Cool Eats in San Diego: Mexican
1. BARRIO STAR – BANKERS HILL $$$
Cool Stuff San Diego Favorite
This place is hip Mexican. We love the brightly painted walls (pink and light teal) with a plethora of collected crosses adorning the walls. One whole wall adorns a gorgeous white plush couch. The bar is central and just a sweet place to meet a friend or grab a drink. It is a perfectly small restaurant which makes it quaint. You will be warmly greeted and well served at Barrio Star.
A well received but small menu we like. The best Tortilla Soup in town awaits you here. Just add some sliced avocados. Have you had street tacos? South of the border style small tacos with three to a plate, served with a bowl of black beans, and they are delicious. Order with Steak, chicken or pork(carnitas). yum! The brazilian bowl is also scrumptous. Coconut rice, black beans, mango, with Chicken or tofu and topped with Kale.
Try the Pomegranate Margaritas and Barrio Star has the coldest on tap beer in town. Kegs are stored in a very cold cooler. Invite a friend ,a date, or the family and they will love this funky hip spot.
Located 2706 Fifth Avenue, at Nutmeg in Bankers Hill. Street parking. (619) 501-STAR
2. EL CAMINO – LITTLE ITALY/SOUTH PARK $$$
Ok, let’s just start by telling you this: the place is a trip. Imagine a very modern hip Mexico along with a hip crowd. Or should we just say its wacky with the Dia de Los Muertos theme everywhere? And then there is the disco ball creating light and reflecting circles all over the place provoking almost some kind of psychedelic feeling, and it’s dark. With that said, it all works and evokes Mexican culture. This place is fun, unusual and a cool place to take a date or a group of people.
The menu is simple which we like. All menu items at El Camino are allergy, hormone free, organic and locally grown. The salsa here is amazing! It comes in a little tray with four different choices, some hot, some mild and a to die for creamy chipotle aioli. In addition, a bowl of seasoned jicama and cucumbers arrive tableside. The tacos are served four up on a plate with your choice of mahi mahi, chicken, carne asada,, shrimp and veggie version with poblano chili, onions, corn and seasoned vegetables. All entrees are served with homemade black beans and rice, both served in their own small pots.
This place is just cool and has to be on coolstuffsandiego.com(a shameless plug) but we had to. It is like south of the border Mexican street vendor food with a great authentic concoction of spices and flavors. Great food, prices and ambiance make this one of our top picks.
As reviewed at 2400 India Street just north of Little Italy and a second(the original) at 3023 Juniper St (between 30th St & Fern St) in South Park. Visit them on the web at www.elcaminosd.com. Please call for details (619) 685-3881
3. EL AGAVE – OLD TOWN $$$$
This place is upscale Mexican. Not the loud rowdy Old Town crowd full of gringo’s. Hard to locate at first but simply find the Old Town Liquor Store and to the right of the entrance, there are stairs that lead up to the restaurant. Upon entry, you will be greeted by hundreds of tequila bottles in glass cases from floor to ceiling on a backlit wall. Very impressive on the eyes and a nice find for the Tequila connoisseur. They have over 1500 tequilas in this place which gives it the distinction of probably, the largest tequileria in the US.
El Agave is very clean and quite, a bit more formal again and pricier than your average Mexican Restaurant. Great for a slow dinner and a few sips of the cactus juice. Recipient of many, many awards in fine food. There is a small intimate dining area with soft amber lighting and a nice patio on two sides of the building.
They serve great chips and a non traditional salsa: artichoke dip. Delicious. The sauces are interesting, as complex. Try the four different mole sauces. Our favorite dish is the filet in a tequila red wine reduction sauce. Also great if you want something simpler, try the fish tacos, served three on a plate with a wonderful chipoltle chili cream sauce accompanied by agave rice and black beans. It must be understood that the average entrée’s run $25-30 range, but if you want upscale, great food and a nice, quieter environment, you will enjoy your night at El Agave.
Located on the west side of Old Town at 2304 San Diego Avenue. Small parking lot (619) 220-0692
4. CASA DE BANDINI – CARLSBAD $$$
Let’s just say it is worth the drive north for this one. The colorful ambiance of the place, the traditional senorita waitresses with their white dresses, the flowers in their hair, and of course the roving Mariachis. Casa de Bandini is festive and as in true to Mexican tradition. The owner, Diane Powers had the original Casa de Bandini in Old Town for some 15 years before the state put the lease out on the property for bidding. Like all successful business people they pick up, go on, and usually turn it into something better.
This establishment has all the same qualities without the Old Town atmosphere and accessibility. The restaurant is large and has an additional outdoor patio for seating keeping in theme of traditional décor. It is also usually very busy, a testament to the quality of the experience. The menu is plentiful with all the usual fixings. The margarita’s are great while you acclimate. Skip the large one, as the regular is plenty. They serve up great chips and salsa’s served two up, for variety and heat. Items include Tacos(try the fish), Enchiladas with a rojo or verde sauce, perhaps the mole. Try the flautas or chimichanga’s. Casa de Bandini has the usual faire with the exception of a variety of healthy dishes added to the menu. A great time for all, with above average food, drink, ambiance and service.
Located at 1901 Calle de Barcelona in Carlsbad 92009 In the mall with the Forum Shops. Lots of parking. Call (760) 634-3443 but no reservations.
5. RANCHOS COCINA – OCEAN BEACH, NORTH PARK $$
You’ll know you are going to have fun in this casual place when you walk in and hear the Gypsy Kings piped out of the sound system. The local OB crowd frequents the place and you will always find a few dogs tied to the palm trees out front. Rancho’s sits a couple blocks south of Newport on Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach. There is a large indoor dining area and a small patio on the side complete with overgrown plants and shrubbery for privacy. The chairs and tables are traditional, very comfortable equipalas.
The food is non traditional, but in a good way, savory Mexican cuisine. Ranchos offers a large assortment of vegan items. Too many great items to list without posting the menu but this will give you a flavor of what awaits and should surely wet your appetite. How about a salmon burrito? Tofu or eggplant enchiladas? Nopales (cactus) taco’s. Ranchos also has all the usual items (tacos, enchiladas, tamales, burritos, etc.) so don’t be alarmed. There is something for everyone, did we mention the Smoothie menu? Service is very laid back and friendly, typical SoCal style but do not expect to be in and out quickly, it’s not fast food. The food is original, creative and very casual, so relax and let your hair down in this place.
As reviewed at 1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. (619) 226-7619 Second location in North Park at 3910 30th Street just north of University.