When the server placed it on my table, she warned me the platter would be sizzling hot. I appreciated that. And also the fact it was shaped like a cow.
213 Highland Avenue, National City
It’s place called Not Your Momma’s, short for, “Good home cooking, just not your momma’s.”
Owner and chef Michael Harwig is a veteran, and his casual National City restaurant sits a mile from the Navy’s harbor installations, catering to military and more permanent locals. One way he pledges to do this: if you’re hankering for a dish momma used to make, tell Harwig a general recipe, and he’ll make it for you.
I was content to stick to the regular menu, described as classic American diner “with some Hispanic flair.” Breakfast is served all day, including biscuits & gravy, chicken fried steak, and breakfast burritos. Lunch and dinner go into burgers, hot dogs, hot sandwiches including pulled pork BBQ, Italian beef, and cheesesteaks.
There’s also a birria section on the menu, and that’s where I found the cow platter; technically a bull. Dubbed El Senor Guajillo ($12.70), it’s a birria stewed with “crushed beef” machaca, tomatoes, onions, and chilis, charred on the grill, topped with avocado slices, and served alongside chilaquiles and refried black beans. I added a sunny side up egg to the chilaquiles for $1.75.
I liked this dish for the bovine platter; I really liked it for the grilled birria. It reminded me a bit of the Caribbean dish, ropa vieja, except served with a calentador of hot corn tortillas. It reminded me I’m a sucker for any deft combination of charry beef, stewed tomato, and spice. The sizzling hot bull and avocado were just a bonus.
The tortillas in the chilaquiles were chopped into small squares and simmered in salsa verde — they mixed well with the egg, but needed a little more heat to keep up with the red spice on the other side of the generously portioned plate. If chilaquiles aren’t your thing, you can always sub in hash browns, or swap toast for the tortillas.
Or swap the birria for enchiladas. Or decide between french toast and pancakes. The place is accommodating like that. Harwig’s homestyle cooking may not, in fact, be just like your momma’s, but I bet she’d approve.