There’s no linen or silverware at Super Cocina: Comida Casera Mexicana just great food at great prices.
By Denise Seffens Romero and Fernando Romero
for The San Diego Union-Tribune –
November 6, 2003
San Diego has its share of good Mexican restaurants. But if you want excellent Mexican food at reasonable prices, then you might as well go to Tijuana.
Until now, that is.
Operating without pretense and thriving amid a resurgent mid-city neighborhood, the restaurant Super Cocina: Comida Casera Mexicana (Super Kitchen - Homemade Mexican Food) is a sensational find.
It offers Mexican food as it is meant to be – with all the right condiments, cooked to perfection. And here’s the kicker: The price is more than right, it is downright great.
To be sure, the food at Super Cocina is not the usual fare - no fried tacos nor overstuffed, tasteless burritos. Some of the offerings can be very spicy, with sauces from a variety of regions in Mexico.
The dishes are served in the Mexican version of cafeteria style. Owner Fernando Rodriguez says it took him a long time to learn how to keep each item hot, fresh and not overcooked or dried out in chafing dishes. That’s no easy task for a restaurant that serves about 14 main courses every day.
Upon request, the servers will give you a taste in a cup. It’s a good idea to ask for a sample. Some of the dishes are truly spicy, and you don’t want any surprises.
The choices range from simply delicious chiles rellenos, in an egg batter that is light but substantial, to stewy, delectable pork in a green sauce of tomatillos, garlic and spices, to a Mexican-style beef stew with a red sauce hot enough to wake the dead.
Don’t expect a waiter at your table. No linen here, no silverware. Just plastic forks, spoons and plates and Formica tables. That’s the main reason lunch and dinner are less than $6, and breakfast starts at $3.25.
But this is not a sloppy, unkempt place; it is spotless.
You have your pick of two main courses, Mexican rice and pot beans with three steaming corn tortillas. Drinks are less than a buck.
Behind the glass-enclosed chafing dishes is an open stainless steel kitchen almost as big as the dining room. In the kitchen are as many as four female cooks, each busily preparing and spicing her specialty.
The 49-year-old Mexican-born Rodriguez, who has lived in San Diego for 17 years, had been trying to find his niche in the restaurant business, first with an eatery in Logan Heights, later with a taco shop in Hillcrest and finally by opening Super Cocina in 1999.
Rodriguez says his food hasn’t been Americanized. He hires women whose cooking experience was acquired in the home rather than in restaurants and who specialize in regional dishes. His cooks come from different parts of Mexico - Chiapas, Veracruz, Guerrero, Jalisco, Nayarit and Mexico City.
“When a woman comes to me and wants a job but says ‘The only cooking I have ever done has been at home’ - and she has a specialty, and my wife, who is in charge of cooking, approves - she stays. That’s the type of cook I want, because it is homestyle (cooking).”
From pork ribs in chipotle sauce to chicken in a beer-based sauce or chicken in pipian, a creamy green sauce made from pumpkin seeds, the fare is a delight.
Rodriguez said he decided to open a restaurant in City Heights because he believed the people there would appreciate regional cooking from the homeland.
”To have a restaurant that is so accessible, with food such as this, so rich, so good, so Mexican, and priced right, we knew they would appreciate it,” he said.
The clientele is not only Mexican. Diners of various backgrounds come from Hillcrest, the South Bay and other areas. Rodriguez says the restaurant has also been a hit with the Asian community.
“They love the spicy dishes,” he said. “They remind them of home.”