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Cafe Coyote

San Diego CA (Old Town)

2461 san diego ave, san diego CA 92110
mon-sun 7am-10pm

Cafe Coyote (San Diego CA Old Town) - taco review

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Rating: 82
Price: $$$$

On stop 2 of the 2011 year-end San Diego Taco Tour, my business associates (Mom, Dad, Katie, Carly) and myself visited Cafe Coyote in San Diego's Old Town neighborhood. Based on an informational sign I read - post-tacos, if it matters - Old Town is where San Diego was originally founded. Brief history from my memory: some rich dude built a big house, there was a priest or something, other people New San Diego had a better port, and in the 1940s Old Town got rebuilt in the 'Mexican Village' style as a tourist zone. The plan worked to perfection, because on virtually every corner there was a Mexican restaurant advertising the handmade nature of their tortillas. These places ranged on the spectrum from quite big to quite small. I'm not sure how we chose Cafe Coyote, but we ended up getting seated right away despite the hubbub around the entryway. No surprise because Cafe Coyote is a real compound, as I found out en route to the bathroom, with something like 5 separate indoor and outdoor seating areas surrounding a large open pavilion.

When we received our menus, all evidence pointed to the crew an excellent decision having been made. Emblazoned on the top of the menu was braggadocio RE: their victories in the 'Best Mexican Restaurant' category - apart from 2007, they won every year from 2005 to 2011. However, the award's governing body was not noted, and the menu didn't give us any of the essential background information - best tacos where? worldwide? within Old Town? voted by who? what were the qualities upon which they were judged? - which cast some suspicion on the claim. Nonetheless, the factoids listed below this were also appealing. Housemade salsa, tortillas, guacamole, and tamales are all highly appealing. Plus, they recycle!!

Our pleasant waitress brought out some chips and salsa to start. Cafe Coyote's salsa system is sufficiently complicated to merit explanation. Their house salsa is mild, tomato-y, and frankly a bit boring (though fresh). Their menu lists 4 additional salsas (verde espanta, hot habanero, scorpion, and naga dragon) ranging from 200,000 to 650,000 SHU. However, to obtain these salsas, you must pay Cafe Coyote a non-trivial amount of money. No other restaurant has attempted to pull the wool of pay-for-salsa over the eyes of the hivemind, and Cafe Coyote certainly didn't succeed. As a rule of thumb, salsas should be treated more or less like infinitely delicious ketchups/mustards, and offered gratis (and no, Seattleites, I don't approve of Dick's 5-cent surcharge). Fortunately, our pleasant waitress informed us of the unwritten salsa option, which was slightly spicier than the complimentary salsa already offered but not sufficiently special to merit an advertised SHU measurement. We requested the additional free salsa, and the guacamole. The salsa was spicy with notable seeds and a light smoky flavor, but on the whole not-too-remarkable. The guacamole, served in a fried tortilla bowl, was pretty awesome. Smooth and delicious and, as advertised, fresh. Most impressively, it was plentiful - with a group of 5 sharing a single order of guacamole, it still took a while to use it all up.

The tacos arrived extremely rapidly post-order, and I believe we still had some chips and salsa we were attempted to take care of. I had ordered the taco trio (choosing pollo, carnitas, and asada as my tacos to allow for direct comparison with Nico's). The tacos also came with a side of refried beans and rice, which were fairly standard and will receive no further mention. The three tacos were constructed similarly to Nico's - maybe it's a San Diego thing. The carnitas and asada were topped with guacamole and pico de gallo, while the chicken had a bit of cheese and lettuce on top. All were on single tortillas made, as mentioned, in-house.

I first attacked the chicken taco, which had a tremendous amount of chicken within. The chicken plug was thick enough to be comparable to a plug of tobacco which an overzealous San Diego might stuff into their agave-stalk pipe. It was mildly marinated, tender, and more-or-less moist, though such a large quantity of chicken inevitably caused chewing difficulties. Next up were the asada and carnitas. The asada was plentiful, cut into tender strips a couple inches long, but didn't have a strong flavor. The carnitas was better than that at Nico's, without quite as much breading, but ended up being fairly underwhelming. Each of the three tacos was reasonably good, but each also had nothing spectacularly distinguishing about it. While I can't make any statements about the rest of the Mexican fare within Old Town, Cafe Coyote did an admirable job for the size of their restaurant and the generally touristic audience to which they catered their fare.

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