Where Our City Began

| February 3, 2014 | 0 Comments


Old Town and Fiesta de Reyes is popular to tourists and local guests

Old Town and Fiesta de Reyes is popular to tourists and local guests

Casa de Reyes in Old

Town San Diego“When the weather is good, the people come out,” Jose Pulido said proudly, as he surveyed a sea of tables where customers were obviously enjoying his cuisine. Pulido is the executive chef of Fiesta de Reyes (the party of kings), a complex of restaurants, bar, shops and hotel in Old Town San Diego.

The history of the area goes back a long way, all the way back to the time of the founding of our state. California began in Old Town San Diego in the early 18th century, when Father Serra landed here to establish the first of the 21 missions he would build across the state. Years later, in the 1820s, a community was formed. In 1846, an American flag was raised in the plaza.
The city grew as people came, attracted by the weather, the land and the opportunities. Old Town San Diego retained its historical significance. In 1968, the area was designated “Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.” It was leased out and developed into one of the most popular tourist attractions in the nation, full of shops and restaurants, loaded with color, beautiful trees and foliage, and full of music and gaiety.

“It is a party! There is always lots going on, lots of people and tons of fun,” Maria Orozco told me. She is in charge of making sure that her customers are happy. Her enthusiasm bubbles over.

The complex consists of three sections. The first, Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant, is a bed-and-breakfast in a gorgeous renovated home that was first built in 1827, almost 200 years ago. One can almost hear the hoofbeats of the horses from when the building served as a stagecoach stop.

The second – Barra Barra Saloon — is a saloon, a great place to enjoy margaritas and snack on Mexican food in the historic setting. On walking out of the saloon, one encounters shops selling everything from special pastries to wooden toys to nuts.
But, if going from “nuts to soup,” head over to Casa de Reyes, the “house of kings,” referring to the great kings who ruled Spain. There is some indoor seating but the choice place to enjoy dining is in the courtyard, wonderful on warm days or evenings and made comfortable at cooler times by an army of space heaters.

Fiesta de Reyes, the complex, is now owned by Chuck Ross, a local entrepreneur who owned the Boat House on Harbor Island and the South Bay Fish & Grill in Chula Vista. He and Chef Pulido have worked together for many years. Ross took the complex over and is doing a good job restoring it to its former great popularity.

Chef Pulido is a local. He grew up in Oceanside and learned the business from the ground up in his father’s Mexican restaurants. He worked as a sous chef in a number of locations and even served at Petco Park, where fans enjoyed his skills. Then he returned to work with his old friend, Chuck Ross.

Chef Pulido’s culinary roots lie in Michoacan flavors. This region of Mexico has had strong influence on the national cuisine and many of the dishes hale back to it. For example, wheat tortillas are offered, rather than the usual flour or corn varieties. This makes them lighter, tastier and perhaps healthier. Pork is popular, especially as chunks served as carnitas. Since the region abounds in lakes and rivers, there is even a tradition of fish and seafood. “We experiment every day with moles and other dishes to improve what we make and to please our guests. We are even working now on barbeque sauces to use in some of our new dishes,” Chef Pulido assured me.

A margarita is great for relaxing before dinner. The classic carriage comes in a large tumbler, made with 1800 reposada tequila and a range of juices to add flavor, including agave nectar. It is served with or without salt. For serious drinking, try the El Jefe margarita – 58 ounces for two or more to share. Mexican and domestic beers are also available.

Guacamole dip is a tasty and healthy appetizer, the vegetable fat nature loves. Made with cilantro and lime, the subtle flavor of the avocado springs out atop the accompanying corn chips. Other lighter fare includes a hearty fire roasted chicken tortilla soup with cheese and cilantro. Or try the Mexican Caesar salad, with pico de gallo to give it the “south of the border” taste.
Tacos, tamales, enchiladas and fajitas are all on the menu, made in the Michoacan way. Pork, chicken and beef are all available. Tilapia, sea bass and shrimp are among the seafood ingredients used by Chef Pulido. But I wanted a dish I had not experienced before.

Relleno de chile con carne attracted my eyes. This is a pasilla chile, with thicker and softer skin. Stuffed with seasoned ground beef, several types of cheese, roasted and topped with a red enchilada sauce. I love the customary chile relleno, usually just topped with cheese. But this dish gave me cheese flavor from the inside of a fluffy delicious chile “shell” – a dish that was unique, large and wonderful.

For dessert, try the flan. Or, better yet, order the sweet churros with a chocolate dipping sauce. It’s marvelous!
Breakfast is served until noon daily. There is a limited menu brunch on Sundays, when a folklorico dance troupe performs to add to the festive gaiety. During the week, strolling mariachis perform at dinner.

Prices are inexpensive, making this a great family dining treat. The restaurant is located in the Old Town State Historic Park on Juan Street between Wallace and Mason. It is just a block from the Old Town Trolley Station. Call 619-297-3100 for information. Unfortunately, reservations are not accepted.

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