Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Super Cocina - City Heights - San Diego

Whenever I eat out I always have this sneaking suspicion that the people who are making my food in the kitchen hate me.  Their job probably sucks, if they work at a chain restaurant I’m almost certain of this, if they are poorly treated Mexican immigrants making Indian food I’m also pretty sure of this, if they are the owner/chef who stops in to yell at everyone before going around the dining room sucking ass, well, I don’t trust that guy either.

Maybe I’m paranoid but I've worked in chain food before too and know the level of "true" love that doesn't exist between cook and customer (or even manager and staff, owner and manager, etc.).  Some kind of natural power hierarchy dependent on the system that sets up an undeniable structure that is difficult if not impossible to bridge or get out of even with the best of intentions. 

I've also seen true love exist in business to be sure, but it is really rare.  Hopefully the popularization of things like 'slow-food,' local business and better health will lead toward business owners actually caring about their products and customers first and not profit margins or other shifty money matters.  Local first is kind of a cool trend that would be difficult for any mega-corporation to co-opt due to the trend's built in limitations (though I'm sure they are trying as we speak) so I foresee better days if it continues.


The much touted but still often suspiciously uncrowded restaurant Super Cocina is a place where I can taste the love in the food, not the hate, who cares who eats it, the love of making the food is in the food.  A key ingredient.  If you can taste the hate in the food from some quick flash of a cook’s eye then there goes your dinner.

Super Cocina is a small restaurant tucked away on University Avenue just past a nude dance club and sharing the street with various shifty looking middle aged men with corn rows riding bikes, prostitutes with flabby thighs and Daisy Duke shorts, “slumming it” executives on lunch break and various children on big wheels and too young mothers haplessly following them through the cross-walk.

It’s a neighborhood where I live and where I have yet to experience any sort of deliberate violence on me but where the threat is sort of enhanced in some undeniable ways.

(super cocina para llevar)

Super Cocina is a place of comfort of almost religious proportions.  Their tables and chairs are very simple contraptions, it is very very clean, the smell as you walk in is that of hours and hours of stewing meats and dishes, a place where love has gone into the food, a place where a woman who looks tired but is eager to get you your lunch asks you in Spanish if she can help you.

You walk up to a glass enclosed buffet type deal full of silver pans of stewing meats of multivariate coloring.  Somehow the colors look incredible.  When I went for lunch today it was just the beginning of lunch and everything was hyper clean and the pans were full to the top.  There were no droppages of sauce splattered around carelessly, even the cut Mexican lime halves were new and clean.

There is a kind of a menu on a board above the countertop but really the key is just to go up to the counter and look at the stuff and point at something that looks good.  The workers here are more than happy to give you a sample of anything and they have little plastic cups behind the counter just for that reason.

It costs about $7.50 for a 2 dish plate that comes with rice and beans and tortillas.
I always get the same thing.  It’s just too good to pass up and whenever I get a twinge of hunger for some comfort food it’s just the thing to sate my soulful desire.

(combo plate - chicken mole and puerco enchilado)

I get the Pork Enchilado.  Super Cocina’s enchilado is a pork dish of pork pieces stewed for God knows how long (long enough and perfect enough and gently enough I swear) in a red chile sauce that is just hot enough to be more spicy than most things you will find in a Mexican restaurant in San Diego but not too spicy to where the spice overwhelms the complexity of the dish.

Enchilado seems to be some type of stew.

The pork (and all the meats I’ve had here) is made with the various bones and whatnot.  If you are a person accustomed to a pre-shaped nugget battered and deep fried with no bones you might get a bit nervous.  But you shouldn’t because the flavor is out of this world.  The pork is so slow stewed that every bite is infused with the oily spicy greatness that is their enchilado sauce.  Fat mingles with cartilage, weird crunchy things tap your tooth and you need to spit them out, the meat is so succulent that strange sensations start happening to the backs of your ears.

(enchilado close up)

Their chicken mole is another favorite of mine and actually I’ve never had a mole that I liked before besides the one at Super Cocina and I really love it here.  There is usually a weird industrial taste to mole that is somehow chocolately but yet still tastes like medicine or chemicals – something – I can’t place it.  And I’m usually not too fond of the sweetness of mole in general.

The mole at Super Cocina wraps its sweetness neatly and easily inside an envelope of spices and salty flavors to make for a very very imperceptible tinge of sweet underneath a more powerful (but not overly so) spiciness that is just too good to be true.

(out of focus mole - i was too excited to eat so my hand was shaking)

Talking about love, I could taste the love not only in these two stews but also in their beans and rice.  The beans were so perfectly cooked they gave just slightly, as if they were al dente, to the tooth, but were so incredibly soft inside that it was almost like eating soft potatoes or something.  The taste was mostly of the bean, the earth of the bean, the freshness of a real bean that is cooked from scratch, from the beginning to the end, with love.  A hint of pork?  Some slight salt?  Plus the earthiness of the bean = love bean.

(love beans)

The rice was perfectly moist and had a slight meaty flavor to it also, like it was cooked with chicken stock or some other meat based flavoring.

Super Cocina is not a place for vegetarians, although they do have veggie dishes like chile rellano.

The meal comes with some fine tortillas in a plastic baggie.  I truly don’t know how to eat with tortillas but since I grew up in the Middle East I just use them like pita bread in the Middle East, tearing off a chunk and dipping it in the sauce and then using my hand to tear some meat off the chicken or pork and then eating it.  I assume this is how you do it but I never really know.

I’m not sure if they take credit cards so bringing cash will help.

They have a free fixins area with limes and onions and cilantro and dried chilis.  No salsa bar or hot sauce (you don’t need it I promise).

They don’t serve alcohol, which is a bit too bad because their food goes so well with a nice Mexican lager, but they do have horchata usually and free or bottled water and sodas.

You don’t have to speak Spanish to go but they will usually love it if you try.  Their food changes almost every day but they usually have the mole and enchilado.

Thanks for the love Super Cocina, I really need it from time to time.  I’m sure most of us do.

-    George Caye

Super Cocina is near the University Avenue exit off the 805 freeway:

3627 University Ave.
San Diego, CA 92104

8 am-8:30 pm daily

- Small off-street parking lot available