five tacos to get you through your week

Sunny weather has a way of turning one’s thoughts to cold beer and spicy food, two things that (luckily) are not in short supply here in San Diego.  This week’s Taco Tuesday left me thinking about the abundant taquerias in town.   But so many tacos to choose from!  Happily, it’s pretty hard to go to wrong when it comes to tacos, but here are five spots on regular Ish rotation for those long weeks when nothing but a few great tacos and icy beers will do:

  • Mr. Peabody’s Burgers & Ale – A low-key neighborhood place off of Friar’s road, Mr. Peabody’s has surprisingly awesome grilled shrimp and fish tacos.  But the real reason to go is their small, sunny, dog-friendly patio.  I can’t think of many things better than sitting in the sun with a hot shrimp taco and a cold draft beer.  No happy hour, but daily specials include $3 fish tacos (Tuesday) and $3 shrimp tacos and $3.25 micros (Wednesday).
  • Aqui es Texcoco - Barbacoa de borrego.  Slow-cooked BBQ lamb tacos, people.  Lamb soup.  Huitlacoche quesadillas.  Negro Modelo on draft, served in an icy chalice ($2 on happy hour!).  ‘Nuff said – worth the drive to Chula Vista.  Happy hour M-F, 5-7.
  • It’s a Taco Shop – Regular readers know that this is my go-to place for a late-night taco fix.  Sure, the name is questionable and it looks like they’re serving tacos out of a giant red and yellow wheel of cheese.  Or maybe a circus tent.  But the carnitas are plentiful, hot, greasy, and just as crispy-tender as they should be.  Although they don’t sell beer (that I know of), I assume you’ll be going there post-bar, just like everyone else does.  Sports Arena – open 24 hours.
  • Palomino’s Mexican & Seafood –  Come for the tacos de birria, stay for the generous, outstanding salsa bar – chips, 4 salsas, spicy carrots, pickled onions and peppers, radishes, limes, cabbage.  Hooray!   
  • La Playita – You might wonder if a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Clairemont is a good choice for sea food.   Stop by and order the enormous Tostada Loca – it will own you.  Don’t worry – a nice icy michelada or two will help you get through it. 
 
Tostada Loca at La Playita

Tostada Loca at La Playita

 

Five tacos not enough?  Check out Taco the Town or mmm-yoso!!! for great in-depth reviews of San Diego taquerias!

some late-night ish

As discussed in the Tajima post, after midnight can be a ghost town when it comes to trying to find a place to eat in San Diego that doesn’t end in –berto’s  or –in-the-box.  Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of interesting spots around town with kitchens open past midnight.  

food until 1am

Alchemy, South Park.  1am.  Great food and drink menu emphasizing local/seasonal fare.  Late night happy hour nightly 10pm-close.

3rd Corner, Ocean Beach, Encinitas.  1am, tues-sun.   Owned by Ed Moore, the original owner of the (much missed) Thee Bungalow Restaurant, this is a wine shop that also happens to have bistro food.

The Tractor Room, Hillcrest. 1am fri-sat, 12am sun.  Lots of game meat and “creative” cocktails, as well as the (self-proclaimed) largest bourbon, rye, scotch, and whiskey selection in town.

food until 2am

West Coast Tavern, North Park.  2am.  Set in a historic building (built in 1929) and attached to the lovely recently restored Birch North Park Theater.  Great daily deals, including happy hours, Wednesday bourbon night, and drinks & a movie in the Birch theater.

Red Fox Room, North Park.  2am.   Maybe not the best steaks in the world, but you must go here at least once for a late night steak dinner with garlic toast and fried shrimp – This place is small, red, dark; full of aging North Park octogenarians and young(ish) whippersnappers, with a tiny bar and an equally tiny piano lounge.  Truly, it’s a unique and relatively little-known piece of Old Hollywood in San Diego that can’t be duplicated once its doors finally close for good.

food until 3am

Tajima Japanese Noodle House, Convoy. 3am thurs-sat.  Cheap, hot, fast and open until 3 am.   What else is there to say?  (plenty, apparently).

food 24 hours (you animal!) 

Brian’s American Eatery, Hillcrest. Open 24 hours fri/sat.  Diner food that’s not that cheap and not always even that good, but hey, it’s 24 hours and the people-watching can’t be beat.

Studio Diner, Kearny Mesa.   24/7.  Traditional diner sitting on the lot of a working movie and TV studio in Kearny Mesa  (What?  Yep, there is a studio lot smack in the middle of Kearny Mesa.  Who knew?).

It’s a Taco Shop – Point Loma.  24/7.   Yes, there are a million 24/7 taco joints in San Diego.  Yes, this is a building that looks like a giant yellow and red cheese wheel.  And yes, not everything here is stellar.  But please do yourself a favor and order the carnitas tacos some late night – hot, greasy delicious mounds of pork, a bit of pico and a bit of guac, and lots of hot sauce.  Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Feel free to add your favorite after-hours place in the comments.

tajima after dark

Is there anything more satisfying than delicious, greasy, post-bar, late night restaurant adventuring?   The biggest challenge in San Diego can be actually finding a place that’s open (assuming you’ve had your fill of Denny’s, Jack in the Box, and [fill-in-the-blank]-berto’s).   Although we’ve done a lot of growing up in the last few years, San Diego still retains some sleepy little town feel when it comes to kitchens still serving after midnight.  

We recently hit one of our go-to spots for late night grub – Tajima Japanese Noodle House.   Open and serving food until 3am thurs-sat, this location of Tajima is a ramenya, a restaurant specializing in hot, (hopefully) tasty bowls of ramen.  In Japan, ramen is a sacrament with fervent disciples debating ramen ideology.   The New York Times describes Tokyo’s ramen scene as a “…sprawling ramen ecosystem, a realm that encompasses multilingual guidebooks, glossy magazines, databases that score shops to three decimal places…comic books, TV shows, movies (like the 1985 classic “Tampopo,” in which a Stetson-wearing trucker helps a beleaguered widow learn the art of ramen) and, according to the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum…the 4,137 shops selling bowls of noodles in broth.”    

At Tajima, the setup is simple – small, close-together tables (expect a line at “bar-thirty”), and a short menu emphasizing ramen and a few Japanese tapas-style dishes (the main focus at the Izakaya Tajima location down the street).   To order ramen at Tajima, you first select your ramen type: Regular (BBQ pork & egg), Spicy (spicy ground pork & egg), Vegetable (vegetables, pork & egg), Extra BBQ (extra pork & egg), Kakuni (pork belly & egg), Mabo Tofu (tofu, ground pork, egg), or Asari (asari clam & egg).  From there, choose either thin or fat noodles and soup flavor (soy sauce, salt,  miso, tonkotsu).   

ikasugata at Tajima

We ordered a bowl of regular tonkotsu ramen with fat noodles to share.  Because we were pathetically starving, we also ordered Tonpei (grilled pork with egg) and Ikasugata (grilled squid) to share from the a la cart menu.  

The tonpei and ikasugata were the first to arrive.  I love the ikasugata and always end up ordering it at either Tajima location.  I think I keep ordering the tonpei and forgetting that I don’t really like it – menu description and presentation look interesting, but it ultimately just tastes like ham and eggs in mayonnaise to me.  It’s certainly edible (pathetically starving, remember?), but I wish I’d ordered the Tan Shio instead.  

If you go to either location, I really do recommend trying the tan shio.  Yes, it is beef tongue, but it has a kind of beefy bacon flavor and comes with green onions and a nostril-clearing spicy mustard – delicious –  it’s honestly probably the best post-bar tongue you’ll get that night.  I kid, I kid!  Besides, isn’t our motto to be adventurous and try new things, especially delicious ones?  Hooray, it is!  

The ramen comes out quickly and is topped with chashu (simmered pork), nori, negi (green onion), and hanjuku tamajo,  a sort of halfway hard-boiled egg with a firm white and semi-l iquid yolk that’s been steeped in a soy sauce marinade.   The noodles definitely have a lot of chew to them – ramen noodles are typically expected to have some bite to them and some people think they are undercooked or “hard” – you can try to order yours soft or “yawarakame” if you like them less firm.   

  

ninniku-dare

 I like to add a big scoop (or two) of ninniku-dare (garlic paste) from the condiment tubs on the side of the table.  Hooray garlic!   

Grand total for ramen, squid, tonpei, and tea?  Just over $20.  With nearly 200 places in San Diego selling ramen, is Tajima the best ramenya in town?  Is it authentic?  I can’t claim to have the expertise to really answer either question.  I can, however, vouch for it being a pretty darn good choice for cheap 2 am eats, whether or not Tampopo is in your Netflix queue.  

 

Tajima Japanese Noodle House, 4681 Convoy St., San Diego, CA 92111 (858)576-7244, open lunch, dinner, and late night (thurs-sat 10:30pm-3am).

 

Want to know more about ramen?  Check out Ramenate, Ramen Adventures, or Serious Eats for ramen eating in Japan and beyond, mmm-yoso for what’s what in San Diego ramen, or RAMENRAMENRAMEN to brush up on your ramen terminology.

Ramen not your proverbial cup of tea?  Still recovering from the Great Ramen Eating Contest of 2010?  Stayed tuned for an upcoming post on eating after midnight in San Diego!

 

the weekly ish

recipes

  • Jason Wilson, WAPO Spirits columnist, takes on the Singapore Sling and reinvents it.  And by reinventing it, I mean brings it back to its original composition – a light drink of gin, cherry brandy, and lemon juice.  I haven’t really developed a taste for gin yet, but I’ll keep practicing.  
  • The Seattle Weekly tackles making Girl Scout cookies at home.   Since only an estimated 10-20% of the cost of a box of cookies goes to the scout’s troop (approx. 50% stays with the regional council and the rest goes to the manufacturer), why not make a batch or two from scratch this year and donate the whole $4 (or more) to your local troop
  • Fascinating article on the art of Chinese noodles.  Oh, and anyone who would like to FedEx me a bowl of you po che mian?  I’ll be sitting here waiting patiently.  Waiting.  Yep.  Patiently.  Annnnytime.
  • In case you hadn’t heard, the Superbowl is this weekend.  In case you hadn’t settled on a dish, Pioneer Woman and the NY Times have helpfully collected their best recipes for you.  In case you haven’t picked a team, Go Tiger Cubs!

restaurant news

  • Another food trend hits San DiegoChef Dan Moody, former sous chef for Chef Ludovic Lefebvre (seen on this season of Top Chef’s Restaurant Wars), will be opening his own pop up restaurant, Relate, in San Diego February 3 through 26.  Set menu will be $55 plus drinks (via the UT).
  • Speaking of food trends, San Diego Copper Chimney closed their food truck last month so that Chef Allen could move to a fixed kitchen location in Spice Court Grocery & Restaurant at 9474 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92126.  Its slated opening day was February 1 – hopefully I will be able to make it this weekend for some of Copper Chimney’s awesome Hyderabadi dishes.
  • Eclipse Chocolates has released their Valentine’s Day Chocolate tasting menu.  If you must insist on eating at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, this one might actually be worthwhile. 

around the web

  • This week’s episode of Top Chef All Stars is up, for all my cable-deprived friends.
  • A big “Happy Birthday” to Kirk over at mmm-yoso.  His blog is an amazing source for all things delici-yoso in San Diego and beyond. 
  • The government releases the kind of dietary advice that you’d expect from, well, the government.
  • 2011 is heating up for recipe contests, including upcoming deadlines for POM Wonderful Valentine Cupcake Contest, King Arthur Flour and Fleischmann’s Yeast’s  National Festival of Breads contest, the Ritz Recipe Challenge, and the 45th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off.  Check out Contest Cook for a full listing of contests. 
  • Why not practice for those contests by signing up as a baker for Bake for Hope?  Held each year throughout the US in the week leading up to Mothers Day (May 1-8 2011), volunteers coordinate community bake sales to raise money for their local Susan G. Komen for the Cure affiliate to support breast cancer treatments for women with breast cancer within their local community.  Several San Diego groups are already beginning to form up for this year’s sale!
  • Does your cake look a bit…naked?  Perhaps you need to get a set of these edible Angry Bird cake toppers from artisan cake company‘s etsy site. (via My Food Looks Funny)

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