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Mar 29, 2008 03:47 PM

El Nopalito Intel - Encinitas

I was talking with a woman from Puebla who works in the produce department of my store and she reccomended El Nopalito in Encintas to me.

Once she said that the owner has his own cattle ranch in Sinaloa and procures his meat solely from there - I was about to drop all of my things and head over there.

I know from an old post by Leucadian - he had the chivo there -- are there any updates? What do you order there and do you like it?

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  1. I think cgfan has eaten there, so I am bumping this up.

    I have not eaten there yet, although I have bought their chips (which give me a stomach ache from the too old oil they were fried in).

    7 Replies
    1. re: Enorah

      Enorah: Thanks for the bump!

      Kare_raisu: I've eaten there several times, as a friend of mine really liked their Caldo de Res and it's so close to home. When I first moved to Encinitas and ran into Nopalito, I thought I had discovered my first real ethnic food gem in S.D. The look of it reminded me of the type of eatery that is more common in our much more multi-ethnic neighbor to the north, L.A. Step inside and you immediately sense an unmistakably confident and non-patronizing ethnic charm. It's the kind of place I want to like.

      Unfortunately I can't say much for it's food. I feel sorry for any of their food items that gets thrown into their fryer - they must all resist being thrown in! All of it, including the chips Enorah refers to above, is actually remarkable for being so uniformly bad! Here's my take of it from a much earlier post:

      Rancid oxidized oil - no thanks! I'd rather see it put to far better use making bio-diesel... Engines, apparently, are not as picky as us humans!

      However if this doesn't scare you off, who knows, there still may be plenty of things to like. Somehow their food is just lost on me. On the other hand we have nearby on 101 gems like Karina's (campechana and birria), El Torito Market (carnitas by the pound, and house-rendered manteca), and La Especial Norte (soups)...

      If memory serves me right, kare_raisu, you once made a walk by the 101 Mexican eateries but never quite made it to Nopalito...

      El Nopalito Restaurant
      560 Santa Fe Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

      1. re: cgfan

        cgfan said: "On the other hand we have nearby on 101 gems like Karina's (campechana and birria), El Torito Market (carnitas by the pound, and house-rendered manteca), and La Especial Norte (soups)..."

        Yeah baby! Don't you feel blessed to have such great Mexican eateries in our funky little beach town? (alright, not so funky or little anymore, but still unique). I had that whole fish thingy (fried with roasted garlic) at La Especial the other night. Oh, that was good. And I love the mole there.

        1. re: Enorah

          I would agree on all of enorahs points except the chips at napolito. I stop at napolito to get chips and guacamole every now and then and go especially for the chips.

          Especial norte, I love the chicken chipotle soup (name escapes me at this moment).

          My one negative for especial norte, sometimes the chicken stock which is so integral for many of their soups, is lacking depth as though it hasn't been cooking long enough for the flavors of the ingredients to fully release into the stock.

          1. re: SeanT

            I want to love El Nopalito's chips, therefore I have bought multiple bags. And on first crunch, I am like, "oh yum". But about 30 minutes later, without fail, I get that bad stomach thing from the old oil.

        2. re: cgfan

          cgfan, you are so right. Those joints are delicious, and I feel blessed that we have such great choices and options here in Encinitas/Leucadia for Mexican. I had that whole fried fish covered in roasted garilc at La Especial the other night. Oh, that was good!

          1. re: Enorah

            As for me I make a semi-regular visit to LEN for their menudo! Love all of their soups, though nothing will come close to topping this beauty:

            Thanks for the tip on the fish. Have you tried any of their other seafood?

            1. re: cgfan

              Yes, I had the fish tacos there which I did not love.

              My sweetie loves the camarones rancheros, actually all of the camarones dishes there.

      2. I have been going to El Nopalito for years! During work we will have 5-10 people all drive up for lunch, we get the huge family order of carnitas and chow down. I haven't had anything else their except the chiccarones (sp).

        1. Oh, my poor El Nopalito. First the fire, then dissing the chips, ayayai. I still like it. A lot. I've delighted in the chips for years for their heft and crunch and saltiness. This is the first complaint I've heard about the chips. Never gotten sick, for sure, and really never observed a rancid taste unless I let the bag sit around too long. I will pay particular attention next time I'm there. Lately I've been trying their guisados, and I like them.

          In real defense of the place though, they offer stews that are not available elsewhere on the coast. The dishes at Nopalito can be ordered by pointing at the steam table contents of guisados to make up a plate or a to-go container, or you can order burritos and tortas from the short order kitchen. The other restaurants in the area are either counter only service (no steam tables in view) like Karina, Kotijo, Raul's, or sit-down places like La Especial Norte, El Callejon, and Fulano's. El Torito Market is a little different, being located inside a real market (tiny), and having a very intimate feel to it, but as I recall, not offering a range of cooked dishes. El Nopalito has a feel similar to SC.

          As I said, I'm just beginning to survey the guisados, and this thread will encourage me to be more diligent and observant. As I recall, there are 8 pans in the steam table, and generally contain a good variety of dishes, but I don't know if they rotate. The ones I remember are Pork with green chiles or nopales, Chicken in mole poblano, Birria de chivo, Barbacoa de res, and um, some other things. I'm pretty sure I saw chicharrones there too, both crisp and stewed, but have not had the desire to sample the stew. I've got to figure out the carnitas also, because some I've had were crisp and dry, and others I think were soft and steamy.

          The other night I brought home a container of the barbacoa and another of the pork and nopales, and they were both delicious, tender and well seasoned. I wasn't thinking of a review, so I guess I'll have to go back and take notes.

          I was down in San Diego the other day and had two of the dollar-sixty-eight (or whatever they were) tacos at SC, and they were delicious, but I am very thankful I don't have to drive 60 miles every time I want to get some good chivo.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Leucadian

            Just back from my research expedition. El Nopalito has a steam table, a condiments cart, and a refrigerator with tamales and salsas, plus 13 tables and the order desk with bags of chips and tortillas ready to go. There are 6 pans of guisados in the steam table, and maybe 10 items in the cart, including pickled jalapenos. The crowd at 11:30 was an interesting mix of Mexican workers, firemen, kids from the high school up the street, and me, unclassifiable. I had a plate of beef steak and potatos in a red chile sauce, with greens of some sort (don't think it was verdolagas, maybe epazote). Very good, not falling apart tender, but not tough either. The plastic knife handled it well. Other dishes included pork in tomatillo and nopales, barbacoa de res, beef fajitas, pork ribs in chipotle sauce, lengua in red chile, and chicharron (which I mistakenly thought was dry carnitas because it was mostly meat). The carnitas are in back, I guess, because I did not see them by the steam table. Makes sense since they'll probably go into tacos rather than plates. They do vary the guisados menu, and chicken in mole (poblano) is a favorite of the cook who is from Oaxaca. Weekend dishes include birria, menudo, pozole.

            I paid especially close attention to the chips, and nope, I cannot detect any trace of rancid oil. Maybe my taster is not finely tuned to this defect, but I was happy and munched them all down. The staff is friendly and laid back, and I was offered tastes of the pork and nopales (great), and the barbacoa (very good). I left happy and wondering how I was going to work this lunch off. I have no idea how kare raisu does it.

            1. re: Leucadian

              Now you're making me hungry! Perhaps my error was to never try their guisados. And I haven't tried their mole either - I gave up on restaurant mole's in turn for the ones made by friends. But if they have a reasonable one that can approach a home cooked version, that'll be a find indeed!

              I still don't know how to reconcile the differing observations re. the fried items. By chance did you try any of their fried items outside of the chips? In the several times I've been there since "giving up on them" I'd say I've consistently picked up on the "oil issue" every single time.

              I could be hyper-sensitive, or perhaps expecting too much. I know I do tend to be very critical when it comes to frying, as I consider it to be an art form and specialty all on its own.

              Here's a description I wrote for a picture linked to in my post above from a wonderful experience I had elsewhere: "And though there are 3 fried components to this soup, in the chicharron (pork rinds), the tortilla strips, and the pasilla chile strips, this is frying as it is supposed to be, of frying that is done right. This is certainly not the overwrought frying that typifies carelessly prepared food, but frying that transforms ingredients into forms that are actually lighter than they were before."

              Locally, though in another cuisine, I think the folks at Yumeya do an incredible job at their fry station. Also the fry cook at the Sam Woo BBQ in East Irvine does wonders with whole fried fish, as they do at many of their San Gabriel Valley branches (but certainly not S.D.'s!). And I'd also add Shiro in San Gabriel, or the tempura bar at Sen Bazuru in Little Tokyo, as other examples of incredible skill at frying.

              1. re: cgfan

                cgfan, your fry sensor is obviously more highly trained than mine. Lucky you or lucky me? I'll have to try one of your recommendations. The only fried item I saw today, besides the chips, were the chicharrones, and I didn't try them.

                I had a short conversation with one of the cooks (not the Oaxacan one), who tried to straighten me out on chicharrones: the ones they had there were deep fried bite sized pieces of skin with quite a bit of meat attached, whereas the chicharrones that they serve in broth are just the skin (that was not on the menu when I went in today). So help me with the definition, if you can.

                1. re: Leucadian

                  I think that it depends on where you are as to what defines the chicharrones. My favorite place to get them is a little place in ALbuquerque New Mexico called Barelas coffee shop. The chichs there are meaty with some fat and very crunchy. You pour hatch red chile sauce over them and heaven is realized. Most that i have encountered in Cali are the pork rind style which i also find to be tasty.

          2. I forgot to mention that La Costa Farms - the fruit stand on La Costa Blvd at Saxony - no longer carries El Nopalito products: chips, salsa, and tamales. In fact, they've removed the cooler case and no longer have breads or candy or honey either. I didn't have time to ask what happened, except that the health department made them stop. This is a great stand, with quality produce, but I'll have to trek to Cardiff for my Nopalitismos.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Leucadian

              State of CA changed the health code rules and regs on July 1st of last year. They're more stringent than they've ever been.

              If the cooler was actually a beverage cooler (i.e. upright, sliding doors, etc) if you look inside, you'll find a little plaque that says that style of cooler may not be used for the storage of perishable food items. To replace a beverage cooler with a regular refrigerator would have been several thousand dollars. My guess would be that the sales from the items in the cooler probably weren't strong enough to warrant the investment in a regular refrigerator.

              Beverage coolers can usually be acquired from some of the local beverage distributors as long as it's used for their product. They tend to get pretty testy tho' if other stuff is stored in their cooler.

              1. re: DiningDiva

                Thanks. But bread, and chocolate dipped strawberries, and salt water taffy? I suspect it's 'produce' vs. 'processed foods'.