Perpetual sunshine, beaches, and craft beer are things San Diegans cherish about living in America’s Finest City. For many, there’s one thing that falls right in line with (and for some, outshines) them all — great Mexican food. There is no version quite like the tasty and unique Anlgo-spanic cuisine pumped out at hundreds of restaurants across San Diego County, and all who are foolish enough to move away quickly find themselves remotely lamenting its unavailability. But as good as it is, it’s not typically given the meticulous, chef level of respect of other regional cooking styles like French or Italian. Until now. Enter chef Antonio Frisica and his new eatery, Don Chido.
Friscia hails from downtown nightclub Stingaree, which had a fabulous but almost completely ignored culinary program, and most recently, Gaijin, a combo yakitori and noodle house in the Gaslamp Quarter. Thanks to his focus on using the finest ingredients and making everything from scratch using his skilled and seasoned hands, his food has always impressed. Now, he’s taking on San Diego-style Mexican food — of all things — and doing justice to something humble without tweaking it beyond recognition or, more impressively, pricing it out of the stratosphere; surprising for an eatery located on downtown’s Fifth Avenue thoroughfare.
The menu is stocked with items that are familiar to any San Diegan worth their margarita salt — tacos, enchiladas, carnitas, and even a burrito and torta. Like any solid Mexican meal, everything starts off with chips and salsa. The gratis house variety is smoky and, although Don Chido offers a salsa sampler featuring three versions — tomato, tomatillo, chile de arbol — it’s still the best option. Order the guacamole, which is creamy, tangy, studded with queso fresco, and good on any dish you order post-chip basket. Another must-order starter is the pork shoulder mojo, but share it. This decadent mixture of tender, succulent, cheese-laden swine is divine.
Tacos that are billed as “street” but are larger than those found on Revolucíon, are stuffed with fish so much more flavorful than bland Pollock and Alaskan cod. Sticking with seafood, a scallop-stuffed chile relleno lathed in a rich cream sauce is filling and delicious, and Shrimp Diablo is fruity and tasty, though not as spicy as the name would imply, and is served over a heaping mound of vegetables.
An ancho chile-based mole served with chicken (or anything you like if ordered on the side, which is highly recommended) is sweet, chocolaty, and dosed with plenty of earthy cinnamon. The humble but essential beans and rice are on-point. Also, when it comes to drinks, there’s a brilliant assortment of mezcals and tequilas, and beers go far beyond Dos Equis and familiares típicas. Craft beer, including the perfect match for this cuisine — Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin — is widely available.
Don Chido’s carnitas taste authentic if not a bit dry (though the crunchy exterior is a treat) and some dishes suffer from a bit too much over-caramelized roasted garlic, but those are the few knocks on what is a very tasty addition to Downtown that fits like a glove — or maybe a colorful lucha libre mask. (619.232.8226, www.donchido.com) Brandon Hernández