I spent most of my life on the West Coast… Wait, let me be more specific… I spent over 30 years of my life in San Diego. I have a thing for two very specific types of Mexican food. If you’ve been to Southern California, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If your Mexican food experience is from anywhere else in the Southwest, you think you know what I’m talking about… Sorry, but it’s true.
Southern California, and San Diego in particular, is heavily influenced by Baja California… See, Mexico is a big ass country and the food varies. It’s a regional thing. Kinda like being from certain parts of Ohio and having a thing for Cincinnati Chili (WTF is that stuff?!?!?) Or from the South and liking black eyed peas and greens. Or talk to someone from New York about a real bagel. Or try Chicago pizza.
Anyway, I digress. Mexico is a big ass country, and the food is regional. And since food memories are some of the most nostalgic, there is a certain type of Mexican food I want. Dammit. Actually, two certain types and it ain’t “Tex-Mex.”
Type 1: the fast-food version…
This stuff comes from street vendors in places like Tiajuana, Ensenada and Rosarito and prompts people who aren’t from the area to say things like, “are you sure you want to eat that?”
In the states, it’s most frequently found at stands, usually painted screaming yellow and tomato red/orange and bearing names that include “berto’s” – as in Alberto’s, Roberto’s, Jilberto’s and even Juanberto’s. It’s about as healthy as a Big Mac with extra sauce and cheese, but I’m telling you, it’s crack to those of us who grew up on it.
Go to one of these places and you’ll be eating carne asada burritos, taquitos, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll find good machaca.
Type 2: the sit-down version…
Forget the touristy spots that are a dime a dozen all over San Diego, they’re actually the bottom of the barrel for this stuff. These are the quirky little restaurants where the wait staff have heavy accents, the mariachi are actually good, and the food is nothing short of sublime.
The food varies at different restaurants, but you’ll almost always find chile relleno, carnitas, albondigas and enchiladas. You might find menudo, but since I can’t stand it – you be my guest! You’ll also find a lot of mole, and plenty of seafood dishes.
And then there are…
There should be a special category for tamalles and fish tacos because… well, if you’ve had good ones, they’re amazing. Anything less is… bordering on inedible in my book.
Anyway, once again… I digress.
Moving to Maryland, I figured it shouldn’t be that hard to find good Mexican food. I was wrong.
We have instituted the Great Maryland Search for Mexican Food (TGMSFMF) and thus far have had mostly misses. Once place proved really good. The rest have ranged from passable to Oh-My-God-I-Can’t-Eat-This bad. The passable ones have mostly been serving up some version of Tex-Mex, Caribbean-Mex or South-American-Mex fusion.
Dammit, I want my Baja cuisine, and don’t you dare suggest Baja Fresh or any one of those other psuedo-Mexican fast food monstrosities!
And this is why when we go to San Diego next week, there will be Mexican food for dinner!