12865 El Camino Real, Del Mar
I am perfectly happy eating every meal at a taco shop with some variation of “bertos” on it, but yellow-and-red-striped huts with Formica tables and vending machines for 50-cent tattoos are only going to appeal to a certain type of traveler. When out-of-towners arrive, I’m grateful for Diane Powers.
She runs the Bazaar del Mundo and Casa Guadalajara in Old Town, Casa de Pico in La Mesa, and opened up Casa Sol y Mar in the Del Mar Highlands shopping center a year ago.
Each place is different but provides the same basic premise: a loud, festive atmosphere complete with mariachis, lots of colorful flags, banners and Mexican artifacts strewn about, a wide selection of cocktails and beers, free chips and salsa, fast and friendly service, and satisfying Mexican food.
Living in La Mesa, we are happy going to Casa de Pico. On Memorial Day, we decided to take a vacation by going to the newer Casa Sol y Mar.
Most of the menu between Powers’ restaurants are the same — about 60 to 70 percent, according to a manager. That includes most of the combination plates that the majority of patrons are going to order.
I love chicken tacos, rice, and beans as much as the next person — especially if that other person is also me. But I wanted something different.
The seafood poblanos came highly recommended. It’s two poblano peppers charbroiled and filled with sautéed white fish, crab and shrimp in a jalapeño cheese sauce and topped with melted cheese.
I usually am not a fan of fish and cheese, but the spiciness of the peppers along with the creaminess of the sauce worked well with the seafood.
I also got a Mexican shrimp cocktail to share with my kids. Of course it has shrimp, but there’s also avocado, celery, tomatoes, cilantro, cucumbers, and onions, in a spicy, citrusy cocktail sauce.
My kids each tried one and then let me have the rest.
Another good appetizer: the bacon-wrapped, stuffed jalapeños. The peppers are grilled and then stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon. It’s creamy, it’s tangy, it’s gooey, it’s good.
Meanwhile, I’m trying not to gorge on chips and salsa — or better, chips with homemade guacamole.
We’ve had a bad streak of luck with avocados at our house recently — either too green or too old — so it was nice to have high-quality guac for a change.
It’s pretty easy to go vegan at Casa Sol y Mar (and the other Powers restaurants).
My wife ordered vegetarian fajitas, which are cooked in an achiote sauce. She liked them, but the plate was so full that she took plenty home with her.
My daughter got a combination plate with a cheese enchilada and a chicken taco. The enchilada sauce was thick and an inviting dark red. She was happy.
My son loves bean burritos. However, he honestly wasn’t thrilled with the one he got at Casa Sol y Mar, mainly because the handmade-on-premises tortillas were a little different than the premade kind used at most places.
I decided not to debate the point with him — he’s eight-years-old! — but buyer beware: if you prefer premade tortillas to the kind lovingly made by artisans at the restaurant and served just minutes after being made, Casa Sol y Mar may not be for you.
I am usually stuffed after I eat at a Diane Powers restaurant, but, because I held off on the chips a little more than usual, we were able to try the fried ice cream, topped with caramel sauce.
It’s a good dessert, but for me, the real treats were the margaritas. My wife got a traditional blended margarita — the adult version of the Slurpee — while I got the Spicy Cucumber.
It was exactly what Dr. Feelgood ordered: tequila, fresh lime, cucumber, agave, and Tapatío sauce. Alternately spicy, salty, and slightly sweet, it was a nice way to cap the day.