Café Coyote in San Diego, California

Café Coyote’s multi-sensory experience in a Mexican fiesta atmosphere made dinner a fun experience. It’s easy to see why they have been rated the number one Mexican restaurant in Old Town, San Diego for 15 consecutive years.

Location: Café Coyote, located at 2461 San Diego Avenue in San Diego’s Old Town neighborhood.

Menu: Café Coyote had a broad base of traditional Mexican selections – tacos, burritos, and tamales. Mexican-style rice and refried beans accompanied most plates. To please children, the Pup menu was available with not only Mexican favorites; but they also had child-friendly American dishes like burgers and chicken nuggets. They have a separate vegetarian menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Thoughts: They grilled fresh handmade flour tortillas on the flat-top grill and served them with butter and salsa. The street-view exhibition tortilla kitchen is fun entertainment while you wait, and you can’t get fresher than these, served just minutes after they’re made. The handmade tortillas are also shaped and deep-fried to become small bowls on the plates for guacamole and salsas.

The bi-level restaurant has a traditional indoor space, as well as covered and uncovered outdoor patio spaces lined with brightly colored tiles. Plants add greenery to the patio, while large colorful paper flowers adorn indoor tables. A three-tier fountain adds a gentle trickle from the water-feature adds serenity. The open-air areas of the restaurant take advantage of the typically warm and sunny San Diego weather.

Murals are painted on walls throughout the restaurant, lending a view into Mexican culture and the countryside south of the border.

The tortilla makers typically wear traditional Mexican embroidered shirts covered in aprons. Many of the servers wear black logo’d T-shirts with denim jeans.

The dinnerware comes in bright solid colors, adding to the party atmosphere. Mariachis augment the fiesta ambiance, where you can request a song and sing along with your favorite.

The famed Academia del tequila in Mexico City certified Café Coyote and Cantina, as a “Tequila House,” where it is only one of two “Tequila Houses” in the United States. You can choose from over 100 tequilas for your Margarita, and if you are sure which one to choose one of their tequila ambassadors can assist. Non-alcoholic smoothies and spritzers are on offer for those who don’t enjoy tequila.

One of my favorite dishes was the Queso fundido, a spread with a combination of grilled red and green bell pepper strips, melted in a cheese casserole. They served it with handmade flour tortillas so that you can spread it on and fold it to eat like a quesadilla.

The Tres Puercos was a plate with three versions of succulent pork. One of the varieties was pieces of cubed pork in a chile Verde sauce, another version was cubed pork bites with a chile Colorado sauce, and finally, shredded pork served as Carnitas. All three of these meats can be eaten with a fork along with the refried beans and Mexican-style rice; however, I couldn’t resist putting it in one of those handmade tortillas and garnishing it with guacamole made from Haas avocados and sour cream.

I love to follow a Mexican meal with ice cream, and Café Coyote has the perfect ending to all those spices, Fried Ice Cream. It’s a scope of vanilla ice cream that was rolled in crushed corn flakes and then deep-fried. They drizzle it with honey, a dollop of whipped cream and a cherry, ice cream Sunday fashion. Crispy cinnamon and sugar tortillas come alongside to round out the dish.

Once you return home, you’re sure to have a yearning for some of their authentic dishes. If you live too far to return regularly, check out their website where they generously share the recipes.

Price Range: Starters range from $7.95 for a Cheese Quesadilla or Chili con Queso for $16.95 for the Fiesta Sampler. Soups and salads run from $3.95 for a cup of Tortilla Soup to $9.95 for a Taco Salad. Traditional Mexican plates run from $10.50 for the Black Bean Burrito to $14.95 for Carnitas or the Tamale Combo. Desserts range from $3.95 for flan to $5.95 for fried ice cream or chocolate flan — dinner for two runs about $50 including taxes and gratuity.

Amy Piper

Amy Piper is a freelance food and travel writer. She writes about food and multi-generational travel on her blog Follow the Piper. You can follow her on Twitter @amythepiper.

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