Unlucky? Or lucky?
San Diego's popular El Indio was founded “…as a tortilla factory in August of 1940 by Ralph Pesqueira, Sr. Fresh corn tortillas were made by hand. During WWII, customers from Consolidated (Convair) and other nearby factories soon began asking for ready-to-eat lunch items.
Ralph, Sr., responded by making the 'Taquito,' a word he coined meaning 'Little Taco.'
Between 1945 and 1946, Ralph, Sr., used his basement to make the first tortilla machine in San Diego. He increased production from 30 dozen tortillas per day to more than 30 dozen per hour and began supplying local restaurants. Ralph, Sr., moved El Indio to its current location in 1947. In this small 25-by-75 foot location, we sold many of the same Sonora-style Mexican dishes we sell today. Our recipes were introduced and perfected by Ralph Junior's parents and grandparents. Ralph, Jr., grew up behind the counter, and many long-time El Indio customers still greet him as “Sonny.” He took over the business in 1981 after his father passed away. He is currently grooming his daughters to follow in the family tradition” (from the restaurant’s web site).
When we saw this restaurant featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, we knew it was a must during our stay in San Diego. The first thing I noticed as we were driving up to the restaurant was the presence of a “guard” at the entrance to the small parking lot who watched everyone parking there to make sure that they were really El Indio customers. Then I noticed a small sidewalk dining area set on a small cement triangle in the middle of traffic and just across from the restaurant. Since I don’t care for fumes mixed with my meal, we headed inside. (There is also a small garden patio dining area, but I wanted air conditioning.)
We ordered at the counter from an extensive menu. Since we were “newbies,” we kept telling people to go ahead of us while we pondered the profusion of choices. Tacos come as beef with guacamole; chicken with guacamole; potato with salsa and jack cheese; soft (flour tortilla) grilled chicken with sour cream; soft fish taco with tartar sauce, cabbage, and tomatoes; soft carne asada taco with guacamole and ranchera salsa; and, finally, soft carnitas taco with guacamole and ranchera salsa.
Here in the birthplace of the taquito, the little tacos are sold individually and come filled with shredded beef, shredded chicken, or potato. Flour tortillas can be substituted for the traditional corn tortilla. And taquitos can be ordered as mordidtas, which are bite-size taquitos covered with nacho cheese and jalapeno slices.
And then there are enchiladas, quesadillas, chimichangas, tamales, tostadas, and twenty-nine different combination plates with rice and beans. Faced with this plethora of choices, we resorted to our old favorites. Chuck ordered the beef enchilada plate with red enchilada sauce. For me, it was Combo Plate number 13 - the chili relleno plate.
Buzzer in hand, we looked for a table, but first we made a brief stop at the salsa bar to load up on hot and mild red salsas and a warmish salsa verde. As we looked around the room, we noticed that it was sparsely, yet functionally-appointed, but these bar stools did add a touch of whimsy.
Our buzzer went off and Chuck went to retrieve our food. His beef enchiladas were made with shredded beef (not his favorite – he’s a ground beef kind of guy), but the beef was tender, moist, and lightly seasoned with a slight smoky flavor. The beans were a mixture of whole and pureed – again not his favorite. He likes his Mexican beans to be totally pureed. (I like the combination and the extra texture that the whole beans add.) And the rice was pretty standard Mexican restaurant flavored rice. With his plate came a small side of lettuce, tomato, and onion as garnish.
I was mystified when I saw my plate. It looked to be scrambled eggs with shredded beef and green chilies. Chuck’s cousin Raina had told me that the chili relleno in the Phoenix area resemble an egg omelet with “stuff” piled on top. Was this a version of the Phoenix chili relleno? And why did I get three flour tortillas? I’ve never been served tortillas with chili relleno.
I began to eat and my meal was delicious. The beef was the same moist, tender, and lightly seasoned meat that Chuck had in his enchiladas. But I was still confused. Had they given me someone else’s meal? On my way to get more of the wonderful, bright, citrusy, and mildly hot salsa verde, I took another look at the order board over the counter.
Yes. I got combo Number Thirteen. But the chili relleno combo was Number Twelve. My mistake. I had ordered the machaca plate. According to Wikipedia, “…machaca comes from the verb form machacado (pounded or crushed) and is a dish that was prepared originally from dried, spiced meat (most commonly, beef) that had been rehydrated and pounded to make it tender. The reconstituted meat would then be used to prepare any number of dishes…” “A very popular breakfast or brunch dish is machaca with eggs, associated with miners in the State of Chihuahua.”
Back to the table I went. Mounds of shredded beef, egg, and green pepper were stuffed into flour tortillas and slathered with salsa verde. I was in Mexican food heaven – even if I didn’t plan to order this. I probably would not have tried machaca, but as a result of this number “switch,” I have added one more dish to my list of Mexican food options. Now I am ready to try carne seca (aka machaca in the Tucson area, our next stop).
We enjoyed our dinner at El Indio, and I did have a new dining experience. But this was not the best Mexican food I have found, so will only award 4.0 Addies.