Ok, so I figured I would start this blog by reviewing a restaurant in Santa Paula, CA – my hometown.
The term “Mexican Food” means a lot of things to a lot of different people – there’s not really a single definition. In the Mid-Atlantic, for example, you can go into a “Mexican” restaurant which will serve mostly Salvadorian food. You can go to Mexico and struggle to find a burrito (except of course if you visit Taco Bell or Chipotle). In California, you can visit a third or fourth generation Mexican restaurant and struggle to find street tacos (though they are rapidly increasing in popularity).
To make life a bit easier, I like to think about Mexican food in Southern California in terms of generation and region in Mexico (or territories formerly thereof) from which the food originates. By generation, I mean that Mexican restaurants established by zero to first generation immigrants will serve different food than restaurants established by third or fourth generation immigrants. In Santa Paula, my favorite Mexican restaurant is Tlaquepaque. The restaurant serves zero to first generation Mexican cuisine and is named after a small town on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico. The menu is pretty extensive and though mostly everything is good, there are a few items that really stand out.
The first item is the coffee. Although gourmet coffee is readily available these days, I feel like it’s a hard find at most restaurants and diners. That being said, Tlaqupaque’s coffee can easily rival that of any fancy gourmet coffee shop. Plus, Tlaquepaque’s “Café de la olla” comes with a special ingredient – cinnamon.
In Mexican cuisine, quesadillas hold the same place as grilled cheese sandwiches do in American cuisine – it’s a simple food made for when you’re in a hurry or something that you give to children and other picky eaters. In essence, quesadillas are hardly ever a highlight at any restaurant. At Tlaquepaque, however, the quesadillas are by far the best thing on the menu. The reason is simple – homemade tortillas. If you’ve never had a homemade tortilla, then I’m sure it’s hard for you to identify with what I’m saying. But for those of you who have had good homemade tortillas, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Luckily, you can order street tacos with homemade corn tortillas. These are really good but a taste bit different from traditional street tacos because of the thicker handmade tortilla. Still, with plenty of Tlaquepaque’s awesome salsa and lime juice, they are an excellent choice
For breakfast, my favorite item is chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are fried tortilla chips covered in either a green or red sauce. Chilaquiles can be either soft or crunchy - I like both. The chilaquiles at Tlaquepaque are soft and come with Spanish rice, beans, and potatoes.
Other items of note are the gorditas, posole, burritos, caldo de res, and salsa.
If you are ever traveling from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara or Ojai, I highly recommend you take Highway 126 through Santa Paula and make a pit stop at Tlaquepaque. I assure you, you won’t regret it.