By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Lolita’s Mexican Food, more than three decades serving San Diego
Lolita’s Mexican Food is one of the longest-running chains of Mexican eateries in San Diego County, right up there in age with Rubio’s and Roberto’s. In fact, there’s a coincidental connection to the latter.
One of the Lolita’s claims to fame is its carne asada, which is made with a secret blend of spices that not even most of the employees know.
“It’s premixed for us,” said Juan Farfan, whose parents Joaquin and Delores (Lolita) founded the eatery 34 years ago in Chula Vista. There are now six locations, with Downtown nearing its 10th anniversary, plus a new 20-foot food truck the family recently debuted for large private events.
Farfan is one of six children who help their parents run the business. His late grandfather on his mother’s side, Roberto Robledo, was the founder of Roberto’s Taco Shop, which has 60 locations throughout the Western states. Farfan emphasizes, however, there are no shared recipes between Lolita’s and Roberto’s.
Tucked behind Petco Park amid proliferating condo developments, the Downtown outpost of Lolita’s boasts a warm, industrial design featuring stained concrete flooring, raised banquettes, and stylish lighting fixtures dangling from a lofty ceiling. There is also a roomy bar offering a half-dozen beers on tap.
A carne asada burrito was indeed a high point in my recent lunch visit, when a line snaked out the door from the order counter. Whatever the well-guarded spice blend, it tasted subtle rather than mysterious. What really stood out was the finer-than-normal mince of the meat and its tender texture. Nary a chewy piece of gristle anywhere.
The chile relleno my vegetarian friend ordered was a beauty. In classic Puebla style, the poblano pepper was stuffed with buttery white cheese, likely Monterey Jack, and encased in fluffy egg batter. From its stem to pointy bottom, the pepper cut easily with our plastic ware sans any stringy, tough spots—exactly my kind of chile relleno.
Choose whole pinto beans over re-fried if you’re anti-lard. Otherwise revel in the rich thickness of the fat-laced version, which I felt could have withstood a few extra touches of garlic and cumin in their making.
I had them on a combo plate with decent Mexican rice and three rolled tacos packed densely with all-white chicken meat. The thin, fluted taco shells were crispy and remarkably non-greasy. Though deep-fried, I would’ve guessed they were baked.
And therein lies the difference between Lolita’s and your everyday taco shop. The food is decidedly leaner and cleaner. Nothing we ate left an oily film on our lips, which may not appeal to those seeking naughtier Mexican food after a night of heavy drinking. Just as well because Lolita’s closes each day at 10 p.m., long before club-goers start their late-night food crawls.
Other items we tried included a hefty vegetarian burrito stuffed with whole pinto beans, guacamole, lettuce and tomatoes. Shredded cheese was also included, although it was scant.
My carnitas taco offered a generous piling of the pork, well above the tablespoon quantities you receive in omnipresent street tacos. The meat was tender and delicious, as was the exquisitely spiced adobada pork scattered between two corn tortillas in what’s known as a mulita. Appearing as a footnote on the menu, and best eaten with a fork and knife, it also features onions and fresh cilantro inside.
Lolita’s passed the salsa-bar test in my book. It features halved limes, green onions, sliced radishes, a mild green salsa and a hot, saucy red one that I couldn’t help pour onto everything.
Alternatives to tacos and burritos include tortas made with rolls from a local bakery; chimichangas filled with chicken or carne asada; various quesadillas; and french fries smothered in assorted toppings, including a “tsunami” version that mixes grilled shrimp with carne asada.
The eatery opens daily at 8 a.m., which means you’ll also find a decent selection of breakfast burritos.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.