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Aug 8, 2008 07:00 PM

Mexican breakfast in Salinas?

My DH and I are driving from SF to Pismo on Sunday morning and would like to stop somewhere for breakfast. By breakfast, I mean anything from chilaquiles to menudo to birria to huevos con machaca. We just want something good. Any recommendations??

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  1. There are several Mexican restaurants just off the freeway in midtown. Melanie Wong has mentioned La Fogata in the old downtown, but don't know if it's open for breakfast. It's in Melanie's chowplaces, worth a look.

    Here's a sit down taqueria she has tried: These folks have an excellent taco truck nearby that has gotten raves and has been part of Melanie's famed Salinas taco truck crawl.

    Melanie also mentions a terrific sounding Farmer's Market on Saturday downtown, and says there's a year-round Sunday market at Northridge shopping center (right next to the freeway past the Laurel exit on the northside)

    If you're looking for something fast, there's Mi Pueblo Food Center with a bakery and Mexican deli : though I must say I can never get out of there without spending 15 minutes shopping, as well! Excellent food and bakery items.

    Melanie has also posted extensively about Mexican dining in Greenfield, south of Salinas about 20-25 minutes. Lots of likely sounding places.

    She knows this area like the back of her hand; any rec by her is good as gold.

    (I'm posting these links because the time is short for you. Hopefully she will see and respond to your query as well. Have fun and bring layers--the central coast is in a "cooling trend" through Sunday)

    'An upper-level trough will move inland while the Pacific high edges
    slowly eastward. This condition will produce an increase in
    northwesterly winds today through Sunday and a deeper marine layer.
    This condition will also give cooler temperatures today through the
    weekend, especially across the interior.'


    1 Reply
    1. I haven't been out to breakfast that much in Salinas but do have two good (more than good!) recs for you: Estrella and Eva's Cafe. Estrella is very close to the freeway and Eva's isn't that far. I've been asking for chilaquiles, but not found any yet, I suspect because tortillas are handmade to order here and no one has any stale ones to use up!

      Estrella is in a convenience store/liquor store. The owners are from Zacatecas and the wife does the cooking. I'm told that Zacatecas has some of the lightest food, and that's been my experience here. Very homemade is taste, not greasy, and fresh, like having your Mexican mom cook for you. Here you order and pick-up at the counter, then after you're done, take your tab to the cash register to check out. Credit cards accepted, and if you're into tequila, check out the selection here.

      Estrella's overhead menu board -

      Be sure to ask what juices and aguas frescas are available. They're made to order. For the aguas, you add your own sugar to taste. Chips and salsa are available at no charge, but you have to ask for them. This restaurant has been active in the Salinas healthy eating campaign and not automatically putting a basket of chips on the table is part of it. The table salsa is very good, as is the ground red chili hot sauce. You can get a coffee cup and lid to take them home with you.

      Estrella's birria is lovely, likewise the albondigas. For breakfast, I've had the nopales (cactus) with eggs, shown here.

      Estrella's nopales con huevos -

      Eva's Cafe is cute as can be. It's been under the same ownership (the family lives in the house behind) for 20+ years but was recently remodeled.

      Just a few seats at the counter, cash only, and no menu. You can get eggs cooked as you like them. The huevos rancheros were the best I've had. You can request whole beans (frijoles de la olla) here, and at Estrella, again, part of the healthy eating campaign. I would recommend them over the refritos at either place as they don't use lard for the refried beans.

      Eva's Cafe huevos rancheros

      Not much English spoken here, and if you have trouble communicating, there's a spiral notebook next to the cash register than has a handwritten list of dishes with the prices. You can look at that for ideas of what to ask for. The pantry is fairly minimal here, so you won't have all the choices you'll find at a bigger taqueria. Carnes are usually chicken and carne asada, plus shrimp. My sister recommends the weekend menudo.

      Estrella Liquors & Deli
      124 Abbott St, Salinas, CA

      Eva's Cafe
      246 Williams Rd, Salinas, CA 93905

      3 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Yesterday (Sunday) about 10:30 a.m., I stopped at Eva's Cafe to pick up menudo before they ran out (Angelica makes 1 big pot and that's it for the day!). The posted weekend hours on the sandwich board out on the sidewalk are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. A cab driver was already inside eating his menudo & watching the US/Venezuela soccer match of the TV.

        The tripe is thoroughly cooked (soft, but not mushy) with pieces of of pig's feet and tendon in the broth & not too much hominy, accompanied by fresh hot tortillas -- $7.00 for a light brunch and some left for tonight's viewing of the Olympic games.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Another excellent recommendation!

          Eva's Cafe was packed at 10:am yesterday except for a stool by the door. Plonked myself down, took a quick look at one of the pretty blue take-out menus on the wall - with English and pictures! - and ordered the huevos con chorizo and an horchata.

          As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the pace is definitely more leisurely. Folks are more relaxed, but it's also because everything is made from scratch. I could hear them patting tortillas in the kitchen.

          A larger space opened up by the till and the kindly gentleman behind the counter invited me to move up. He speaks excellent English and was incredibly welcoming.

          I was thankful for the extra space, because a lot of food arrived: plate of huevos, side of fresh tortillas, salsa, guac, mug of horchata.

          Chorizo was mild and not the least bit greasy. Nicely mixed in with the eggs, and well-seasoned. Beautifully fluffy rice, which I stuffed into bits of warm, thick tortilla with beans and sauce. Nothing was too spicy, just a nice, warm glow.

          Despite being busy, I was never rushed. Which is good, because I could hardly move. I had to decline their kind offer of extra tortillas, otherwise I'd have had a nap attack right on the counter.

          I saw several orders of the menudo go by.

          1. re: stravaigint

            I'm impressed that you made your way to Eva's Cafe. And even more so that you actually saw some menudo at that hour. I still have not tasted it, sold-out when I arrive. I love the homestyle food and cozy quarters. And I don't think I've had an avocado-based salsa there myself. Will have to return soon!

        2. We ended up going to a place near Main St. called Olivia's. My husband's huevos con nopales were delicious as were the fresh tortillas. I ordered caldo de pollo which was just o.k. I was having a hard time deciding between that and the pozole and I went with the caldo de pollo so I wouldn't be so full. Mistake! The table next to us got a couple of bowls of pozole that looked awesome. It looked like there were pieces of chicharones on top in addition to the stewed pork in the soup. We also liked the warm salsa on the table that had a slow growing spice to it. On the way back through we ended up getting some tostadas de ceviche at a truck near the freeway. We headed to Eva's but decided that it would have been difficult to eat there with our 4 month old daughter. There weren't really any seats, just high chairs with a counter. As we were getting back on the freeway we passed the truck and stopped thinking that we would get a couple of tacos, as there were quite a few people there. It ended up being a mariscos truck. Pretty tasty and a nice change from a taco truck. It is right off of Alisal near the freeway.

          2 Replies
          1. re: srr

            Late post - oh I wish I'd read your report on Olivia's again before trying it. It's next to Frank's fish market. I got the caldo de pollo, and it was just average in quality and stingy for the price, $10. This is the smallest bowl of caldo I've ever been served. Broth was nice, just could have used more of it and more veggies for the price. Drumstick and drumette cooked to silken tenderness. Four handmade-to-order corn tortillas and some Mexican rice served on the side.

            What was really good though was the taco de lengua, $3, Mom had. Served on a handmade corn tortilla, this was generously filled with grilled tongue, cilantro and onions with house salsa on the side.

            Olivia's Cafe
            14 Station Place
            (831) 422-5430

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Just back from taking Mom to Olivia's -- she's happy. She had the taco d lengua again, not grilled this time -- tender and flavorful though -- does one have to request grilled?

              I had the menudo without hominy -- very tasty, so loaded with bite-size tender tripe & some tendon I could only ate about a third of it. $10 for the size bowl we're accustomed to getting (definitely larger that your photo). Also bought a pork tamal to go with the leftover menudo at home tomorrow..

          2. I'm going to be in Salinas on a Sunday in 3 weeks, and am also looking for breakfast/brunch recs.

            Is Estrella still a good choice? What is the seating situation there?

            Other recommendations would be great too....what I'm looking for is pretty much the same as the OP here, but since this discussion is mainly from 2008, it would be great to hear about any updates.

            12 Replies
            1. re: Dave MP

              Are you interested only in Mexican for the morning meal?

              I've been to both Estrella and Eva's in the last couple months. The biggest change at Eva's is the new website,
     Now there are printed menus and it is busier. Mom and I sat at the ledge along the window as shown in the photo. You can see the guys seated at the main counter on bar stools behind us. Mom had a great bowl of caldo de res served with Mexican rice and handmade tortillas.

              Estrella has about three round tables that seat four people and a couple rectangular ones that might seat six. The one drawback here is that the kitchen is a little slow, so be prepared to wait. But the handmade tortillas are worth it and the aguas and juices are made to order. Another advantage is that it is only a couple blocks to the Hwy 101 John Street exit/entrance.

              Last week Mom and I had lunch at Burrito King for the first time. Again, not for breakfast, but we liked the food and the tortillas are handmade to order here too. That's one of the great things about places in Salinas . . . the pace is a little slower and the tortillas can be hechas a mano. It's in Oldtown, so you'd have a chance to see some of the town's history around you.

              Oops, just checked Burrito King's hours and it's closed on Sundays. Won't work for you, but maybe the next person.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                We definitely are looking for a morning meal in or around Salinas....though it could also be in Monterey, Gilroy or San Jose.

                My family will be visiting from the East Coast, and we'll be driving from Monterey back to SF on Sunday, so I thought I'd take that opportunity to have some good Mexican food, since it's not often that we are in the South Bay or Salinas area.

                Eva's does sound like it could be good. But other options might work as well. It's possible it will be more of a brunch/early lunch, so if there was a fantastic Mexican place with tables that didn't open until 10 or 11, that might be fine.

                Handmade tortillas definitely sound good!

                1. re: Dave MP

                  Then I would suggest La Casa del Sazon, the bigger location on Salinas Street that has a full bar with some nice tequilas for your morning margarita. Get someone to share the molcajete with you. Note that there's a charge for pico de gallo salsa, likewise, the hot carrots. Also, avoid the churros.

                  1. re: Dave MP

                    La casa del sazon is a great choice. I prefer the original location on Romie Lane, but at that location there is only beer and wine as far as the alcohol goes and it is smaller. I have friends that swear by Gloria's on the East Side and I know they do serve breakfast but do not have a full bar.

                    1. re: villadeste92

                      Thanks for the suggestions villadeste92 and Melanie. It's unlikely anyone in our party would be drinking alcohol during this meal (much more likely to want agua frescas), so given that, which location is better, or are they essentially the same in terms of food?

                      1. re: Dave MP

                        Easier to get a table at Salinas St.. as it's much larger. But that's also why it's easier to get the wait staff's attention at Romie Lane (much cozier).

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          Same menu in both locations. Preference for Romie Lane is just a personal choice. I don't think either site has made to order agua fescas, but there is a choice of Mexican beverages from coke to fruit sodas and I think a horchata or tamarindo fresca that is dispensed from a beverage machine, All will be good, and the tortillas are homemade.

                          1. re: villadeste92

                            I haven't eaten at Salinas St enough times to compare the cooking between the two.

                            Does Romie Lane have tables larger than 4-top? Don't know how many are in Dave's party, but that could make a difference.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              I've seen parties as large as 8 at Romie Lane. Tables were pushed together by the guys in the groups; they all had the molcajete.

                              1. re: Stephanie Wong

                                There will be 6 of us so it sounds like either location could probably work. Might just end up depending on timing.

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      Eva's Cafe now takes credit cards and offers aqua frescas?

                      1. re: Stephanie Wong

                        Yes and yes! Aguas frescas were available in the past when they had time to make them. Prices went up a little bit. Servings are still large and plated on colorful Fiesta ware. Angelica was happy to see Mom after a long absence. They are busy enough to support a kitchen helper and a waitress now. Amazing that they can fit in that little space.

                        More photos of Eva's on FB. Yes, Eva's Cafe is on facebook too.

                        But for more than two people in a party, I wouldn't recommend it.

                  2. Thanks to Melanie's recommendation, we ate at La Casa del Sazon on Sunday morning and it was great. Many felt that it was the best meal of the weekend. We arrived at about 9:20 AM and it was pretty empty, but by 10:45 when we left, it was getting more full (though a significant part of the dining room wasn't even open).

                    6 of us shared several things:

                    - Good fresh squeezed OJ
                    - Pretty good (maybe a tad watery) agua de tamarindo
                    - Mediocre (but in a good, diner sorta way) coffee
                    - Ice waters all around, with straws

                    - Chilaquiles with eggs mixed in. I would probably have preferred this with a fried egg on the side instead of scrambled throughout, but these were still great. We tried one green and one red, and both were fantastic. I guess I slightly preferred the red, which was a sauce with lots of chile flavor—little tomato, if any. Green was spicier. Rice and beans were both excellent.

                    - Huevos con chorizo - scrambled eggs w/ chorizo. Nothing special but good.

                    - Chiles rellenos - Super cheesy, big portion, and really good. Also served w/ great beans and rice, and the homemade corn tortillas.

                    - Molcajete - I had to convince my family that we really wanted this, since it was so early in the morning....but in the end, we all really liked it. We ordered it medium spicy, and it was great. Lots of meat, a bubbling sauce, strips of cactus and cheese. We wrapped it all in homemade corn tortillas.

                    The corn tortillas were fluffy and really makes a huge difference for me, as I'm not a big fan of regular corn tortillas.

                    Service was friendly wasn't super quick, but that's because everything was made fresh. We were all glad we made the slight detour to Salinas for this, and I'd definitely return.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Dave MP

                      Sounds good! What style/prep is the tortilla chip part of the chilaquiles?

                      Encouraging to hear that La Casa del Sazon delivered the meal of the weekend. "abstractpoet" said the same about Taqueria El Grullense in Salinas (compared to lunch at Sierra Mar Restaurant @ Post Ranch, no less).

                      Guess we should just tell visitors from the Bay Area to be sure to detour through Salinas and we'll set you up with some real Mexican food.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        The tortillas were cut into thin strips. We ordered with the eggs mixed in (though we had a choice of having eggs on the side, which I think I generally prefer).

                        I prefer chilaquiles where the chips are in bigger pieces...but the sauces were so good at Sazon that I didn't really mind this. They were still really excellent.

                        And yes, I would that any Chowhound visiting Monterey from SF stop in Salinas for some Mexican food. Some of my group was a bit ambivalent about making the detour that morning, but after the meal, everyone was glad we had done so! And it really only adds about 15 mins to the total trip.

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          Thanks, sounds like you were at the Salinas St branch of Sazon?

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Yes, sorry about forgetting that. We were at the Salinas St. branch.

                      2. re: Dave MP

                        So glad you enjoyed your visit. Which location did you end up at? Melanie is right, Salinas is definately worth the side trip for our hidden restaurant gems.