Mexican San Diego for the Serious Chowhound
- Eat_Nopal Nov 19, 2008 03:31 PM
Along the lines of this thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/540566 will the gang step up provide their favorites?
... and others... where are you?
We may not have the diversity of Mexican in Los Angeles but -thanks to our proximity to Baja California and the 4th largest city in the Mexican Republic - the level of cuisine or expectation thereof is at a higher conscience than can be superficially [roberto's] seen.
We can count these styles of Mexican cookery, specialization in our Arsenal:
> Alta Cocina
> Comida Casera/ Guisaderia
> Carnitas Specialists
> Sinaloan Seafood Specialists
> Regional Barbaqued Lamb specialists
> Oaxacan Representation
> Impressive Panaderias
> Rare drinks presence
> Best Tequila and Mezcal bar in the country
> Torta specialists
> Taquerias that would survive in TJ
Lately Super Cocina - hasn't been as extraordinary as it once was for me. Maybe its just because I have been going too often but for the 'quintessential' Mexican for the serious chowhound experience - I am going to have to give the edge over to Aqui es Texcoco.
The food at Aqui es consistently delicious and impressive. I never leave without a huge smile on my face and full belly. You get a better idea of a proper sequence of a Mexican meal - soup in the form of consomee, sopa seca - rice, beans, veg - nopales salad, and the main event of Barbacoa de borrego, Postre of Camotes enmielados or flan. Supplemented by antojitos that are traditional to this style - quesadillas of huitlacoche, flor de calabaza, and mushroom, flautas estilo estado de mexico, homemade aguas (best horchata and Jamaica in SD). Salsas that are produced specifically for their partners - 4 in all.
I went with Paco shopping in Tijuana for the restaurant - he knows the different mercados and stores where he can get the best ingredients for the restaurant. This man is a chowhound - which means that his restaurant is a sanctuary for people like us [ on a side note, he also knows how to party - fearlessly mosh pitting at the Cafe Tacvba concert with me! :^) ]
After Aqui in order:
> Mariscos Godoy
> Super Cocina
> Tacos El Paisa
> Las Brisas Taqueria
> La Barbacoa
> Mariscos German
> Tacos El Gordo
> La Cocina de Maria
> Tamales Ancira
> Fiesta Oaxaquena
> Menuderia Don Vicente
> El Agave
> Negro Durazno
> Las Cuatro Milpas
> Las Moreilanas
> Pozoleria Dona Maria
> Mama Testa
Haven't tried Aqui es Texcoco yet, but I will!
I used to go to Super Cocina, and I agree with you regarding it's decline. We have some Mexican foodie friends who also used to go there but now frequent El Sol on University, a hole in the wall between Hillcrest and North Park. It's true, that El Sol is convenient for them being near their home, but the are really loving it right now. I ate there once and was impressed enough that I will have to go back and explore their menu.
Almost any restaurant that survives for more than 5 years has routine ups and downs in it's business cycles. Whether it's good, bad or so-so usually depends upon who's in the kitchen and how closely kitchen management is keeping an eye on things. Since Super Cocina employs what are essentially home cooks that make their own specialties and not set recipes, it only stands to reason that as the cooks come and go there will be some ups and downs with what is served. SC may simply be in a transitional phase where some of the really great cooks have moved on and they've not yet been able to find and recruit new ones that are as good (or better). It's probably just a matter of time.
It's hard to keep the level of food at consistency high levels for long periods of time with what is most likely a very transitory kitchen/cooking staff. That Super Cocina has been able to do it for years is pretty amazing and I'd be willing to be they will return to their previously high levels at some point in the not too distant future.
Great list K.R
My list would also include. El Torito, On the Border, Chevys, and Southbeach Bar and Grill. Just Kidding: P
Two more places I would add to KRs List
El Borrego. The particular dish I love at El Borrego is the Mixote of course. I also feel their handmade tortillas are among the top three in San Diego. Ironically these are two items not found at Aqui.
La Fachada (Truck) although they can run inconsistent. I would put this place right behind El Paisa. Find me another place that makes a better Gordita.
Are we also talking cold treats? If so
Nieveria Tocumbu – Its not easy finding Elote, Guayaba, Rose Pedal ice cream in San Diego. This Nieve specialist from Tocumbo does it and does it right. The customer service here is outstanding. After coming in a few times and requesting Rose Petal Ice cream the owner made us our own batch.
Tejuino la Dona - Nieve De Garafa and Tejuino, two more hard to find specialties.
Honey Bananna- They also make a fine Tejuino along with some other fine drinks.
Panchitas – My concha fix
I would like to add more as time permits specifically on dishes from places on the list.
I have essentially stopped eating meat, feedlot meat anyway, so the only places I've been since then are Mariscos German, and El Comal for their veggie burrito.
Lame, I know.
i have heard on fairly good authority (TJ life-long residents and foodies) that although Cien Anos may have some remarkable food, it was mainly started as a money laundering site for a local drug cartel. I'm not really too fazed about traveling to Baja in the current, seemingly violent environment because I think that American tourists are safe (unless traveling unlit roads in the middle of the night), but this is one destination restaurant that I would avoid.
Sorry for not staying on topic but I just wanted to clarify. The original Cien Anos is still opened in Zona Rio. Hacienda Cien Anos often confused with Cien Anos was managed separately and is closed. Hacienda Cien Anos (not Cien Anos) was the restaurant listed on the U.S. Treasury list of suspected money launderers.
BTW I still dream of the fabulous tuetano con champinones from Cien Anos
There's another place afiliated with TJ's La Espadana called Achiote in San Ysidro, right by the outlets.It has an interesting menu if I remember correctly.La Espadana is famous in TJ for their breakfasts and cafe de la olla.I never have been because when I'm nearby I'm crossing the border with bigger fish to fry.
Money laundering.Woo.Hacienda Cien Anos closed several years ago, as did Trez in the same location about a year ago.The new Los Mariachis occupies that same doomed space.Ya know, it's not like some cartel guy has time to roast poblanos and make tortillas, so don't worry.Hacienda had a "business relation" with a partner not on the premises.Maybe someone was ringing up phoney receipts, that's about it.This was alleged, but Hacienda had decent business but ultimately couldn't compete with the neighbors, Trez had even less traffic, and Los Mariachis, crickets!Went to all three, none where exceptional, although I had a decent night at Hacienda once, and an excellent taco al pastor of salmon once at Trez.
I'm definitely curious to know about Achiote sometime.Masa?KR?P Macias?
I would also add that the Money Laundering ring runs too extensively & wildly to try to avoid... it includes Fast Food Franchises, Car Repair Shops, Churches, Banks, Dry Cleaners...you name it.... oh yeah, most are in the U.S. and often fronted by non-Mexicans/Hispanics. There are billions to launder it takes hundreds maybe thousands of small businessess to do it... its not worth stopping to wonder about each little joint.
And yes Street... you are right, its mostly involves ringing up phoney receipts... used to pay off phoney loans etc.,
OK, so no news on Achiote?I stopped by on my way to Ensenada and TJ this past weekend and picked up a menu.Reminds me of a VIP's or Sanborn's style of restaurant, traditional Mexican done short order.I never go out of my way for a VIP's or Sanborn's except where recently I stopped at a Sanborn's craving huevos divorciados, but when at the airport I can count on VIP's for a good meal while in transit.
And just like their parent restaurant La Espadana there are a nice selection of chilaquiles, omelettes, and other whimsical numbers like the Achiote slam.Here you can get a taste of what middle and upper class Tijuanenses eat on Sunday mornings in Zona Rio.
4419 Camino de la PLaza
If you are willing to travel up the 15 to the south edge of Escondido I can definitely recommend Hacienda de Vega - http://haciendadevega.com.
Not only is the food authentic Mexico City style, but the ingredients and preparation are excellent. The "Hacienda Margarita" which is described as "A spicy creation containing tamarindo, a tasty mexican fruit. Served in a chile-salt rimmed glass with fresh jicama" is absolutely delicious. My wife proclaimed it her favorite margarita ever.
Additionally, the restaurant was made from what was originally an adobe house built in the 1930's and has beautiful outdoor seating and a waterfall cascading from the roof.
re: Uptown Dave
In the interest of maintaining our Mex gastronomic intellect... I have to point the menu is not authentic Mexico City style... there are a few remotely Mexico City esque dishes but it is in no way a collection of Mexico City specialties.
There are many dishes & restaurant styles that can encompass "authentic Mexico City style" (of which, btw, Super Cocina does represent an authentic Mexico City style blue collar fonda fairly well).... the whole Hacienda concept, and the way they market themselves, for Hacienda de Vega to be in the "authentic Mexico City style"..... they should be similar to the Hacienda restaurants of Mexico City all of which have many similarities in their menus:
Chef Recommendations (Typical Dishes Served in an authentic Mexico City style Hacienda setting):
ESCAMOLES AL AJILLO (Ant Larvae in a Garlick-Shredded Guajillo Sauce
)GUSANOS DE MAGUEY (Sauteed Agave Grubs)
ABULON RASURADO (Shaved Abulone)
HUEVA DE LISA AL GUSTO (Mullet Roe to Taste)
TACOS DE CAMARON (Shrimp Tacos)
SALMON CON QUESO AL HOJALDRE (Salmon in Puff Pastry)
JUGO DE CARNE CON/SIN OSTIONES (Beef Broth with Oysters)
ENSALADA DE ESPINACAS CON MANGO (Spinach Mango Salad)
ENTREMES RANCHERO (2 PERSONAS)
SOPA DE CEBOLLA (Onion Soup)
CAMARONES A LA NARANJA (Shrimp in Orange Sauce)
(5 Pz."U 8" o "U 10")
LENGUADO DE HOLANDA A LAS FINAS HIERBAS (Dutch Flounder in Fines Herbs)
STEAK DE SALMON CON SALSA DE CHABACANO (Salmon Steak in Apricot Sauce)
ROBALO PUERTO VIEJO (Sea Bass Puerto Viejo Style)
FILETE DE HUACHINANGO AL CILANTRO (Red Snapper in Cilantro Sauce)
FILETE DE HUACHINANGO RELLENO DE HUITLACOCHE (Red Snapper stuffed with Huitlacoche)
LANGOSTA ENTERA 600/700 gr .
LANGOSTINOS AL MOJO DE AJO(Gigantes 1/2 k.) (Langostines in Garlic-Citrus Sauce)
CHILE EN NOGADA
PECHUGA DE POLLO CAMPESTRE (Chicken Breast with Sauteed Vegetables)
CONFFIT DE PATO CON SALSA DE ZARZAMORA (Duck Confit with Blackberry Salsa)
PECHUGA DE PATO CON SALSA DE PERA (Duck Breas in Pear Salsa)
LENGUA DE RES A LA VERACRUZANA (Beef Tongue in Tomato-Jalapeno-Olive-Caper Sauce)
PECHO DE TERNERA AL HORNO (Roasted Veal Loin)
CABRITO NORTEÑO (Roasted Kid)
ARRACHERA NORTEÑA (Skirt Steak with Nopales Salad, Guacamole etc.,)
RIB EYE STEAK ANGUS CERTIFICADA CALIDAD PRIME
NEW YORK STEAK CERTIFICADA CALIDAD PRIME
Perhaps I should have qualified my post regarding Hacienda de Vega a bit. While it is true that the entire menu is not that of Mexico City (though that is where their chef hails from) the last time I ate at Hacienda de Vega with two foodie friends -- natives of Mexico City -- they were swooning with nostalgia as they sampled dishes such as Sabana Invierno, Filete de Vega, Tampiqueña, and Lomo en Cerveza, telling us how these dishes reminded them of the wonderful food they used to eat in Mexico City. So, to me, that seemed like an endorsement I am willing to trust. That, at least some of the specialities of the house are Mexico City style, and good ones at that.
re: Uptown Dave
Yes... all those would be dishes typical of Mexico City dining, as is almost everything served at Super Cocina. Although, one problem with Hacienda de Vega (purely judging from pictures) is that they seem to serve everythign with Rice & Beans on the plate which would be a no-no in Mexico City dining. That & some of the other dishes indicate there is still a heavy corruption from the expectations set by traditional Mexican-American dining.
My only goal is to spread the word so that people know what to demand. For example... the many Sabana dishes (anytime you take a thin steak & finish it off in a salamander with Gruyere or similar cheese) would typically be served with some poached Calabacitas or Chayotes for a perfectly harmonious dish as oppossed to the Rice.
I haven't worked my way through the entire menu but on my last trip I had Lomo en Cerveza which was some beautiful slices of pork loin served in a very beery sauce accompanied by small cubes of deep fried potatoes and a nice side of sauteed spinach.
The Filete de Vega also does not come with rice or beans but a pasilla chile sauce, potatoes and zucchini, nor does the Pollo con Mole.
Still, many of the dishes, including the very tasty Sabana Invierno, does include rice and beans. But then it's hard to hold a grudge against rice and beans. :)
re: Uptown Dave
"But then it's hard to hold a grudge against rice and beans. :)"
I have a long running feud against Rice & Beans! I come from families that only cooked Rice for particular meals... and our most common way of consuming it was as Arroz con Leche.
I don't know how Rice & Beans together became such a popular feature in Mexican restaurants NOB and even in many Mexican provincial towns. Everyday Mexican eating tends to add Beans & uses meats more sparingly, which is very healthy... but traditional it has been that if you are eating a sit down meal out or having guests you don't serve beans unless its a very casual meal... and then you only serve them AFTER the main dish so that anyone who is still hungry can eat something substantial prior to Fruit / Dessert etc.,
I particularly care.... because as my Chow name would indicate... I am militantly pissed off that the crushing majority of Mexican meals NOB are served with Rice & Beans instead of Nopales and the whole gamut of Mexican vegetables that, imo, makes what I consider to be Mexican cuisine - an outstanding combination of Flavor, Variety & Nutrition... a form of eating that should be adopted by more people.
Anyway... I am glad to know that they don't serve everything with Rice & Beans.
No I haven't Susan, but I'm always happy for an invitation. :) It does sound great though.
When you're a stranger paying for a meal it is almost certain that you will never have a truly "indigenous" experience -- the kind when you are say, a friend of the family (aren't those the best!). But... we can still try for at least a somewhat representative experience that might afford us a glimpse into the daily life of another culture.
Yo... please don't constrain it to the best dining establishments only.. I am sure some serious out of town Chowhounds would appreciate the Mexican markets (like Northgate Gonzalez) and the collections of Street Vendors... like the swapmeet you all did the Chowdown at.
Thanks for the lists! Alex (K-R), I have been pleasantly surprised at every one that I've tried on your list. Still have a ways to go to get through it, though.
I think an overlooked place is Mario's in La Mesa. They have a Machaca plate that is prepared like my Nana's (she was from Sonora). I know I must try other things there but I am drawn to that plate and the comfort it brings me...sigh!
to revive a slightly old thread, we are visiting san diego currently, and desperately wanting a taco fix. we used to live in la, but moved up to the pnw a few years ago where mexican is harder to come by.
are any of the recommended places within a stone's throw of Escondido? other than hacienda vega, which seems a bit more on the formal/full dinner side? thanks!!
We live in Escondido, and here's our list:
1. Cocina de Maria for plates like mole poblano or camarones a la diabla. Their costillas en salsa verde are as good as home-made; they're usually the Tuesday or Wednesday special. It's a cute little place w/friendly staff and excellent salsa w/rajas when available.
2. Tacos at Tacos Alex inside of Baja Foods on 9th Ave. Truly the only place in town for excellent tacos. Staff is not always bilingual, and seating is limited.
3. The swap meet for tamales and tlayudas; but that's more effort than your family may be looking for.
4. For to-go food, the steam trays at Latino Meat Market on Grand between Center City and Quince usually have some tasty options. They do a lot of specials w/chipotle there.
The Swap Meet in Escondido has some good food vendors. The agua fresca guy right inside the gate makes the best lime one. Fiesta Oaxaquena just opened a restaurant a few months ago on Mission between Escondido and Broadway. We haven't had a chance to try them yet, but it gets good reviews here.
I've been spoiled by the amazing mexican food living in the mission in San Francisco for four years. I also grew up in LA and enjoyed the mexican food in downtown (before the cleaned the whole place up. One thing I haven't found living in San Diego for the past month is hole in the wall mexican food with lengua or cabeza or even barbacoa. Does anyone know of any taco stands or mexican places in SD that have meats other than shredded beef, chicken or fish?
Inside almost every Mexican Market- small and large- is some sort of taco kitchen. The Foodland IGAs, Northgate markets come to mind immediately...
If it has tortilleria and carniceria signage on the outside of the store, they are cooking those meats inside. Sometimes out front on weekends.
There are tons of places like this in San Diego. For example: Tacos el Gordo,
Tacos El Paisa, La Fachada. All of these have cabeza, buche, lengua, carnitas, al pastor, carne asada etc.
For lamb barbacoa there are a few places that specialize in this (and there are some great threads going on right now that discuss this topic in more detail): El Borrego and Aqui Es Texcoco.
Fidelito, thirtyeyes, I really have to second Josh, jasont and Cathy. Head south to barrio Logan, National City and Chula Vista where you will find some very good Mexican food. Not just tacos but barbacoa, mariscos, posole and menudo. Go north to Escondido for some Oaxacan specialties.
No, SD doesn't have the same range of options that the Bay Area does for regional Mexican and Central American cooking, but what the places do in the South Bay, they do very, very well.
I lived in the Bay Area for 10 years and worked in the The City. When I moved back home to SD it was kind of food culture shock. It's just a whole different mind set up there. I thought Mission-style burritos were the best...8 years later? not so much. I'll take a CAB over a Mission burrito any day now.
Brett Harte adviseed young men to Go West. My advice is Go South, (wo)men, go south. Follow your nose, your palate and the locals and you'll eventually find something you like. Good luck and buen provecho
Okay, so maybe after the 10th "taco" shop selling rolled tacos I gave up. And I must say all of the "great" Mexican places I was guided to by locals were decidedly for the gringos. I'll go down south and start looking again. I guess I was spoiled, in and around San Jose there are tons of options for Mexican (and Vietnamese too) and several open until 2 or 3am.
Since I'm so bad at discovery maybe someone can tell me were to find some pupusas?
BTW, not a fan of the bay area burrito bombs.
Two and a half in Escondido, actually. The one on El Norte Parkway (World's Best Pizza) is great, if you can get service. A bakery on East Valley Parkway makes them as well. It's been awhile, but I remember them as being acceptable. The food area at Vallarta foods also makes pupusas.
Asking locals in San Diego is fraught with peril. Our locals line up and wait to eat at Cheesecake Factory. Come here next time, we will set you straight!
RE: pupusas, I've only ever seen them twice in SD. One is the El Savadoreno place, the other is Berta's Latin American Cuisine in Old Town.
I disagree that these items are easy to find. If I didn't prowl this board I'd never have known. And I do mean prowl. I just ate at an amazing cocteleria in Clairemont that is less than a mile from my house. I've driven past it for 7 years-- but just happened to catch mention of it in an old thread that resurfaced. The difference in San Diego is that if you live in LA or San Fran or NYC-- everybody (and I mean everybody) talks food and where to go. Knowing great places-- high or low end-- is a mark of informed citizenship. In San Diego, my friends are still eating at El Indio. My rich friends eat well, but they'd never go to the barrio. There's just not a cross-cultural, educated, adventuresome eating class in SD. The only food buzz I've found in SD is on here.
Yes and no. While lengua and cabeza are slightly more uncommon (but really not that hard to find), there's far more than shredded beef (isn't Barbacoa shredded beef anyway?), chicken, and fish available at any taco shop as the OP implies. Virtually every taco shop around here is going to also have carne asada, adovada/al pastor, carnitas, potatoes, and plenty of other options.
Small sample size referencing your friends only eating at El Indio. I'm pretty sure none of my friends ever eat there and are far more adventuresome (I think I am younger though). Maybe it's a generational thing.
DOL, I'm sure you're younger-- and you may be right. Most of my friends here are native, very loyal SDers. Great people but not food sophisticates. My husband's chef and kitchen friends give us great tips. BUT not about the low-end places. When I lived elsewhere, my food-obsessed friends ate in all price ranges, all cuisines.
The amazing cocteleria is La Playita. (Thank you Cathy and Capn Jack)
A shrimp cocktail that is spicy and sweet and full of perfectly tender shrimp. Excellent fish and shrimp tacos. A small counter. One table. You watch as Mama prepares your food. We must go back to try more.
(Ironically, they have one of the best restaurant websites in SD http://www.laplayitaseafood.com/ You can also find La Playita at several farmer's markets.)
Which farmer's markets to they frequent? My son & I will be visiting from NY in another week. We have such a long list of fabulous places to try & don't see how we'll squeeze them all in. We are planning on visiting a couple of the farmer's markets though, so maybe we look for them.
Regarding Farmer's Markets: I've visited many of them and have favorites. Hillcrest is largest and grandest-- really the best. Little Italy's is now our regular, but only because it fits our schedule. It has a nice layout but could offer more. Many people like La Jolla. For me, it's not user-friendly and is crammed with stroller-wielding, entitled-acting moms and couples. But, as said, many love it. Ocean Beach is wild. It's more carnival than farmer's market (La Playita is there.) but definitely entertainmenty and definitely a scene that represents SD in the 70's and Ocean Beach today. There are other options-- including outside the city-- if you check out Cathy's links.
My current farmer's market of choice is Little Italy because it fits my schedule (I don't live near by) and it's user friendly. But my favorite farmers market in SD is Ocean Beach. It's got an energy and a vibe that's completely unique to SD. I agree with Picky that the selection isn't quite as good as some of the others, but for sheer entertainment value, energy and delight, Ocean Beach is it. Parking is a nightmare during the summer market, go early, hang at the beach or the pier until it opens.