Sunday, January 30, 2011

Las Cuatro Milpas (1857 Logan Ave.)

If you don't have an opinion of Las Cuatro Milpas, you're probably no kind of San Diegan. The same family has sold tacos, tamales and tortillas at the original Barrio Logan location since the "zoot suit" era, just a block from present-day Chicano Park. Very few eateries anywhere on the west coast have witnessed so much history; Las Cuatro Milpas would be a mandatory stop on any local taco tour even if it didn't offer some of the very best Mexican food in town. 

You can tell the lunch rush is over because the line is so short
Mind you, not every so-called local is a believer. Plenty of folks scoff at the long waiting line, the cafeteria-style service, the limited hours, and the "elemental" menu. Others find the meat "bland" and the hot sauce coarse and oily. My guess is that the immediate and constant availability of drive-through fish tacos and carne asada burritos has quelled many San Diegans' sense of adventure about Mexican food. As a friend said not long ago when we visited a longstanding Santa Barbara taco shop, "it doesn't really matter if it's 'authentic' or not - they've been doing it their way for so long, their way IS the right way." That's exactly how I feel about Las Cuatro Milpas: there may be a mere handful of menu items to choose from, but all of them are imbued with real soul - the kind of primally gratifying kick  that can only come from the magic of lard. I guess our vegetarian friends are out of luck - if they're even talking to us anymore. But never mind, we have important matters to discuss - and a good half hour wait to go over them!

Best flour tortillas EVER?
Let's start with the tortillas. These are hand prepared daily at Las Cuatro Milpas, and are beyond compare. The corn tortillas have a fresh texture that puts other local tortillerias to shame, and the flour tortillas are so savory on their own that there's really little need to fill them with anything. Extra thick and sold to go semi-raw, their translucence is reflective of their essence of hog anima. I'd recommend you buy a couple dozen every time you visit, but chances are they will be sold out by noon!

Chorizo con huevo
In that case, your best bet is simply to order a bowl of chorizo con huevo, which comes with tortillas on the side. No need to order anything but the small size for one person - this is a serving of beans and rice, but in no way is it a side dish. This is real sustenance of the sort that matters to those who know the difference between eating and dining. There are no trendy seasonings here: just the perfect combination of pork, beans and rice plus the luxury of tortillas served "bien tostados" with brown bubbles speckling the soft, yielding dough. 

Crunchy taco!
Tacos at Las Cuatro Milpas are served in fresh-crisped corn tortillas, and if you're used to the more contemporary soft tacos, they are a blast from the past that you shouldn't pass up - some taco shops around town have begun to bring back the fried taco of late, but here, they never went out of style. The meat filling is largely unimportant, though it adds softness to a medley of textures that is heavy on the crunch. The homemade tortillas definitely set this apart from anything you could hope to get out of a bag of chips, and a healthy helping of good old-fashioned iceberg lettuce adds considerable mouth feel while sharp, grated queso cotija simulates the palate. Yes, I'm, talking about tacos, not pinot!

MUCH more food than I could finish!
Rolled tacos are without a doubt one of San Diego's favorite dishes, and no one has been serving them here longer than Las Cuatro Milpas. They are hand-rolled (like cigars!) and stuffed with meat (my last order was chicken) giving them a more irregular, homestyle quality that is mighty appealing. They come standard with sour cream rather than a bunch of runny guacamole, and one plate of five is plenty to split among a few friends as a side dish.

Excellent tamales
I never come to Las Cuatro Milpas with less than 50 bucks to shop for staple groceries. If your hopes of stocking up on tortillas are dashed by the unceremonious revelation that they're "finito," hopefully you can at least pick up a dozen tamales to take home. They are paper-wrapped to best contain their huge size, copious filling and considerable lard content. If you're still reading, I have a feeling you can appreciate this fact, and your mouth may be watering at the thought of jelly-like masa dough.  A dozen will easily feed a family, or at least provide the basis for a vary indulgent weekend. I can't state this plainly enough: Las Cuatro Milpas serves Mexican soul food, and if the line is too long for you, I guess not everybody can recognize a real treasure! Whatever - more of the good stuff for me!

Las Cuatro Milpas on Urbanspoon


  1. perfect review! I m a 1964 core san diegan. We always have called this place " NATI's" after the pioneer of of LCM. All surfed out, gut wrenching hunger,,,this was our home. As I got older and worked for DOD here in SD, I shared the secret with North Island NAS , 32nd NAVSTA and Broadway 11th NAVAL District. My apologies. I have a hand in the long lines now. Sorry.

  2. M.Camacho---Born and raised just a few blocks away. learned very young that greasy tasty hot Mex food is the best. Mama JCM 05/07/27-12/12/12 RIHeaven, and I were going there since it was more of a market, mama would take her pot and fill it up with menudo on weekends,as I got older we would meet there Saturday mornings for ?? yes more menudo. I was just there and nothings changed, same humble grandaughter to original owners working the register, I still cant convince her to open a new location in SoBay. Great original food. Cuatro Milpas thank you for your manymany years of wonderful food and sharing your taste of Mexico with all of us San Diegans and some. God Bless all of you hard working Mexicanas. Tortillas Tortillas Tortillas, oh yeah with butter.