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Jan 23, 2012 02:41 AM

Cal-Mex lunch between SFO airport and San Jose?

Hi there,

I'm picking up my sister from SFO airport and driving down to San Jose this Friday and we need a good stop for lunch. Does anyone have any good Cal-Mex recommendations that are en-route? The flight arrives at 1140 with hand luggage only, so (hopefully) we'll be leaving the airport around noon.


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  1. Try La Fiesta in Mountain View.

    240 Villa St
    Mountain View, CA 94041

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I mean the Californian spin on Mexican food. Is this not a commonly used term? I thought I had read it elsewhere on this site. Sorry if I've mis-used it - I from the UK am about to make my first trip out to SF.

        1. re: elwin

          If you want Cal-Mex in the sense of the whole Alice Waters / farm-to-table / organic / local / sustainable movement, most of those places are in SF or the East Bay. On the way south from SFO, maybe Don Pico's or Reposado. If you want Mexican as made by and for locals of Mexican origin and descent, there's a very Mexican neighborhood around Middlefield Road in Redwood City.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I think I know what you mean about Berkeley-ized Mexican food, but Reposado didn't strike me as being in that category. It seemed somewhat fussy and pricey, with some odd combinations, though it had nice atmosphere. I wouldn't recommend it to someone from the UK, since I don't think it's at all typical of Californian Mexican.

            1. re: Glencora

              I'm not sure that there is such a thing as typical Cal-Mexican in the sense of taking the cuisine upscale. Some places stay super-traditional but use higher-quality ingredients, others do fusiony stuff. There's also the Nuevo Mexicano style a la Mexico City.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Previous Chowhound discussion on Cal-Mex

                Well, there's lots of them

                One was a good discussion by Eat-Nopal

                There is a restaurant in the San Jose area that defines itself as Cal-Mex ... Aqui

                "A renowned chef, known for creating innovative inspired California cuisine, and an experienced fast food operator joined together. The fast food operator gave the chef a simple challenge: Create fine dining food using the flavors of the Southwest, Asia, California and Latin America. We will match the food with gorgeous decor and fill the place with art"

                Anyone tried it?

                This article describes El Torrito as Cal-Mex

                "the chain introduced Cal-Mex to areas whose only previous exposure was fast-food tacos and canned tamales. It's easy to dismiss the genre — the stratum of yellow cheese melted on refried beans, the "Spanish" rice on the side, the enchiladas drowning in a sauce that tastes like the can it came from, the limp, unnecessary salad and the mountain of sour cream (with its requisite olive crown) topping it all — as gastronomic heresy"

                From that early Chowhound post, I have to agree that this was the original meaning of Cal-Mex.It was what I was introduced to when I first moved to California at some restaurant in the Old Mill around Mountain View ... looky, looky ... I'm eating real Mexican food.

                It is the food people are looking for if they get pissy because there's no chips and guac at a Mexican restaurant ... and god forbid margaritas.

                Today, i would think Aqui is what would be called Cal-Mex ... using fresh ingredients and doing a spin.

                C Casa in Oxbow Market with the lamb and goat cheese tacos is classic modern Cal-Mex

                "An Innovative Taqueria is the culimination of owner Catherine Bergen's passion for artisan foods, combined with her love of Mexican cuisine."

                Nopalito is also Cal-Mex becuase it gives the illusion of classic, authentic Mexican but there are twists.

                Then there is regional Cal-Mex
                SF - the Mission burrito
                San Diego - the California burrito with fries

                1. re: rworange

                  Aqui is too individual to be the example of any genre. It's a go to place for me as it offers high quality food with inventive combinations of various Pacific Rim cuisines, but it's completely inauthentic as a Mexican restaurant and not trendy enough to be a "californian" resto. They cut out all the trappings and focus on getting the price down to every day meal levels. Excellent entrees can usually be found for under $10. I'd say it's more a place for locals to eat regularly than for visitors to get a great feel for SF Bay Area Mexican. I'd tip my hat to the La Bamba empire in Mountain View for that.

                  1. re: misterb

                    Yeah, La Bamba would be a good call with the bonus of a Salvadoran side to the menu so they could have a pupusa.

                    1. re: rworange

                      The curtido (Salvadoran coleslaw) at La Bamba is excellent as well.

          2. re: elwin

            Elwin, did you see the term "Cal Mex" in NYC? If that's the case, they likely mean a taqueria serving a SF Mission style burrito. There's plenty of those places in SF, plenty. La Taqueria, Taqueria Cancun, Taqueria San Jose are a few mentioned often. There's probably 200-300 taquerias in SF alone.

            Beyond that, to me Cal Mex means Mexican food made by Mexican Americans (Chicanos) in California that has been blend/bent towards the general population and available food opposed to more traditional Mexican cuisine made by more recent immigrants. The same sort of blend occurs with Chinese food in the U.S. The chain Chevy's in a representation of Cal Mex as the first (non-chain) restaurant was in Calif (Alameda).

            1. re: ML8000

              Yeah, I sort of thought the OP might be thinking of the old-fashioned plates that always come with cheese-covered refried beans and Mexican rice, though Robert's definition of Cal-Mex as traditional with upscale ingredients is certainly more appealing.

              1. re: ML8000

                I've heard there are good Mission-style burritos on the Peninsula, though there are a lot of recent immigrants down there so you might encounter Sonoran-style burritos as well.

                I suppose Cal-Mex also includes San Diego-style fish tacos, "California burritos" (with french fries), and whatever LA-style Mexican transplants complain they can't find hereabouts.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Best Mission burrito (IMO) is the carnitas burrito at Taqueria La Bamba in Mountain View on Middlefield Rd...probably owned and operated by Salvadorans. Of course there's lots of places in Redwood City.

                  Having grown up in SoCal, Baja fish tacos are Mexican but with a big cross over in SoCal. Juan's Place (even in its current context) and Mario's La Fiesta (now Remy's) are both Cal Mex places if you ask me...i.e., both were started in the 60s. Both places could easily be in LA.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Are there Baja fish tacos you recommend in the south bay? My son has mentioned Una Mas, but that's a chain and I'm not sure I trust his taste anyhow.

                    1. re: Glencora

                      I keep hearing about Día de Pesca in San Jose but have never been and don't know how the fish tacos are. It's on my list but haven't made it yet..and 3 gals of gas hardly seems logical for $10 of food.

                      1. re: Glencora

                        My new personal fave for fish tacos is Orale, on Winchester Blvd. in Campbell. They offer many different types and varieties (sea bass, halibut, salmon, tilapia, shrimp, and more!) and they are super fresh and delicious. I love their tostadas and salads as well.

                  2. re: ML8000

                    Ha - yes, you've got me! My sister suggested "Cal Mex" and she is indeed a New Yorker. I plan to try at least one of those Mission places that you've mentioned whilst in SF, but sadly my sister get to spend any time in SF this trip, hence the question.

                    To be honest, anything-Mex is a bit of a novelty to me as Mexican fare is close to non-existent round here, so I'm open to suggestions.

                    1. re: elwin

                      Taquerias might be like curry shops in the UK...there's many and everyone has a favorite and every place does things just a bit that means each places has a "best" item and a lot of very average items. Like many mom and pop places the trick is to find what they do best.

                      There's lots of Mexican places on the Peninsula and San Jose. Redwood City has many Mexican places and is about half way between SF and San Jose. There's also lots of places in San Jose but things don't get reported about San Jose much around here. Yelp might help...look for best burrito or best mission burrito.

                      Check this thread...the top 5 from the list are all very good: