Friday, April 6, 2007 | There is a lot in the news about Mike Aguirre’s subpoena, more allegations of old boy favoritism, and, of course, Mayor Jerry Sanders’ control-freak nature regarding media inquiries to city staffers.
It’s perfect fodder for an allegedly humorous columnist such as myself, but I’m inclined to focus on more important matters: Mexican food.
Despite all the government garbage going on, all the alleged corruption and sleazy backroom dealings, San Diego still remains America’s Finest City for Mexican food.
Actually, considering how terrible the Mexican government is at helping its citizens, I’m inclined to think there’s a connection between corrupt officials and great Mexican food.
As far as I’m concerned, no other American city has the wide variety of Mexican styles, and certainly not at the rock bottom prices available at our local red and yellow striped taco shops — and, in some case, they not only supply free salsa but shigella too.
Mexican restaurants are my way of determining how long a person has been in San Diego. For instance, I can always tell if someone is a newbie by how much they praise La Posta down on Washington Avenue in Hillcrest.
As taco shops go, it rates a five on a 10-point scale, but, because it’s open late and relatively centrally located, it attracts lots of drunks during the post-midnight “lush rush.”
Like I said, the food is average, but, for many transplants, it’s their first taco shop experience so they will praise it to the hilt, waxing on and on about the guacamole, rolled tacos or cheap cherry-red salsa.
Being a sensitive sort, I push the issue by asking, “Have you ever eaten there when you’re sober?”
Invariably, the answer is no.
“Have you ever eaten at El Cuervo Taco Shop across the street from there?”
Invariably, the answer is no, because if someone who eats at La Posta eats at El Cuervo, they never even think about La Posta again.
Taco shop arguments are common among San Diegans. In fact, for many, it’s the closest they come to actual political debate.
“Do you eat at Rubio’s?”
“Why not? They have good fish tacos?”
“Yes, but they hire Americans so I can’t support them on principle. To me, the only good Mexican restaurants are the ones constantly in fear of an immigration raid.”
Now, it’s good to have standards, but don’t be dissing Rubio’s fish tacos. To me, they are the ultimate comfort food — the first thing I crave after visiting a foreign country (like Los Angeles).
San Diego doesn’t do enough to support its local Mexican restaurants.
For instance, El Indio down on India Street is where the taquito was invented back in the mid-1940s, but there is no historical plaque honoring this important achievement in appetizer history. By comparison, Philadelphia is excessively proud of its cheesesteak, and even holds an annual Gourmet Cheesesteak Competition where local chefs compete to see who can best gussy up the sandwich.
San Diego should do a similar contest. It would be great to see how the chefs at the high-falutin’ eateries would reinterpret the taquito, but I think, as with most things, the traditional approach is still the best.
Some people who move here have the mistaken impression that all Mexican food is the same. That’s not true.
To me, the decision to eat flour or corn tortillas can be just as fraught with political implications as voting Republican or Democrat. The flour kind is softer to the touch, but the corn type has a chewy texture that is quite appealing.
Same with the salsa. A person who prefers salsa verde (the green kind) is experimental in nature, but eating the hotter red stuff suggests a person who has no fear.
I guess if you like both, you possess a dangerous mind (and a messy plate).
I love sharing my favorite Mexican places with new folks, but I think my enthusiasm strikes people the wrong way. For instance, I love Carnitas Uruapan in Lemon Grove, but some people get turned off by my positive review: “Lots of fat people eat there, so you know it’s good!”
And, I always tell people that Nati’s in Ocean Beach is good “if you want Mexican food the way your American mom used to make it.”
My current favorite is Super Cocina on University Avenue in City Heights. The way I hear it, the owner only hires Mexican moms with restaurant experience. Then he has them make the comfort foods they’ve made for their own family.
That means a lot of stews like spicy chicken and mushroom, fresh empanadas, lots of moles and the best chili rellenos I’ve ever had.
However, I’ve tried to get some self-proclaimed foodies to come here but they won’t because the place doesn’t serve margaritas.
Another place I want to try is a Mexican-themed swap meet that takes place near Escondido. My pal went there to try a stand that specializes in cuisine from Oaxaca. He said he tried grasshopper tacos and was impressed with their lemony taste.
It sounds good to me, but I don’t think that dish will be added to the Rubio’s menu anytime soon.
As far as 24-hour taco shops go, I’m inclined to eat at any place with a name that ends in “Bertos.” That means Robertos, Albertos, Gilbertos, Hilbertos, Adalbertos or Filbertos are on my list, but only after 2 a.m.
Sadly, since I am the father of two small children, I probably won’t be eating at them anytime soon.
Based on the levels of triglycerides running through my brain, the chances of me trying every Mexican food place in San Diego County are pretty slim. However, I’d like to know your favorites and perhaps we’ll run into each other — but not after 2 a.m.