Mexican soul food? No way! The cuisine barely squeaks by as gringo-Mex and is anything but soulful in any ethnicity. But don’t get me wrong. A lot of the cooking is simple and tasty, especially the unpretentious appetizers. I wouldn’t come back for them (although that corn would be a temptation) or for anything else, but despite the outrageous claims, the food itself isn’t disgraceful and the atmosphere is sort of hip, if that matters. But for this style of food, I’d actually rather eat fast-Mex at Chipotle for a fraction the price, with brighter flavors, a tastier margarita, and a vastly more individualized choice about what goes on my plate.
Authentic Mexican Home-Cooking Note:
Cacique’s Mexican dairy products and chorizos are widely available here, even in supermarket chains otherwise devoid of Mexican soul food. If you cook, you’re probably using their goodies already. Cacique’s crema mexicana, for example, has saved many a recipe for me, as a credible, gelatin-free substitute for rarely available crème fraîche. (As sour cream, it’s spendy compared to Knudsen’s, although it keeps longer, but when you’re desperate for crème fraîche it’s — priceless.) Cheeses run from lean, crumbly panela (resembling feta) and cotija (like mild Parmesan) to rich melting cheeses like queso Oaxaca — in Mexico nobody uses any yellow cheese, much less pre-shredded Cheddar blends!
Now, famous TV chef Aaron Sanchez is contributing recipes to their website, caciqueusa.com. Along with familiar dishes with “chef” touches, he offers a Langostino with Crema deluxe appetizer that’s fast and easy and sounds scrumptious. (I’m sure you could substitute other shellfish meat like lump crab or — ha-ha! — leftover local lobster.) You’ll find that one by clicking the “Go Autentico” section of website recipes.■
★★ ½ (Good to Very Good)
2706 Fifth Avenue, Banker’s Hill, 619-501-7827; website useless at this writing
HOURS: Lunch Monday–Friday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner daily, 5:00–10:00 p.m. Breakfast coming soon.
PRICES: Dinner starters, $3.50–$5; soups and salads, $6–$9; entrées, $12–$17; tacos (three per plate), $13–$15; desserts, $6. Slightly lower prices at lunch.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Health-conscious, somewhat upscale Mexican-style food. Cocktails, Mexican beers, modestly priced wines, Mexican Coca-Cola.
PICK HITS: Guacamole; Guadalajara grilled corn; fried shoestring plantains; steak tacos. Possible good bets: Grilled sirloin; tamal de maize [sic], fish tacos, Brazil bowl with marinated grilled tofu.
NEED TO KNOW: Small space, reserve. Casual dress. Fairly noisy, but good rock playing. Street parking. Vegetarian/vegan-friendly.