Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rolberto's Mexican Food (3462 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights)

Every now and again I wake up to find myself in Normal Heights, an area that's changed surprisingly little since I learned to walk there in the mid-70s. It remains eminently walkable, the single-story skyline is largely intact, and all-in-all it still feels like a an urban, working-class family neighborhood. Sure, it's littered with indie hipsters, but I suspect most of them think Normal is some kind of ghetto, came down to go slumming one weekend and never left because YOU lacked the cojones to kick them off your couch. Personally, I find it refreshing that homogenizing redevelopment has lagged here - it's a favorable climate for taco shops.

Not to be confused with the ubiquitous local chain ( note the "L"), nor the nearby tequila bars that also happen to serve tacos, Rolberto's is tucked into the back corner of a micro-mini mall, next to a tiny auto repair lot, with what appears to be an actual working pay phone outside. They open early and serve breakfast, serving up solid eats all day long, and also stay open late. A huge chunk of their traffic hits once the bars close, and while the after-hours crowd is diverse and colorful, I can't say I've ever seen a tranny fight break out there, like you might in "classier" parts of town. You might have to order through iron bars, but listen, I didn't say this was a great choice for a first date! 

My styrofoam runneth over!
What Rolberto's IS, is a darn good place to get tacos. It's sure not as fancy as a lot of trendy mid-city taco spots, but that's never been what yours truly is interested in. There are occasions for dining out, but there are a lot more times when you just need to chow down. About eleven last night, for instance. I ordered a trio that included pollo asado, adobada pork and some good ol' cabeza to satisfy my carnivorous instinct. The soft tacos were overflowing with filling, pico de gallo and guacamole (except for the rich cabeza, for which I wish I'd had a slice of lime). Everything was cooked up fresh and served sizzling hot, even the juicy chicken glowing with the magical aura of manteca.

The cheese adds protein to this starch-and-lard plate
Forgetting the size of Rolberto's portions, I also had a plate of three potato rolled tacos, a starch-on-starch dish that makes very little nutritional sense but packs an explosive textural thrill for the palate. The guy behind the iron bars can really work a fryer, and the rollies were hand-formed on the spot, not pre-rolled from the fridge. There was almost too much guacamole, and it was pretty good. Look, I grew up with an avocado tree, so I'm picky, alright? The grated hard cheese topping is something San Diegans have come to take for granted, but it really jazzes up what amounts to a giant, mashed potato-filled tortilla chip.

Good homies are getting hard to find!
Rolberto's is a great neighborhood taco shop. I don't live in Normal Heights, but if I did, it would be a likely place to find me. I'm not saying you should drive across town to eat here on your last night in town or anything, as there's probably somewhere closer to you that's equally satisfying, if not such a great value. Besides, nobody in Normal wants you spoiling the neighborhood.

Rolberto's Mexican Food on Urbanspoon


  1. I thought I had a brillant idea for a taco blog named taco the town and what do I stumble upon while doing a google search... good thing we live in 2 different cities. Good work. - Raquel

  2. Ever been to Humberto's in Golden Hill? I imagine the place needed the bars way back when, but today? Not when you can get stiff martinis and nice cappuccinos across the street! (I hope I'm not being naive about the Turf Club after-hours scene...)