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Weekend in SD & Temecula

Nab May 12, 2009 07:17 AM

Fresh back from a great weekend in Temecula & San Diego, my palate is recalibrated & soul rejuvenated.

Shackled by wedding obligations in Temecula, my opportunities were limited, but I was able to salvage the trip in large part thanks to kare_raisu's knowledge of the area.

Hitting the top of his list, Las Brisas Taqueria (Fallbrook), I was welcomed by the hospitable folks at the counter and a steamtable up-front lined with soulful guisados. I got there one day too early (Friday) to slurp my therapeutically needed menudo, which I’m told should not be missed, but I did manage to negotiate a plate of things to try and in the meantime sized up the salsa bar.

Totopos:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3559/3515777893_85038de2ae.jpg

Salsa bar:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3541/3515776175_359c2af797.jpg

Right before I started rapidly falling into the salsa-bar trap (not unlike the salad-bar trap), my plate of carne hit the table.

Carnitas (bottom), costillas de puerco (middle), barbacoa de res (top):

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3584/3515781945_007f01a271.jpg

Pay no attention to the rice and beans (even if the beans were rich and lardy). Do pay attention to the guacamole, which for some reason I can’t put my finger on, was just head and shoulders above others. The obvious answer is that you’re in avocado country stupid, but there something else to it for sure. kare_raisu hypothesized they threw chicharrones in there, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. =

)

The sweetheart proprietoress steered me towards the flour tortillas, and I’m glad she did, as they were evocative of the chapatis of my youth.

Tortillas:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3626/3515804005_b20ddecff6.jpg

Slow-cooked ribs were meaty & tender, in a mild but savory gravy:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3652/3515796555_5a26164dc8.jpg

One of the house specials, beef barbacoa, was a different style than what I’m used to, this one served in a chili-laden sauce with peppers and onions. I don’t know my regional barbacoa variants well, but I think this is common in Zacatecas where the folks are from (kare_raisu, help me out here). Regardless, it is outstanding.

Barbacoa de res:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3416/3516620020_d7397b084e.jpg

But what’s still haunting me are the carnitas, among the very best to be had. Crispy & juicy on the outside, melting yet meaty on the inside, the best of pork worlds.

Carnitas:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3540/3515802227_76457b8ab4.jpg

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3595/3515800353_d44499bcc3.jpg

Las Brisas Taqueria
1005 S Main Ave Ste A
Fallbrook, CA 92028
(760) 723-0115

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While I hadn’t actually had my heart set on sampling fish tacos on this trip, kare_raisu did mention that a place in Temecula, when on their game, makes one of the best around. It’s hard to have your mind altered and your life changed for a buck seventy-five, but it does happen on occasion (and is what we all strive for). The tacos at Senor Baja did neither of the above, but were a well-above average version, excellently seasoned & expertly fried, worth getting if you’re in the area anyways.

Fish and Shrimp tacos:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3660/3516639738_2a7c57f952.jpg

Senor Baja
26491 Ynez Rd
Temecula, CA 92591
(951) 296-2164

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Back in San Diego and, despite thinking about several curb-side-type meals, couldn’t help but want to sit at a bar and linger over a variety of plates with some sake. It didn't take long for me to hone in on Izakaya Sakura based in no small part on the great input provided here on the board.

To get the party started, a plate of ankimo:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3370/3516648927_2b8da82d36.jpg

I find the thin-skinned shishito pepper to lend itself well to tempura, and its slight sweet / slight heat lends itself well to being a great bar snack.

Shishitou Tempura:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3654/3516650871_0d2c709345.jpg

Maguro yamakake was a particularly excellent version, and I didn’t feel the usual need to shoyu-up the sometimes bland glue (Japanese mountain yam).

Maguro Yamakake:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3626/3516652545_8b8422b1c1.jpg

While I don’t think it’s Aji (Spanish mackerel) season, I don’t argue with the itamae when he breaks down a clear-eyed, smiling fish in front of you and slides it down your way.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3637/3517466980_fc23c90fbc.jpg

Sashimi was astoundingly good - rich, buttery and full-flavored fishy in every good sense of the word.

Aji sashimi:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3621/3516674715_e498d6a141.jpg

Interlude of grilled beef, marinated nicely, extremely tender and perfectly accented by a spritz of lemon juice and a dab of shoyu.

Marinated, grilled beef:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3340/3516676371_65c3eaca5f.jpg

As I was just contemplating my next plate, the grisly remains of my mackerel were resurrected after a hot-oil bath and set before me. The salty, crispy cracker bones and the burst of hot fish fat from the head was enough to roll my eyes back up into my skull.

Deep-fried Aji bones:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3609/3516678117_3ff927535c.jpg

At that point, the best that I could do was have pork belly for dessert, and I think the following photo reflects the state of mind at that point:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3645/3516679777_d74aab8d71.jpg

It’s going to be hard not going back to Izakaya Sakura on every subsequent visit to San Diego.

Izakaya Sakura
3904 Convoy St #121
San Diego, CA 92184
(858) 569-6151

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The morning before my flight, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting up with kare_raisu for a borrego breakfast at Aqui es Texcoco. I knew what I was in for when the aroma hit me upon entry, then seeing the fresh papalo at the table, and after sipping on a cup of consomme, smooth but de-fatted, intense lamby nose, rich in flavor but yet still very clean-tasting, it was obvious there was a certain special skill at hand.

We opted for the full cabeza, which came de-boned upon request, but complete with brain, tongue, cheeks and all bits in between.

Cabeza – brain (right), random head meat (middle), tongue (buried on the left):

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3320/3523144853_d352a9f9a2.jpg

Unadorned taco:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3351/3523145199_b4d0356382.jpg

While there’s no need to dress them up, they do eat particularly well with a few sprigs of papalo, some onions, a squirt of the excellent deep-red pasilla chile salsa. :) Simply outstanding.

I’d never had the pleasure of fresh huitlacoche until then, and it was a totally different experience, like comparing canned mushrooms to fresh.

Quesadilla con huitlacoche:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3547/3523951738_ec8491011d.jpg

To finish, we had a pancita taco, which kare_raisu roughly described to me as “Mexican haggis”. Cooked in a spicy chile sauce, quite meaty in texture, I found the flavor of liver most prominent (which I happen to like).

Pancita:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3619/3...

Aqui es Texcoco is a gem and a truly outstanding place serving up delicious tradition.

Aqui es Texcoco
1043 Broadway Ste 108
Chula Vista, CA 91911
(619) 427-4045

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kare_raisu, many thanks for the guidance and hospitality, I look forward to my next trip out that way !

-Nab

  1. d
    daantaat May 12, 2009 10:00 PM

    Swweeet report! Thanks for reporting back!

    1. alanstotle May 13, 2009 07:16 AM

      Thanks for an absolutely fantastic report.

      My family & I have eaten at Senor Baja in Temecula a couple of times & our assessment is about the same as yours: very good tacos (definitely worth going back for) but not life-altering.

      We tried a number of different tacos--including the fish--& found them to be quite good. We also tried the breakfast burritos & found them unimpressive--not bad but rather typical breakfast burrito fare. We decided we'd stick to lunch at Senor Baja.

      1. Dax May 13, 2009 01:05 PM

        The 2nd caritas pic = heaven

        1. Gypsy Jan May 13, 2009 05:21 PM

          What a great report - I think that this is what Chowhound is all about, the sharing of chow experiences.

          I love Isakaya Sakura on so many levels and I hope that I can visit "Aqui es Texcoco" soon.

          Thank you, Nab.

          GJ

          2 Replies
          1. re: Gypsy Jan
            Nab May 17, 2009 01:21 PM

            Thanks for the kind words all !

            I look forward to digging deeper on subsequent visits - SD area has some gems that I feel are somewhat off of folks' radars outside of your area. People visit, eat a few fish tacos and walk away shrugging their shoulders. I'm glad I took the time to follow the suggestions here as it was certainly rewarding. Thanks !

            1. re: Nab
              Ed Dibble May 17, 2009 01:39 PM

              Great details and pics. Thanks for the report. And you are right that SD has some real gems. Glad you found some.

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