La Cocina de Rosa

La Cocina de Rosa

2667 Market St, San Diego, CA 92102

Long time, no tacos!  It’s been a typically hectic summer for Mike, Michaela and me, and while our Mexican food consumption may not have lessened, our writing about it certainly has.  But we’re back with another Combo Number One visit, this time to the delicious and authentic La Cocina de Rosa.

How authentic is La Cocina de Rosa?  So authentic they actually don’t have a Combo Number One!  So when the three of us, and our friend Mel, visited, we were at a bit of a loss about what to order.  They had a number of specials, including two shrimp options (one item prepared a la diabla and one ranchera), a couple of marinated grilled meats, and a bounty of traditional Mexican dishes, like mole, several caldos, and more.  They also had a spit outside with adobada, pork marinated in a “red” sauce.  Everything looked delicious and smelled good, and it was really reasonably priced.  When we walked in, Mel exclaimed, “It’s so cheap!” after looking at the menu.

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Mike ended up choosing one of the daily specials as his combo, and Mel ordered the one thing on the fixed menu that was billed as a special.  I’d seen someone eating tacos while we were waiting to order and decided that’s what I wanted, so I ordered three “street”-style tacos.

The service at La Cocina de Rosa was superb, though I could see that it could be bumpy if you don’t have someone with you who speaks Spanish.  There were two people who spoke English in the restaurant today, but the one other time Mike and I ate there, there was no one who spoke English behind the counter.  (Of course, I relish the chance to use my Spanish, so I actually prefer it that way!)

We ordered our food and settled down to wait with generous servings from the salsa bar.  The tortillas at La Cocina de Rosa are hand-made to order on site, and the chips are made from the tortillas.  They’re very thick and crunchy, not like Tostitos, and not heavily salted.  Mike described the salsa bar as “superb,” and he was absolutely correct.  There was a creamy salsa made from avocados, a tangy salsa verde, two red options, and a host of fresh ttopping options: cilantro, onions, radishes, limes, and grilled serrano peppers.

My tacos came first, in what seemed like five seconds after I ordered.  They were piping hot and full of meat.  The tortillas were small, but the tacos were only a dollar apiece!  (They had bigger ones available for $1.49, which is still a steal.)  The adobada was probably my favorite; the meat was flavorful and tender, not fatty as some pork can be.  I also got a carne asada taco and a carnitas taco– on my first pass.  They were so good, Mike decided he wanted one, and I wanted another one, so I ordered two more (another round of carne asada and carnitas).

 

Mike’s meal came out next.  It was a chicken breast, marinated and spiced, grilled along with onions and peppers.  The chicken came with rice and beans, an ample scoop of guacamole on a bed of lettuce, and more of the amazing homemade tortillas.  ”It was really good, seasoned well,” said Mike of his chicken.  ”The beans were good and the salsa was excellent.”

Mel described her milanesa, a breaded piece of beef, in the funniest way I have heard anyone describe food in a while.  ”It’s thinner than any I’ve ever had,” she said.  ”It’s almost like beef jerky with breadcrumbs on it.”  I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing (because beef jerky?  Not my favorite.), so I asked, and she confirmed it’s a good thing.  ”It made it super light,” she said.  ”I liked it!”  Her steak came with french fries, which Michaela happily ate (along with about a million chips), and beans, rice, guacamole on a bed of lettuce, and tortillas.

I always think it’s a good sign when you see someone who works at a different restaurant eating somewhere, and the fact that a Zensei Sushi employee was chowing down at La Cocina de Rosita is further proof of that.  This experience was indisputably our best all-around meal so far, because of the delicious, authentic food and the excellent service.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for people who call me “mija,” or maybe it’s my love of affordable food; either way, I can’t wait to go back to La Cocina de Rosa!

Los Reyes

Los Reyes

2496 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92102

What can you say about a Mexican restaurant housed in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken building?  What if I told you its patio was a wooden structure tacked onto the building as an afterthought, and that the patio faces a bus stop?  Not “great ambiance!,” that’s for sure.  While Los Reyes isn’t going to make any “best spot for date night” lists, it has a good chance of making a “yummy tortas” list.

The pilot, dressed in a white uniform, emerged from the cockpit and folded down the hinged, six-step aluminum stairs.

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  • Mike ordered a Combo Number One, which consisted of one beef taco and one beef enchilada, with a side of rice and beans.  The enchilada was doused in a delicious chipotle sauce, though Mike reported it was cold.  I noticed the taco, a traditional hard-shelled affair, had two types of cheese on it, though I couldn’t tell for sure what kind.  Maybe queso Oaxaca in addition to a not authentic but typical cheddar/”Mexican blend?”

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  • Lavinia Shaw wore riding breeches and boots, her hair bound in a scarf as she curried a large black stallion.
  • I really struggled to decide what to order.  Los Reyes has big signs touting four new burritos: the “quesa-burro,” “teriyaki-burro,” “king-burrito,” and “California-burrito.”  I was intrigued.  What (besides cheese) comes in a “queso-burro?”  Is the “teriyaki-burro” the next Kogi taco?  In the end, though, I couldn’t pass up the prospect of a torta, which is a Mexican sandwich.

    I have fond memories of tortas from Hippocampo from the time I lived in Mexico City, so I feel like I have high standards for tortas.  I expect soft bread, warm beans, and zesty meat, plus fresh veggies.  Los Reyes delivered three of those four things.  The bread was delicious.  It was soft, but a bit crusty from being toasted.  The inside of the bread was spread with refried beans (who needs mayo?) and there was a good amount–not too much, not enough–of chopped lettuce and sliced tomato.  I was disappointed, though, by the amount of pollo asado (chicken) on the sandwich.  While the meat was accompanied by sauteed onions, there wasn’t much of either of those two things, leaving me feeling like the little meat there was, was lost in the bolillo (bread).

    Bottom line?  Mike calls Los Reyes on of his “go to” taco shops in our ‘hood.  Not exceptional, but not bad.  Safe.  And really, everyone needs a place like that in their arsenal.

    Salzar’s Fine Mexican Food

    Salazar’s Fine Mexican Food

    1502 Market St., San Diego, CA 92101

    Was it the food or was it the tired two-year-old that made our Salazar’s experience less-than-ideal?  Mike and I had been there before and I remember thinking, “this is pretty good!”  But when we went last Friday, I found myself questioning my earlier judgement.

    Our friends Allison and Chris joined us for our second-ever Combo Number One outing.  We decided we’d go to one of the nicer, less sketchy (less authentic?) restaurants.

    When we sat, we were immediately greeted by chips and salsa, plus some pickled veggies.  Throughout our meal, anytime the bowl was even close to empty, another bowl of chips appeared.  In fact, they’re so generous with the chips, the waitress even gave Michaela her own bowl, once she saw how much the wee one likes them.

    Chris and I both got a Combo Number One.  He’s such a good sport!  He dived right into the blog project con gusto.   And can I just say that a Combo Number One at Salazar’s involves a lot of food?  A taco, tamale, enchilada, bean, rice and soup.  All for $10.70.

    Mike went a different direction, ordering what he lovingly called “the Front Door Special.”  A beef taco, bean tostada, and two rolled tacos for less than five bucks.  It’s hard to argue with that.

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    Once killed, an elder or great elder can be prevented from regenerating by destroying their remains as noted previously.
    Allison also tried something different, ordering what ended up being the best-looking food on the table: two tacos (one fish and one chicken or carne asada, I can’t remember; picture below)

    But first, our soup.  Navy bean.  Just like in old Mexico.  Except I don’t think they have navy bean soup in Mexico, and if they did, it certainly would be prepared differently.  Somehow I was expecting albondigas or caldo de pollo or tortilla soup or… something else.  It wasn’t bad–I’m pretty sure it didn’t come out of a can–but it was an odd start to the meal.

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  • Then our combos came.  The rice was bland and the beans seemed overly refried.  They had a hard crust to them like you get when you microwave canned beans for too long.  Also, the red sauce that covered much of the plate was very salty.  That being said, the meat in the tamale was sizable (really- it was a giant hunk of beef), and the enchilada was fairly tasty.

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  • And a precious document it will be, I am sure, ha, ha, ha.
  • I also can’t complain about my beef taco, which is the only thing I ate all of.

    Mike described his “Front Door Combo” as “eh.”  (If that’s not a succinct food review, I don’t know what is.)

    Allison’s tacos looked delicious.  Soft corn tortillas, heaping piles of garnish, and not a drop of grease in sight.

    Besides leaving me questioning my previous judgement of the food, Salazar’s made me think a lot about the push and pull of gentrification.  It sits right across the street from a homeless encampment of vacant lot rings by shopping cards and tents, but is also just blocks away from some fancy East Village hotspots.  The restaurant’s been there forever, but if/when the real estate market starts to rebound, I imagine either the land will be sold and the restaurant torn down, replaced by condos, or it will become the hipster heaven it could be.  Salazar’s has all the makings of a cool kids hangout–funky orange Naugahyde booths, a jukebox full of random music, cheap beer, daily specials, and huge portions.  It will be interesting to see which way it goes…

     

    Gallery

    Tacos El Paisa

    Tacos El Paisa

    2494 Impreial Ave., San Diego, CA 92102

    We ended up at Tacos El Paisa on accident.  Yelp says La Fachada, a taco truck, is usually parked in Tacos El Paisa’s parking lot, but it wasn’t today, but we were already there, so…  Tacos El Paisa it was!

    I have to admit, I giggled when Mike ordered Combo Number One–a carne asada plate (carne asada, rice, beans, and your choice of flour or corn tortillas).  It was so exciting to be kicking off our neighborhood food blogging adventure!

    After ordering, we were presented with a free platter of chips and three different kinds of salsa (a chiptole, a verde, and a spicy red sauce that I had to stop Michaela from eating for fear of burning her insides), plus limes and cucumber slices.

    The food came very quickly and was piping hot.  My order, a Combo Number 6 (beef taco and cheese enchilada, plus rice and beans), was tasty, especially the beef, which I found to be less stringy and tough than taco shop beef often is.

    And the horchata we ordered was sweet and cold and enormous.  Michaela drank more than her fair share, coming up for air only to ask, “is that milk, Mama?”

    Mike’s take on his Combo Number One: “the plate came with guacamole, and while there wasn’t a ton of it, it was tasty.  The flour tortilla was giant (burrito-sized) and very good; if not made on site, it was at least piping hot.  The carne asada, though, was marginal at best, and a lot of things looked better, including my companion’s enchilada.  My other gripe is that I love pico de gallo, and there was no pico.”

    Tacos el Paisa offers table service and real cutlery, which we weren’t expecting (especially from a place that has a drive-through).  Interestingly, given the demographics of our neighborhood, everyone else eating the restaurant appeared to be white and fairly well-to-do.

    After we ate, the three of us strolled around a couple of blocks near the restaurant.  The area has some really lovely old Victorian homes, including one whose inhabitants put out a Day of the Dead altar to Steve Jobs last year, according to Mike.  To me, that really speaks to the blend of cultures in this neighborhood and to the exciting mix of old and new that surrounds us.  We wandered by the old Farmer’s Market site where Walmart is building a new neighborhood market, and by about a jillion Mexican restaurants we’ll be trying soon.  The highlight of the walk for me was when we passed a store selling miscelanea and the two men in front of it broke off their Spanish-language conversation to wave at Michaela.  After all, the cuteness of a kid is universal.

    El Paisa Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

    We’ll Have What She’s Having

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    A glass pitcher on top tipped precariously and then rocked to a stop.
    They say that Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer.  This year, it’s also the start of Combo Number One, our effort to chronicle our neighborhood by visiting the myriad of taco shops within it.

    First things first. 

    Who are we?  We’re Mike (35), Music (32) and Michaela (2), a family of Mexican food-loving urbanites.  We moved to Grant Hill in 2007, attracted by our house’s sweeping views of the San Diego Bay and it’s affordable-because-the-neighborhood-is-still-gentrifying price tag. Grant Hill is a bit of a work in progress.  Data show our ‘hood is younger, poorer than average in San Diego, and demographics skew heavily Hispanic.  31.5% of residents speak English not well or not at all, and 49.7% are foreign born.

    Mike and I don’t fit into those categories (not even the young part, anymore), so living here has been really interesting.  There are so many things love love, though, like the annual Dia de los Muertos procession, the annual Soapbox Derby races that take place a block from our house, and (here’s where the blog comes in) really delicious Mexican food.  And yet we often find ourselves leaving the neighborhood for entertainment and for dining.  This blog represents our formal attempt to eat our way through Grant Hill, one Mexican restaurant at a time, and hopefully in doing so, to get to know better the people who are our neighbors.

    What are we going to do?  A quick Yelp search shows 34 Mexican restaurants within one mile of our house.  Thirty-four!  Our plan is visit each of those restaurants, where at least one of us will order a “Combination Number One.”  Get it?  Whether it’s a carne asada plate or a taco and enchilada combo, we’ll try it at any restaurant that has a #1.  If the restaurant doesn’t have one, we’ll pick something else, but this seemed the most universal way to approach this culinary challenge.

    Mike will take pictures, I’ll do the writing.  Michaela will contribute to the eating (and the whining; she’s two, after all).  And each week, we’ll tell you where we went, how the food was, and what we learned about our ‘hood.

    And now?  We eat!  Bueno provecho!