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.