Tamarindo: It’s supposed to look like a Mexican public plaza.
Everyone knows that gringos going gaga for Cinco de Mayo is stupid, but new North Park neighbor Tamarindo takes it in stride, cheekily dubbing the day’s drink special “The Donkey Show.” It’s a nod to a Tijuana cliché that is more scuttlebutt than substance, not unlike the American take on May 5, which — in case you’ve been hiding under a Party City sombrero — is not, in fact, Mexican Independence Day.
2906 University Avenue, San Diego
Tamarindo’s $5 cocktail of Tequila Ocho Blanco, pomegranate, lime, and serrano pepper made an enlivening companion to the Chef’s Special $3 “Sharktopus” taco — grilled thresher, charred octopus, pineapple-chipotle salsa, radish, cilantro, and crema Oaxaqueña. And I must not have been alone in thinking so. There was a line out the door of this fast-casual hot spot from the time I arrived at 5:30 p.m. until I left around 10.
A project of Moose’s Restaurant Group (Fred’s Mexican Cafe), Tamarindo’s kitchen is headed up by chef Elliot Townsend (Juniper & Ivy, the Pearl), who has designed a colorful menu that doesn’t claim authenticity. Instead, it’s content to give shout-outs to the flavors and aromas one finds anywhere from Tijuana to San Juan to Buenos Aires and beyond while highlighting local, seasonal ingredients. The cocktail-and-spirits menu, meanwhile, takes a tour of Latin America with an extensive collection of tequila, mezcal, cachaça (Brazilian sugarcane liquor), and rum chosen by house mixologist Mark Broadfoot (Galaxy Taco).
Perhaps the most exotic offering on the sips menu is Mexican Chocolate Milk Punch ($10) — a deceptively drinkable mix of Mexican chocolate, clarified milk, tequila, sotol (an earthy Mexican spirit), mezcal, rum, orange, mango, chilies, spices, and bitters. Tap chasers will appreciate ten revolving craft drafts and several classic Mexican bottles, which you can make rojo with Clamato and fixin’s for two bucks more.
Tamarindo occupies the historical Newman/I.O.O.F. Building, better known for the past 19 years as Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge. The space dates back to the 1930s, when it was constructed for the E. N. Mudd Department Store. Moose’s Restaurant Group has wisely chosen to preserve the building’s Roman-influenced Mission Revival–style arch windows and sidewalk patio seating while updating the façade with a Miami-style bright blue Art Deco exterior. The interior, meanwhile, is meant to evoke a Mexican public plaza. All told, Tamarindo looks well-positioned to become Claire de Lune’s successor as a North Park fixture, goofy gringo customs be damned.
Prices: Draft beer, $8; bottles and cans, $6; cocktails, $5–$13; spirits, $7–$20.
Food: Latin American–inspired cuisine
Hours: Soft opening hours, 5 p.m.–about midnight daily
Parking: Paid parking across the street in garage
Capacity: 95 seats
Attire: Just be yourself
The Deal: $8 house marg — tequila, orange shrub, lime, orange-bourbon bitters