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.
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.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.
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!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.