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Chuchee’s Frutorteria: Peanuts for peanuts

The sweetness of all those tamarind candies makes it feel like a guilty treat

Margarito Gomez. Beloved, because he stayed open during the whole of Covid.
Margarito Gomez. Beloved, because he stayed open during the whole of Covid.

’Tis already the season. And already, I’ve been eating way too much gunge! Need less fat, more fruit, veggies, nuts, twigs. A fresh taste in my mouth.

And yet I’ve got that hungry hollow feeling as I hike up University near 70th. Could do with a late morning snack. Lessee: Hmm. Healthy healthy...wait, could this place do it? It’s a little green and orange joint at one end of the 5-Star Market & Liquor store: Chuchee’s Frutorteria. Touts “Smoothies, fruit bowls, chamangos, milk shakes, Tostilokos.” Yes, with a “k.” Hmm. Curious. But I’m more curious about the Tostilocos themselves. So I head inside to an orange- and yellow- and cream-colored room, with one major art piece on its side wall: a painting of a shiny Granny Smith apple, two watermelons, two cherries and a lone strawberry. Plus, they have real fruit laid out in front of it. Guess that tells you what this place is all about.

The main art - gives you a clue as to what this place is about.

“Can I help you?” says this man who appears from the kitchen behind. Name’s Margarito. Huh. We don’t have this male version of “Margaret” in English.

“Just looking for something to eat,” I say.

“We have breakfast all day,” he says. He points up to the menu board. At the top, it’s all drinks. “Raspados,” it says. These are Mexican shaved ice drinks, but healthy, like mango, pecan, guava. Each goes for $6.50. Then, energy and diet juices at $7.50, like the “Multigreen” with OJ, pineapple, celery and cactus leaves. Or the “Raise the Dead,” which is a combo of orange juice, beets, carrots, and celery, plus salt and lime.

Place

Chuchee’s Frutorteria

7495 University Avenue, San Diego


Great, but just drinks. Me want stomach-stretching food. They do have all-day breakfast choices, which are tempting because of the good prices. For $5.25, you can get a bagel or croissant stuffed with egg, ham, and cheese. Or hey, for $3.75, a bagel with cream cheese, or a PB&J sandwich. I almost go for that. Except now I see more to explore: non-brekky items, including the Sandwich Special, with pork lomo, ham, and cheese for $8.95, and the Hawaiian (with ham, pineapple and cheese), or the green or tuna salad sandwiches. Each costs $7.25.

Tortas are a little more expensive. The pork lomo plus ham and cheese torta is $12.95, and so is the chipotle special, with roast beef, turkey and cheese. Of course, they’ll be way bigger than the sandwiches. Cheapest torta is the tuna at $10.25.

Elote is corn on the cob with mayo, cotija cheese, hot sauce and Tajin. Wicked healthy.

One thing I like already: Margarito puts his prices up top, nice and bold. But what I’m looking for is Tostilocos. Aha. Here they are, under “Munchies.”

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Sponsored

Tostilocos?” I ask Margarito. “What exactly are they?”

“Well mine have Tostito corn chips on the bottom. You have to eat them quickly, while they are still crisp, because on top, I put cueritos [uncooked pickled pork skin strips], the rielitos [tamarind candies], Japanese cacahuetes [peanuts], pepino [cucumber], jicama [Mexican turnip], with Tajin [seasoning made of chilies, lime and salt], and the agridulce salsas — sweet and sour sauces [made from pickled fruit like plums, apricots, and mango], and a little lemon juice.”

Wow. So much to taste. So I go for the Tostilocos ($7.75), and oh, an elote, corn on a stick, covered, Margarito says, in mayo, cotija cheese, hot sauce, and Tajin ($5.75). I’m wondering if he’s going to bring the Tostilocos out sprawling on a ripped-open bag of Tostitos, the way they do on the street. Whatever, it sounds like a beautiful agri-dulce mess. When it comes, it comes in a polystyrene box, super loaded with white cueritos, yellow-shelled cacahuetes, and maroon tamarindo candies, all stained with squirted-on Mega red chamoy salsa, and La Botanera salsa picante. “La mera mera!” says its label. “The real deal!” But next to it, I see the Mexican Secretariat of Health has placed prominent warnings. “Excessive sugars” and “excessive sodium.” Good to see. Do we do that?

Tostitos underneath round out the sweet-sour tastes. Eat while crispy!

The Japanese peanuts are the second most important pleasure. They snap in your mouth and deliver umami soy-coated nut flavors. But the most important flavor-add has to be that limey, salty Tajin. Along with the salsas, it helps disguise the already vinegary but definitely raw pork skin strips. The skins and the jicama and cucumber also team up to keep the hot flavors in check, along with the Tostito corn chips. Of course, the sweetness of all those tamarind candies makes it feel like a guilty treat. And yet this is a beautiful collision of tastes, and yes, I’d say fresh and healthy! As long as you don’t eat it three times a day.

It turns out that Tostilocos is a Tijuana invention In the 1990s, Javier Rodriguez got impatient on the street when he wanted to eat stuff on top of his Tostito chips. He ripped open the bag, jammed items on top, splashed on some salsa, and ate it there and then. His messy but beautiful idea has spread like wildfire. There’s a rebel thing going on.

The Japanese peanuts are another story: what can be Japanese about peanuts? A lot, it seems. Turns out that Yoshigei Nakatani invented his own take on them. He was living in Mexico City way back in 1945 when he lost his job making mother-of-pearl buttons. The authorities thought his boss might be a Japanese spy and closed the business down. Yoshigei needed to think fast. He had kids to feed. He decided to make mamekashi, peanuts coated in a layer of flour dough and then deep-fried. They reminded him of his homeland. He added different flavors and spices. He sold them on the streets of Mexico City. Now Japanese mamekashi are everywhere. Why? Because they are so danged delicious.

The elote, of course, is scrumbo too. More than I need. But at this price (about $13 for everything), I feel like I’m paying, well, peanuts. Japanese peanuts.

The Place: Chuchee’s Frutorteria, 7495 University Avenue, La Mesa, tel 619-461-6600

Hours: 10am-7pm Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays

Prices: “Raspados (Mexican shaved ice drinks), including mango, pecan, guava, $6.50; energy and diet juices, e.g. the “Multigreen” (oj, pineapple, celery, cactus leaves), $7.50; all-day breakfast includes bagel or croissant stuffed with egg, ham and cheese, $5.25; pb&j sandwich, $3.75; sandwich special, with pork lomo, ham and cheese, $8.95; tuna salad sandwich, $7.25; chipotle special (with roast beef, turkey, cheese, $12.95; tuna toreta, $10.25; Tostilocos with cueritos (pickled pork skin), rielitos (tamarind candies), and Japanese peanuts, $7.75; elote (corn on a stick), $5.75

Bus: 852

Nearest Bus Stop: University at Lowell

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Margarito Gomez. Beloved, because he stayed open during the whole of Covid.
Margarito Gomez. Beloved, because he stayed open during the whole of Covid.

’Tis already the season. And already, I’ve been eating way too much gunge! Need less fat, more fruit, veggies, nuts, twigs. A fresh taste in my mouth.

And yet I’ve got that hungry hollow feeling as I hike up University near 70th. Could do with a late morning snack. Lessee: Hmm. Healthy healthy...wait, could this place do it? It’s a little green and orange joint at one end of the 5-Star Market & Liquor store: Chuchee’s Frutorteria. Touts “Smoothies, fruit bowls, chamangos, milk shakes, Tostilokos.” Yes, with a “k.” Hmm. Curious. But I’m more curious about the Tostilocos themselves. So I head inside to an orange- and yellow- and cream-colored room, with one major art piece on its side wall: a painting of a shiny Granny Smith apple, two watermelons, two cherries and a lone strawberry. Plus, they have real fruit laid out in front of it. Guess that tells you what this place is all about.

The main art - gives you a clue as to what this place is about.

“Can I help you?” says this man who appears from the kitchen behind. Name’s Margarito. Huh. We don’t have this male version of “Margaret” in English.

“Just looking for something to eat,” I say.

“We have breakfast all day,” he says. He points up to the menu board. At the top, it’s all drinks. “Raspados,” it says. These are Mexican shaved ice drinks, but healthy, like mango, pecan, guava. Each goes for $6.50. Then, energy and diet juices at $7.50, like the “Multigreen” with OJ, pineapple, celery and cactus leaves. Or the “Raise the Dead,” which is a combo of orange juice, beets, carrots, and celery, plus salt and lime.

Place

Chuchee’s Frutorteria

7495 University Avenue, San Diego


Great, but just drinks. Me want stomach-stretching food. They do have all-day breakfast choices, which are tempting because of the good prices. For $5.25, you can get a bagel or croissant stuffed with egg, ham, and cheese. Or hey, for $3.75, a bagel with cream cheese, or a PB&J sandwich. I almost go for that. Except now I see more to explore: non-brekky items, including the Sandwich Special, with pork lomo, ham, and cheese for $8.95, and the Hawaiian (with ham, pineapple and cheese), or the green or tuna salad sandwiches. Each costs $7.25.

Tortas are a little more expensive. The pork lomo plus ham and cheese torta is $12.95, and so is the chipotle special, with roast beef, turkey and cheese. Of course, they’ll be way bigger than the sandwiches. Cheapest torta is the tuna at $10.25.

Elote is corn on the cob with mayo, cotija cheese, hot sauce and Tajin. Wicked healthy.

One thing I like already: Margarito puts his prices up top, nice and bold. But what I’m looking for is Tostilocos. Aha. Here they are, under “Munchies.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

Tostilocos?” I ask Margarito. “What exactly are they?”

“Well mine have Tostito corn chips on the bottom. You have to eat them quickly, while they are still crisp, because on top, I put cueritos [uncooked pickled pork skin strips], the rielitos [tamarind candies], Japanese cacahuetes [peanuts], pepino [cucumber], jicama [Mexican turnip], with Tajin [seasoning made of chilies, lime and salt], and the agridulce salsas — sweet and sour sauces [made from pickled fruit like plums, apricots, and mango], and a little lemon juice.”

Wow. So much to taste. So I go for the Tostilocos ($7.75), and oh, an elote, corn on a stick, covered, Margarito says, in mayo, cotija cheese, hot sauce, and Tajin ($5.75). I’m wondering if he’s going to bring the Tostilocos out sprawling on a ripped-open bag of Tostitos, the way they do on the street. Whatever, it sounds like a beautiful agri-dulce mess. When it comes, it comes in a polystyrene box, super loaded with white cueritos, yellow-shelled cacahuetes, and maroon tamarindo candies, all stained with squirted-on Mega red chamoy salsa, and La Botanera salsa picante. “La mera mera!” says its label. “The real deal!” But next to it, I see the Mexican Secretariat of Health has placed prominent warnings. “Excessive sugars” and “excessive sodium.” Good to see. Do we do that?

Tostitos underneath round out the sweet-sour tastes. Eat while crispy!

The Japanese peanuts are the second most important pleasure. They snap in your mouth and deliver umami soy-coated nut flavors. But the most important flavor-add has to be that limey, salty Tajin. Along with the salsas, it helps disguise the already vinegary but definitely raw pork skin strips. The skins and the jicama and cucumber also team up to keep the hot flavors in check, along with the Tostito corn chips. Of course, the sweetness of all those tamarind candies makes it feel like a guilty treat. And yet this is a beautiful collision of tastes, and yes, I’d say fresh and healthy! As long as you don’t eat it three times a day.

It turns out that Tostilocos is a Tijuana invention In the 1990s, Javier Rodriguez got impatient on the street when he wanted to eat stuff on top of his Tostito chips. He ripped open the bag, jammed items on top, splashed on some salsa, and ate it there and then. His messy but beautiful idea has spread like wildfire. There’s a rebel thing going on.

The Japanese peanuts are another story: what can be Japanese about peanuts? A lot, it seems. Turns out that Yoshigei Nakatani invented his own take on them. He was living in Mexico City way back in 1945 when he lost his job making mother-of-pearl buttons. The authorities thought his boss might be a Japanese spy and closed the business down. Yoshigei needed to think fast. He had kids to feed. He decided to make mamekashi, peanuts coated in a layer of flour dough and then deep-fried. They reminded him of his homeland. He added different flavors and spices. He sold them on the streets of Mexico City. Now Japanese mamekashi are everywhere. Why? Because they are so danged delicious.

The elote, of course, is scrumbo too. More than I need. But at this price (about $13 for everything), I feel like I’m paying, well, peanuts. Japanese peanuts.

The Place: Chuchee’s Frutorteria, 7495 University Avenue, La Mesa, tel 619-461-6600

Hours: 10am-7pm Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays

Prices: “Raspados (Mexican shaved ice drinks), including mango, pecan, guava, $6.50; energy and diet juices, e.g. the “Multigreen” (oj, pineapple, celery, cactus leaves), $7.50; all-day breakfast includes bagel or croissant stuffed with egg, ham and cheese, $5.25; pb&j sandwich, $3.75; sandwich special, with pork lomo, ham and cheese, $8.95; tuna salad sandwich, $7.25; chipotle special (with roast beef, turkey, cheese, $12.95; tuna toreta, $10.25; Tostilocos with cueritos (pickled pork skin), rielitos (tamarind candies), and Japanese peanuts, $7.75; elote (corn on a stick), $5.75

Bus: 852

Nearest Bus Stop: University at Lowell

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