Garlicky special of the day.
2934 Adams Avenue, San Diego
A shot of the bottles behind the bar at Cantina Mayahuel
When I find myself with a pocket of time on a warm San Diego afternoon, I crave a quiet spot to sip a refreshing margarita. Quiet is easy to find in the slow-restaurant hours between lunch and dinner services, but only at those rare and cherishable establishments that remain open during this time. I keep track of such places so that I know where to go when my man and I find ourselves between tasks and meetings in the dead-space between 2 and 5 p.m.
Among my top five go-to afternoon linner (the later sibling of brunch) spots is Cantina Mayahuel. As my fellow foodie friend Ian Pike noted a few years ago, this spot has the best (meaning longest) happy hour deal in town, with $5 margaritas, cocktails and shots and $7 trio taco plates available from noon to 6 pm Tuesday through Friday. But the first thing I order when I pull up a stool at one of the giant barrels-turned tables in the cantina is guacamole ($7). And a margarita, of course. My favorite is the easy-drinking Fortaleza, while David vacillates between any of the reposados (rested, or aged between 2 months and a year) and mezcals, which are much to smoky for my taste, but my man loves the stuff.
Guacamole, so good.
What I like about the guacamole here, aside from the fresh, crispy corn chips, is the way it’s presented, all deconstructed so that each diner can create his or her own perfect bite. The shmushed avocado is fresh and creamy, and the pickled Serrano peppers in a separate jar add both heat and vinegar. Then there’s the salsa, with finely chopped onions, cilantro that is well mixed and not overwhelming (for those of us for whom the herb tastes like soap, it’s a genetic thing), and sweet, ripe tomatoes.
On my latest visit, I skipped the street taco deal to get two full-on big tacos. I ordered the sirloin beef, which is marinated and grilled and topped with jack cheese, a cabbage/lettuce mix, salsa, crema, and a bit of hot sauce ($5); and the chicken, which is grilled with pineapple juice and chipotle sauce, topped with the same greens, a tropical salsa, ancho mayo (which I did without), crema and hot sauce ($5). Each taco, with its double tortillas and so-much-flavorful-meat-you-have-to-eat-it-with-a-fork is more like two tacos.
Sirloin and chicken tacos. Mouthwatering yumness.
David, who is always looking to try something different, ordered the special of the day, which was a plate of tiger prawns blanketed in a garlic, chili, lime mixture and served with rice, black beans, and a tropical salsa ($15). He thought it was delicious, but he kept his breath to himself for the rest of the day. Because I was already in my own flavor heaven with all the tender meat on my plate, I declined his offer to taste the garlic bomb.
I seem to never be at Cantina Mayahuel on a Tuesday or Friday, but now that I've learned they serve chicken mole on both of those days, I’m eager to plan a special visit. Probably some time after lunchtime, and before dinnertime. That’s why I call it linner.