Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Dec. 20
What can I say, I assumed the Hillcrest restaurant was named after the ex-President. It wasn't. I asked. My server told me that Jimmy was the owner and a third generation San Diegan. He told me that if I walked over to the bar, I could see a picture of Jimmy up on the wall--affable looking gent with a moustache and a big smile. Jimmy Carter definitely looks like he has a Jimmy Buffet sort of personality. Maybe I had stumbled accidentally into Margaritaville? If it's out there somewhere, Margaritaville definitely has the same brightly colored walls and tables as Jimmy Carter's Mexican Cafe. Everything is yellow and purple and blue.
I tried a margarita ($6.25) that made up for in strength what it lacked in refinement, which I'll readily accept for six bucks. I had just missed happy hour, but I'm willing to wager that Jimmy's could be a sure bet for a strong margarita session during the 5-8PM happy hour every day.
I'll give Jimmy Carter a lot of credit: the menu runs the gamut from inexpensive nibbles to full plates of food and everything in between. There's every kind of burrito, taco, enchilada, and soup one could think of. For some reason, the burger gets served with cottage cheese as a side. Very strange, but also kind of cool. There was a time when I eschewed cottage cheese with great zeal, but these days I have a soft spot for the stuff.
An intriguing option on the menu was the "tlaquepaque" sauce that can be ordered as a house specialty with pork or chicken for $12.50. It's a spicy jalapeno salsa that's been blended into a cream base and it's a new one on me. Also, it's named after a part of Jalisco, which is where tequila comes from. I didn't feel up to an entire platter of food, but it's an option to smother an enchilada with tlaquepaque. One carnitas enchilada ($4.95) with tlaquepaque sauce and a side of rice and beans was plenty of food. Once I dug through the mound of lettuce, I discovered a rich supply of excellent carnitas. The sauce had a little heat to it, though nothing overkill, and the fresh green flavor of the jalapenos was an interesting counterpoint to the cream base. It was a very good sauce for an enchilada. I could have dealt with less lettuce, more finely shredded.
On a more modest note, a vegetarian taco ($4.25) seemed maddeningly expensive at first, but it did come with a generous scoop of guacamole on it and it was, according my friend, "freaking delicious." While that's not a particularly...subtle review of the food, I think he meant that the vegetables weren't all watery and the taco itself had a lot more flavor than he often gets when he orders vegetarian food at Mexican restaurants.
Service was very friendly and the hot carrots were plentiful. I think that Jimmy Carter, if he is really the mustached bon vivant that his picture suggests, would have felt that the meal delivered the experience he intended. The restaurant is kind of quirky and a little bit goofy, but the food was above average and the drinks were strong.
3172 Fifth Avenue
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