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Really super Mexican in San Diego

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I will be coming to San Diego from Seattle in April and I'm hoping someone here can recommend a really great Mexican restaurant to me. I am meeting a friend from Australia who hasn't had Mexican before and I want to show her what the good stuff tastes like. No Las Margaritas or Aztecas, please - I'm looking for the real deal. The other requirement is that it should be a sit down that is nice. While I am not adverse to taco trucks or dives myself, I would like to take my guest somewhere where there's an enjoyable atmosphere for her and her 13-year old daughter.

Thank you!

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  1. Frida isn't perfect.... but it is a notch above over Seattle Mexican....and certainly better than what I have been told exists in Australia (where Taco Bell would be an improvement).

    > The Filet with Huitlacoche, Rajas & Crepas con Cajeta are fairly solid.
    > Avoid the Shaved Shrimp Ceviche & the Pescado a la Talla

    1. El Comal on Illinois, 1/2 blk. north of University in the North Park neighborhood is pretty solid. Food is in on the traditional side, as opposed to alta cocina.

      Two other mainstream options that are sit-down and a relatively good introduction to Mexican food for someone who hasn't ever had it would be Mama Testa on University at Richmond or Ortega's on University between 2nd and 1st Ave. MT does only tacos and I think they've got a a couple of salads on the menu now. Ortegas does Puerto Nuevo style lobster dinners as well as other dishes.

      If you're willing to go into a neighborhood some tourists might find a little on the seedy side Super Cocina is on University between Cherokee and 37th. It's homestyle cooking and for the novice to Mexican food will either be a revelation or a little scary.

      For someone who has never had Mexican food before I would probably go with El Comal first, Mama Testa second and Ortega's third. If your friend and her daughter are adventurous eaters and willing to try anything I'd go straight to Super Cocina as it's the most "authenic" of the lot.

      3 Replies
      1. re: DiningDiva

        I agree with El Comal and Mama Testa; both sound like the kind of atmosphere and food that mariannas is looking for. I'd add Chilango's to the list but I'm not sure if it's the style of Mexican the op is looking for. I love Super Cocina and it'd normally be my first rec, but probably not this time if she is looking for a nice sit down restaurant.

        1. re: DougOLis

          If Chilango's had not closed and gone through it's sushi phase, that would have actually been my first recommendation. It's been too uneven since it reopened to give a strong recommendation for it. In it's original incarnation it was really good.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            Ahh, yeah, I haven't been back since it reopened. I just assumed it was the same quality and menu.

      2. I really enjoy Hacienda de Vega in Escondido..
        Love sitting outside with the waterfall..
        Las Cuatro Milpas under the Coronado Bridge..dive but good..imo

        www.haciendadevega.com

        9 Replies
        1. re: Beach Chick

          Ooooh! Hacienda de Vega looks perfect. I know my friend's daughter will love the watefall! Do you happen to know the price range off the top of your head? Also is it a ok to wear casual clothes or is it a little more dressy?

          1. re: mariannas

            Be aware that Hacienda de Vega is in Escondido, which is about 20 miles north of San Diego proper. If you're going on a weekend the drive won't be bad. During the week, the drive-time commute can be difficult, though if you went for lunch it would be pretty manageable.

            This is San Diego, attire is casual almost everywhere...even some places where it shouldn't be.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              We're going on the weekend...Saturday, so I'm guessing that maybe traffic won't be too bad? We have a rental car so we won't have to worry about taxi fare.

              1. re: mariannas

                The only problem I have with HdV is that the sevice can be a bit spotty. It is a beautiful place and I do enjoy the food, hopefully it will be nice outside because inside is tiny.

              2. re: DiningDiva

                "Be aware that Hacienda de Vega is in Escondido, which is about 20 miles north of San Diego proper."

                Not to be too picky, but if mariannas is staying in the Gaslamp/Convention Center area (not a bad assumption), it is closer to 30 miles. It is, however, a straight shot up 163/15, and a pretty easy drive on most weekends.

                This isn't about food, but if you were considering the Wild Animal Park, marinannas, this is in the same general area - just in case you wanted to combine trips.

              3. re: mariannas

                Hi mariannas..
                It was very reasonable and casual..
                Agree with DD on the commute and maybe lunch would be better for you all..
                Have fun!

                1. re: Beach Chick

                  We are going to be at the San Diego zoo all day so it's going to have to be dinner. The rest of my party doesn't seem to have a problem with the commute so I think it's a go. This is the hotel we will be staying at: http://www.handlery.com/sd/

                  Edit: Google maps estimates a 27 minute drive - does that sound accurate?

                  1. re: mariannas

                    Hi..
                    RB Hound make a very valid point of doing the Wild Animal Park and then have dinner at HdV..
                    That would make the most sense since you all will be beat from all day at the SD Zoo and then drive a half hour when you can be from the WAP to HdV in about 5 minutes..
                    Would Old Town be an option?
                    Cafe Coyote in Old Town is good place to eat and
                    lots of shops and stuff to do.
                    It's 5 minutes to your hotel from here and will be a fun time for all..

                    www.cafecoyoteoldtown.com

                    1. re: Beach Chick

                      The only problem is is that due to my chronic health issue, we are going to have to leave from the hotel room. I do at home treatments and will need to do one between going to the zoo and going to dinner.

            2. we lived in seattle from the late 70s to mid 90s so we're really familiar with azteca and las margaritas (both of which we make an effort to eat at when we visit seattle). a place that's a leap above both of them and is closer to downtown than hacienda de vega is restaurante romesco, a self-described baja mediterranean bistro about 13 miles from downtown san diego in bonita. their website is:

              http://romescobajamed.com/web/flash.html

              (i hope you can just click on the link. i'm a little technically challenged). the menu on the website is a little out of date but still has many items that are on the current menu. it's not strictly mexican, but the menu contains many mexican dishes, especially tapas, and you likely won't find these items in the northwest. it's owned by members of the plascencia family of tijuana, who own several highly regarded upscale restaurants there. but while the interior of the restaurant is upscale, the exterior isn't nearly as nice as it looks like hacienda de vega's is. romesco is sandwiched between a rite aid and baskin robbins in the corner of a strip mall anchored by a von's supermarket. the food is fantastic, though.

              1 Reply
              1. re: beantowntitletown

                I have eaten at Azteca several times...some of the San Diego Taco Shops would be an improvement over that chain.... Betty's in Escondido would do somersaults all over the crap they serve at Azteca (the Pechuga en Chipotle being the only decent dish)

              2. You are going to have a lot of fun..
                The food is very good and they make good virgin drinks for the teens..
                Ask for a table next to the water..outside
                Have a great time mariannas!