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The Carne Asada / Adobada Fries Reference Guide. I'm Specifically Looking for Carne Asada Fries Similar to the Now Defunct Zapata Taco Shop in Paradise Hills.

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BACKGROUND:

I'm going down to SD this weekend and I'm craving carne asada fries (CAF) from Zapata Taco Shop in Paradise Hills. Unfortunately, a friend of mine told me Zapata had closed down a few years back and she has yet to find another restaurant that makes a similar CAF dish. I lived in La Jolla for five years so I've tried my fair share of CAF but nothing topped Zapata, not even Lolitas which many regard today as the reigning CAF champ.

Here is why Zapata was the best in my opinion. They used:

1) Flavorful carne asada or adobada meat. Some restaurants figure they don't need to flavor their meat since the meat gets mixed up with all the other CAF ingredients. Bad judgment call.
2) Fat steak fries sprinkled with enough salt to eat by itself. Fries that can be eaten alone is another minor but important detail. I know fries are a personal preference as some prefer skinny fries.
3) Fresh salsa fresca. Some places have horrible salsa fresca but Zapata's salsa was on point with just the right amount of onions, Most places go overboard with the onions which alters the taste profile.
4) Two types of fresh shredded (not grated) cheese that provided enough ooze to satisfy even those who traditionally prefer processed cheese to accomplish the same melted objective.
5) Guacamole.
6) Sour Cream.
7) No Refried Beans. I know some people may think the omission of this ingredient is blasphemous but I think it's completely unnecessary if you already have flavorful meat, salted fries, and great tasting salsa fresca.

OBJECTIVE:

I've already scoured the CH boards, Yelp reviews, and other various forums to see how each restaurant prepared their CAF so I'm providing a list of well regarded CAF restaurants I've found. The only CAF I've already tried on this list was Lolitas. I'm going to most likely try the CAF at Cotija in Pacific Beach since they seem to prepare their default CAF like Zapata did and the CAF at La Puerta in the Gaslamp area because I'm curious about their "gourmet" CAF derivative. If anyone has any comments (especially if you've tried Zapata's CAF), please chime in. Oh, and I'm willing to drive down to San Ysidro for my quest.

LIST OF HIGHLY REGARDED RESTAURANTS KNOWN FOR THEIR CARNE ASADA FRIES:

1) Cotija's Mexican Grill (1092 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach)
-Medium sized fries.
-Salsa fresca served but in smaller portions than Zapata.
-Sour cream served.
-Two types of shredded cheese served in abundance.
-The most similar CAF to Zapata that I've read about and seen so far.

2) La Puerta (560 4th Avenue, San Diego)
-Fat fries.
-Served with salsa fresca but in small portions.
-Two type of cheese are used but the parmesan is grated.
-Sour cream sauce is drizzled over the dish.
-Considered the "gourmet" CAF of San Diego since this is a bar/restaurant.

3) Yesenia's Mexican Food (12075 Carmel Mountain Road, San Diego)
-Thin fries.
-Served with two types of shredded cheese.
-Served with salsa fresca.

4) El Nuevo Milenio (2323 E Division Street, National City)
-Thin fries.
-Served with two types of shredded cheese.
-Sour cream is served in abundance.
-Not served with salsa fresca unless requested.

5) Lolitas (Chain Restaurant, Various Locations)
-Thin fries.
-Served with two types of cheese but the parmesan is grated.
-Not served with salsa fresca unless requested.
-The popular restaurant considered by many as the CAF champ.

6) Sarita Mexican Food (9906 Campo Road, Spring Valley)
-Thin fries.
-Served with two types of cheese but the white cheese (not parm) is grated.
-Not served with sour cream or salsa fresca unless requested.

7) Jilbertos Mexican Food (1301 East Valley Parkway, Suite A, Escondido)
-Thin fries.
-Not served with salsa fresca unless requested.
-Sour cream is served in ultra extreme abundance.
-Served with shredded cheddar and then sprinkled with grated yellow and white.

8) Tacos El Piesa (3096 National Ave, San Diego)
-Supposedly as authentically Mexican as they come but the CAF reviews are very limited. Nonetheless I'm still curious how the CAF are here so if anyone know, please comment.

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  1. * Cotija's is a chain. Perhaps the one in PB is better than the one around the block from my house, which is pretty bad.

    * Cotija, however, is probably the cheese you are referring to as parmesan. Crumbly white Mexican cheese. I've not really ever seen a plate of CAF with parm on them

    * Please report back on Sarita's, I've drive by it at least a hundred times on the way to and from my aunt's house on Mt. Helix. Never busy...pay extra for what you want if it'll get you close to your ideal.

    * El Paisa is known more for their tacos, not carne asada fries. I'm not really sure it's your best option. If you looking for straight up, real deal, Mexican tacos that's the place, but CAF, not so sure.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      Hey DiningDiva. Thanks for the reply.

      You're probably right about the cheese. I think it's called Cotija cheese which is similar to Parm.

      I may be misinformed but I believe Cotija's Taco Shop is the chain restaurant you may be referring to. I don't think Cotija's Mexican Grill in PB is related. I saw another Cotija's Mexican Grill in San Ysidro as well but I think that too is unrelated to the Cotija in PB.

      As for El Paisa, yeah, I saw that everyone was raving about the tacos there but I figured since CAF originally supposedly came from Mexico, it might be interesting to see how El Paisa's version is. I'll most likely not go there this time around unless I get a sudden craving for tacos but I'm curious to see if anyone out in CH space has tried the CAF there.

      I wasn't planning on trying Sarita's this time around either but if I do, I'll definitely report back. Thanks again for the input!

      1. re: yakigyoza

        Cotija is actually more similar to feta than parmesan. A lot of things have come from Mexico and been co-opted by Americans, but I'm pretty sure carne asada fries is a purely American invention

    2. I'm no expert in Carne Asada Fries, but I've heard Rigoberto's on Miramar Road is pretty decent. I've tried them, and they were good, but I don't have a lot to compare with (not what I normally order). There are a ton of reviews on yelp if you want to check them out.

      Rigoberto's Taco Shop
      7094 Miramar Rd
      San Diego, CA 92121