July 3 2014 06:36 PM

La Jolla joint serves great fish tacos, too

Don Carlos’ fish and rolled tacos
Photo by Mina Riazi

Few foods are more terrifying than soggy burritos. After slowly steaming in their tortillas, the once-distinct ingredients are rendered flavorless and texture-less. Imagine my shock when I learned of Burritobox. The bright-orange vending machine deposits ready-to-eat burritos and probably specializes in the soggy kind. Mildly depressed that such a contraption exists, I decided to combat my sadness in the only way possible: by devouring a hot, hulking, freshly made burrito. 

A La Jolla fixture since 1984, Don Carlos Taco Shop (737 Pearl St.) is a favorite among famished beach-goers and college kids sniffing out cheap, filling eats—oftentimes, they're the same people. The extensive menu offers several iterations of the San Diego-born California burrito, as well as breakfast burritos, rolled tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas.

On a late Sunday afternoon, the small, three-table joint was filled with a few other patrons. Most people come for the burritos, which are cubit-long gut-busters overflowing with a cast of familiar, flavorsome ingredients. Some even weigh more than a pound, so if you're feeling really ravenous, go for the Sunshine, Scripps, Hungover or Machaca. 

The La Jolla burrito is another heavy-hitter. Filled with pollo asado, fries, salsa, sour cream and cheese, it tastes best with extra drizzles of salsa in between bites. Far from soggy, the La Jolla struggled with dry and generally bland chicken pieces. Perhaps, had I been fueling up after a beach run or wrestling a stubborn hangover, I wouldn't have noticed that the burrito was also slightly under-stuffed. Top-grade burritos rely just as much on the proportion of ingredients as they do on the quality. So far, a supremely simple yet endlessly seductive bean 'n' cheese from Rigoberto's has come the closest to achieving a perfect balance of ingredients.

Next on the list of most addictive Don Carlos eats are the rolled tacos. Chunky guacamole—not the toothpaste-smooth version you sometimes eye at the supermarket, but never actually buy—blankets the taquito trio. Chicken, beef and potato are the options, and I ordered one of each. Once again, the chicken was a too-dry disappointment. Tender and flavorful, the beef version definitely impressed, though. I must admit that my favorite part of any deep-fried food is the crunchy, starchy outer layer. Taco traditionalists will scoff, but I say channel your inner toddler and greasily separate the corn tortilla from the filling. Enjoy them separately for a new twist on the rolled taco. 

Impressively—if I do say so myself—I didn't stop there. The Don Carlos fish taco came next, flaunting a generously battered slab of moist, flaky fish. Dressed with a few blobs of guacamole and a squirt of lime, it tasted exquisite.

On my way out, I noticed an older, aproned woman scooping out the bright-green flesh of avocados into a bucket. A few steps behind her, a young guy, perhaps in his early 20s, helmed the grill. Hypnotized by the mouth-watering smells and sizzles, I nearly forgot that somewhere, someone was probably paying $3 for a soggy vending-machine burrito.  

Write to minar@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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