Instead of bailiffs and judges, Jose’s Courtroom brims with surfers and sunbathers from nearby beaches, their hair still damp with saltwater and their flip-flops dusted in a thin layer of sand. The decades-old La Jolla institution draws beach bums, businesspeople, and tourists alike with its colorful cocktails and menu of Mexican favorites. Chef Jose Rodriguez puts almost 20 years of experience to work as he folds meats and seafood into tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. He stuffs burritos with tender chicken, juicy steak, and plump shrimp along with generous scoops of fresh salsa and guacamole.
At ceramic-tile tabletops out in the boisterous dining room, diners nibble on chips and salsa and clink glasses of margaritas and bottles of Mexican beer. On the covered front patio, meanwhile, others enjoy the warm summer air, watching the sun set over the Cove. On the weekends, this festive eatery hosts dance parties, when DJs play popular music videos on the flat-screen televisions. The same flat-screen televisions also broadcast live sports, from action-packed football games to football games where they just kind of stand there and watch the clock wind down.
Sure, diners could make tacos at home, by ripping open a packet of premixed spices and heating up some factory-made tortillas. Or they could take a drive to Las Olas Mexican Restaurant, where nothing is ever pre-made, where everything on the menu is crafted the traditional way: from scratch and with local and organic ingredients whenever possible. In 1981, owners Dave Murphey and Pete Johnson opened the first location of Las Olas Mexican Restaurant, an homage to the eateries they enjoyed as they grew up, surfing on Mexican beaches. They claim to have brought the first fish taco stateside, and strive to serve similarly tasty and healthful fare. Whether enjoying a traditional Mexican dish such as tostadas or crisp chimichangas, or one of the specialties, such as shrimp tacos or seafood enchiladas, diners rest easy knowing that as they eat, their carbon footprint is shrinking without subjecting their foot to laser liposuction. The seafood served is sustainable, and all paper products are recycled.
Beginning as a plucky, family-run eatery in 1993, Los Reyes Mexican Food has blossomed into a multilocation Mexican-fare fiefdom, enticing appetites with an impressive spread of pillowy burritos, fresh seafood, and savory marinated meats. Within the casual family-style eatery, chefs forge authentic Latin-inspired meals, such as mole-soused lengua and crispy carnitas and buche. Guests pair feasts of flaky fish, seasoned carne asada, and hearty sopes with freshly squeezed juice, rich smoothies, or cold glasses of creamy horchata.
Lauded by USA Today Travel as one of 10 Great Places to Bite into a Big Burrito, Taco Surf Taco Shop slathers its flavorful Mexican fare in homemade hot sauce and traditional seasonings. Choose to chow down on the #5 combo plate, in which cheese and sour cream cha-cha over two enchiladas swollen with a choice of chicken or beef or tackle a specialty platter such as the carne asada chips, a crispy tortilla-chip castle built with an edible façade of beans bricks, guac greenery, and cheese crenelations that stand up sturdily to incursions by an army of sour cream. Alternatively, two soft tortillas swaddle batter-fried fish in a blanket of mayo and mild sauces on the fish-taco-platter special. After eating, tired-out tongues can lounge on the cushiony carbonation of two sodas or surf milky waves of horchata and spiced tamarindo for further taste adventures. While mouths masticate savory meals, Taco Surf occupies eyes with endless reels of surfer films, surf-inspired décor, and a working android replica of Beach Boy Al Jardine.
Maria’s Mexican Cocina sits across from the Victorian US Grant Hotel, just north of bustling Broadway in downtown San Diego. The city’s monochromatic concrete is all but forgotten the moment you enter, as Maria’s walls are awash with the bright colors of Mexico. The owner, Jose, may greet you himself, stepping out of the back office to look over his clients and check on progress in the kitchen. Along the north wall is a brightly-colored balustrade that leads to a small loft, while the dining room is filled with tables and the petite landing area above is perfect for a family gathering. Since 1995, Maria’s has been featuring south-of-the-nearby-border dishes for locals, office workers and fortunate travelers, including creamy queso, traditional soups and combination plates that marry tacos and enchiladas with beans, rice and more.
Set in a quiet section of the Gaslamp district is the Mexican-inspired café, Bolillo Tortas. Designed to combine the culture of south-of-the-border cuisine with modern tastes, the menu is an original mix of sandwiches, tortilla-centered dishes, salads and soups, each compiled with the freshest ingredients. Set just across the street from the Horton Grand Theater, the restaurant offers a quick and affordable alternative to most downtown dining. The interior is fresh, with a sleek, European flair and bright murals full of traditional references. A host of imported and domestic beers are available as well as wines served by the glass. Can’t make it in? Call in your order and take advantage of the free downtown delivery. For Mexican food lovers, Bolillo Tortas is a tasty and fresh change of pace.