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I swear that Cabais Mexi-Deli is special, but you have to bear with me for a moment while I get through the nitty-gritty. It's a petite store located next to a tattoo shop in Hillcrest and it might be easy to pass by since the sign is painted on the wall and it sort of blends into that self-same tattoo parlor.

The unassuming facade gives way to a cozy, bright interior with an open kitchen that sparkles with the look of brand new, well-kept stainless steel. If nothing else were to distinguish it, Cabais wins an award for cleanliness. The otherwise cheerful, pastel space is interrupted by a weird, hologramatic picture of a vampire that oscillates between a Gothic nobleman and two distinctly spooky faces. Most of the time, it's caught in a horrifying triptych as the faces co-mingle into one grim visage.

Weird.

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I've built enough suspense. Before I go any further I will let the knowledge slip. Cabais' aguas frescas are absolutely bomb. I tried a cantaloupe flavored one ($2 for a massive cup) because I'm unaccustomed to seeing one on the menu at my local taco places. It had chunks of melon floating in it and a genuine, fruity sweetness that makes me think they actually make it there. I know that there are plenty of great aguas frescas available at all kinds of places, but Cabais' was cheap and totally awesome. I am going back to try the strawberry one, stat...and then the jamaica. I am serious, people. Get on these fresh waters!

On the flip side, the food was merely adequate. I asked what was best (something I almost never do), and the girl recommended a grilled mahi-mahi burrito. There was plenty of fish, enough that I had a hard time finishing it, but the burro itself was too watery for my taste. The crunch of sliced cabbage was a good counterpoint to the creamy guacamole, but I couldn't figure out why it tasted so smoky until I consulted the menu and found that it contained chipotle sauce, which I suppose I could have guessed with a little more thoughtfulness. Perhaps I was too busy reveling in the melon agua fresca.

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Better than the burrito was a dessert bar with cocount, chocolate chips, and almonds glued together with condensed milk on a graham-cracker crust. The thing was created with malice aforethought in terms of my pancreas, but I approve of the decadent wedge as an alternative to flan and rice pudding.

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I like that Cabais has croissant sandwiches and, of all things, calamari on rye (which is weird enough that I must try it some time). This helps it live up to the "deli" designation and gives it another little toehold in the Sisyphean battle for taco shop dominance, a battle which can't be won yet is nevertheless worth fighting.

In the battle for aguas frescas, at least, Cabais stands out with the fortunate few.

3952 Fourth Avenue
619-299-3525
Daily 8AM-10PM

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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