El Charco

By Katherine

Every now and then, my job sends me to the courthouse in Chula Vista, which is in the southernmost part of San Diego County, nestled right next to the Mexico border.  Although this means more commute time for me, I always get a little excited about heading down there, because there is a lot of truly great Mexican food nearby.  On my most recent trip to Chula Vista, I know just where I wanted to grab lunch:  El Charco.  I recruited my friend Marissa, who is always game for a food adventure, and we set out in search of new and tasty bites from our neighbors down south. 

El Charco is a relatively new restaurant -- I believe it opened in December 2012 -- and it bills itself as "Mexico City Style Tacos."  I was tipped off to its existence by this thread on Chowhound, where I am an obsessive lurker and infrequent poster.  We have taco shops serving carne asada (steak), carnitas (pork), and pollo asado (chicken) tacos and burritos on nearly every corner in San Diego. But from what I had read, I knew El Charco had some unique items on its menu. 

First up:  chicharron de queso, or fried cheese.  When I hear fried cheese, I immediately think of those breaded mozzarella sticks from TGI Friday's/Chili's/Applebee's/etc. This is an entirely different animal. 

 

Chicharron de queso

Chicharron de queso

It is almost like a thin crepe made of crispy cheese. The appearance and texture reminded me a bit of a South Indian dosa, since it is very light but a bit crackly.  El Charco served it with fresh, chunky guacamole, which was an excellent accompaniment.  It's like eating chips and guacamole, except the chips are made out of cheese.  Marissa and I decided that it is heaven.  For any of you out there who must try this but are not within reach of El Charco, it looks like Rick Bayless has a solid recipe here

For my main course, I chose the sopes, which are thick corn tortillas topped with refried beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream.  I had my choice of meats, and I decided to sample a variety, with one sope each of chorizo, al pastor, and carne asada. 

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The sopes themselves were great -- crisp on the outside but soft in the middle. My favorite meat of the three was the chorizo, which was salty and spicy and delicious.  Our meal also came with a delightful assortment of fresh salsas and garnishes, which I enjoyed experimenting with on the sopes.   

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I think my favorite was the thin avocado salsa, which is second to right on the bottom row.  

Marissa ordered the alambres, which is meat skewered and grilled with bell peppers, onions, and bacon.  At El Charco, It is then served off the skewer over fresh tortillas, and you have the option of adding cheese (it was a cheesy kind of day, so Marissa said yes please).  Again, you have your choice of meats, and our waitress suggested chuleta, or pork chop, so Marissa went with that. 

Alambres de chuleta

Alambres de chuleta

This was seriously delicious, and a very hearty portion -- order this at your own risk if you have to go back to work afterward.  This was also a great dish for dressing up with the various salsas to cut through the richness of the pork, cheese, and bacon.  We left this meal totally stuffed and eager to go back to try more of the menu.  I should also note that the staff at El Charco was very helpful and friendly, even though we were two pretty clueless gringas.  I can't wait until I get sent to Chula Vista again for work!