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Del Sur: two steps forward, two steps back

Everything tastes better when preceded by tequila

The tamal has taken a step back. The enchilada is greatly improved.
The tamal has taken a step back. The enchilada is greatly improved.

I’m ambivalent about table-service Mexican restaurants. In a city where great-tasting Mexican food often comes out of taco stand or off the back of a truck, it’s when I sit down and order food off a printed menu that I’m most often disappointed. In spite of the bottomless chips and salsa or well-stocked bar.

The salsa is a lot better, so that’s something

Del Sur Mexican Cantina has chips and salsa and keeps the taps flowing with decent craft beer. But the first thing the waitress did was push the margaritas.

I’m sure some people eat at Mexican food specifically for the tequila cocktails. I’m not one of them. When a place makes selling margaritas a priority, it just reminds me of times I’ve eaten mediocre food at tourist traps, whether south or the border or in Old Town or at one of those caricature national restaurant chains. A place can make good money off margaritas. I’d prefer they make good salsa.

My first visit to Del Sur — a few weeks after it opened early last year — had mixed results. I tried both a bland, watery chicken enchilada and a terrific, succulent carnitas tamal. In trying to decide what I thought of the place, I let the salsa decide — it was a thin, bright red, toothless disappointment. And the front of house staff couldn’t answer basic questions about the food, so I left with the impression that there were kinks to work out.

Place

Del Sur

2310 30th Street, San Diego

Some things have improved in a year. The house salsa has turned into a thick grind of dark roasted peppers punctuated by bright red tomato chunks, just warm enough with spice. My friend and I were quickly in need of a refill.

I wondered whether anything else had improved, so I returned to the same order this go ’round: a shredded chicken enchilada and tamal (beef this time, as the meat filling differs by day). As a two-item combo, I got both with a side of rice and refried beans for $14.

The tamal had taken a step back. No longer did the masa bear the moist, grits-like balance of sweet and savory I lingered over last year. This one had dried out, veering almost into bready territory.

The enchilada had greatly improved. It was richer in flavor and smoother in texture. Though I still couldn’t get any more info on the sauce other than it was red, it was the best thing on the plate.

While there seems to be inconsistency, I think the greatly improved salsa is a step forward. However, this night the beans had a slightly burnt flavor. Probably nothing I would have noticed if I’d had a margarita to wash it down.

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The tamal has taken a step back. The enchilada is greatly improved.
The tamal has taken a step back. The enchilada is greatly improved.

I’m ambivalent about table-service Mexican restaurants. In a city where great-tasting Mexican food often comes out of taco stand or off the back of a truck, it’s when I sit down and order food off a printed menu that I’m most often disappointed. In spite of the bottomless chips and salsa or well-stocked bar.

The salsa is a lot better, so that’s something

Del Sur Mexican Cantina has chips and salsa and keeps the taps flowing with decent craft beer. But the first thing the waitress did was push the margaritas.

I’m sure some people eat at Mexican food specifically for the tequila cocktails. I’m not one of them. When a place makes selling margaritas a priority, it just reminds me of times I’ve eaten mediocre food at tourist traps, whether south or the border or in Old Town or at one of those caricature national restaurant chains. A place can make good money off margaritas. I’d prefer they make good salsa.

My first visit to Del Sur — a few weeks after it opened early last year — had mixed results. I tried both a bland, watery chicken enchilada and a terrific, succulent carnitas tamal. In trying to decide what I thought of the place, I let the salsa decide — it was a thin, bright red, toothless disappointment. And the front of house staff couldn’t answer basic questions about the food, so I left with the impression that there were kinks to work out.

Place

Del Sur

2310 30th Street, San Diego

Some things have improved in a year. The house salsa has turned into a thick grind of dark roasted peppers punctuated by bright red tomato chunks, just warm enough with spice. My friend and I were quickly in need of a refill.

I wondered whether anything else had improved, so I returned to the same order this go ’round: a shredded chicken enchilada and tamal (beef this time, as the meat filling differs by day). As a two-item combo, I got both with a side of rice and refried beans for $14.

The tamal had taken a step back. No longer did the masa bear the moist, grits-like balance of sweet and savory I lingered over last year. This one had dried out, veering almost into bready territory.

The enchilada had greatly improved. It was richer in flavor and smoother in texture. Though I still couldn’t get any more info on the sauce other than it was red, it was the best thing on the plate.

While there seems to be inconsistency, I think the greatly improved salsa is a step forward. However, this night the beans had a slightly burnt flavor. Probably nothing I would have noticed if I’d had a margarita to wash it down.

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