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The place seemed to be verging on chaos

Getting seated is a hassle, and then the food is not worth the wait

Jícama and Asian pear need a little help if they’re going to make a good salad
Jícama and Asian pear need a little help if they’re going to make a good salad

A sign tells you to order at the register first and then find your seat. That’s where the trouble began when I visited North Park’s colorful new tapas-style joint, Tamarindo Latin American Kitchen and Bar.

A colorful exterior draws a Friday-night crowd to Tamarindo

An island bar takes up the entire middle of the restaurant, disrupting any chance at feng shui by dividing the dining room down the middle. A clerk operates a register at the front where a line forms and, on a bustling Friday night, goes out the door.

A friend and I waited in that line, but upon reaching the counter we were informed that our food order couldn’t be placed until a table opened up. So we stood off to the left while the party behind us stepped up to the register. They, perhaps wisely, decided to wait until a table freed up before relinquishing their position at the front of the line.

All that citrusy juice can’t save the salmon aguachile

So when a table opened to their right a few minutes later, they snagged it. Due to the way Tamarindo’s dining areas are sectioned, there’s no one spot you can stand to see the entire restaurant, so finding a table becomes a free-for-all. Fortunately, the clerk — put in the awful position of trying to appease a stalled line of customers — spotted a patio table open up. She completed the order and passed me a table flag, urging me to plant it immediately to claim the table.

The table wouldn’t be cleared for several minutes because while the restaurant’s palm-fronded, Central America-styled décor offered a pleasant-enough backdrop, functionally the place seemed to be verging on chaos. I couldn’t help but wonder whether traditional table service would be much easier for everyone. Then, just as our food arrived, a waitress approached to offer us traditional table service.

She explained that her job was to field secondary orders only — another round of drinks, for example, or dessert. Of course, since we’d already ordered and paid up front, this would require opening a second check.

Place

Tamarindo North Park Latin Kitchen and Bar

2906 University Avenue, San Diego

This isn’t Yelp. I didn’t sign up just to kvetch about the terrible way I was treated at a restaurant. In this case, the service staff was actually doing their best, despite being hamstrung by a lousy system. Under normal circumstances, I would never complain about being asked to wait for a table on a busy Friday night. I mean, having to wait around on a North Park sidewalk for a few minutes never hurt anyone.

But this convoluted rigmarole almost turned me off to a new restaurant before I even got any food. As it happens, the presentation of the salmon aguachile was great. Same with the jícama and Asian pear salad. Both $8 small plates would probably earn likes on Instagram. But the salmon had been overcured, tasting slightly fishy and cloying. And the shaved jícama and pear slices, served with coconut milk and vinaigrette, had some zest but lacked cohesion as a dish, coming off as an ingredient shy of satisfying.

I might give Tamarindo another shot, since I live nearby. But only after the place so alienates customers with its too-cute ordering protocol that it’s empty when I get there.

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First fright

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Jícama and Asian pear need a little help if they’re going to make a good salad
Jícama and Asian pear need a little help if they’re going to make a good salad

A sign tells you to order at the register first and then find your seat. That’s where the trouble began when I visited North Park’s colorful new tapas-style joint, Tamarindo Latin American Kitchen and Bar.

A colorful exterior draws a Friday-night crowd to Tamarindo

An island bar takes up the entire middle of the restaurant, disrupting any chance at feng shui by dividing the dining room down the middle. A clerk operates a register at the front where a line forms and, on a bustling Friday night, goes out the door.

A friend and I waited in that line, but upon reaching the counter we were informed that our food order couldn’t be placed until a table opened up. So we stood off to the left while the party behind us stepped up to the register. They, perhaps wisely, decided to wait until a table freed up before relinquishing their position at the front of the line.

All that citrusy juice can’t save the salmon aguachile

So when a table opened to their right a few minutes later, they snagged it. Due to the way Tamarindo’s dining areas are sectioned, there’s no one spot you can stand to see the entire restaurant, so finding a table becomes a free-for-all. Fortunately, the clerk — put in the awful position of trying to appease a stalled line of customers — spotted a patio table open up. She completed the order and passed me a table flag, urging me to plant it immediately to claim the table.

The table wouldn’t be cleared for several minutes because while the restaurant’s palm-fronded, Central America-styled décor offered a pleasant-enough backdrop, functionally the place seemed to be verging on chaos. I couldn’t help but wonder whether traditional table service would be much easier for everyone. Then, just as our food arrived, a waitress approached to offer us traditional table service.

She explained that her job was to field secondary orders only — another round of drinks, for example, or dessert. Of course, since we’d already ordered and paid up front, this would require opening a second check.

Place

Tamarindo North Park Latin Kitchen and Bar

2906 University Avenue, San Diego

This isn’t Yelp. I didn’t sign up just to kvetch about the terrible way I was treated at a restaurant. In this case, the service staff was actually doing their best, despite being hamstrung by a lousy system. Under normal circumstances, I would never complain about being asked to wait for a table on a busy Friday night. I mean, having to wait around on a North Park sidewalk for a few minutes never hurt anyone.

But this convoluted rigmarole almost turned me off to a new restaurant before I even got any food. As it happens, the presentation of the salmon aguachile was great. Same with the jícama and Asian pear salad. Both $8 small plates would probably earn likes on Instagram. But the salmon had been overcured, tasting slightly fishy and cloying. And the shaved jícama and pear slices, served with coconut milk and vinaigrette, had some zest but lacked cohesion as a dish, coming off as an ingredient shy of satisfying.

I might give Tamarindo another shot, since I live nearby. But only after the place so alienates customers with its too-cute ordering protocol that it’s empty when I get there.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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