One thing you can pretty much guarantee: when in Coronado you won't see food trucks. Or taco stands.
But one guy who has slipped through the City's cracks is John Renison. Found him and his crew Friday night in the parking lot of Park Place Liquor (1000 Park Place, Coronado, at Park Place and Orange Avenue, right by the fountain) sending forth luscious smells into the night that got the people wandering Orange Avenue stopping and sniffing, trying to tell where it was all coming from.
"Free shrimp ceviche tostada if you like us on Facebook!" John is shouting, to divert people coming out of the liquor store in his direction. He's standing in front of this kinda cute black pop-up tent with a picture of some kind of bird up top. This is his business venture.
"It's the quetzal," says John. "Except we've painted it blue."
"Blue Quetzal, Artisanal Baja Cuisine," says the sign around the rim. "Seafood tacos."
I know the real bird down in Central America is actually green and red with an incredible long streaming tail. And isn't "quetzal" what they call their money in Guatemala?
Whatever, I can't resist trying something. I head through the clump of curious kids...
Clump of curious kids
...and get the tostada free when I promise Carla will Like them on Facebook. Marco Pardo makes it up for me.
Plus an "arrachera asada" taco ($3.50), with flank steak "served with black refried beans and California pepper."
"This is sort of Baja-Med cuisine," John says. "But actually it's just good traditional and experimental Baja ways of cooking, beyond what people are used to from taco shops here."
The flank steak taco might be standard, but it's interesting. The meat has been marinated in orange juice and lemon and Worcestershire sauce. The white onion has been too, plus with beet root.
Flank steak taco
But the prize has to go to the shrimp ceviche tostada. The shrimp have been "butterflied," split and spread out, and doused in aqua chile, mainly lemon juice, and the lemon acids actually "cook" the raw shrimp till they turn white. It's definitely pepper-tingling hot. There's chile de arbol in there, and a slice of beet root and an avocado-looking sauce splotted on top. The crispy tostada tortilla gives the perfect balance.
Shrimp ceviche tostada
1441 L Street, San Diego
925 B Street, San Diego
I ask why they only have a couple of choices here. John - he has Mexican and Scottish in his background - says they have only been going a month. "We do let fly with the adventurous things on Saturday afternoons when we're outside Mission Brewery (1441 L Street, across the parking lots from Petco), and on Sunday evenings outside Chaplos Bar and Restaurant (925 B Street downtown). People there are less afraid of things like octopus, or shrimp with hibiscus flower flavoring. They're just not quite ready here in Coronado. So far they only want the standard things. So in the past couple of weeks we have ended up with lots of items like octopus left over," he says. "That's why we limit the menu here."
I guess John and his wife Renata are part of a next-generation wave of guys from Baja coming up with ideas, like these sophisticated tacos, that us gringos are just about ready for.
Boy. That hibiscus flower thing. Might have to hit the Mission on my way through 12th and Imperial.