Mr. K and I went down to San Diego last weekend and had an excellent time sampling some fabulous bites around town. We stayed at an Airbnb in Little Italy which is close to everything and had incredible views of the bay. I took the above panorama from the balcony of the apartment, and the below shot is from the same balcony where we liked to hang out at in between the day’s adventures.
We got settled in and then drove down to the third to last exit before the border, to Mariscos German, 3269 Beyer Blvd, San Ysidro which was found to be the best fish taco in San Diego according to this article in the Huffington Post. We got there early, the truck was parked in the rear lot of a convenience store and we each ordered a fried fish taco.
The fish taco was delicious, there were several chunks of fried fish which maximized the surface area of golden crispy batter to juicy melting fish innards ratio, which made us swoon with our first bite. The tacos were drizzled with rich crema which blended into crisp cabbage slaw and flavorful pico de gallo, the slice of lime provided perfumed acidity. We made good use of all of the delicious spicy salsas in squeeze bottles that are communally shared on the table and ate in reverent silence. That was our single fish taco excursion, and it was excellent, but not as good as those we had in Ensenada.
That night, we had dinner at Baja star chef Javier Plascencia’s new restaurant Bracero Cocina, 1490 Kettner Boulevard, which was a few blocks walk from our apartment! Chef Plascencia hails from Tijuana and has been very involved with the creative Baja Mediterranean cuisine that has sparked a culinary renaissance around Baja Norte and the Valle de Guadalupe wine valley. The Placenscia family empire runs many restaurants in the area, including Caesar’s that is famous for its claim to being the birthplace of the Caesar salad, the award winning Misión 19 also in Tijuana and Finca Altozano in the neighboring wine country
The restaurant is beautifully designed and pays homage to the bracero program that brought Mexican laborers to the United States during the heart of WWII until the mid-1960s. I loved this display of hats and horses heads in the stairwell going up to the main dining room. I also was glad to see that they had a number of wines by the glass from the Valle de Guadalupe!
We began with the Vuelve a la Vida Shot ($12) with oyster, sea urchin, abalone, quail egg, smoked steelhead roe served with zaåtar & sea salt chips, tempura salicornia (sea beans). We asked our server if this was a shareable item and she said no, you will each want to order your own, and so we did. It was served in a shot glass, a lavish Veracruzan seafood cocktail full of rich briny bits and and creamy mellow flavors. The chips were thin and crispy and dusted with a dark spice mixture that tasted of ash.
Next was Albacore served two ways ($16.95), a slice of seared tuna, on top of a thin slice of eggplant tempura, another layer of tuna tartar over lime salsa verde spread on another thin slice of eggplant tempura, placed on top of a smear of burnt onion crème fraiche and drizzled with jalapeño ponzu.
Mexiterranean (gyro style) adobada ($5.5) a griddled flour tortilla topped with a slice of savory meat marinated in a spicy chili pepper and vinegar based sauce known as adobo, jalapeño tzatziki, olla beans and a slice of juicy grilled pineapple. This was very flavorful with all of the savory fillings and the counterpoint of the sweet tropics and cilantro.
My favorite dish was the Perfect egg surrounded by crispy corn masa ($13), topped with beef tartare, potato foam, onion confit, and seared padron peppers. The potato foam was substantial but super light and creamy, I loved the combination of flavors and textures.
We also couldn’t resist ordering Tijuana’s original Caesar’s Salad ($12) which was a very fine classic rendition, and though we’ve had so many caesar’s, we couldn’t say this was the best by far.
We shared the Chocolate from the Americas, a scoop of beautiful, dark chocolate sorbet on holjadre (fried dough), with hazelnut and salted caramel over a rich chocolate custard infused with the flavors of Mexican hot chocolate. We loved the rustic elegance of both the setting and the meal.
The next morning we walked over to the farmer’s market called the Little Italy Mercato, which is held every Saturday 8-2, more than 150 booths lining W. Cedar Street from Kettner Blvd. to Front St.
It’s a fun market, I like the intimate layout along the street, it made for a casual stroll with plenty of room for strollers, shoppers and four legged friends. A display of round carrots.
These Thai pancakes (kanom krok) were $1 for five pieces and perfect to take the edge off my morning appetite. They are delicately sweet and savory treats, made from a coconut milk batter that’s poured in a cast iron pan and are rotated to crisp the edges.
We stopped off at the Poppas Fresh Fish booth and were disappointed to find that they had no fresh urchin. What?!?! I had been drooling over their posts on Facebook like this one and this and so we consoled ourselves with some oysters and clams on the half shell. The oysters were good, plump and briny, the clams were sweet and meaty, an excellent plate to begin with.
Fortunately Mr. K found another booth a couple of blocks down, the Salmon Slinger, that had some urchin, which was $7 for the whole thing, and it was so fresh that it recoiled when I squeezed lemon on it. This was even better than the one we had last week at Swan’s in the City, this was fresher and was like swallowing ethereal buttery clouds infused with the essence of the sea.
Mr.K couldn’t resist this cheesemonger, who had an amazing selection! He asked the man which was his favorite, and got a slice of it and didn’t remember what it was called. We also picked some excellent spicy dry salami from the Meat Men booth.
We decided to check out one more restaurant Carnitas’ Snack Shack 2632 University Avenue, which is a small booth that serves pork-centric comfort food that my friend CW said was the one spot I really had to try.
I decided to order the Triple Threat Pork Sandwich ($9.50) which is a brioche bun piled high with pork loin schnitzel, pulled pork and bacon, with pepperoncini relish and shack aioli. It seemed to have a little of everything.
The best thing was the Pork Belly App $8.50 braised duroc pork with sweet-spicy glaze, frisée salad made with apples, radish and tossed with a vibrant lemon vinaigrette. This was one of the my favorite belly dishes ever!
We were saving our appetites for my cousin Ligaya’s wedding reception that night, which was at their home and featured a taco cart, nacho bar, lumpia and pancit, and a delightful assortment of desserts, chocolate coated pretzel sticks, chocolate covered marshmallows on sticks, cupcakes, cookies, nothing bundt cakes and this beautiful centerpiece. Congratulations Mr and Mrs to a long and happy life together.
The next morning Mr. K surprised me by saying he wanted to try one traditional Mexican restaurant before we left, and since we needed to get to the airport by noon, we had to find somewhere that was open early, and we ended up at the family owned restaurant, Talavera Azul 365 Third Avenue in Chula Vista. It was featured in the Food Network show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, they have another restaurant in Tijuana, El Espadana. The interior is filled with beautiful handpainted talavera pottery, especially blue, hence the restaurant’s name, Talavera Azul.
The restaurant was filled with regulars and the service was brusque and efficient. I can never resist Chilaquiles Divorciado with two sauces ($8.50), red sauce and mole topped with cottage cheese, with refried beans and country potatoes, topped with two over easy eggs. The fried tortilla chips were crunchy and infused with the savory sauces, but I found the mole a little too sweet, next time I’m getting the red sauce again, and the poblano crema sauce…
Mr. K had the Poblano Omelette, which had fresh corn, poblano chilies, cheese and fresh herbs, refried beans and country potatoes. The sauce was spicy and complex and really made the dish.
That’s all we were able to consume during our weekend journey, but given our obsession with Baja cuisine, we have plans to go back soon… especially for the Uni!
Love, Foodhoe, over and out.