This essay is part of the series, Latinland USA, a Tiki Tiki guide to the Latin flavor of cities across the USA.
Bienvenidos to my city. I am Nacho Mama, native San Diegan and your guide to some of the gems of America’s Lower West Side.
For those of you who are not from San Diego, or do not live here, our unofficial, inescapable moniker is “America’s Finest City.” If memory serves, the city was deemed so by some magazine in the 1970s and folks just ran with it. While it is undoubtedly a very fine city, the title has always sat a little awkwardly with us natives — sort of the way you’d feel if your spouse went around every day in a trucker cap that reads “#1 LOVER.”
I’ve always gotten a giggle from extrapolating that everything in San Diego must therefore be “America’s Finest” like, the tap water, the traffic, the strip malls — all America’s Finest!
The truth is there is some really great stuff going on here, particularly in the Latin lifestyle arena, and I do believe we have a unique point of view to offer the American culture-at-large.
Let’s start with the food, shall we?
Mexican Hot Chocolate and Sweets
With the weather getting cooler, I have had such a hankering for Mexican Hot Chocolate. Only one place to go when that happens! Down to National City, which is only about 10 minutes from downtown SD, to one of my favorite stores in town: Gonzales Northgate Market (1410 S 43rd St-right off the 805).
If you live in SD or LA and have never patronized this chain of 30 stores? Go. Now. They are Huge. And they have fabulous ready made foods with an in-store Taqueria, Ceviche Bar, Salsa Bar and Bakery (Tres Leches cake!!) And you can get authentic Mexican candies like coconut-stuffed limes! Find the coffee aisle and you’ll immediately smell Mexican Hot Chocolate. From, like, 50 feet away! I think they have at least four brands.
And if you love chicharrones? You can get one as big as my toddler!
Best Mexican Food
I’ve been eating at both of these establishments since I was in a high chair. Both feature delicious, homemade tortillas and fabulous food. It’s really just a matter of working them into the rest of your vacation plans. If you’re headed to beautiful and fun Balboa Park or the beach be sure and pick up some of Porkyland’s legendary carnitas. They really are the best ever!
And if you’re heading down to Barrio Logan to check out the beautiful art of Chicano Park, then you’ll definitely want to grab lunch at Cuatro Milpas. My favorite thing there is actually the rice, it just makes everything taste better!
Chicano Park was founded in 1970 at the base of the San Diego-Coronado bridge and features beautiful murals by local artists depicting the history of Mexican –Americans, particularly in California. It’s really worth seeing and is located right off of Interstate 5.
Balboa Park, created for the 1915 Pan American Exposition, is a beautiful architectural gem your family will love, full of lush gardens and museums. One of my favorites is definitely the Centro Cultural de la Raza, located in a converted water tank at 2004 Park Blvd. They have many exhibits celebrating the art and culture of all Latinos.
I hope that gives you just a few places to add to your itinerary next time you come down to San Diego! We have way more to offer beyond Old Town and Sea World. Be sure and send me a tweet @shesnachomama when you get here and I’ll be happy to point you to someplace you’ll love!
Wishing you happy travels with extra cheese.
Margo Porras is many things: mom, wife, designer, Latina, blogger (or bloguera), and more. She likes to think of herself as “Nate Berkus meets Charo at the Metropolitan Museum.” So far, she has lived a life full of design, salsa and belly laughs, with just enough drama to make her want to stick around until the end. Connect and read more at Nacho Mama’s Blog.