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Jun 14, 2008 07:22 PM

Mexican Food in Bay Area

I was looking for a certain type of Mexican place in the Bay Area. Preferably, it would be somewhere near Fremont (give or take 20 miles), or even the Peninsula, but if it's in another city, I'd like to know too, in case I visit that area.

I am looking for a sit-down place that serves good margaritas, and has authentic food.

1. I'd like the chips to be fresh, and salsa to be tasty. I prefer chunkier salsa, but as long as it's not watery and has a kick to it, I'll be happy. I also like it when the chips are served fresh and hot.

I've liked chips from La Pinata in Fremont, from Chevys in general, the MexiCali Grill by the movie theaters by Great America, Hola! in Belmont, just to give an idea. I think the chips from La Pinata were the best in terms of how hot they were, and the flavor. I'm not sure if I prefer thick chips or thin chips, but they should be able to hold the salsa without breaking.

I love the salsa from La Pinata, and Chevys. Hola! and MexiCali Grill were pretty good too. La Casita's was a bit watery, and didn't have as much flavor.

2. Nachos: I'm a big fan of nachos, and I usually find something "wrong" with most nacho places. The chips might taste stale or not fresh or not tasty enough, etc.

I liked the way Chevys used to make their nachos in the 90s, with a single layer of chips around the plate, everything individually-layered, with good meat and melted cheese. I think they've gone away from that. Plus, the entrees there are not authentic, I only mention Chevys because there's a few things I like about them, but since their entrees aren't aunthetic, I want to go somewhere else.

I really liked the nachos from La Casita. They put enchilada sauce on their nachos, which makes them even tastier. I also like how they used fajita-quality meat, instead of something like shredded chicken. Fajita-meat might be less authentic, but I do like it.

I also slightly liked how La Casita didn't put beans on their nachos. I find that beans make the nachos a bit excessively heavy, and sometimes drowns out the melted cheese taste. At least refried beans do that. Black beans don't do that as much, IMO.

However, the quality of the chips would only get a 3.5 from me, vs. La Pinata. And the salsa would only get a 2.5, it was a little watery.

So is there a place that has the chips and salsa from La Pinata, with the rest of the nachos from La Casita?

I like how individually-layered nachos have a good distribution of ingredients, even if the portion size is less than the "pile" type nachos. That's what I liked about MexiCali Grill. But it's not a deal-breaker.

3. Authentic dishes. I like authentic dishes, such as Mole. MexiCali Grill had very good mole, as does Baja Cactus in Milpitas. I am hoping to find something similar elsewhere.

Ranchero. I liked the ranchero at MexiCali Grill, I haven't tried ranchero at many other places, but am looking for something similar.

Chile Relleno: I liked the chile relleno at Baja Cactus, am hoping other places have something similar.

Verde sauce: I love good verde sauce, I'm hoping someone can suggest good restaurants with that. I haven't tried it at many. I like El Grullense Grill's verde sauce, off of Woodside in Redwood City, but that's more of a taqueria.

Quesadillas: I liked well-grilled quesadillas, with preferably 12" tortillas, and I like the type with stuff that doesn't leak or fall out when eating them.

Horchata, aqua fresca: I also like these. I like the Horchata from La Penita in San Jose.

4. Drinks. Good margaritas. La Pinata had a great drink selection, and slightly larger portion sizes too. I like some margaritas with lots of ingredients and good tequila.

5. Service. La Pinata and La Penita had great service. La Casita's was ok, MexiCali Grill's is a little slow. Baja Cactus' is ok. Hola! had good service.

So what places come close to these attributes? Thanks. And I only mention some of these examples, because there's a few things I like from all of these places, just not a all-in-one place.

Also if cost is a lot more than the above-mentioned places, please let me know. I'll still go, but I just want to know.

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  1. I also prefer places that don't charge you when you order fajitas, and run out of the 3 tortillas they provide you with, and ask for more.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nuraman00

      I don't know if this made sense, so let me clarify.

      I want to know if a place charges when a customer asks for more tortillas than what were served, at the time of ordering fajitas. For example, if a place provides 3 tortillas, I want to know if there's a charge for asking for more than 3, when the 3 are consumed.

      3 tortillas are never enough for fajitas.

    2. Nice detail about what you are looking for and some good tips. I haven't been there, but I've read good things about El Patio. Is Oakland an area you might be interested int?

      La Pinata
      39136 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94538

      Hola Mexican Restaurant & Cantina
      1448 Burlingame Avenue, Burlingame, CA 94010

      Mexicali Grill
      3149 Mission College Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95054

      Hola Mexican Restaurant & Cntn
      1015 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Belmont, CA 94002

      La Casita Restaurant
      41240 Fremont Blvd, Fremont, CA 94538

      Baja Cactus Restaurant
      338 S Main St, Milpitas, CA 95035

      5 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        I can enthusiastically second RW's mention of the Baja Cactus in Milpitas -- a pillar of consistent quality and value for 25+ years now. It used to be *the* favorite lunch hang for some of us who toiled off Brokaw Road long ago. I don't get there often anymore, but two visits last year confirmed it's holding up real well. It's not art, but there's good stuff here.

        Sushi Monster

        1. re: Sushi Monster

          Yeah, I've also been to Baja Cactus a few times. I would go there for lunch with my boss and coworkers when I worked in San Jose.

          I never ordered the nachos there, because I didn't want to eat something messy in front of my boss, but all the entrees I had there were good. (Chile relleno, mole, etc.) Good value too.

        2. re: rworange

          Thanks for linking to the places I mentioned, rworange. I didn't figure out how to do that until after I posted. And then I found out that you can't edit posts.

          Let me link to the one other place I mentioned, La Penita in San Jose. I don't remember how the chips and salsa were there, nor if they served drinks, but it was a good place to get a plate meal, at a good price. They also had good horchata.

          Yeah, I'd like to know where to eat in Oakland. What are some of the strengths of the place you are going to recommend? For anyone posting suggestions, please mention what some of the best features are of those places, thanks.

          I re-read some reviews for El Patio, I like how one said to be careful not to fill up on the chips and salsa (implying they were good.)

          And the menu does say they put sauce on their nachos, hopefully like La Casita.

          A review for El Patio does say Casa Orozco is the best though. Distance-wise, Dublin is about the same as Oakland (although I pass by Oakland a lot more).

          La Peñita Restaurant
          601 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

          Casa Orozco
          7995 Amador Valley Blvd, Dublin, CA 94568

          1. re: rworange

            Went back to La Pinata.

            This time, had the chile verde with flour tortillas. Very good, ranks among the top I've had.

            The rice was more of a yellowish color, not like Mexican rice.

            Their drinks selection, portion size, and taste is probably the best I've had at a Mexican restaurant.

            One complaint I read from other reviews, is that the place is loud. This is definitely true. I don't mind loud customers, but there's not only that, but loud music playing from the speakers. And, they seem to be vacuuming every 10 minutes.

            Seems like a great place for the chips/salsa and drinks, and some good food, but it might be too loud for certain people or occasions.

            I still have to try El Patio a few times, La Casita a 2nd time, La Borinquena, and now Pancho Villa.

            Then I think I'll know which is my favorite, or my top 2 favorites. :)

            1. re: nuraman00

              If you like fruity drinks, the Hayward La Pinata's Purple Cadillac is amongst the best of 'em. Ask for a sugar rim.

          2. La Fiesta in Mountain View has what you're looking for except for the nachos. They might have nachos but I've never ordered them.

            9 Replies
            1. re: ML8000


              La Fiesta Restaurant
              240 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041

              1. re: ML8000


                I wish there menu gave descriptions of the ingredients.

                Seems expensive, so I'd like to know what items you recommend.

                1. re: nuraman00

                  Many people swear by their mole. It's a family recipe according the menu and it's definitely not from a jar. The other traditional items, chile verde, bistek ranchero, etc. are all very well prepared if not mind blowing. The margaritas are very good as well. The Cal-Mex menu is well prepared as well. It is on the expensive side compared to SoCal but all things considered it's a fair price but not great.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    I went to La Fiesta yesterday.

                    * The chips were ok, but I like how they gave 3 kinds of salsa at the table. A red one, a green one, and some unblended peppers.

                    * Service was slow to take my order. Food arrived quickly. It was slow to give me the bill. This was not during a peak time either.

                    * I ordered the chicken nachos. I would have gotten the mole enchiladas, but I just had an enchilada from somewhere else the day before.

                    I liked the distribution of ingredients. The guacamole, sour cream, etc. was all evenly spread out, no need to change anything.

                    It probably helped that all the chips were layered on the plate, as opposed forming a "pile".

                    Solid quality of meat.

                    It was good. I'd give it a solid 4/5.

                    * There wasn't anything I loved about the place, but it was solid in several areas that are important to me. I'll definitely go back, I want to try the mole and get a drink next time too.

                    * I also want to try some of the other suggestions in this thread.

                    1. re: nuraman00

                      Thanks for reporting back. Since it doesn't seem a drink is required, you might try the nachos at La Borinquena

                      There's a lot of caveats in this so it isn't for you a special destination ... only if you are in the neighborhood. You have to ask for them with the house-made chips or else they make them with some factory chips. These chips will help you decide if you are a thick chip fan or not. They are sturdy, thick and very, very deeply corny in flavor.

                      Someone wrote ...
                      "“La Borinquena in Oakland makes really, really good liquid cheese nachos. Not in anyway authentic but sometimes they just hit the spot.”

                      The chips are so good, I've always wanted to splurge the calories for the nachos.

                      However, this is a combo market/restaurant. Very old-school.Order and pick up at the counter. No alchoholic drinks. About the only thing , other than the wonderful owners, that really blow me away about the place are the chips and tortillas ... yeah, if you go get some tortillas to take home ... they are usually still warm, perfume the car with roasted corn aroma and are my gold standard for tortllas in the bay area.

                      1. re: nuraman00

                        That sounds about right almost to a tee..the place/environment isn't special. Where La Fiesta does very well are the more traditional items, the mole, etc...and that's the big hook.

                        1. re: ML8000

                          Went back to La Fiesta.

                          Again, during a non-peak day/time. This time, the service was fast in almost every aspect, except getting me the bill.

                          Had the mole this time. Easily the top 3 moles I've ever had, maybe even the best. The sesame seeds sprinkled on top was a nice unique touch.

                          Had the corn tortillas. I was glad they didn't charge for extra tortillas.

                          Also this time, there was a 4th type of salsa, a milder tomato-based one. Even if the chips aren't great, I definitely like going through the variety.

                          Had a drink this time, it was ok.

                          They did serve the food a little too fast, but since ML8000 said the mole is fresh, I wasn't suspicious.

                          1. re: nuraman00

                            "The sesame seeds sprinkled on top was a nice unique touch."

                            That is the traditional way this dish is finished. Not exactly 'unique'.

                      2. re: ML8000

                        I was going to ask "Is that the place with the great mole?" I guess it is. That's what I get when I go there....

                2. Hey, I got to recommend "Mom is Cooking" It's on Geneva ave right off of Naples street. The neighborhood is a bit on the rough side, especially now, but the food is great! The owners name is Richard and they serve really good food. Including chicken Mole,Paraquitos,and a number of other dishes that are all home made. It's been a while since I been back to the bay but that place was always a good place to go hands down.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: SFFoodGuy

                    Mom is Cooking closed a few years ago.

                  2. The original comment has been removed