Walter Mencken 9 a.m., May 23
Cocktail, Cotija and Corn
The few times I've sought out Barrio Star, I always end up in Downtown or Hillcrest because I can never remember the side street off of Fifth (it's Nutmeg), and I'm too stubborn to map it, always assuming I'll "just know" when I get in the car, because this whole 5-mile radius is my stomping ground, after all. Nevertheless, with a craving for tacos and one particular dish -- grilled sweet corn with salty cotija cheese and spicy jalapeno butter -- I found my way there for lunch, and I only had to circle the area once.
On this fine, sunny San Diego afternoon with no impending meetings, I decided to order a cocktail. I got the "roasted jalapeno blackberry margarita," which was so spicy-boozy-awesome that I knew a few sips in I'd be ordering another.
I say "few times" (Remember? I know, it was way back there in the first sentence, but it's important now) because my first meal at this restaurant came with a side of extreme irritation. I was with a group of friends, and we were catching up and smiling and talking, and we ordered food and drinks with our aloof server and went back to catching up. At one point, after menus had been taken away and appetizers were being placed on the table, one of us asked for chips. The irritation was not caused merely by the fact that the chips themselves were so stale the entire basket was still full when we left -- it came from realizing that we had been charged around $5 for them. Sure, when I checked, the price was listed on the menu, but in a town where every other Mexican-themed restaurant plies guests with crunchy, tasty chips for free, I was surprised the server hadn't thought to at least mention there was a price before putting in the order and adding it to our bill.
Fortunately, I was wiser on this second, more recent visit, and the server was friendlier. And, despite my annoyance with the whole chip fiasco, I had been remembering and craving that luscious corn on the cob. I couldn't taste any of the jalapeno butter that was advertised, but that didn't matter, as the combination of cotija and grilled corn makes me hear angels singing in Spanish.
David ordered (and loved) the chicken pozole (a hominy based stew).
I was bummed to find that the Plaintains Carnitas (crips plantains topped with carnitas, avocado, and chipotle cream) were not on the lunch menu, because I could eat those all day.
No matter, I'd gone there for corn and tacos, and I did not leave disappointed. I don't have a picture, because in my excitement to taste them, the tacos were gone (along with a second drink) before it occurred to me I should probably grab a shot. Though chicken, steak, fish, salmon, soy chorizo, and tofu are all offered, my favorite is the oven-baked carnitas, which comes with its own pinch of cotija, cool avocado, and chili sauce with the right amount of kick.