Hacienda de Vega
Rancho Santa Fe Plaza eatery is simultaneously upscale and downhome
Posted on June 17, 2019
Hacienda de Vega has long been heralded by the local food intelligentsia for its masterfully multi-faceted approach to Mexican cuisine. Classically common north-of-the-border dishes like tacos and enchiladas feature Mexican cheeses in lieu of an American Cheddar-Jack blend, mole and vibrant salsas instead of tomato-based condiments. But it’s not all about traditionalism. The family of eateries has perpetually dared to go outside the box, winning new fans in the process. Their colorful array of house margaritas were some of the first to incorporate spicy peppers and other avant-garde flavor enhancers. It’s a long-running and successful balancing act of old and nueva that few broadly-appealing Mexican restaurants can touch, and it’s on display at the business’ most luxurious and architecturally-rich outpost in Rancho Santa Fe Plaza.
The restaurant is warm and welcoming, with glowy lighting, curved leather chairs, flowing fountains, and mature jacarandas. It represents an aesthetic evolution while staying in line with the hominess at the heart of the operation. That down-home nature starts in the kitchen with from-scratch sauces and slow-cookery, resulting in downright luscious proteins tasting more like they’ve been pulled from abuelita’s cocina than a turn-and-burn professional kitchen. A key example is Carnitas Michoacan, succulent chunks of moist, meaty pork primed and ready for stuffing into sturdy corn tortillas. Grilled tampiqueña (filet strip) and fajitas are done with literal and figurative flair, but it’s not all about the carne. Seafood dishes abound, from shrimp in a spicy tequila sauce to achiote-rubbed swordfish steak baked in a banana leaf.
Of course, any good Mexican meal out starts with appetizers. Tilapia tostadas, queso fundido spiked with chorizo and poblano chiles, and a medley of sopes (masa discs topped with seasoned proteins or vegetables) make for delicious starters. And the aforementioned break from the norm is on display in a plate of chicken mole fries, fat potato batons draped in chocolaty Oaxacan mole-dressed chicken and crumbled queso cotija. All that’s missing is a margarita, but with a variety more robust than just about anywhere, that won’t be a problem. Salud! 760.738.9804, haciendadevega.com/ranchosantafe Brandon Hernández
Photo by Vincent Knakal