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Looking for authentic Mexican in San Diego

I'm currently in San Diego and looking for some good, tasty authentic Mexican food. If it happens to be touristy is of no consequence, it just has to be good. There seem to be a bunch of places in Old Town, but hard to tell if they would be any good. Does anyone have any recommendations?
Thanks, Richie

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  1. My recommendation would be to avoid the Mexican food restaurants in Old Town like the plague.
    We've had nothing but bad experiences there. I say experiences because we've given them more than one chance.
    The only Mexican food places I could recommend would be in the far East County. I'm sure someone will be more help than me soon.


    1. Authentic (*whatever* that really means), Mexican and San Diego are not 3 words that go together very well. The best home-style Mexican is at Super Cocina at 37th and University. The Mexican restaurants in Old Town are plain not very good and certainly not authentic. There's not really much in the way of Mexican food here that gets my attention or turns my crank, which is really too bad given our proximity to the border.

      3 Replies
      1. re: DiningDiva

        Ack..... that's a bit shocking to me. I was born & raised in North County SD and the family run & owned Fidel's Little Mexico ion Solana Beach was our weekly dinner place. I've heard many people say it's the best Mexican food in the state.... of course it's not *that* authentic, i.e. they don't have any mole dishes or cochinita pibil on the menu...... but I agree in staying away from Old Town as it's kind of the San Diego version of the El Compadre-El Coyote good-excuse-for-a-few-margaritas kind of places we get in L.A. Just my two cents on FIdel's though, there's no place like it, especially up here in L.A.

        1. re: tijn2001

          I live in Eden Gardens essentially, but have not frequented the 3 restaurants that much. Fidels is always packed, but to tell you the truth, the 4 or 5 times I've eaten there, while the meals were good, didn't seem out of the ordinary compared to an El Toritos or something.

          Tony Jacals seems to me to have more unique dishes. I like Jacals better, but again, I've only eaten at each about 4-5 times in 4 years. I've eaten at Don Chuy's just once, but I remember a decent mean.

          1. re: deeznuts

            There's not much in Eden Gardens but it's no time for CH'ers to give up on it yet! For a memorable treat you'll have to step away from the collection of restaurants there and get out on Stevens where just up the street there's Rudy's, a Mexican market and taco shop. There's one singular item there that has most people returning, which is their Carne Asada. [I'm imagining that the High School just up the street will end-up graduating some of the pickiest Carne Asada snobs around!] Sure you'll have to sit outside on concrete patio furniture, or inside on a counter in the crowded market, but at least you'll be content.

            Amazingly tender Arrancherra grilled over wood with just the perfect amount of char, with a deeply concentrated and beefy taste that I can only compare to, well not steak, that'll be too whimpy and watered-down in comparison, but to the most flavorful and intense artisan "cowboy" style beef jerky, but without the teeth-pulling bite. This is tender stuff that you can easily tear apart with your fingers (along the grain, of course; grab one of their plastic knives and forks for going across the grain)...

            One further rec: order it as a plate or a torta for best results. I also toss the top bun on the torta and eat it open-faced to more properly balance the CA taste against/the starch of the bun.

            ...and finally how about some Rudy's Carne Assada food porn: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

      2. Old Town is very poor.

        I vigorously second Super Cocina. That's the real gem of San Diego Mexican food.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Josh

          Thanks for the recs. We ended up eating at a pricey but good place last night called El Agave on San Diego Ave.in Old Town on the recommendation of our host. It was good but we were looking for more home style places like you recommended above. We will try Super Cocina as we are not far from there. Thanks, Rich

        2. Love Hacienda de Vega in Escondido..voted top 50 best Latin restaurants in the US..

          3 Replies
          1. re: Beach Chick

            Also La Cocina de Maria in Escondido, Fiesta oaxaqueña in the Escondido swap meet, Oaxacan bakery (for bread only; tamales on weekends) on Juniper between Grand and Second in Escondido, and the Oaxacan restaurant in Vista (name escapes me) owned by the same family as the bakery.
            That said, I ate at Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo in Wastsonville earlier this week, and nothing we have here, not even Super Cocina, can touch it. I can't see myself ever being in Watsonville again, but I will remember the food for years to come. Thanks, Chowhound!
            On the coast, La Especial Norte in Encinitas does have some great soups (not that it's soup weather right now). Avoid the rest of menu.

            1. re: maestra

              Did you ever write up fiesta oaxaquena?

              1. re: maestra

                I know it's three years old, but this was a helpful post to me. I was hoping to find something in San Diego that was reminiscent of Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo (sadly, it has closed). But I'm sure there are other delights to be found.

            2. El Comal on Illinois near University. It's a table-service restaurant with a full bar.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mikec

                I was very impressed with El Comal.

              2. We've had very good food and service at Spicy Mexican Grill in Old Town. It's owned by El Agave. It is about two blocks north of El Agave at 2415 San Diego Ave. (619-574-2621).

                It's a huge cut above typical Old Town Mexican restaurants and definitely not Cal-Mex. The menu is reasonably "authentic" and some regional dishes are represented. Some dishes are somewhat expensive, but overall it is not as expensive as El Agave.

                3 Replies
                1. re: JeffSD

                  what do you reccomend and what are the regional specialities?

                  1. re: kare_raisu

                    Spicey Mexican Grill truly is one restaurant in Old Town that offers authentic Mexican food. As to what makes one restaurant more "authentic" than another can be discerned in the details. For example, upon being seated, they offer three types of house-made salsas: the green and mild tomatillo salsa, the red sweet-and-spicier chile de arbol salsa, and the adobe-colored hot guajillo salsa. The chile de arbol salsa is a heat that arrives slowly, whereas the heat of the guajillo salsa shows up immediately.

                    Their enchiladas are good examples of the simplicity found in authentic mexican food. The enchiladas zacatecanas, for example, are filled with uncomplicated and well-prepared pork. They are then finished with a wonderfully earthy salsa of serrano chiles. The enchiladas are garnished with crumbled queso fresco (as opposed to grated American cheeses), some shredded lettuce, and then drizzled with mexican crema (as opposed to a dollop of regular sour cream).

                    The tortas are great lunch fare. The torta de carnitas michoacánas is layered with braised slabs of pork, small avacado slices and jalapeño slices. It's presented simply so the diner can lift off the top bread and spoon on his choice of the aforementioned salsas.

                    The Spicy Mexican Grill also offers nachos, quesadillas and burritos for those more used to Americanized mexican food, although even these are treated creatively and are delicious. Their variety of quesadillas lend themselves to being shared tapas-style among a group of friends.

                    The Spicy Mexican Grill is a good place to start for those interested in exploring mexican cooking and cuisine.

                    1. re: JDelRio

                      Thank you JDelRio for your detailed comments about "authentic" Mexican food. Earlier in this thread, a couple of posters had asked what authentic means when it comes to Mexican food and I've been wondering too. Your comments were very helpful in understanding this.

                      Places like Spicy Mexican Grill, Ortega's in Hillcrest, Carnitas Uruapan, El Comal, and Super Cocina do a good job of preparing and serving "authentic" everyday Mexican food in various ways, while places like El Agave, Romesco, and Candelas venture more into alta cocina and nouvelle Mexican.

                2. authentic Mexican is like authentic pizza, all depends where you grew up.

                  1. I have lived in the area all my life and am very familiar with the Mexican restaurants in that area. El Agave is very good. They have a great variety of tequilas. It is more authentic than most of the commercial places in that area. For more casual place I would say Old Town Mexican Cafe or La Pinata. Old Town Mex Cafe is more touristy and the food is good and La Pinata is small and quaint with pretty good food.

                    Old Town Mexican Cafe
                    2489 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110

                    La Pinata
                    2836 Juan St, San Diego, CA 92110

                    El Agave
                    2304 San Diego Ave Ste B, San Diego, CA 92110