RANCHOS COCINA 1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. Ocean Beach 619-226-7619 MAMA TESTA TAQUERIA 1417A University Ave. Hillcrest 619-298-8226
RANCHOS COCINA 1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.
Ocean Beach 619-226-7619
MAMA TESTA TAQUERIA 1417A University Ave.
I'm glad to be an omnivore, always open to trying whatever's on my plate, even what others wouldn't—except for maybe that deep-friedbutter thing dispensed at the fair. Although I'm a resolute meat-eater, I have intervals that can last days, or weeks, when I go meat-free— for health, or wealth, or just to see if I can. Whenever I'm in this mode of leaving meat behind, I'm thankful that cheese and beer, both major groups in my food pyramid, are vegetarian. And if we're talking everyday, can'tlive-without foods, then I can't leave out tacos. Though my favorites are usually filled with some variety of pork preparation, I've learned that tacos, and other Mexican classics, can be just as delicious without it.
With its generous selection of vegetarian and vegan options, Ranchos Cocina has long been a haven for Mexicanfood lovers who don't eat meat; although I prefer the more spacious Ocean Beach location to the North Park one, the service there can vary from friendly to indifferent. The food is, for me, not quite as soul-fulfilling as other, more homestyle Mexican restaurants, but I appreciate their accommodation of alternative diets. Their shitake mushroom patties have a nice meaty texture and taste when used to fill tacos and burritos or as a hearty filling inside enchiladas covered in dark and rich mole poblano.
Also good topped with mole are enfrijoladas, bean-dipped corn tortillas that resemble enchiladas. Actually, all of the meatless enchiladas are pretty tasty—from simple cheese-filled to soft eggplant or tofu, or bluecorn tortillas filled with avocado, which can be sauced with red or tangy-with-tomatillo green salsa. You can get them in combination with each other, along with traditional sides of cheese-topped refried beans and Spanish rice that can be subbed for their healthier counterparts, black beans and brown rice. The tamales, whose masa dough is made with soybean oil, are a nice vegan option, as are the tofu-stuffed rolled tacos, for those whose only choice is usually potato. Whether I'm eating meat or not, I love their honeyginger limonada, blended with ice until slushy and cold.
Hillcrest's Mama Testa Taqueria is perhaps most famously known for its signature fish tacos that bested the Food Network bro, chef Bobby Flay, on his Throwdown cookingcompetition show, but I actually don't think they're the most delicious thing on the menu. The fish tacos are served Guerrero-style, and their corn-tortilla shells are deep-fried until almost crunchy but not quite crisp; I consider them a little stiff to chew. What I find supremely crave-worthy at Mama Testa are the Muchos Machos tacos, a pair of double-tortilla tacos brimming over with a velvety stew of sautéed poblano peppers and onions, enriched with sour cream. The pepper filling can be sweet or a little spicy, depending on the nature of the chiles, and the portion is so abundant that I usually split the two-tortilla-thick tacos into four manageable-sized ones. This technique also gives me more surface area over which to drizzle selections from Mama Testa's impressive homemade salsa collection.
It's not unusual for my friends and I to go through a couple baskets of chips while sampling the array of brightly-hued salsas. Among those I like most are La Escalera, a creamy-textured sauce of tomatillos and smoked and dried morita chiles; the nutty-flavored La Luna, which blends sesame seeds with spicy chile de arbol; and the unusual but delicious mix of chopped tomatillos and grated parmesan cheese. If I were eating meat, I might also order the Mojados de Carne, bite-sized sections of beef rolled tacos in a deep and spicy beef broth, with all the requisite condiments, but the poblano tacos are more than satisfying on their own. And since wine and beer are vegetarianfriendly, I can savor a glass from Santo Tomas, a winery in Baja's Guadalupe Valley, our best local wine area. (Sorry, Temecula).