As often as I eat out, there are still those restaurant treasures that manage to slip through the cracks. I find myself wondering how I've missed out on certain eateries. It puzzles me, much like those friends we all have who haven't seen Braveheart.
Hacienda de Vega is one of those San Diego County charmers that feel like they've been there forever. The restaurant (2608 S. Escondido Blvd. in Escondido) has been open for more than a decade, but the hacienda itself dates to the 1930s. It's that old, lived-in California charm that keeps diners coming back to its adobe walls. Not to mention, the Mexican cuisine dished up is worthy of the many fans and accolades that have accumulated over the years.
With two very small children at home, spending an evening alone in a restaurant with a thick book and someone else doing the cooking is so desperately fun for me right now. I'm aware of the mom cliché I've become. Whatever. I wept tears of I'm-all-alone joy into the trio of excellent salsas I was provided.
The botanas (little snacks—think tapas, but Mexican) were half-price during happy hour, so for a buck-50 each, you can take a nice little twirl around the menu. One festive little quesadilla Mexicana whet my appetite, its cheerful half-moon shape filled with steaming chunks of potato and salty chorizo. This is no kids-menu quesadilla. The outside of the pocket is made of toothsome, fried masa, giving filling heft to a small and inexpensive starter.
Diving into the mole fries alone was worth leaving the house. A fat pile of pillowy, fried potatoes is topped with fork-tender shreds of chicken, then covered in the most velvety mole I've ever had. The almost-black sauce is so creamy and smooth, decadently coating every bite in its signature sweet and earthy flavor. These fries are the perfect soaker for when you've spent time doing tequila tasting in one of the Hacienda's rentable casitas.
For an entrée, I found the Chile Sonora to be exceptional. One large poblano chile is filled with the creamiest blend of black beans and cheese, then topped with more cheese (delectable manchego, to be exact) and broiled to hot, gooey perfection. This is a smaller dish for those of you who donít need a plate spilling over with more food than your stomach can handle. I loved it.
The best part about dining alone is no one can make faces when you gleefully order flan. The dessert is traditional with no frills, but just right with a cup of coffee as you relax under twinkle lights, next to the waterfalls and little pond that make up a beautiful outdoor dining experience.
It's always good to revisit (or visit for the first time) popular haunts to see if they are worthy of the fandom and reputation they've gathered, or if a place is just resting on dried-up laurels. Hacienda de Vega is charming as well as delicious and is two cuts above the average San Diego side-of-rice-and-beans Mexican restaurant.
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