smaller food stands. El Cotiquan, Rolbertos, and Filibertos are fantastic. And Fidel's in North County is a great sit-down restaurant.

                          1. It would be easier to answer your question if we knew your definition of Mexican food.

                            Fish tacos? - El Zarape, South Beach Cafe, The Brigantine
                            Moles and an infinite selection of tequilas? - El Agave
                            Upscale in the tradition of continental Mexico City? - Candelas
                            Too new to have a profile? - Casa de Madera
                            Home-style Mexican cooking - Super Cocina
                            Tacos, tacos tacos and a great salsa bar? - Mama Testa
                            Carne Asada Burritos? - JVs or any taco shop ending in "berto"
                            Nachos, enchiladas, tamales and combo plates? - Casa Guadalajara, Casa de Pico, Old Town Cafe
                            Carnitas? - Carnitas Uruapan, El Por Venir or Porkyland
                            Hole-in-the-wall? -, El Por Venir, Super Cocina
                            Limited menu and greasy tacos? - Las Cuatro Milpas
                            Baked goods? - Panchitas, Northgate or Pancho Villa Markets
                            Masa & Tortillas? - Gilbert's (Gilberto's)
                            Quasi-Mexican w/Bar? - Baja Betty's
                            Mid-town (quick) lunch spot? - El Cuervo or La Posta #8
                            Mexican fruit snacks - Fruitilandia
                            Close to the beach? - Ortega's (in OB, 2 locations: Newport Ave. better than Niagra)
                            For bugs and Oaxacan food? - Fiesta Oaqueño @ the Escondido swap meet (Wed/Sun)
                            Shopping for Mexican items might not be able to find in Cleveland? - Northgate Market

                            But......the best Mexican food in San Diego is across the border in Mexico.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              Diva has a great list; I would second El Zarape, Super Cocina, & Porkyland
                              I would add that Las Cuarto Milpas is all about rolled tacos & their unique chorizo con huevo, while Baja Betty's is your happy hour stop.

                              If I'm in mid-town looking for a quick sit down I'd head to Jimmy Carter's on Washington between Falcon & Goldfinch. Don’t let the name fool you.

                              If you want something out of the ordinary go to Cantina Mayahuel on Adams Ave: Friday night is the real deal in mole, and Saturday is a seafood stew that is worth the trip

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                Great list... and I do second the recommendation for Baja if the OP has a day. My recommendations in TJ:

                                > Sanborn's (don't laugh, even though its a chain it executes better than 90% of the grassroots Mexican eateries in California that Chowhounds rave about). IMO, the Vegetable Soup, Filet Tips in Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce and Nopales Salad are stellar... the Enchiladas Suizas are of corse d'rigeur since they invented them... also on their rotation are solid Cochinita Pibil & Barbacoa tacos.

                                > La Differencia seems to have become one of the go to places for Alta Cocina Mexicana in TJ since Cien Anos' apparent demise. They serve alot of the same dishes that made Cien Anos popular but at lower price, with less pretension and apparently better current execution. I really enjoyed the Rabbit Mixiote last time I was there... and a bizzare cake made from layers of crepes.

                                > Cocina Poblana within Plaza Rio Tijuana is my go to place for homey, traditional Mexican favorites.... Mole Poblano, real Chalupas among other things are expertly prepared almost as good as fondas in Puebla.

                                Of course if you want really high end... many Chowhounds go crazy over Laja & Manzanilla... and of course almost any taco stand on the Ensenada waterfront will deliver the supreme fish tacos.

                              2. it helps if you specify if you want a taco shop or a Mexican restaurant with table service, full drink menu, etc... Many taco shops have Mexican food that blows away most restaurants at half the price.

                                1. If you decide to try Super Cocina, don't be put off by the hole-in-the-wall look of the place or the steam tables. The first time I went there, I was the only non-Hispanic in the place. You can't get much more authentic than this. And alsaman is absolutely correct - the owner is very friendly and will tell you about each entree.

                                  I also second Mama Testa's if you're in the mood for tacos. They have a great salsa bar, too!