SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
The intention was to leave the world famous San Diego Zoo and take a cab to Hash House A Go Go for dinner. It seemed the raucous type of place fitting for a birthday celebration for one of my travel companions. Naturally, we were denied. Our arrival at 4 p.m. (we had a 7:30 shuttle pickup) was met with a closed sign. The Hash House didn’t open until 5:30. Sonsabitches.
We meandered down Fifth Street passing Italian places and a questionable looking bar as I groped my iPhone Yelp app for suggestions. About 200 yards away was a highly Yelped Mexican place called Huapango’s. Hungry and ready to get off our feet, we settled.
I can’t say that dinner exceeded expectations, because we had none. It presented us with the pleasant surprise of quality food, an entertaining waiter and a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine.
The initial draw was happy hour with $4 margaritas and sangria, neither of which disappointed. My Tecate was a nice reminder that Mexican beer is more than that swill Corona makes. The waiter was charming, funny and completely serious about caring to everything we wanted. More guacamole? More chips? A little extra time to lounge around at the table? No problem.
More than one Yelper raved about the queso dip served with the chips, and rightfully so. It was creamy without being gooey, spicy without being overpowering, and tasted fresh. The guacamole was also fresh, but let the avocado do the heavy lifting, rather than using too many herbs or too much garlic.
The waiter suggested two dishes. My calamari chile relleno was presented as a thick squid steak, butterflied and stuffed with a poblano pepper. Topped in the usual jalepeno crema, the dish was a perfect balance of heat, fish and spice. Nothing fought for attention, though the generous serving of retried beans encroached on the crema. I didn’t mind.
My CEO went with the other recommendation: carnitas salsa verde. Again, a simple dish done well. The housemade salsa verde balanced the achiote in the slow roasted pork. The dish came with flour tortillas and retried beans, but that didn’t seem to matter. The massive serving of pork slowed my boss down to a crawl. By the end of dinner, it looked like she had taken one or two bites.
The rest of the table ordered lobster dishes: lobster enchiladas and lobster quesadillas. All Rae’s at the generous servings of lobster, an ingredient that could have been skimped on in lieu of other fillings.
Dessert was a nonstarter as most pushed away rice, beans and other sides that we couldn’t finish. The waiter let us loiter for a little bit as we waited for a cab. He probably would have let us sit there all night.
In the end, there was no reason to go go.
Dinner was $150 with tip and a 20 percent off FourSquare special. Huapango’s is located on the corner of Fifth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood.