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.
Though Cheez Whiz isn't a staple on most restaurant menus, at McGonagle's it's one of the ingredients that pulls together the restaurant's eight varieties of Philly cheesesteak. When composing each one, cooks layer split bread with a choice of chicken or traditional steak meat and top it with melted cheese or other ingredients to create pizza and buffalo chicken versions. From there, diners customize each one with spicy and sweet peppers from the house pepper bar, adding as many multi-hued slices as needed to achieve a desired heat level or to test for color blindness. Even the fries here get special toppings, from custom options to the menu's tried-and-true varieties with Cheez Whiz or cheesesteak on top.
Though at least 130 miles and 80 years of history separate golden-age Hollywood from modern-day National City, Cafe La Maze bridges the gap. During the 1940s, this steakhouse served as a playground for movie stars headed to Tijuana, Mexico. Here, they could tuck in to prime rib and lobster on the lower level, or gamble the night away with card sharks such as the Marx Brothers and eponymous restaurateur Marcel Lamaze in a hidden room upstairs.
Today, diners soak up auras of these legends in the same tufted booths where Bing Crosby and Clark Gable most likely lingered at the eatery's grand opening. Candles, chandeliers, and a golden ceiling cast a warm glow across tables as groups savor shrimp cocktails and slice into juicy cuts of top sirloin, new york strip, and filet mignon. Some evenings live music scores meals, and on karaoke nights guests can harmonize with friends as the portraits that line the damask-print walls try to remember the words. Those seeking a more low-key gathering can book the banquet room, which teems with enough red-vinyl seats for up to 70 close friends or cardboard cutouts of their likenesses.
El Salvadoreño is the sort of eatery that appeals to everyone, from in-the-know locals to tourists trying to eat off the beaten path. In fact, the restaurant is so popular during lunch hours that it’s hard to snag a seat at one of the simple blonde wood tables. Thankfully, the family-run eatery serves until late in the evening, with the open kitchen buzzing all day long. Most orders are for pupusas and tamales, the latter of which are served in the Mexican corn husk tradition. Seafood is served as well, focusing on traditional recipes like shrimp that swims in a spiced seafood broth and comes sprinkled with fresh chopped onion, cilantro and lime wedges. Be sure to notice the oval ceiling murals, inspired by the Salvadorian countryside.
Though Green Truck’s food trucks roll down the street with an entire kitchen in tow, they remain eco-friendly by using the same vegetable oil to fry veggies and fuel their trucks. The trucks’ kitchens are solar-powered, and staff also compost forks and plates, then deliver that compost back to the farmers and still-life painters who supply their ingredients. This devotion to sustainable dining has earned Green Truck a slew of media attention, including a spot on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Though their chief aim is sustainability, Green Truck’s chefs don’t shirk taste: they pile succulent beef burgers and veggie-loaded wraps with creative, from-scratch flourishes such as beet barbecue sauce and spicy mustard. They strive for equally eco-friendly practices, using certified organic veggies and grass-fed beef, as well as local ingredients.
From the busy boulevard out front, the bright ochre walls of Island Spice Jamaican certainly stand out, particularly in contrast to the industrial businesses nearby. The spicy color is a hint of what has laid within for more than twenty years: steaming portions of warm, satisfying Caribbean food. Awards and carefully framed reviews line the walls surrounding hungry crowds, drawn by reputation or returning for the rare and delicious fare, including oxtail stews and assorted simple curries. The wise save room for their noted Rum cake, and the smarter still grab take-home jars of curry powder, Papaya pepper sauce, smoked pickled herring and Johnny Cake dough mix from the shelf-lined alcove off to one end. Order online for quick take out or enjoy your meal from the sunny patio.