Walter Mencken 8 a.m., July 30
A More-Than-Conceptual Taste of Puesto
Back in December, I shared architectural models of what Puesto, downtown La Jolla’s new spot for farm-fresh tacos and bowls would look like. But, a rendering and sample menu can only tell you so much about a biz-to-be, so I headed in shortly after their grand opening to check out the yummy sounding food. What I found were tacos stuffed to the point of overflow with well seasoned, deftly grilled meats and vegetarian-friendly ingredients.
Upon arrival, I was provided a customizable sheet that made it easy for me to select the proteins (beef, chicken, fish, shrimp) and other toppings (potato rajas, avocado, cilantro, and more) for each of the tacos in the trio I ordered. This order ticket made it easy for the kitchen to get the orders of a long line’s worth of diners exactly right. It’s an efficient bunch, which is especially notable since they haven't been open very long.
Because I came equipped with a dining companion, I was able to taste six completely different tacos. I enjoyed all of them to varying degrees, but none so much as one filled with spicy grass-fed carne asada, nopales (tender julienned cactus paddles), and avocado, topped with a house-made jalapeño-pistachio salsa. It was reminiscent of street experiences in TJ. The fact the spice wasn’t dialed back was particularly encouraging. All too often, ethnic food geared for a gringo clientele is seasoned to appeal to the masses rather than be indicative of the genuine article.
Another big hit was potato soy chorizo on a heavily cheese-encrusted tortilla with salsa verde; a balanced combo that was lower in spice but every bit as flavorful as its red meat counterpart. Shrimp with mango-habañero salsa and Puesto’s tinga de flor de jamaica, a tangy, moderately spicy hibiscus-infused chipotle and caramelized onion-based sauce, tasted nice and unlike combinations at other similar eateries. If there was one thing that came in under-par, it was the chicken al pastor, which was far blander than expected, especially compared to the extremely flavorful carne asada.
I found the prices to be OK at first glance. After really examining the menu, it seemed more a bargain considering the quality of the high grade meat and poultry, and the fact that items cost the same even if patrons select more costly ingredients like zucchini flowers or corn truffle (fungus extracted from ears of corn known as huitlacoche and considered a delicacy in Mexico). It’s doubtful they make any profit off those items. In fact, they might cause red ink to show up on their accounting reports.
Overall, this was a scouting mission I returned from with a smile, a sated appetite and a cup full of lime- and chile-dressed fruits and vegetables (both dry and fresh) that made for a handy, tasty nosh that lasted the rest of the afternoon. It’s the rarest of taco spot offerings—a wholesome, healthful treat. Puesto is located at 1026 Wall Street.