Indulging in Baja California's food scene is all the rage among adventurous foodies these days. But even with fewer concerns about violence in the region, and shorter wait times at the border thanks to additional traffic lanes, traveling to another country for an afternoon of culinary delights isn't for everyone. And that's OK.
The beauty of living in San Diego is that you don't have to leave the country for authentic, regional Mexican cuisine. Case in point is Chula Vista, where you can dig into the best lamb barbacoa at Aqui es Texcoco; Guadalajara-style sandwiches from El Gallito Tortas Ahogadas; and of course Tacos el Gordo, whose TJ-style tacos are something of legend in San Diego.
But there's more. In recent weeks I've spent a lot of time (and calories) exploring the best of what Chula Vista has to offer, and my research brought me to the following three restaurants, and I highly recommend that you get to know them for yourself.
Stateside Mexican breakfast doesn't get any better than chilaquiles with a steaming, sweet cup of coffee spiced with cinnamon (café de olla)
at Talavera Azul. Mexicans like their chilaquiles still crunchy, and such is the case here with thick, fried tortilla chips doused in your choice of sauce - salsa verde, creamy poblano and mole, to name a few - topped with shredded jack or cotija cheese and tangy crema. If you can't decide, pick two sauces for the "Divorced" chilaquiles version on the menu. Weekends are a scene here, so be prepared to wait with the masses who are lined up for good reason. 365 Third Ave. (619) 427-6476
Mariscos Los Cuates
The aguachile is off-the-hook at this under-the-radar seafood joint: For just $6,
you get a bowl of plump, citrus-cured shrimp, garnished with orange slices, red onion, cucumber and avocado, with tostadas on the side for shoveling it all into your mouth. On a spicy scale of 1-10, the halfway point will make beads of sweat drip off your brow, so best cool down with a gigantic michelada - served in glassware akin to a beer stein - for only $4.50. Between the fast, friendly service, super-fresh seafood and almost-too-good-to-be-true pricing, eating here kind of feels like robbery, so tip generously and tell your amigos about this refreshing (on many levels) mariscos joint. 217 Third Ave., (619) 816-5042.
Birrieria Don Rafa
First, choose from stewed beef (res) or goat (chivo) at this Mexican comfort food eatery; then, decide on a presentation. You can get birrieria packed tacos, quesadillas and menudo here, but there's nothing quite like the ultra juicy, cheesy ahogada (or drowned) version of the quesadilla that comes stuffed with cheese, tender, smoky meat, beans, cilantro and onions. Then, flavorful consommé is spooned over the whole thing, making for a stew and quesadilla in one. Warning: after one visit here, you'll be hooked. 560 Broadway, (619) 934-5135.
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.