Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Happened in 2007?

That was the year between 2005 and 2010 that Café Coyote was not named as San Diego’s Best Mexican restaurant.

“For over 20 years Café Coyote has remained one of San Diego’s Landmark Restaurants located in the Heart of Old Town San Diego’s Historic Walking District…A friendly staff, loyal patrons, delicious Mexican Food, and a Festive Atmosphere have contributed to Café Coyote’s being Voted Best Mexican Restaurant 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 & 2010…Watch Mexican Tortilla Ladies make Fresh Tortillas to accompany your meal the Traditional way... Listen to Strolling Mariachi’s fill the flower-scented air with Festive Mexican Music in our Colorful Outdoor Courtyards. Splashing Fountains add to the atmosphere in the Esplanade framed by Spanish Architecture with colorful Mexican Murals and Décor” (from the restaurant’s web site).

The Café Coyote is a very large restaurant with a front dining porch, central courtyard seating, and a spacious bar/dining room. While the décor in the latter more resembles a sports bar, this is where we asked to be seated during our most recent foray to Old Town San Diego. The temperature had cooled and the sky offered the promise of rain (which never materialized), so we decided that eating indoors was the wisest option. But lucky for us, we got the best of both worlds and were seated next to an open window com-manding a view of San Diego Avenue.

As usual, we started with a basket of tortilla chips and dish of salsa. Given the large bags of chips stacked on a wire rack over Chuck’s shoulder, I suspect that Café Coyote doesn’t make them in-house. The salsa was quite good. Made with crushed tomatoes, crisp raw onion, and a moderate amount of cilantro, it was not as combustible as La Piñata’s (see 11/7 entry), but sufficiently spicy to make the taste buds wake up and take notice.

I have to admit that most Mexican restaurant menus are beginning to look the same to me. They all have combo plates. They all have fajitas. They all have burritos. They all have enchiladas. They all have chile relleno. They all have tacos. (Although in the West you can frequently find fish tacos – something not seen in the East.) So if you are looking for something unique, you need to study the list of specials.

At Café Coyote, you could order: Pollo en Salsa Verde—marinated chicken breast topped with tomatillo-jalapeño sauce and Monterey Jack cheese, and sour cream; the Carne Asada Plate—sirloin of beef strip flavored in secret marinade and charbroiled and served with guacamole and grilled onion; Steak Ranchero—grilled strips of sirloin steak topped with a spicy ranchero sauce and guacamole; the Chile Verde Plate—chunks of pork sautéed in tomatillo-jalapeño sauce with a side of guacamole; Margarita Chicken—chicken breast marinated in a Margarita marinade and charbroiled; or Pollo a la Crema—marinated chicken breast served on a bed of Mexican-style rice and topped with jalapeño cream sauce.

Chuck decided to order the Burrito Especial which was a large flour tortilla filled with beans, cheese and his choice of chicken or shredded beef. (He selected the beef.) This was topped with a red California chile sauce and cheese and was served with Mexican-style rice. We have discovered that the Mexican-style food served in California (and Arizona) is not as spicy and aggressive as that served in New Mexico. But the red chile sauce was tasty without being flammable.

As you can see, this was a very large over-stuffed burrito. Still, as he is scooping another forkful of food into his mouth, he looks up and asserts: “This is going to sound strange, but this doesn’t taste heavy.”

I was ready to order the Steak Ranchero when I noticed the table tent listing the November specials, one of which was the Turkey Mole Enchiladas. Forget the Steak Ranchero. Bring on the turkey enchiladas.

My plate contained two good-sized rolled corn tortillas filled with shredded dark and white turkey swimming in a lake of dark mole. While I have had moles with more pronounced chocolate flavor and more pronounced spice, this was a very balanced and tasty sauce. The accompanying refried beans were no match for La Piñata’s and were rather bland. The rice on both of our plates was mildly seasoned and contained a small amount of peas. The rice was not at all “clumpy,” and I wished that I had remembered to ask for no beans and more rice.

This was a most satisfying lunch, but one that didn’t meet the standard set by La Piñata. Nonetheless, Café Coyote still earns a 4.0 Addie rating.

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