All Comals are not the same

Each restaurant has its own kitchen, its own staff, its own soul

Pozole translates to hominy, derived from Aztec words describing it for what it is: a bunch of fluffy corn kernels
  • Pozole translates to hominy, derived from Aztec words describing it for what it is: a bunch of fluffy corn kernels

El Comal

262 Third Avenue, Chula Vista

I haven’t eaten often in Chula Vista, so when I found myself with 40 minutes left on a Third Avenue parking meter, I looked around to see what looked good. And El Comal looked good.

The family restaurant’s North Park location (3946 Illinois Street) has been a favorite for years for its homey antojitos, soups, and sauces. I drag out-of-town guests there to experience the virtues of San Diego Mexican food, directing them to the thick handmade corn tortillas enveloping a savory assortment of tacos or playing the bread in the grilled sandwich-like mulitas. Though I know the menu well, it usually takes me a while to choose between these and one of the soups, a decision further complicated when green mole enchiladas are on special.

El Comal is not a restaurant franchise with homogenized ingredients and uniform procedures.

El Comal is not a restaurant franchise with homogenized ingredients and uniform procedures.

This El Comal’s menu reads similar to its sister restaurant but with a few extra dishes such as fajitas and enfrijoladas (enchiladas covered with bean sauce rather than a mole or tomatillo based salsa). But I was in the mood for soup, and my favorite of theirs is pozole.

Pozole translates to hominy, derived from Aztec words describing it for what it is: a bunch of fluffy corn kernels. Pozole the soup meant a lot to Aztec culture but not for great reasons. When Aztec priests killed people for ritual sacrifice, the hearts were given to the gods and the rest of the body got chopped into the soup. It wasn’t only prepared as a cannibalistic dish, but the alleged alternative protein doesn’t sound any better — a 20-pound rodent called a tepezcuintle, or paca.

I’m happy to report that El Comal’s embrace of authentic ingredients and preparation only goes so far. Here you may choose between pork and chicken with either green or red spiced broth. I opted for chicken to match the soup’s stock and braced myself for the rich, smoky chili pepper infused broth I’ve grown to crave in North Park.

This pozole looked the same, served alongside shredded cabbage, diced onions and jalapeños, cilantro, avocado, and crispy corn tortillas. But as I dug in, it dawned on me: all Comals are not the same. This isn’t a restaurant franchise with homogenized ingredients and uniform procedures. It’s a similar restaurant but has its own kitchen, its own staff, its own soul.

Interpret it as you will, but I found this broth thinner and saltier than what I’d grown accustomed to in North Park. It also seemed heavier on the guajillo chili pepper, which left it a more orange hue and a bit of fruity tang relative to the earthy, red, savory broth I preferred.

At $10.50, Chula Vista’s El Comal charges a buck less for pozole than its San Diego counterpart, and parking’s often easier to come by. But that North Park pozole is better.

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