Thursday, January 3, 2013

It’s Only About Twenty-Two Miles…

from downtown San Diego to the Mexico border and just under thirty percent of San Diego residents identify themselves as Hispanics of Mexican descent. So it should come as no surprise that San Diego is home to almost nine hundred Mexican restaurants. This blog is about two of them.

As we were winding our way through Old Town, we turned a corner and found ourselves on Juan Street. After a quick look down the street I exclaimed to Chuck: “There’s La Piñata. We ate there three years ago and really liked it! Let’s lunch there.”
So, after a brief walk through the nearby Bazaar del Mundo, we headed off to La Piñata.

“La Piñata is a…restaurant that keeps getting better with time. It's also the oldest restaurant in Old Town, so it's steeped in tradition. On warm sunny days, ask to be seated on the romantic patio, which is surrounded by lush flowering plants and shrubs. On cooler days or evenings, diners can…dine inside amongst our collection of festive piñatas!

“The building was originally a house and began serving Mexican food in the late 1920's through a ‘To Go Window’ by the kitchen. By 1932, the building was converted into a table service Restaurant called Ramona's Kitchen. In 1968, the name of the restaurant was changed to La Piñata, making this the Oldest Restaurant in Old Town” (

The day was raw and chilly, so we chose the indoor option, which is a fiesta for the eyes. As noted above, a riot of piñatas in various shapes and forms hang from the ceiling.

The walls are warm blues and golds and are decorated with Mexican symbols.

When you are seated you are offered the choice (complimentary) of a cheese quesadilla or basket of chips with salsa for the table. We chose the chips and salsa and the salsa was exceptional—very spicy with small bits of minced jalapeno pepper and a good quantity of seeds.

Since neither of us was overly hungry we both decided to order from the a la carte menu thinking that this would be a light lunch. How wrong were we? Very wrong. We had forgotten that the portions here are huge.

I decided to order one cheese enchilada and one chile relleno. The enchilada was very good and was covered with a light, smooth, and not at all spicy red sauce.
This, along with my share of chips and salsa, would have made a meal in itself.

After finishing my enchilada I tackled the chile relleno. But there was one problem. This was not the chile. This was the beef tamale.
And, while it was delicious, I wanted the chile. So in short order, the tamale was removed and the chile served.

I should have stuck with the tamale.

The chile was way milder than I expected and was covered with a thin and somewhat watery tomato sauce that contained onions and peppers, and this thin sauce made the coating on the chile soggy.

Chuck chose one shredded beef taco,
one bean burrito, and a small (Yes, this is the small.) side of refried beans.
“You’re ordering a bean burrito and beans?” I asked within earshot of our server.

“They’re really good beans.” She said. “He’ll enjoy them.”

And she was right. They were really good, and I don’t like refried beans all that much. They were a combination of whole and pureed beans and had a definite smoky flavor. But the size of the serving proved to be too much, and some---along with part of Chuck’s burrito—came home with us.

His very large—make that very, very large—burrito was covered with a sauce that at first looked to be identical to that on my enchilada but turned out to be somewhat spicier and tasted of either chile or cumin or a combination of both.

If not for my disappointment with the chile relleno, this would have been a very good lunch. But instead, La Piñata only earns a 3.5 Addie rating.

Before departing La Mesa the night of the Santa Fe Christian vs. Rio Hondo Prep football game, Chuck and Karen and Dick Allsing stopped for a quick supper at one of the Allsing’s favorite La Mesa Mexican restaurants—Marietta’s.
So shortly thereafter we both went one day for a quick lunch.

Compared to Casa de Pico or La Piñata with their colorful and festive atmospheres, Marietta’s décor is pretty basic.

There were a few sombreros scattered around but that was about it. But who cares when the food is good. And Marietta’s food is good starting, with a basket of chips and a really good salsa that tasted of fire-roasted tomatoes and cumin.

I was happy to see my new favorite—the Mexican Shrimp Cocktail—on the menu and after a short debate with myself (Should I order something different before my blogging gets too repetitive and boring?), I couldn’t resist. And I am glad that I didn’t.

In addition to six large butterflied shrimp, the glass was full of avocado, onion, tomato, and lots of cilantro. I read somewhere that the sugar in the catsup that is part of the dish’s base lessens the heat from whatever hot sauce is used, but a bit of remaining salsa was all that was necessary to give the cocktail a needed jolt.

Chuck chose a combo plate with one beef and bean burrito, one beef taco, rice, and beans.
I didn’t taste the taco—it’s hard to cut off a corner of the taco—but can verify that the beans were almost as good as those served at La Piñata, and that the rice was better than average. But Chuck did find parts of the taco shell to be so hard that it was inedible.

The burrito, on the other hand, was first rate and was covered with a red sauce. I am not very conversant when it comes to sauces on Mexican food. I know that there is enchilada sauce and something that is called Colorado sauce. Are they the same or two entirely different sauces? And what was used here? Whatever, it was very good.

Marietta’s offers nothing fancy—just good food at reasonable prices and earns a 3.5 Addie rating.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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