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Monday, September 20, 2010

TACO TUESDAY: Searching for Real Mexican Food in All the Wrong Places

THE PLACE:  Cafe Coyote
2461 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA‎  (619) 291-4695
THE VIBE:  Nothing but tourists and me, and I looked like a tourist taking pics of the food!
THE COST:  Average, around $10 for a combo plate, $7 for a margarita
LOCAL WALLY REPORT CARD:  Read below to see!

Cafe Coyote wins a lot of "best Mexican food awards" and I even gave them a pretty nice review on my main Local Wally site.  Tourists will love this place and I still stand by it being one of the better places in Old Town.... for visitors.  But how about locals, the ones who eat Mexican food multiple times a week and know the difference between the real thing and watered down gringo food?  Let's see.

The setting is tourist friendly, fun and lively.  However, the waitstaff clearly knows they're working in a tourist restaurant where they don't have to be too concerned with repeat business.  The person seating us tried to give us the sucker seats in the lonely bar when there were still prime seats on the patio.  And when I hesitated a moment on my margarita selection, the waitress quickly started recommending the ones made with Patron. 

But you can't argue with the ambiance.  Look out, here comes the guys with guitars who want to sing loudly into your ears and then stand there until you give them a tip.  Shoo, go to that next table with the tourists!  Oh no, the flower lady wants me to buy a flower for my "lady"!  And now the waitress is trying to upsell me by asking if I want some guacamole with my chips!  Auuggghhh!

After a bit things settled down.  It's pretty cool that they have the tortilla lady making and selling hot tortillas along the sidewalk.  Damn, I sound like that Noah guy from that Wonderland show on PBS.  Oh, I think he liked this place, by the way.  Noah or Wally, who you going to trust?  Well, you know the answer to that!

Tortilla making machine in Portland.
I digress a bit but this photo is from a supermarket in Portland, Oregon. They have a big machine making tortillas.  A ball of dough goes in, it gets squashed, it goes down a conveyor belt and comes out cooked.  I prefer the way we do it in San Diego, but this machine is pretty cool.  I want one.

The chips arrive and they were good, not the best but not bad.  They came with the standard salsa, which I found too mild and too much like it came out of a giant can.  It wasn't as bad as Ortegas from last week, but nothing to write home about.

Standard Salsa:  Taste was good, but pretty mild. 
Spicy Salsa:  Go ahead.  I dare you.

So I asked for the spicier salsa and this is what I got.  It was so hot that I went into an instant sweat and steam was pouring from my eyeballs like a live fish tossed into a deep fryer.  It also wasn't exactly flavorful, actually bitter, but mix it with the milder sauce and together not bad.

I ordered a Cadillac Margarita ($9.00) and it too was good, not great.  If it were a standard $7 margarita I'd be raving, but as a premium it was just good.  The table next to me ordered the grande size.  I don't like having to lower my head to the glass to drink but if you like big margaritas, these are big.

Now the food.  I ordered the Carnitas Taco Platter thinking I would be getting a platter of carnitas with all the fixings but they instead gave me two tacos.  I don't think I'm crazy - isn't a taco platter different from a plate with tacos?  Anyway, the rice had good flavor but was only warm, but the beans were good.  The carnitas, however, has the same problem as Ortegas.  No crispy edges, it was obviously slow cooked in a crockpot or similar style.  They also only wrapped one oily tortilla around it, guaranteeing a taco blowout before the end.  Good flavor, just disappointing they didn't crisp the meat.

Same problem with the Carne Asada tacos.  Carne Asada should be brown and caramelized from being cooked on a hot grill.  This carne asada looked like it was stewed, no crispy grilled edges, no char taste whatsoever.  Maybe it was cooked in too big of a batch, maybe it really was just stewed in a big pot, it was no better than the beef that the Marriott Hotels tries to pawn off as "fajitas" at nearly every business buffet lunch.  And that's unfortunate as the flavors were good, just not developed.

The food was a C+, the drinks a B, the wait staff a B-, the ambiance an A-. Final grade, B-.

Man, this is seriously making me rethink my quest to find the ultimate Mexican food in San Diego.  This is going to be harder than I thought!

I eat, I blog, everyone wins!  Get another portion of my witty humbleness at Local Wally at Local Wally's Guide to San Diego!

1 comment:

beth said...

well when i come down to san diego we will go to el zarape in university heights. you have never been there before and it has the best scallop tacos in the world.