Venga Venga

Venga Venga, one of celebrity chef Richard Sandoval’s restaurants, recently launched a Destination menu series – every 6 months, the restaurant will offer dishes inspired by a certain region of Mexico. From March through September, the featured region is Guadalajara, and last month, S and I were invited to sample some of the dishes.

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Venga Venga is located in Otay Ranch, which was a bit of a drive for us, but ended up being kind of nice. We’ve been pretty busy lately, and it was good to spend some nice catching up during the car ride.

Chef Paulo came out to chat with us about the restaurant and its concept. Basically, Venga Venga’s goal is not to compete with all the great mom-and-pops taco shops in Chula Vista, nor is it meant to be reminiscent of Mexican home-style cuisine. Rather, he strives to put a new spin on familiar dishes to create a “fusion” flavor profile with Latin, Californian, and even Asian influences, since he has a background in Asian cooking.

Heirloom Tomato Salad [$12.95]

Heirloom Tomato Salad [$12.95]

Our first dish was an heirloom tomato salad – basically, their own version of the caprese salad, but with pickled corn, fried goat cheese, salsa fresca, avocados, and of course heirloom tomatoes and a charred tomato vinaigrette. I’m not normally a fan of vinaigrettes, but this one had a rich and hearty flavor profile. I especially loved the corn, although I bet that this would be even better later in the summer, at the peak of corn season.

Flautas w/ Braised Beef Cheeks

Flautas w/ Braised Beef Cheeks

I don’t see this on the menu anymore, but this actually was one of S and my favorite dishes of the evening. Flautas are basically rolled tacos, and these were filled with amazingly tender braised beef cheeks. The corn tortillas are made in-house and fried to a light crisp, soft yet didn’t get soggy. The sauce was a black bean purée that paired quite nicely with the beef. Chef Paulo told us that he initially wanted to use cabeza but wasn’t sure how well that would sell, so he used beef cheeks instead. I told him that I would have really wanted to try the cabeza version!

Pulpa Tostada [$6.95]

Pulpa Tostada [$6.95]

Ahi Tuna Tostada [$6.95]

Ahi Tuna Tostada [$6.95]

Up next were a couple of tostadas. The perfectly-grilled octopus had a nice smoky flavor, and paired with citrus pico de gallo, orange zest, oregano pesto, refried garbanzo beans, and chile-infused olive oil. The ahi tuna was marinated with chipotle ponzu, soy sauce, sesame seeds, watermelon, and avocados. This is where the Asian influence really started to show, and we loved it.

Infused Tequilas

Infused Tequilas

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Mitch’s Seafood

Whenever S and I have visitors, we always try to introduce them to a San Diego signature, fish tacos. So, when S’s sister V was in town last month, we took them to Mitch’s Seafood, our current favorite.

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The blackboard lists the catch(es) of the day. I love that everything is basically local (except for the octopus). You can get the fish in a taco, served on a platter, or in a sandwich. Of course, most of us went for the fish tacos.

Fish tacos

Scallop [$3.60], Beer-Battered Rock Cod [$3.05], Shrimp [$3.60] tacos

Scallop taco

Scallop taco

We chose a variety of fish from their daily selection. My favorite of the day actually turned out to be one not pictured, the octopus – it was grilled perfectly and had a really lovely smoky flavor. Their beer-battered rock cod, which is available everyday, is also one of the best fried fish tacos I’ve had in SD so far….

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South Bay Food Crawl

Warning – this is a long post, with TONS of pictures! :)

A few weeks ago, CC of Pink Candles at Ridgemont High took Mary, Jake, and T (of This Tasty Life), and S and me, on a food crawl around the South Bay! I was really excited because I knew that there would be plenty of stops with Mexican food – one of our favorite cuisines. Plus, I’ve always wanted to explore some more of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach.

Birria Fernandez

Birria Fernandez

 Our first stop, bright and early at 9:30AM, was Fernandez Restaurant and Catering, located near IB – CC mentioned that there would be a line as early as 9AM, and indeed there was already a small crowd. We arrived later than everyone else – they had already sat down, ordered, and worked through the first batch of tortillas… oops.

Birria de Res [$9]

Birria de Res [$9] 

This is definitely the specialty here, a rich and hearty stew with shredded beef (res). The soup was just so flavorful, adn the meat was incredibly tender.

Birria Fernandez 

These tortillas took forever to arrive at our table, but well worth the wait – possibly some of the best tortillas I’ve ever had! As you can see, they’re dipped with the birria broth, adding extra flavor. 

Birria Fernandez 

I constructed my own taco, with the shredded beef, onions, and cilantro. The birria also came with radishes and limes – I gave my taco a good squeeze of lime juice. It was so delicious! I think all of us wished that we could have eaten more here, but we also knew that there was plenty more good food up ahead.

Fernandez Restaurant and Catering
2265 Flower St, San Diego, CA 92154
http://www.fdzcatering.com/

Mariscos Isaac

Mariscos Isaac 

Our second stop was just a short distance away, at the Mariscos Isaac seafood truck. Apparently, this is a new location for this truck – I’m geographically challenged so I’ll just link to CC’s post for you to figure out exactly where we are, hehe. 

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Seafood Consommé

Seafood Consommé

The seafood consommé is free here! A really nice little gesture to give us something to munch (slurp?) on while we wait for the food. It was served piping hot, which I didn’t really expect and almost burned my tongue off – but trust me, I’d rather have piping hot than lukewarm! It was on the salty side but very flavorful. S stayed away from this since there was shrimp.

We all decided to try different things here…

Fish Taco (Pescado) [$0.99]

Fish Taco (Pescado) [$0.99]

Marlyn [$3.25]

Marlyn [$3.25]

The fish taco wasn’t too special but yummy nevertheless. We also wanted to try the marlin because we haven’t seen it anywhere else so far – the fish was very smoky and rather salty. Still delicious, though. Also, the taco was huge.

Isaac [$3.50]

Isaac [$3.50] 

Gobernator [$3.50]

Gobernador [$3.50]

CC and Mary both opted for shrimp tacos – CC chose the “Isaac”, the truck’s namesake taco, which included grilled onions and peppers. The gobernador was a regular shrimp taco, which had pico de gallo and two generous slices of avocado! The shrimp was cooked perfectly for both tacos, and I really loved the flavors of the “Isaac” taco.

Mariscos Isaac
(Located near Bobar 2 Liquor Store)

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[Weeknight Cooking] Taco Night by Kennedy’s Karne

I’ve been thinking of ways to mix up our weeknight dinners at home, since I normally cook pretty much the same few dishes that S and I both enjoy (such as soy-braised pork, quick sautées and stir-fries, and easy pastas). Recently, I was given the chance to sample some offerings from Kennedy’s Karne, a local butcher shop based right in Escondido! Their specialty is Mexican food and specifically, carne asada.

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S and I were pretty excited to try making Mexican food, since it’s not something that we usually eat at home. It turned out to be a really fun “taco night” for the two of us! 

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I received a really generous sampler package, which included not only meat, but also sides – rice, beans, tortillas, salsa, guacamole, and chips!

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Puesto (The Headquarters)

I’ve been wanting to check out The Headquarters at Seaport District, a newly-opened plaza with boutique shops and restaurants. There were several restaurants that I wanted to try, including Pizzeria Mozza and Gelato Paradiso, but the one I was really curious about was Puesto. S and I really love the street-style tacos at the La Jolla location, and when I browsed the menu of the HQ location, there seemed to be a more extensive menu, and I wanted to try out the new offerings.

The place had a much different vibe than the La Jolla shop – the atmosphere was much more like a tavern/bar rather than a casual eatery. There’s seating in the patio and upstairs, while the downstairs is a bar area and communal tables. Instead of going through the assembly line to order your food and toppings, there is a waitstaff who will take your order. Like the LJ shop, though, you can still see pretty much everything that goes on in the kitchen:

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(I didn’t really get good photos of around the restaurant because it was too dark.)

S and I had a reservation, but because of Friday night traffic, we got there about five minutes late. At first they told us that they had already given away our table; then, they changed their mind and said that because we had an online reservation, we could only get an outdoor table. I was slightly annoyed that they had changed what they’d said, and we didn’t want to sit at an outside table. Luckily, there was space at one of the communal tables on the first floor, and we chose to sit there instead.

Complimentary chips & salsa

Complimentary chips & salsa

To my surprise, there was complimentary chips and salsa. The chips were nice and warm, and the salsa was mild in spiciness, but quite flavorful.

Looking over their menu, there are a variety of appetizers, salads, tacos, and entrées. We decided to try one new item, and one item that we knew was tried-and-true (at least, at their LJ location).

Bandera de Mole [$17]

Bandera de Mole: shredded Mary’s organic chicken in traditional, white, and green house-made moles [$17]

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South Beach Bar & Grill

Fish tacos are definitely one of my favorite things about San Diego. Originated in Baja California, they consist of fried or grilled fish, pico de gallo, lettuce, and a mayonnaise-based sauce. According to the source of all knowledge, fish tacos were popularized in the U.S. by Rubio’s, a chain restaurant that I’ve never actually been to… since S tells me that it’s not that good. Haha. Most shops in SD have “Taco Tuesdays,” offering the tacos at a discount or all-day happy hour pricing.

Anyway, our absolute favorite place for fish tacos is South Beach Bar & Grill, located in Ocean Beach. We actually avoid going on Tuesdays because it gets so crowded. Pro-tip: they actually offer Taco Tuesday pricing ($2.75 per taco) during happy hour, Monday through Friday 3-6pm, or after 10pm. So S and I actually usually go after 10pm on not-Tuesdays, and we can usually get a seat right away. Their menu is actually quite extensive, but I’ve never tried anything other than the tacos.

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Mitch’s Seafood (Taco Tuesday!)

Tacos are serious business in San Diego (duh), and the best way to celebrate the abundance of tacos? Taco Tuesdays! Many restaurants offer all-day Happy Hour pricing on drinks and cheap tacos on Tuesdays. Our go-to is S’s favorite, South Beach Bar & Grill, but last week our friends suggested we try Mitch’s Seafood.

Located on the harbor, it was a very casual yet busy place. You could sit at one of the tables inside, or along the “counter” on the pier, looking at the water and sailboats. It was dark already by the time we arrived, though, so I didn’t get a good photo.

Taco Tuesdays at Mitch’s means all-day $2 fried fish tacos and $3 grilled fish tacos, and $1.50 Tecates. They list the catches of the day on a chalkboard near the ordering counter, and the menu also includes sandwiches and soups. We started off with some chips and salsa.

Chips & salsa

The salsa was flavorful but slightly too watery for my liking. Another wish? Warm chips. I’ve been spoiled by places such as Roberto’s, so now I take off points for non-warm chips.

New England clam chowder

S and I decided to split a cup of the New England clam chowder. I was hoping to try the Manhattan clam chowder that my friend M recommended, but they didn’t offer it that day. I’m not a big fan of NE clam chowder, so I gave this an okay. S enjoyed it, though, and there were plenty of clams in the cup.

Fried calamari and shrimp tacos

I ordered two tacos, the beer-battered rock cod and shrimp. They got my order wrong, though, and I received a calamari taco at first. I snapped a photo before asking them to correct my order. (And I subsequently forgot to take photos of the cod tacos, haha… fail.) I really enjoyed the shrimp taco – the shrimp was really fresh and tender. I liked the rock cod, too, but there was a bit too much batter.

My friend actually ordered the calamari taco, and he really enjoyed it. I tried a piece of the calamari, and it was crispy and well-seasoned.

Some of our friends liked this place better, but S still prefers South Beach. I do like the salsa there better, and they have more offerings (in particular, the shark tacos). But the fish and shrimp at Mitch’s are really fresh (and probably better than South Beach), and definitely worth checking out.

Happy Hour offerings

Mitch’s Seafood
1403 Scott St, San Diego, CA
(619) 222-8787
http://mitchsseafood.com/

[SD Pacific Beach] Awesome fish tacos at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood

I’ve heard about Oscar’s Mexican Seafood for a while and was super excited to try it out a few weeks ago.  My friend was pretty spot-on with his description of it as a “shack in PB, not in the beach-y part.”

There’s a tiny counter for ordering, kitchen behind, and seating outdoors.  Oh, and of course, there is a large assortment of hot sauces.  All kinds.

The menu includes fish, shrimp, and steak tacos, tortas, and a few sides.  I picked the smoked fish taco and shrimp ceviche.

Smoked fish taco, $3.50

Wonderful smoky flavor on the fish, made me want to buy some fish myself and fire up the grill.  Topped with shredded lettuce and some salsa, and of course, in true Californian fashion, two big slices of avocado.

Shrimp ceviche, $3.50

I did not expect the ceviche to come in a plastic cup, but hey it’s under four bucks and absolutely delicious.  The shrimp was fresh and tender, and the lime juice really brought out the sweetness.  Again, huge avocado slices on top.

Homemade beans, $1.50

Seemed like everyone was ordering these, so S decided to get one, too.  It’s a little different than the refried beans I’ve had elsewhere – less mushy and more… bean-y?  I thought it needed a bit more salt.  And are you surprised by now to see avocado slices?  Haha.

I thought it was a really great meal overall, very affordable and very filling (you can’t tell from the picture but the taco was pretty sizable).  I’ll be back to try some of the other tacos!

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
703 Turquoise St., San Diego, CA
(858) 349-8181

http://oscarsmexicanseafood.com/

[SD Logan Heights] Tacos from Las Cuatro Milpas and playing some more with LR4

I’ve heard S talk about Las Cuatro Milpas for quite a while now, and I’ve always wanted to try it.  But it only opens until 3pm and is closed Sundays, so we haven’t had the chance to check it out until a couple of weeks ago.  Per his suggestion, we arrived around 1:30 so that the line would be shorter, but it was still quite a wait.

It was truly a gorgeous day in San Diego, though, so I didn’t mind too much.

It was my first time in this area of San Diego.  It had a small-town, charming feel to it.  I love how the restaurant is basically located in the midst of a residential neighborhood – our friend said that it reminds me a bit of Taiwan; business and home are all in one place.

It was perhaps appropriate, then, that Las Cuatro Milpas is a family business.  According to San Diego Reader, it has been around for nearly three decades.

I couldn’t help adding a filter to get the “family-owned restaurant” feel.

The menu is simple.  Tacos.  Roll tacos.  Tamales.  Chorizo with eggs.  Rice and beans.  You get one choice of meat and that is pork.  (Actually, you can also get chicken tacos.  But everything else is pork-only.)

Tacos are $1.50 each – freshly fried shells, braised carnitas, shredded lettuce, queso enchilada.  Add in your own cilantro and onions.  Simple and ridiculously flavorful.

Roll tacos are five for $4.25, topped with sour cream, shredded lettuce, and queso enchilada, served over a bed of salsa – probably homemade.  Again, freshly-fried shells and delicious, flavorful, juicy, tender meat.

This is definitely one of the best tacos I’ve had, right up there with Chubby’s in Durham and Tacos el Gordo in Chula Vista.  Unlike Tacos el Gordo (or many other taco joints in San Diego), Las Cuatro Milpas isn’t “California-nized” – no avocadoes here, and this is more like the tacos you would find in Mexico.

The bottom line?  This is really a must-try – I promise, it’s worth the long lines.  (Actually, if you arrive around 2pm, there usually isn’t a line anymore.)  I will definitely be back for more.

Las Cuatro Milpas
1875 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA
(619) 234-4460

Open Mon-Sat, 9am-3pm

[SD Mission Hills] Late dinner at La Lucha Libre

SK has been telling me about La Lucha Libre taco shop for a while, but since it’s a bit far from where we live and usually pretty crowded during normal meal times, we didn’t make the trip until a recent night, when it was past 9pm and we still hadn’t eaten dinner.  Since I had a Mexican food craving, he suggested that we try out La Lucha Libre.

The shop is pretty small.  A line forms from the door to place your order, and the seating area is about 30 people at most, I’d say.  There is a special “Gold Booth” that seems to be for reservations only(?).  At nearly 9:30pm, it was still pretty crowded and we managed to snag 2 seats at the counter.

Menu board

The menu reminded me a bit of El Zarape’s, mostly because of the “Surf & Turf” burrito and tacos.  There are also some other speciality items that are a bit less common.

I ended up with a Surf & Turf taco (SK tells me that this is the favorite here), and TJ Corn.

Surf & Turf taco: marinated steak, shrimp, “special sauce”, $3.85

The taco was delicious – actually taste a lot like El Zarape’s, since their “special sauce” also had the tomato-y, mayo-y, chipotle-y mixture.  The steak and shrimp were grilled nicely (although the steak was a bit dry), and the grated queso enchilada on top added plenty more flavor.  It was also a pretty big portion, and also sort of difficult to pick up and eat.

By the way, each meal comes with tortilla chips (with refills!), so we also tried out their salsa bar.  My favorite was once again the salsa roja, but the creamy guacatillo(?) was also really good.

TJ Corn: queso enchilado, mayo, chili, & lime, $1.50

Before this meal, I’ve only had the Mexican “corn in a cup” once, at the Mira Mesa farmer’s market, and I loved it.  The salty cheese plays off the corn’s sweetness, and the creamy mayo just holds it all together.  Add a touch of lime to balance out the chili, and this is one of my favorite ways to eat corn.  Then again, it’s hard for me to resist corn – I pretty much love it prepared any style.

The bottom line?  I really liked La Lucha Libre, and I totally understand why there’s always a crowd.  The price is great, and the food is delicious.  I would definitely recommend it if you haven’t been here yet, and let me know when you’re going so I can tag along ;)

La Lucha Libre Taco Shop
1810 W. Washington Street, San Diego, CA
(619) 296-8226

http://tacosmackdown.com/index.htm

Hours:
Sun-Thu  11am-11pm
Fri-Sat  11am-2:30am