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Taco ‘Bout Escondido 

Mi Guadalajara offers libations that pair well with their hearty entrees.

If Escondido residents want a little taste of Mexico, they don’t need a passport. 

They can head to the Mercado District just west of downtown, where the distinct and robust smell of fajitas will hit their noses as soon as they enter Mi Guadalajara.

Or they can hear the adobada pork sizzle on the griddle as it is flipped into tiny tortillas for a tasty treat at TJ Tacos

Or, they can do it themselves and buy pounds of the best marinated flap carne asada this side of the border at Kennedy’s Meat Co

And if they’re looking for a twist of traditional Mexican fare, they can stop into Craft and Taco Lounge for a taco that has no meat at all - but is still very tasty.

Yes, throughout Escondido, taco shops, restaurantes de maricos, and Mexican food eateries dot the landscape giving residents an opportunity to taste distinct flavors and styles that you would find south of the border. 

“There’s definitely a lot of great options here in Escondido, and people love their Mexican food,” said Mark Mendoza, owner of Kennedy’s Meat Co., a beloved institution on East Valley Parkway. “We love it here. There’s just been a tremendous amount of support, lifelong friends, great relationships. Our customers have built our business for us.”

Kennedy’s spawned from a former grocery store that was next door with the same namesake, run by Mark’s grandparents, Jesus and Rosa Soto.  

The name of the grocery store and meat market has a special connection to the family as its patriarch, Jesus, came to America on a temporary work visa, gained his residency, and was able to get a loan from the US Small Business Administration which paved the way for his first store in Imperial Valley. Jesus Soto named it after the president who he felt made it possible to do all of this, the late John F. Kennedy.

After the grocery store’s run ended in 2017, Mendoza opened the meat market and restaurant in November of that same year. 

Mendoza, who grew up in Imperial County, moved to Escondido in 2007 when his grandparents opened Kennedy’s. He said staying in Escondido was a “no brainer.”

“We moved literally next door, and through word of mouth, the response was tremendous,” he said. 

Mendoza said the store’s most popular item is a no brainer, too: the carne asada. 

The marinated flap meat (he uses his grandfather’s longtime recipe) used in traditional Mexican dishes flies off the shelves and is a hit in the restaurant, where carne asada tacos, burritos, and carne asada fries are the most popular dishes. 

“Our top three movers all involve our asada,” Mendoza said. “I am head over heels for our fries. They are thick-cut, battered, and delicious and we top them with jalapeno queso and carne asada, they’re amazing.”

Just a little west of Kennedy’s is TJ Tacos, which like Kennedy’s has developed a loyal following. 

In fact, TJ Tacos customers sing the restaurant’s praises on social media reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other sites, where it is consistently rated as one of the best taco shops in North County.

TJ Tacos' menu is full of Mexican staples, but it is best known for its grilled pork, or adobada

“What's not to love?  Great prices, great service, great tacos,” one reviewer wrote, while another exclaimed the shop had the “BEST tacos in North San Diego!!!”

But while Kennedy’s claim to fame is its asada, the traditional Tijuana-style taqueria is best known for its grilled pork, or adobada. 

Grilled on a vertical rotisserie that is topped with a pineapple, the slow-cooked pork is a staple in Mexican restaurants. But TJ Tacos, which opened in January 2016, has struck gold with its recipe. 

“We do the real authentic tacos like you would have them in Mexico,” said Amir Hanna, the son of owner Sabah Hanna. “TJ is one of the cities in the world with the best tacos and we wanted to bring the authentic flavors and recipes, and that’s why I think people like our business.”

“People love our adobada tacos,” Hanna continues. “They also like our more exotic options like cow tongue, beef and pork stomach, and other meats that you would find in traditional taco shops.”

TJ Tacos, which almost always has a line, has been looking to expand into other North County cities, but Hanna said they are happy to call Escondido home. 

“It’s a great place, there are a lot of cultures here and a lot of different people, we are really happy to be here in Escondido,” he said. 

Another new member of Escondido’s taco avant-garde is Craft and Taco Lounge, located in downtown on West Valley Parkway. 

But while TJ Tacos has kept to tradition, owner Yovany Payan has pushed the envelope of gourmet tacos, expanding into more contemporary flavors and styles. 

Fish lovers crave the blackened mahi-mahi tacos, while shrimp lovers can feast on the “Escondido Coco Loco” coconut shrimp tacos. 

And for the increasingly growing vegan and vegetarian crowds, Payan has that covered too. 

Girlfriend and co-owner Denell Falk said the most popular fares at the eatery, which they call a “gourmet taco restaurant,” are the Portobellini, Chile Relleno and Buffalo Zucchini tacos - all vegan and vegetarian options. 

“We do have traditional tacos, but it’s kind of a California twist on traditional tacos,” Falk said. “My boyfriend is from Mexico, and he has been to a lot of places where they have gourmet taco concepts, and he’s taken from those different restaurants and made it a little different.”

Falk said that she believes the restaurant’s family, kid, and pet-friendly atmosphere also keeps the customers coming back.

“We are really fun and like to have fun while we sell our food,” she said. 

While Craft and Taco Lounge has been in Escondido for a little over a year, our last featured restaurant has become an institution in the city - Mi Guadalajara. 

Opened in 1985 in a small space that catered to 40 to 50 guests, today the two-story restaurant owned by Antonio and Alicia Ruvucalba sees hundreds of guests per day at the 2nd Avenue location where they have been since 2003.

Mi Guadalajara has been at its 2nd Avenue location since 2003

The Ruvucalba family over the years has developed a passionate following of people who annually celebrate their birthday, to groups of friends who come to watch football on Sundays, to families whose generations have come in to enjoy the traditional Mexican cuisine. 

“I feel like people have kept coming back obviously because of the food, but also because of how my parents have done business,” said Alicia Ruvucalba, the restaurant’s general manager and daughter of the owners. “They are very hard workers and they taught us that as well.”

As for the food, the distinct sizzle of fajitas is almost immediate when you walk into the restaurant, as it is by far the most popular dish. 

Others swear by the molcajetes, described in the menu as “strips of tender grilled chicken or steak in our famous spicy roasted tomato and Mexican chili sauce. Served in a molcajete bowl along with grilled cactus, fresh Mexican cheese, and a savory green onion. Accompanied with guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo.”

It has a kick to it, Ruvucalba said. 

“It’s one of my favorites,” she said. “I always tell our customers if you are looking for something with a kick, then a molcajete is it.”

Like many of the city’s Mexican restaurants, Mi Guadalajara prides itself on its family-friendly atmosphere and its traditional Mexican vibes. Friday nights, guests are serenaded by mariachi guitarists.

And the restaurant is big in the birthday business. 

“I don’t know how many times we sing happy birthday each day,” she said. 

Alicia said she doesn’t remember what drove her parents to open the restaurant in Escondido, but they chose never to leave because of the loyal customer base, great energy in the city, and above all, this was home.

“We always say that God told my dad to go to Escondido,” she said. “It was a great decision.”

Learn more at Visit Escondido.

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