Mexican regional cuisine is just beginning to hit the San Diego dining scene. Authentic Mexican food flavored with cinnamon, epazote, roasted chiles and chocolate is available to those who seek it. So if you're no longer satisfied at your neighborhood 'bertos, if carne asada fries and California burritos aren't cutting it anymore, you should check out some of these restaurants and be prepared to change your mind about the meaning of true Mexican food.
Frida Mexican Cuisine
2015 Birch Road, Chula Vista
The chic Frida's in Chula Vista's new Otay Ranch Center provides a glimpse into Mexico City's vibrant modern dining scene. The menu incorporates recognizable Mexican standards, but its uniqueness lies in “alta cocina” dishes—the term used to describe Mexican haute cuisine—composed of Mesoamerican ingredients fused with French technique and finesse. The extravagant filet in a sauce of huitlacoche (Mexican truffle or corn fungus) garnished with creamy goat cheese is one of Frida's finest examples of this food style, largely unknown north of the border. For dessert, the crepas de cajeta, with a goat's milk caramel sauce topped with nuts and raspberries is a must. Don't be surprised if you notice many of your fellow diners speaking Spanish; it seems Frida's has become a favorite of upper-crust transplants from Tijuana who long for tastes from home.
2802 Ocean View Blvd., Logan Heights
Mariscos German Lonchera Truck
35th and University, City Heights
You can get a taste of Mexico's legendary west coast at Mariscos German. The restaurant and small fish market that operates several equally spectacular taco trucks serves its seafood in the style of the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Baja California and Baja California Sur. You're welcomed here with a gratis cup of chile shrimp consomme to sip while you wait for your meal. That meal should include at least one of the hefty marlin tacos—one of the best tacos around, filled with a smokey fish that comes close to carnitas. Shrimp plates are prepared with mini lobsters—try them Veracruz style or sautéed in a garlic-laced olive oil. Brace yourself for nautical-themed music and some bumping Norteño and rock en español thundering out of the jukebox, but this bar-setter for Mexican seafood in San Diego is worth it.
3627 University Ave., City Heights
The food at Super Cocina is what you might expect if you'd grown up with a mom who hailed from central Mexico.
The specialty is Mexican soul food—stews, called guisados, that change daily depending on the market and the cooks' whims. In a sense, the restaurant is a tribute to history—you can taste the dishes that have resulted from the collisions of cultures old and new. Basic ingredients like tomato, chile and corn are coaxed into amazing dishes by cooks from many different states across Mexico. Tastes of any of the preparations are happily offered—the difficulty is deciding which ones to try.
Escondido Swap Meet
635 W. Mission Ave., Escondido
Oaxacan flavor awaits those willing to make the weekend trek to the Escondido swap meet. The firmly Hispanic market transports you to a scene you might find in Mexico with its fruit and vegetable hawkers and various vendors selling their wares. At one end of the swap meet you'll find Fiesta Oaxaquena, San Diego County's only proper Oaxacan restaurant. The little kitchen produces such southern Mexican specialties as the famous tlayudas, sturdy oversized tortillas (often called Mexican pizzas) topped with black-bean paste, lacy Oaxacan cheese, avocado, tomato and the meat of your choice. The menu is rounded out by various corn masa-based treats such as banana-leaf-wrapped tamales or zucchini-flower empanadas, as well as one of Oaxaca's seven different moles. It wouldn't be a Oaxacan restaurant without crisp-fried- and chile-and-lime-dressed grasshoppers, or chaupalines—so don't forget to try one of these bug tacos.
3647 University Ave, City Heights
Mexico has its share of sweltering hot days, and for relief, Mexicans have come up with various ways to quench thirst. Fruitlandia specializes in south-of-the-border aguas frescas, which are bound to revitalize you on a summer day.
Flavors include cebada (akin to a coffee horchata), cantaloupe with delightful bits of diced fruit, and mango. If hunger hits, Fruitlandia also serves cooling ceviche tostadas that you can spike with Valantina hot sauce and top off with an escamocha, which will put any fruit cocktail you've eaten to shame.