We were walking around the Gaslamp looking for lunch when my friend spied a waiter, on his way to deliver food to a diner seated on a restaurant patio. It was a large, fat burrito, smothered in three kinds of salsa, avocado slices and crispy fried onions.
527 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
“I want that!” my friend pointed.
I took a look at the unfamiliar restaurant, then back at the street, and performed some mental calculations. “Hey, isn’t this where Don Chido used to be?”
It is. News that Don Chido closed had escaped me, but apparently it was only for a remodel and a brand refresh. The same owners have reopened the Mexican restaurant as Volcano Rabbit, and at first glance, it sure looks snazzy, kind of like a Vegas night club.
We planted ourselves on the patio, and I scanned the menu — my friend was committed to the carne asada burrito, but I still had plenty of deciding to do. Half the menu consisted of tacos, and though the burritos ran fairly traditional, the tacos offer some intriguing turns: from the bahn mi-inspired sticky short-rib taco, to a vegetarian option of smoked portobello, and seared ahi with seaweed salad on a corn tortilla.
But I was drawn to a different twist on a traditional item. That is, if carne asada fries can be considered traditional.
It’s a San Diego staple for sure, but the act of loading up french fries with beef, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole feels about as authentic as pineapple on pizza. It’s more about satisfying a craving, and I was feeling that itch.
At Volcano Rabbit, the twist is that the carne fries are called Yucca Frites: marinated skirt steak, chive crème fraiche, whipped avocado, queso fresco, pico de gallo, and black bean puree, piled on fries of yucca instead of potato.
I was in. I’m not married to potato as a starch, and it’s always possible yucca brings something different and better to the table. And it did bring something interesting, just not very much of it.
To be fair, the yucca frites are found on the starter menu, but they also cost $13, compared to $16 for that large burrito. Carne fries are traditionally (there’s that word again) served in gut-busting portions for under 7 or 8 bucks. My yucca fries were fried to a perfect crisp outside, the inside having that unique sort of sticky meets dry yucca interior. I didn’t miss the potato. But as I forked in a few meager chunks of beef, I did miss the second half of my craving.
I looked over at my friend’s sizeable burrito with envy, though he wasn’t entirely thrilled. Most of it was stuffed with white rice and black beans, and he too felt underwhelmed by the amount of carne included, indicating it was out of balance.
Had either dish truly elevated the Mexican food experience, they might be worth the price. But they didn’t, and as we munched on a five-dollar serving of chips and salsa, I could only conclude that we were paying for Gaslamp real estate and a costly remodel.