1810 West Washington Street, Mission Hills
Huh... A gold, studded “Champion’s Booth,” a corner throne area where, it looks like, champion wrestlers get to chow down. There’s a chandelier above, wild-pink-and-sea-green walls, a gold table cloth, and a red velvet rope set up seemingly to bar access. All this in a taco joint?
“Great place to celebrate your birthday,” says this guy behind me in line. His name’s Macedonio.
“Been here before?” I ask.
“Oh, yes. Many times.”
“The quesotaco, surf-and-turf burrito, TJ hot dog with the bacon wrapped around it, rolled tacos stuffed with potato…”
Whoa. I’d stopped in here because I heard this was the first place to bring TJ-style hotdogs to San Diego. Love those things...down there, anyway. So, guess I’ve got to have that. But this is a Thursday night at about 8:00. Place is rockin’, crowded. I knew it was called Lucha Libre, and I knew that was because of the pro wrestling that’s always been the rage in Mexico. But I didn’t know how serious they’d be. The walls are scattered with masks, plastic models of wrestlers, posters, flat screens showing old Mexican wrestling movies featuring gods of the ring such as El Santo — The Saint — and El Demonio Azul — The Blue Demon. Plus, that golden Champion’s Booth has got my curiosity up.
Uh-oh. My turn already — guy named Joe’s taking orders. Anglo, young. “I was a longtime customer,” he says, “so they gave me a job.” He’s such a taco groupie he’s started his own Facebook page: “The Global Taco Shop Preservation Society.”
I go with a couple of Macedonio’s suggestions. Like, the quesotacos: Last one I had, down in TJ at La Ermita, was beautiful. You lay some cheese on the grill first, then shape it into a tortilla just before it becomes crisp, then stack in the stuffings…
Here, it seems they put an actual tortilla outside the cheese skeleton, then fill it with “marinated steak, topped with more cheese, special sauce, and avocado slices.” It costs $3.49, $1 more with shrimp. I almost go for a straight tortilla-wrapped “surf-and-turf” taco (also $3.49) but decide instead on three rolled tacos with potatoes, including lettuce, pico de gallo, and cheese. Deal at $2.75.
Oh, God. So many others to choose from. “The Holy Moly burrito,” with grilled chicken breast, mole, rice, queso panela cheese, and sour cream, for $6. Or the “DDT baked potato” — weird name, but DDT’s the name of a wrestling move; we’re not talking pesticide — $6.25 worth of spud stuffed with marinated steak, shrimp, bacon, and mushrooms, topped with melted cheese and “super-secret chipotle sauce.”
But I stick with the potato-rolled tacos and a quesotaco. And an iced tea ($1.35). Joe slides me a red plastic tray with a cardboard basket of chips and three little plastic pots to put different salsas in. Macedonio recommends the cilantro. Oh, yes. Creamy. Beautiful taste, with the brown chipotle-tomatillo sauce. I also get some of the redder “Ibarra.” Macedonio and I head outside to a table on the deck.
“I love this place,” he says. “Lucha libre helped us as kids growing up Latino in San Diego. Before we discovered them, all the heroes on TV were white guys. Then we found lucha libre on the Tijuana stations. Mexican guys. It was like being home.”
Macedonio’s here with his wife Alicia and Iyari, their 16-year-old daughter. “ ‘Iyari’ means ‘Heart’ in Huichol,” he says. “We are part Huichol. It’s a tribe in the Sierra Madre, inland from Guadalajara.” Macedonio went to UCSD and started a Chicano comedy troupe, Teatro Izcalli, Theater of the House of Reawakening, which performs in schools and campuses around the country. “There’s nothing more exciting than making people laugh,” Macedonio says. “Now I’m writing a movie called Four Hundred Feathers. Looks like it’s going to happen. It’s about Moctezuma’s headdress, which has 400 quetzal feathers, and was taken to a museum in Austria. It’s about these two guys who plot to get it back.”
I’m listening and chewing. The flautas are excellent, with that cheesy-potato taste. But the carne asada quesotaco is da bomb. Crispy coatings of cheese, oh-so-tender carne asada with a carbon kick.
“We do the carne asada meat differently,” says one of the owners, José Luis. “We fillet it ourselves and marinate it and cook it on a grill, not a flat plate. So it gets that carbon-barbecue flavor.”
So, how come the wrestling theme? “We want it to be fun, and we all grew up watching the wrestling movies and playing with our plastic wrestlers and wearing the masks.”
“And the Champion’s Booth?” I ask.
“Anybody can use it, but you have to reserve 24 hours ahead of time. When you come, we serve the same food, same price, but on fancy plates, and the same drinks, but in gold-rimmed wine glasses. We treat you like champions. The most fun part is you can hear everybody else saying, ‘Who are those important people?’ ”
The Place: Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop, 1810 W. Washington; 619-296-8226
Type of Food: Mexican
Prices: Quesotaco (grilled crispy cheese filled with marinated steak), $3.49 (with shrimp, $1 more); surf and turf taco (marinated steak, shrimp), $3.49; three rolled tacos with guacamole, potatoes, $2.85; Holy Moly burrito (grilled chicken breast, mole, rice, sour cream), $6; DDT baked potato, with marinated steak, shrimp, bacon, mushrooms, $6.75; TJ hotdog (with bacon, grilled onions), $1.50; Smackdown quesadilla, with chicken, veggies, cheese, $5.85
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m., Sunday–Thursday; 11:00 a.m.–2:30 a.m., Friday–Saturday
Buses: 10, 30
Nearest Bus Stops: Washington at India (10); Pacific Highway at Kurtz (30)
Trolley: Blue Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Washington, 2136 Washington, at Kurtz