Category Archives: Mexican

genna found a home in tucson, arizona (to the tune of “get back”)

Upon arriving in the Tucson airport, I rushed down to find my hiking backpack which had beat me to the city by almost 12 hours. (More thanks to United!)  It was locked in the United office for about twenty minutes, and when I finally got it, I realized that my Dr. Bronner’s had leaked everywhere. The bottle didn’t even break–it just opened and poured out. At least my bag smells (very strongly) of lavender!

My stay has covered walking through Sabino Canyon with my friend Sam, meeting some very cool folks (including a young Iraq war vet and some students researching the border) at the Roadrunner Hostel & Inn, and getting a substantial haircut while showing myself around downtown Tucson. There is lots of cool art and landscape to see in this city. I am excited to return for a longer time.

And now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: a highlight reel of my Tucson eats. My complimentary Belgian waffle with prickly pear jam, fruit smoothie, and Dairy Queen dipped cone were all camera shy, so apologies. All were delicious and were excellent at their job.

Queso Suizo with Chorizo and Tortillas at La Parilla Suiza

Chips, Salsas, and Pickled Onions & Jalapenos at Pancho Villa Bar & Restaurant

Torta with a Roasted Pepper - $4.99!!!

I officially need to live somewhere with a large Mexican population. Bolillo (torta bread), tortillas, and mole are all officially on my list of things to learn how to make, and the best place to cook a cuisine is where the ingredients are readily available (and hopefully cheap).

Now, I am on my way to get a Sonoran hot dog with my friend Rob and the journey to Los Angeles will begin.

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taco tuesdays

Before I came to San Diego, hearing “El Camino” triggered visions of my dream car, the Chevrolet model of the same name. Since being in this city,  I have become aware of a trendy, tasty Mexican restaurant in Little Italy called El Camino, and it has beckoned me back for seconds and thirds, due in part to the quality of the food and in part to the great special they have on Tuesdays. Taco Tuesdays involves half price on all taco options. Happy hour specials are half price quesadillas and nachos, along with $3 Coronas, sangria, and house made margaritas. Tuesday happy hour is clearly a recipe for fun.

Look what their menu promises! I don’t know how they can claim to be allergy free because people are allergic to all kinds of things, but their commitment to organic, locally grown food is a nice plus. They also have a location in North Park, but I have stuck to the Little Italy location because it is in the design district, and I can antique/fantasize about my future dwellings as an appetizer.

My first time at El Camino was with my friend Justin. We went on his first night in San Diego. After a margarita at the bar, we were seated and quickly met with fresh tortilla chips and a trio of dips: chipotle Mexican cream, salsa verde, and roasted pepper salsa. They also provided a couple roasted hot peppers in a bowl and a small bucket with marinated cucumber and jicama. YUM.

We both ordered the Camaron Asado tacos, or pan seared garlic cilantro shrimp finished with lime juice. They were served with some really good sauce, as well, and taco plates come with four tacos in corn tortillas, a pot of rice, and a pot of house black beans. Such a delicious way to satiate!

(This picture blows because I used a flash and edited it in iPhoto afterwards. Apologies.)

My cousin and I took our moms to El Camino twice: once to when they got off the plane (this place is a really great intro to SD) and once before we dropped them back off at the airport. These days were conveniently Tuesdays, and on both nights, we had our fill of food and drunk for under $30. We ordered three plates of tacos to split.

Carne Asada Tacos

Intensely seasoned, tender, and topped with onions, cilantro, and some chopped tomato.

Mahi-Mahi Tacos

Succulent grilled fish topped with cabbage. Simple, and always tasty.

Rajas Tacos

The surprising standout, packed with grilled poblanos, mushrooms, corn, onions, and bell peppers doused in Mexican cream (basically a more watery sour cream).

When you get the bill, they leave you with a bunch of these really cute pieces of gum. Before she left, my mom grabbed approx. 3 giant handfuls to “give my brother” because she thought they were so cute. Guaranteed they’re still in her wallet.

Above all, I need to thank El Camino and San Diego for turning my mother into a lover of Mexican food. It was never something she enjoyed, always a contentious topic in my household. Her SD vaca inspired her to make quesadillas for dinner, paired with radishes and salsa, a duo I introduced her to one night during her stay. Now I just need to work on her distaste for Indian.

still dreaming

When I went up to Los Angeles, I intentionally left San Diego early so I would get to LA early enough to eat an authentic Mexican breakfast. Talk about living to eat. I, most certainly, got what I wanted at La Noche Buena, a restaurant on Olvera Street right next to Union Station. Olvera is lined with shops and stalls that sell authentic Mexican products, but it seems to be the restaurants that really draw the crowd. La Noche Buena had the friendliest waiters,  the most extensive menu, the cheapest prices, and the most dive-y feel, all of which attracted me to have a seat and order a horchata while mulling over my options. I finally decided to order huevos con chorizo y papas.

The literal translation of “la noche buena” is “the good night,” and I recently found out it typically refers to Christmas Eve. This is a seriously fitting name for this restaurant, with smells wafting over from the open kitchen to the small dining room that create the kind of excitement a child feels on the night before Christmas.

While chomping on homemade tortilla chips and a variety of salsas, I tried to understand all of the Spanish being spoken around me. I took French in high school and Italian in college so I can definitely understand some but can barely produce any. I stopped really caring about words, though, when my food arrived. The heaping mound of chorizo-infused scrambled eggs was packed with potatoes and served along side yellow rice and refried beans. The provided tortillas and assorted salsas begged for prompt taco assembly, so I gave in.

Four of these babies later, my plate still looked untouched. I asked for a refill on my horchata and stuffed my fatigued, travel-drunk self with the rest of my breakfast. After I was done, I stood up, thanked the gentlemen in the kitchen for a truly wonderful experience and walked off, worried that I would never be able to feel hunger again.

By the time I reached my destination, my level of satisfied discomfort decreased to a state of, “Well, I guess I could eat,” and we went to another hole in the wall Mexican joint. I tried the lengua (tongue) taco because I’d always heard pretty great things about this body part on Top Chef, and it had a pretty good texture, but every fourth or fifth piece had discernible taste buds which made me pretty unhappy. I suppose the fact that I was tasting an organ that once allowed a cow to taste made me feel uneasy and privileged. Maybe I’ll get over it the next time I try tongue.

the ultimate ‘dilla

After a very Lunt basement-esque concert at Bar Pink, Justin and I went in Colima’s because we could see a unisex bathroom through the neon signs and dirty windows. The smells from the grill managed to waft our way and captivate us to order, but the complicated menu had too many options for a Saturday night crowd. So we had the cashier order for us: shrimp-carne asada quesadilla.

Warm, perfectly greasy, nice balance of meat, rice and cheese. Spicy, though, especially when I was essentially inhaling the housemade salsa and roasted jalapeño peppers. Both so delicious; both so painful. Horchata was ordered to soothe our tongues–a gigantic bucket (or so it seemed) for $1.99.

The next morning, I looked up Colima’s on the Internet. I guess my complete enjoyment of this food was warranted; Yelp ratings averaged between 4 and 5. Next time, I will definitely try the tacos. Four for $2.89!

San Diego, miss you, I shall.

my first mexican food

A lifetime of East Coast Mexican food has been a lifetime left unaware of the culinary greatness that has met me here in San Diego. I would trot along, going to Mexican restaurants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York like I had something to prove: East Coast Mexican is good! Yes, the food may have been good, but I finally realize why so many West Coasters cringe at the thought of labeling it “Mexican.” It just isn’t. Find below a brief rundown of some of the highlights.

Chicken Mole Plate at the La Jolla Open Aire Market

For $6, I enjoyed tender pulled chicken covered in rich but not overpowering mole. Served with three warm, corn tortillas, I assembled mole tacos. First, I lined the tortillas with a layer of cheesy, salty, and supremely creamy refried beans. Then I added some rice and the mole, topped with two types of house salsa made with fresh ingredients from the market, included grilled and smoked peppers. You can see the cilantro leaves! Mole leaves its eater with such satisfaction and happiness; I guess chocolate really does make everything better.

Pico de Gallo at Fruitilandia in Normal Heights

When I was first looking for a place out here, I found one option in Normal Heights so I scoured the Internet for cool places to eat in the area. I came across Fruitilandia, which is essentially a fruit salad bar, and kept it in mind even when I knew I wasn’t going to live in the neighborhood. When I walked in, I was kind of overwhelmed with the options. There aren’t that many, but I had no idea what they meant. My previous experience with Pico de Gallo had been limited to the fresh tomato, onion, cilantro salsa. This Pico de Gallo, however, was a fruit salad dressed in a vinaigrette of lime juice, salt, and chili powder. I decided to have the cashier choose my fruits for me, and he went with the typical Pico de Gallo fare: mango, jicama, cucumber, watermelon, orange, cantaloupe, and honeydew.

This dish had some familiarity because my dad passed his love for salted watermelon to me in my youth, but the familiarity ends there. The saline, spicy, tart lime juice thoroughly dresses the fruit, which makes for an interesting eating experience. You first notice the salty tang of the dressing, which gives way to the sweetness of the fruit (or the more neutral palate of the cucumber and jicama), and the chili powder leaves a nice heat in your mouth.

Fish and Carne Asada Tacos at Roberto’s Taco Shop in Pacific Beach

Roberto’s Tacos is a fast food Mexican restaurant that is actually delicous. The pictures are pretty bad because I went on a whim (translation: unprepared, without camera) and had to use the iPhone, but at least I captured the greatness. The first picture is a fish taco with crema and cabbage slaw, and the second is a carne asada taco with loads of guacamole and pico de gallo (the tomato kind). Both tacos were so flavorful and stuffed to the brim that would would have been more than enough to satisfy. How was I to know this? You need to eat like three at Chipotle and like ten at Taco Bell to call it a meal.

Also, this doesn’t strictly pertain to Mexican food but guys, the avocadoes out here are plentiful and amazing. This attractive, bearded farmer at the La Jolla Open Aire Market looked me straight in the eye and told me that the avocado he was holding would be the best I had ever eaten. I bought it, ate it, and wholeheartedly agreed.