Mean Beans

Family-owned since 1993, Los Reyes is a fixture atop Broadway, in the heart of Golden Hill.
  • Family-owned since 1993, Los Reyes is a fixture atop Broadway, in the heart of Golden Hill.

Los Reyes

2496 Broadway, Golden Hill

As a longtime San Diego resident, I’ve often been puzzled as to why, in a city full of amazing Mexican food stands, anyone would go to Taco Bell or Jack in the Box. Why order a tasteless corn shell filled with ground-up, premade “meat-matter,” when you can get fresh, made-to-order carne asada tacos with guacamole made from real avocados? That’s one of the joys of living in this border city.

I live close to not one but two such places. Humberto’s, on the northeast corner of 25th and Broadway, makes a mean bean, cheese, and guacamole burrito, served with either a smoky red or a zingy verde salsa. Los Reyes, on the northwest corner, satisfies even more, with its freshly prepared meat and seafood dishes.

Family-owned since 1993, Los Reyes is a fixture atop Broadway, in the heart of Golden Hill. While the restaurant’s ambiance leaves a lot to be desired, the friendliness and professionalism of the staff make up for the sterile dining area, which still bears traces of its former life as a fast-food drive-thru. In fact, it’s still often best to get your food to go, as the dining room can be overflowing with families and workers from downtown and the shipyards stopping off for a quick meal before heading home.

Los Reyes’ popularity comes from its fresh, well-seasoned fare. It bills itself as a seafood place, and dishes like Camarones al Mojo de Ajo ($8.49) — a garlicky, buttery shrimp concoction that comes with rice, beans, and your choice of corn or flour tortillas — are tasty, even if the crustaceans occasionally can be a bit rubbery. A savory crust surrounds whitefish fillets in the fish tacos ($2.79 each) and burritos ($3.99); both come with cabbage, pico de gallo, and a well-rounded, crema-based dressing. On summer evenings, the tacos go well with an icy beer on your front porch.

On a wintry afternoon last weekend, however, my son, husband, friend Brian, and I craved something more substantial from Los Reyes’ extensive menu. As usual, we decided on takeout, since there weren’t any open tables — there was also a loud soccer game blaring on the TV in a corner of the seating area.

Meltingly tender strips of beef mixed with peppery red salsa and creamy guacamole...meats are where Los Reyes shines.

Meltingly tender strips of beef mixed with peppery red salsa and creamy guacamole...meats are where Los Reyes shines.

We got our food and traipsed home to chow down. Brian is a chilaquile aficionado, so even though it wasn’t breakfast time, he opted for Los Reyes’ version with verde sauce ($5.49). The portions here are gargantuan — when Brian took his container out of the bag it easily weighed over a pound. With thick-cut tortilla chips, scrambled eggs, and salsa verde, the chilaquiles, even without sides of rice and beans, is enough for two meals. Left on the grill longer than most, the chips are crunchy and chewy, redolent of the sauce and the pico de gallo with which they are fried. Brian gave me a bite, and I was impressed. All too often, with chilaquiles, the sauce is added too late, and they end up soggy. These held their shape to the last bite.

My son’s rolled potato tacos ($2.79), however, didn’t hold their crisp for long. Then again, he ordered them smothered in guacamole, crema, and cheese. These are serviceable, the potatoes lightly seasoned, not too spicy for little ones. But I couldn’t help thinking of the carbs they contained. They wouldn’t be my first choice.

As my husband unrolled his carne asada burrito ($4.49) to slather on salsa procured from Los Reyes’ salsa bar, the scented steam coming off the meat made my mouth water. He grudgingly gave me a taste. Meltingly tender strips of beef mixed with peppery red salsa and creamy guacamole. Meats are where Los Reyes shines. Arrayed in warming trays underneath the glass-fronted counter, the crispy carnitas, buche (pork stomach), and brick-red al pastor leave nothing to the imagination: what you see is what you get. Los Reyes prides itself on order and cleanliness, and there are no mysterious crusty bits to make you doubt the restaurant’s A rating. The carnitas, carne asada, and pollo asada can all be ordered by the pound, family-style, for $11.99.

My order of pollo asada sopes ($4.99), with beans, guacamole, crema, lettuce, tomato, pico de gallo, and cheddar cheese would put any fast-food place’s “tostadas” to shame. The sopes are three small but substantial corn platforms — thick tortillas, crunchy and chewy, and piled with fillings. They go down like hefty open-faced tacos. Pollo asada is the perfect meat, not so moist that it bogs down the base. The beans hold things together just long enough to take a bite. This is messy, messy food, but deeply gratifying.

So, while Los Reyes doesn’t come close to El Agave or Barrio Star — or even Jimmy Carter’s Mexican Cafe — in terms of ambiance, service, authenticity, or creativity, it does transcend the usual stand fare. With nary a chalupa in sight. ■

Los Reyes Mexican Food 2496 Broadway, Golden Hill, 619-231-0716

Vibe: spare, brightly lit inside dining; great takeout

Fare: Mexican seafood; tacos; burritos; combo plates; jugos naturales

Seating: 9 tables inside; 4 patio tables

Must Try: Chilaquiles verdes; sopes with pollo asado; breakfast burrito; anything with carne

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So let's list some reasons why: 1) Many people have lived here their whole life, have eaten at taco shops hundred of times and are tired of the same tasting food. 2) Taco shops don't sell salads or ice cream shakes. 3) Many taco shops are cash only. JITB takes credit cards. 4) Taco shops don't seem very clean. 5) Ordering through the drive through at taco shops is hard because you cannot understand the order taker over the static of their shitty intercoms. 6) Some people don't like Mexican food. 7) Taco shops are more expensive than JITB - most people can afford 2 tacos for $0.99, but many cannot afford $6 burritos.

It should be noted that, despite what is said in the review, this location was never a drive-through restaraunt. Normally this would be such a trivial thing but the backstory on this is deep. The building was built as a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in the 60s. In the 90s they wanted to build a drive-through and proposed various plans to accomplish this. KFC needed the approval of the Golden Hill Planning Group, and this became the most controversial issue ever brought before the Committee. Timed with the Comittee elections, over half the Committee members lost their seats because their support of KFC did not match the neighboorhood's distaste for having drive-throughs in what should be a walkable area. The reason Los Reyes in in this spot is that KFC abandoned this location in favor of one on Market Street where they could have their drive-through, as well as incorporating their other corporate brands. An ugly building remains as KFC's legacy, but it is good that a well-reviewed restaraunt has taken it over. Perhaps someday someone will build a nicer building that meets current aesthetics, such as being built to the front of the lot in an urban and pedestrian-friendly manner.

Yess!! I'm so happy this place got a review in the reader! Los Reyes is definitely one of the best taco shops in San Diego and deserves the recognition! Definitely an upper echelon taco shop due to awesome food plus great, friendly customer service. Los Reyes> humbertos, la fachada, el paisa, etc. because they can speak ENGLISH,make things your way and don't make it seem like a burden, and they have the king burrito..best burrito in SD!

The KFC on Market is very attractive. You haven't quite got your facts straight, hardcover, about the process that drove KFC elsewhere, to build an attractive addition to the neighborhood on Market street, with plenty of free parking, and a nice, aesthetic setback. Your actions, along with the GGHCDC seemingly lifetime busybodies, who seem to think they own everything in GGH, resulted in retaining the old building that houses the great Los Reyes. Congrats. Here ya go - Aug 1, 2000, Council chambers (Continued from the meeting of June 27, 2000, Item 330, at the request of Councilmember Juan Vargas, for further review): "Tricon Incorporated filed an application for an amendment to the Golden Hill Planned District Ordinance (GHPDO) to add an exception for a drive-thru facility as an accessory use for a dinein, pedestrian oriented restaurant within the 25th Street Commercial Corridor. The Golden Hill Planned District Ordinance does not permit drive-thru facilities. Tricon, Inc. proposes to demolish an existing KFC restaurant located at the northwest corner of Broadway and 25th Street and construct a new 2,596 square-foot KFC restaurant with drive-thru service. The proposed new KFC does not meet all the development standards of the Golden Hill Planned District Ordinance, therefore Tricon is also requesting deviations to the required minimum lot coverage, street wall, transparency, parking off alley and signage. A Golden Hill Planned District Ordinance (GHPDO) permit is required for approval of the deviations. The City Manager Recommends: DENIAL of the Amendment to the Golden Hill PDO to add an exception for drive-thru facilities. APPROVAL of GHPDO permit No. 96-7583 with removal of the drive-thru feature.

The Greater Golden Hill Planning Committee has recommended denial of this project.

Testimony in favor [of City mgr's recommendation] by Rebecca Michael, Jeff Looker, David Luxton, Debra Whaley, Robert Underwood, Kimberly Rible, Bonnie Poppe, Paige Burtson, Robert Fauella, Laura Haynes, Michael Braddon, Erik Hanson, Bill Munster, John Stall, Gary Roberts, Kathryn Willetts, Amy Weinsheim, Harmon Nelson, Debbie Stall, Connie McDonough, Kimberly D'Souza, Tonya McCoy, Dr. Craig Dunn, Pat Bates, Cindy Ireland, Judy Forman, Tony Ornelas, Nick Pearce, Al Ruppert, Gail MacLeod, Anne Riedman, Kim Grant, Joe Grant."

Long live Los Reyes,... we love you and your old, funky leased building, set back from the street, with lots of free parking! But too bad we have to go all the way to Market Street for KFC.

I wouldn't eat at KFC if it was free.

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