San Diego: You can’t even read the name of our city without instantly thinking of the taco emoji, or perhaps that just happens once you’ve lived here for over 10 years. Regardless, while tacos may be synonymous with Tuesday, I ventured out on a Saturday evening to try a new Mexican concept that recently opened inside the Fashion Valley Mall: Blanco Tacos & Tequila.
I visit Arizona frequently due to family in the area, and first heard of this concept during a trip out there. Come to find out, the parent restaurant group, Fox Restaurant Concepts, is a popular (and growing) brand that has been expanding to San Diego over the last few years. The group also owns Flower Child, which opened in Del Mar, as well as North Italia, another restaurant that just opened in Fashion Valley Mall. Could this Arizona brand successfully execute one of San Diego’s major food groups? Let’s dig in.
The evening we visited Blanco was a cold and wet day in San Diego, so seating was limited to inside. We eyed the cute outdoor patio, complete with the requisite bistro lights – mental note for a warmer and sunnier day. We had made a reservation, but there were plenty of tables to choose from; not that the restaurant was empty, but it just wasn’t filled to capacity (rain also drives San Diegans to barricade themselves inside as if a little rain is equivalent to a massive winter storm). The hostess led us to a huge booth up against the glass wall that bordered the kitchen. My dinner guests and I loved watching the kitchen staff working and hustling throughout the evening; who doesn’t love dinner and a show? The rest of the décor was nicely done – cool design elements without being overly done or too cliché ‘Mexican restaurant’.
While we pursued the menu, our server brought over chips and salsa to start things off. We all agreed – good salsa. Not too chunky, not too runny, and the chips were good, too. We decided to share an order of the ‘Our Famous Guacamole’ to start things off. My dinner partners balked a bit at the price ($10), but that seems pretty comparable to other sit-down Mexican restaurants in town (Puesto, La Puerta, etc.). The men claimed it came with ‘roasted poblano & Anaheim chiles, caramelized onion and cotija cheese. Upon hitting the table, it just looked like the guac had a little pico de gallo on top (tomatos, diced onion and diced jalapeno) – with a little sprinkling of cheese; not sure if the dish has changed since menus were printed, but no complaints, it was still tasty – just not exactly what we had expected. In terms of other apps – next time I’d love to try to Warm Queso or Double Cheese Nachos – maybe we’ll give those a shot during happy hour in the future.
For the main course, I had my heart set on tacos. I decided on the Chicken Pastor taco plate, which was comprised of chicken, caramelized pineapple, salsa verde, green onion, and jalapeno. I’m a baby when it comes to spice, so I requested no jalapeno. Tacos came on freshly made corn tortilla, with sides of rice & black beans. I got so excited when the plate came out, I couldn’t resist a bite before a photo! I loved the texture of the tortillas; you could really tell they were made fresh – thick and chewy, held up well to the ingredients it housed. I did take a knife to the pineapple – it came out as just one chunk, so I cut it into smaller chunks to disperse across the taco. The rice was a quinoa/rice blend – not the classic Mexican rice you would expect. My dinner guest ordered the Half Chicken Fajitas, which came with a side of a cheese quesadilla, elote, and black beans. They did not come out sizzling, as some other Mexican restaurants serve them – they weren’t served cold, but he said ‘without the sizzling, it just made me feel that they could have been sitting in the kitchen for a few minutes’. He also wasn’t a fan of a quesadilla instead of just regular tortillas that typically come with fajitas. Both of us easily finished our meals; these are definitely not the massive platters of food you can get at just about every restaurant in Old Town.
We decided to wrap up our meal with an order of the Caramelized Banana Split, something we had seen on Blanco’s Yelp page earlier that day. The food runner who brought it out let us know it was his favorite dessert and he was so happy we ordered it – so we dug in. The menu doesn’t provide a description besides the item name, so we discovered it came with two halves of caramelized banana, vanilla ice cream with a hard chocolate shell, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, and some kind of sweet sauce at the bottom – I thought it was a brandied cherry or something similar. Needless to say, we were quickly scraping the bottom of the bowl – it was an excellent end to dinner.
Overall, we thought Blanco was good. Great? Maybe not. It felt very corporate, but maybe that’s just because I knew the background prior to visiting. This trip, neither of us tried the cocktails – we were still detoxing from New Year’s Eve earlier in the week – but there were a variety of alcoholic drinks that sounded delicious.
Would we return? Maybe, should we be doing another dinner & a movie night. I can see myself visiting down the road on a warm summer night for a cold margarita and some chips & salsa, before hitting the movies or after a day of shopping.