Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aqui es Texcoco, 1043 Broadway, Chula Vista

San Diego has always offered an abundance of locales serving up fresh SoCal/Norteño dishes, but in recent years the local landscape has seen the emergence of Mexican regional cuisines in the available offerings, and this is an exciting development indeed. Barbacoa de Borrego (lamb barbecue) is a central Mexican specialty that may seem adventurous to the carne asada burrito set, but in its simplicity of preparation and purity of flavor, it's a lot more than just a great change of pace.

While Barbacoa de Res (beef) has been a menu item at select taco shops for some time, few if any of them made it a central priority. Located in a nondescript strip mall, Aqui es Texcoco might have been the first place in the county to specialize in Barbacoa de Borrego (lamb), and it is easily worth driving to Chula Vista to check out. They've been serving up their specialty in Tijuana for 20 years, so there's really no question they know what they're doing, and that is slow cooking lamb until it falls of the bone in a tender, succulent mass of tasty meat that needs little seasoning to taste complete.

There's nothing about Aqui es Texcoco that is typical of San Diego taquerias - there's no drive-through, for one thing. And you'll be seated by one of the wait staff, arguably making it more of a restaurant than a taco shop, but you'll want to take some time to savor this barbacoa. The menu is much smaller and more focused than locals are accustomed to - you come here for barbacoa, period. Sopes, enchiladas and fried tacos are available, but simple soft tacos are the best choice for enjoying the pure flavor of the lamb.

The barbacoa tacos are served undressed, with chopped onion and cilantro on the side, and four types of hot sauce (two are red, two are green and all are tasty) as well as pickled onions at your table. There's little need to add a lot of condiments, but this barbacoa has the kind of concentrated meat flavor that will hold up to as much seasoning as you want. Depending when you visit, a range of cuts will be available. Maciza (lean meat) and costilla (rib, which is distinctly fattier) are the basics - those with a taste for gamey meats may prefer the richer costilla. More exotic cuts (not always available) include pancita (tripe) and cabeza (lamb's head), with hard-shelled tacos dorados de sesos (brains) available as a side order.
The basic barbacoa taco
appealingly fatty costillo

Lamb broth with rice and garbanzos is an appealing starter on winter days - they don't waste any lamb here, thats's for sure. Rabbit is the only non-lamb entrée option, and it's unlikely to console meat-shy diners searching in vain for a chicken breast strip salad... hey, I never said this was a great place for a first date! In a pinch, though, the flautas de papa (rolled potato tacos) are a good choice. One order really oughtta be enough, as they are more than a foot long and liberally slathered with sour cream without compromising that all-important crunch. These make a great appetizer (though they may arrive after your barbacoa if you're not insistent) and are a perfect way to sample all the sauces.

quesdailla de huitlacoche
I didn't try the ensalada de nopales (sliced cactus pad salad), but one vegetarian-friendly side that I couldn't pass up was the quesadilla con huitlacoche, flor de calabaza y hongos, a corn tortilla folded with cheese and a mixture of mushrooms and squash flower in a base of the precolumbian delicacy huitlacoche: unaffectionately known as "corn smut" to American farmers, who consider it a blight, this fungus is in actuality one of central and southern Mexico's true culinary treasures, and it isn't easy to find on this side of the border - believe me, I've been trying!

none more black!
The flavor of huitlacoche is often compared to black truffle, but I've eaten plenty of truffle in my day, and I find huitlacoche to be more robsust, rustic and just better than truffles - not to mention more affordable, as this mini-quesadilla goes for under three dollars! That's a lot of earthy satisfaction for your tastebuds, and it would put Aqui es Texcoco on the map even if they didn't serve barbacoa! 

There are literally two or three taquerias per block up and down Broadway in Chula Vista, but this one stands out even as its stucco facade doesn't.

Aqui Es Texcoco on Urbanspoon


  1. I...I think I was actually drooling by the time I read this post. I wonder if they're the kind of place that sells out of the good stuff early in the day?

  2. I wouldn't expect them to run out of the good stuff. Their menu is so small and lamb-focused that I'm sure they have plenty of the good stuff to make it through the day