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Colima’s Mexican Restaurant: beef, chicken, or... iguana?

The “chicken of the trees”

Sean with his favorite friend, Rodolfo.
Sean with his favorite friend, Rodolfo.

Where is everybody?

This was last Tuesday, in Oceanside. I was looking for food. Don’t look for food on Tuesday afternoons. So many places are closed. Specially last Tuesday, the day the whole nation fell back — exhausted, hung over, and broke — the day after Fourth of July.

Place

Colima’s Mexican Restaurant

308 Pier View Way, Oceanside

So this fifth of July, I’m wandering around in a bit of a daze. I have a couple of hours before the last Coaster heads south to ’Diego, at 7:36 pm. (It’s not on the schedule, but a guard told me so.) So I’m looking for maybe a pint of Oceanside cerveza and enough food to keep me going. But where? I mean, Oceanside seems different every time I pass through. This time, it hits me that everything between Cleveland Street and the beach is new, and pricey. Eateries, bars. But where I am now, between Civic Center Drive and Mission, there are more old school eateries — which at least look cheaper. Maybe they don’t have to deal with new landlords and higher rents.

I stop outside this bar. Pier View Pub. Beyond it, at the bottom of Pier View Way, the wall of the mighty ocean that Oceanside is beside mottles from turquoise to gray and back to turquoise, depending on the clouds and the late afternoon sun. When it gets the chance, the sun shines through the pub’s window and along the bar to light up Ashley the barkeep’s blonde hair. Her tres mares blue-green eyes flash and the tropical flower tattoos running all the way down her left arm color up.

Chef Sean (white toque) with pals, including President Obama (far right).

“Do you do food?” I ask.

Ashley shakes her head. “Sorry. But you can bring it in. Colima’s across the road does good Mexican food. Just bring it over.” Hmm. Why not? Everything else is closed or too expensive. So hey, lickety-split, we’re across Pier View Way, and thar she blows! Colima’s. Problem: you go in, and the place is plastered with so many menu items around the walls, you need a guide and an hour. Luckily, there are people ahead of me. They’re all military, out on leave from Camp Pendleton. First guy orders a California burrito ($11.75). Second guy orders a California burrito. “The California,” says Rafael, the senior-looking guy here. “It’s it. Our most popular item.” And this despite the huge choice. Luckily, they have good color pictures of just about every dish on the menu. Because now it’s my turn. I avoid burritos. I also avoid big slurry dishes that ooze all over the plate. I avoid Anglo dishes like 3 pancakes and 2 eggs, the ham and eggs plate, or the omelet (each $12.50). I even avoid the avocado bacon cheeseburger, which looks like a deal at $9.95, and the giant-looking beef stew, which goes for $13.50.

No, I want all Mexican, now I’m here. And more than that: I want it in the Colima style. Because they say that Colima has interesting food, stuff like its tuxpeño corn, an ancient, orange-colored variety from Central America that tastes more savory than sweet. And iguana meat, the “chicken of the trees,” because iguanas are common down there. “All of us here are from Colima,” says Rafael. Okay, so no iguana, but they do have whole blackened tilapia for $14.50. Except I worry I’ll probably ruin the fish carrying it across the street to the pub and laying it out on the counter there. So, uh, this being breakfast and lunch, I think of getting a beef or chicken tamale ($3.95) to start me off. But instead, I break the taco ban I’d imposed on myself this afternoon and go for a crisp ground beef taco for $4.70 while I figure out what’s next. Oh, what thu heck: I ask Florentino, the guy at the cash register, for the carnitas torta, just because it looks golden and way big.

A mess, but a beautiful mess - my crisp-shelled ground beef taco.

Ten minutes later, I’m off-loading it all onto the counter across the street at Pier View Pub. I almost lose the whole load when I forget they have a large step-down halfway through the pub’s bar. “Good save,” says this guy, Aliki. He’s Tongan-American. “I’m just waiting here till my wife is out so I can sneak back home,” he says. I notice he’s sitting across from an old sign: “Hiding From Wife Bar Phone Rates.” They start at $1 for “Nope, not here,” climb to $4 for “Hasn’t been in all day,” and peak at $5 for “Never heard of him.” Of course, in this enlightened day and age, they should be posting “Hiding From Husband” phone rates, too.

Sean, the guy sitting on the other side, is cuddling Rodolfo, his three-year-old dachshund. “I named him after Rudolph Valentino, the Latin Lover, because all the girl dogs love him,” he says. He’s a chef at a nearby restaurant, Le Citron, and has a photo of himself and his cooking crew, with — hey! — President Obama! “Amazing who you get to meet in this business,” he says.

So the taco’s delish, but the carnitas torta really is da bomb. Big chunks of oh-so-marinated pork in a blizzard of shredded lettuce on a crisp-but-tender bun. “Yes, we’ve had to put our prices up,” Rafael told me over at Colima’s, “but one thing we haven’t done is reduce our quantities.” I can vouch for that. Now I’m washing down my torta with a Sculpin hazy IPA ($8.50) that Ashley has brought me. But even so, the thing is way too much for me.

Ashley - everyone’s fave, and walking art herself.

Oh man. I look at my watch. Gotta head south. That last train, the 7:36, leaves in fifteen minutes. I leap up. Rodolfo yaps. “Rodolfo!” says Sean. “Verschliessen! Quiet!” To me, he says, “She’s a clever dog. Understands German. Also Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and now she’s learning Farsi.” As I leave, Sean’s playing pool, Aliki’s getting sleepy. I gulp the last of my Sculpin, and Billy Currington sings: “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” Me, I find myself getting a little crazy for this old-line Mex food, all over again. Guess I’m not alone. Colima’s has half a dozen joints around town. The only thing they don’t have? Any chicken of the trees.

  • The Place: Colima’s Mexican Restaurant, 308 Pier View Way, Oceanside, 760-439-4045; also North Park, Chula Vista, El Cajon, Bonita and Tijuana
  • Hours: 9am - 9pm, Monday - Thursday; 9am - 11pm Friday, Saturday; 8am - 9pm, Sunday
  • Prices: Rolled tacos, $6.95; taco salad, $8.99; surf and turf burrito, $9.50; California burrito, $8.50; pozole with chips, $9.95; blackened whole tilapia, rice, beans, $14.50; 3 pancakes and 2 eggs, $12.50; ham and eggs plate, $12.50; omelet, $12.50; avocado bacon cheeseburger, $9.95, beef stew, $13.50
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Sean with his favorite friend, Rodolfo.
Sean with his favorite friend, Rodolfo.

Where is everybody?

This was last Tuesday, in Oceanside. I was looking for food. Don’t look for food on Tuesday afternoons. So many places are closed. Specially last Tuesday, the day the whole nation fell back — exhausted, hung over, and broke — the day after Fourth of July.

Place

Colima’s Mexican Restaurant

308 Pier View Way, Oceanside

So this fifth of July, I’m wandering around in a bit of a daze. I have a couple of hours before the last Coaster heads south to ’Diego, at 7:36 pm. (It’s not on the schedule, but a guard told me so.) So I’m looking for maybe a pint of Oceanside cerveza and enough food to keep me going. But where? I mean, Oceanside seems different every time I pass through. This time, it hits me that everything between Cleveland Street and the beach is new, and pricey. Eateries, bars. But where I am now, between Civic Center Drive and Mission, there are more old school eateries — which at least look cheaper. Maybe they don’t have to deal with new landlords and higher rents.

I stop outside this bar. Pier View Pub. Beyond it, at the bottom of Pier View Way, the wall of the mighty ocean that Oceanside is beside mottles from turquoise to gray and back to turquoise, depending on the clouds and the late afternoon sun. When it gets the chance, the sun shines through the pub’s window and along the bar to light up Ashley the barkeep’s blonde hair. Her tres mares blue-green eyes flash and the tropical flower tattoos running all the way down her left arm color up.

Chef Sean (white toque) with pals, including President Obama (far right).

“Do you do food?” I ask.

Ashley shakes her head. “Sorry. But you can bring it in. Colima’s across the road does good Mexican food. Just bring it over.” Hmm. Why not? Everything else is closed or too expensive. So hey, lickety-split, we’re across Pier View Way, and thar she blows! Colima’s. Problem: you go in, and the place is plastered with so many menu items around the walls, you need a guide and an hour. Luckily, there are people ahead of me. They’re all military, out on leave from Camp Pendleton. First guy orders a California burrito ($11.75). Second guy orders a California burrito. “The California,” says Rafael, the senior-looking guy here. “It’s it. Our most popular item.” And this despite the huge choice. Luckily, they have good color pictures of just about every dish on the menu. Because now it’s my turn. I avoid burritos. I also avoid big slurry dishes that ooze all over the plate. I avoid Anglo dishes like 3 pancakes and 2 eggs, the ham and eggs plate, or the omelet (each $12.50). I even avoid the avocado bacon cheeseburger, which looks like a deal at $9.95, and the giant-looking beef stew, which goes for $13.50.

No, I want all Mexican, now I’m here. And more than that: I want it in the Colima style. Because they say that Colima has interesting food, stuff like its tuxpeño corn, an ancient, orange-colored variety from Central America that tastes more savory than sweet. And iguana meat, the “chicken of the trees,” because iguanas are common down there. “All of us here are from Colima,” says Rafael. Okay, so no iguana, but they do have whole blackened tilapia for $14.50. Except I worry I’ll probably ruin the fish carrying it across the street to the pub and laying it out on the counter there. So, uh, this being breakfast and lunch, I think of getting a beef or chicken tamale ($3.95) to start me off. But instead, I break the taco ban I’d imposed on myself this afternoon and go for a crisp ground beef taco for $4.70 while I figure out what’s next. Oh, what thu heck: I ask Florentino, the guy at the cash register, for the carnitas torta, just because it looks golden and way big.

A mess, but a beautiful mess - my crisp-shelled ground beef taco.

Ten minutes later, I’m off-loading it all onto the counter across the street at Pier View Pub. I almost lose the whole load when I forget they have a large step-down halfway through the pub’s bar. “Good save,” says this guy, Aliki. He’s Tongan-American. “I’m just waiting here till my wife is out so I can sneak back home,” he says. I notice he’s sitting across from an old sign: “Hiding From Wife Bar Phone Rates.” They start at $1 for “Nope, not here,” climb to $4 for “Hasn’t been in all day,” and peak at $5 for “Never heard of him.” Of course, in this enlightened day and age, they should be posting “Hiding From Husband” phone rates, too.

Sean, the guy sitting on the other side, is cuddling Rodolfo, his three-year-old dachshund. “I named him after Rudolph Valentino, the Latin Lover, because all the girl dogs love him,” he says. He’s a chef at a nearby restaurant, Le Citron, and has a photo of himself and his cooking crew, with — hey! — President Obama! “Amazing who you get to meet in this business,” he says.

So the taco’s delish, but the carnitas torta really is da bomb. Big chunks of oh-so-marinated pork in a blizzard of shredded lettuce on a crisp-but-tender bun. “Yes, we’ve had to put our prices up,” Rafael told me over at Colima’s, “but one thing we haven’t done is reduce our quantities.” I can vouch for that. Now I’m washing down my torta with a Sculpin hazy IPA ($8.50) that Ashley has brought me. But even so, the thing is way too much for me.

Ashley - everyone’s fave, and walking art herself.

Oh man. I look at my watch. Gotta head south. That last train, the 7:36, leaves in fifteen minutes. I leap up. Rodolfo yaps. “Rodolfo!” says Sean. “Verschliessen! Quiet!” To me, he says, “She’s a clever dog. Understands German. Also Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and now she’s learning Farsi.” As I leave, Sean’s playing pool, Aliki’s getting sleepy. I gulp the last of my Sculpin, and Billy Currington sings: “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” Me, I find myself getting a little crazy for this old-line Mex food, all over again. Guess I’m not alone. Colima’s has half a dozen joints around town. The only thing they don’t have? Any chicken of the trees.

  • The Place: Colima’s Mexican Restaurant, 308 Pier View Way, Oceanside, 760-439-4045; also North Park, Chula Vista, El Cajon, Bonita and Tijuana
  • Hours: 9am - 9pm, Monday - Thursday; 9am - 11pm Friday, Saturday; 8am - 9pm, Sunday
  • Prices: Rolled tacos, $6.95; taco salad, $8.99; surf and turf burrito, $9.50; California burrito, $8.50; pozole with chips, $9.95; blackened whole tilapia, rice, beans, $14.50; 3 pancakes and 2 eggs, $12.50; ham and eggs plate, $12.50; omelet, $12.50; avocado bacon cheeseburger, $9.95, beef stew, $13.50
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