Citizens of San Diego have a very special relationship with Old Town. It is where the city was founded. In 1769, Father Junipero Serra established the first of 21 missions that he established up and down the state. Fifty years later, a small village developed that grew into a town. In 1846, the American flag was raised in Old Town. In 1968, the State of California established Old Town Historical State Park to preserve the heritage of the area, particularly the Mexican influence.
Diane Powers obtained the right to develop stores and restaurants as Bazaar Del Mundo in the Park. She was highly successful, building the Park into one of the most popular tourist attractions in the nation. Her restaurants became very popular for the high quality of Mexican food and the beautiful décor that Powers designed for the interiors of her locations.
Years later, Powers was unfortunately outbid and lost the right to operate her venues. But she retained the right to Casa Guadalajara. And she eventually regrouped by reopening her restaurants in new and successful locations.
Casa Guadalajara, though, is one of my personal favorites. I’ve dined there many times during its more than 20 years in business. It has it all — amazing décor, with colorful flowers, pots and wall hangings that create a south-of-the-border ambiance that radiates the sunny shores of Puerto Vallarta or Cancun. The menu lists dishes that reflect the different regions of Mexico, where climates and agriculture lead to unique local tastes. And, to top it all off, there’s entertainment, often in the form of mariachis who stroll through the restaurant, instruments in hand, to play one’s favorite Mexican melodies. My favorite – the intense guitar strumming and moving vocals of “Malaguena Salerosa.”
The mariachi band has played at the restaurant for 20 years, under its leader, Luciano Rodriquez. The group plays over 2,000 songs and the most requested song is “Son de La Negra.”
The interior of the restaurant is warm and welcoming but my preference, when I can, is to dine outdoors. Casa Guadalajara has a garden room on one side and an outdoor patio on the other. The patio has trees and fountains that are beautiful to see and fun for children to play at.
The award winning executive chef, Jose Duran, has been in charge of the kitchen for many years, creating and offering amazing Mexican cuisine. What comes out of the kitchen in not only tasty but looks so good.
When first seated at the table, a server will bring over a large basket of tortilla chips and salsa for dipping. Don’t fill up, although the chips are so good that it is tempting. On the other hand, they go so well with the selection of cocktails. In addition to most of the popular libations, the bar holds over 50 types of tequila — perfect for sampling. The margaritas are generous, large goblets, that can set the tone for a wonderful meal.
Appetizers also go well with cocktails. Nachos are always tasty, tortilla chips topped with cheese, beans, guacamole, and sour cream. Or try the traditional ceviche, marinated fish “cooked” by citrus juices, with avocado, tomato, cilantro and more.
There is a selection of soups and salads. For not-so-light but lighter fare, try the delicious Tostada de Jalisco, a large flour tortilla topped with chicken or beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese and avocado.
But when eating gets serious, fajitas beacon. Chicken, beef and shrimp are grilled for individual servings or in combinations and are presented on a sizzling platter, along with tortillas, bell peppers, mushroom, tomato and avocado. Rice and beans are on the side. One gets the pleasure of rolling one’s own, combining the ingredients in soft tacos to one’s desire. It’s definitely a fun dish.
The huge menu covers a broad dining spectrum — entrees feature carnes (beef), mariscos (seafood), pollo (chicken) and puerco (pork) creatively presented in a variety of ways. To me, though, the true flavor of Mexico comes out in the “combinations” of tacos and enchiladas served with rice and beans. My favorite – always include chile relleno, a large chile stuffed with cheese. Simply delicious. And don’t overlook the chicken mole enchiladas in the “favorites” section of the menu, pulled chicken served with traditional mole poblano sauce.
Desserts include the traditional flan, a custard, and deep fried ice cream.
The restaurant is open for lunch and even serves breakfast until 2 pm. There are daily specials and a happy hour. And the restaurant has perhaps the most important commodity in Old Town, free parking. That alone is a great motivator to frequent the venue.
So, when planning for “food, fun and entertainment” in the new year, plan on enjoying this restaurant. It offers the entire package, at prices so reasonable that it is great for family dining. Casa Guadalajara is located at 4105 Taylor Street San Diego, CA. 92110, at the corner of Taylor and Juan St. Easiest access is off Highway 8. Call (619) 295.5111 for more information.