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Jul 18, 2007 03:34 PM

Recent San Diego meals...

Just thought I'd comment on some of the meals I've had around town lately that have impressed me.

Mama Mia in PB has been a bit of a revelation. If more restaurants had the kind of energy and quality that is found here I'd spend more time eating out. Francesco is an unstoppable force, pure and simply one of the more interesting and engaging hosts in town. His wife, who does all the cooking, produces a first-rate product the likes of which is very, very hard to find in a town dominated by formula Italian restaurants. If you haven't been there yet, you're in for one of the more charming experiences you'll have in San Diego at a price that won't dent the budget.

I've been spending some time down on the west end of Imperial Ave lately. Wasn't too long ago it was part of my no-go zone - too dangerous. Now it's bloody well packed with quality Mexican dining. The Farmer's Market building contains six or seven taco/guisado stands alone that would star in any neighborhood in town.

The little birrieria down the street to the east called Birrieria La Nortenita (2455 Imperial) serves up a sensational birria, light peppery broth, boned goat with the fattest, tastiest tortillas I've ever had the pleasure of rolling up. Little woman by the name of Josefina owns and runs it with her family. It's a little place, rough around the edges and plain, but the birria is well worth the trouble to find. The rest of the menu is interesting as well, but difficult to get to since the birria is so attractive.

Also in the area you'll find the Tacos El Pais truck. Few tacos in SD approach the product here. If you find it open, it's well worth the stop.

I'm still exploring the area but thought I'd let you know about what I've found. If you love a bit of adventure, Imperial's for you.

Up on University near Super Cocina there's a taco/birria truck called Victors that sets up shop behind a carniceria/grocery store called El Paisano that I haven't eaten at yet. However, we all seem to love a taco truck so if someone has the time and inclination, it might be a real find. The carniceria in front is well stocked and worth a visit if you're cooking a Mexican meal at home.

Directly across the street is a place called El Poblanito that serves up a rustic, dense and boney birria that would be a pleasure to find almost anywhere. It doesn't measure up to Josefina's in finesse, but has a brute power that is appealing.

One last place I've been visiting lately is in Clairemont, in the Henry's shopping center on Genesee just north of Balboa, called Trattoria Firenze. It's a surprising restaurant in an area that is devoid of quality outside of a taco stand or two. The chef used to cook for Dobson's as a sous. The food is very good, prepared well and freshly but has a tendency to miss the mark when it comes to authenticity. The ragu, for example, is not a classic ragu, but rather is a fresh tomato sauce that still is quite nice, the cacciatore not a true cacciatore but still a nicely put together entree. The veal dishes have excelled on each visit but the appetizers disappoint. The wine list is interesting but small. Service is spotty but well-meaning in a family restaurant sense and the space itself will surprise you. They serve an Italian style pizza and a New York style pizza. The Italian was a pleasure but the sauce was all wrong for this style. The New York pizza, though, is a real find in the Clairemont wasteland.

Mama Mia's, if you haven't been there, you gotta go!

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  1. Excellent list of Mexican places east of downtown. Thanks for the recommendations.
    I was also impressed by the food at the little places in the "farmer's market" building. It's a bit like an old-fashioned, south-of-the-border market.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Joseph

      Yep, nice, and no border line to sit in afterwards!

    2. I'll definately try the Clairemont spot, thanks for the recommendation. And just a heads up, Mama Mia's has gotten very popular in the short couple of months that it has been open, so you may want to go off peak. Also bring your own wine since they don't have a liquor license yet.

      1. Is there still a cocteleria in that Farmer's Market building?

        3 Replies
          1. re: deckape

            I concur with the Mama Mia rec, one of my new favorites for Italian. I'm happy for their sucess, but a little sad I can't just pop in and get a table without waiting. Such is life. I will make reservations from now on.


            1. re: stevuchan

              Even with reservations you still may end up waiting a little while. Oh well, it's so worth it!

        1. After having some truly wonderful meals at Birrieria La Nortenita I was profoundly saddened to find out that the restaurant had changed hands. Josefina, who cooked so beautifully, has moved to Texas with her family (lucky Texans). The birria served there now isn't worth the bowl it sits in, so, the best little birrieria in SD is no more.