Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Super Stews of Super Cocina

Stews hold a special place in my heart. They embodies so many of the things I love from the world of food: Slow-cooked, long-simmered meats and vegetables combining together after many hours to form something inimitable via any other method of cooking. It's a giant, soul-warming pot of goodness, of patience and love. :) So when I hear kare_raisu wax poetic about a Guisados specialist serving a rotating menu of regional Mexican Stews, I have no choice but to pay Super Cocina a visit. (^_~)

From the exterior, Super Cocina looks just like another nondescript, hole-in-the-wall eatery that may or may not yield great food. Stepping inside, and you're treated to a steam table featuring that *moment's* selection of Guisados (Mexican Stews). According to Owner Fernando Sanchez, their selection of Guisados can change multiple times a day, based on a variety of recipes handed down from their family and relatives and friends, representing multiple regions of Mexico.

It may not look very stylish, but then again most Stews have never looked very sexy. I can't wait to order and see how the flavors turn out.

Jotaru and another friend join me on this expedition today. We begin with their Pork Carnitas (Slow-Roasted Pork).

I realize this is a Guisados specialist, but one of my "must order" items whenever I see it on a menu is Carnitas. :) The Carnitas taste fresh, but extremely salty and one note. After having been spoiled on the amazing Carnitas of Metro Balderas, it's hard to appreciate most local offerings these days. :)

The first of our Guisados arrive at this point: Chicharron en Chile Verde (Fried Pork Rinds in Green Chili Stew).

While I love the texture of Deep Fried Pork Rinds, having them soak up the flavors of this slow cooked Chile Verde is amazing: The slight piquancy from the Tomatillo are balanced by the fragrant Cilantro and Garlic notes and an even burn from the Serrano Chilies. There's a lush quality about the Chicharrones and I can't get enough of this Stew. It's better than any Chile Verde-type flavoring I've had around So Cal. Wonderful. :)

Next up is their Puerco en Chile Colorado (Stewed Pork in a Red Chili Stew).

While the name may sound familiar, unlike many of the thin, watery "Chile Colorado" sauces you find around town, Super Cocina's version tastes like the product of slow-cooked love, for many hours. :) The chunks of Pork are tender and fresh (made that day), with a subtle nutty sweetness and a hotter burn (than the Chile Verde) from the Guajillo Chilies and Almonds. This is probably our favorite dish of the day. Delicious! (^_^)

The next two dishes are even more interesting. We start with their Camarones y Nopalitos en Chile Rojo (Shrimp and Prickly Pear Paddles in a Red Chili Stew).

The Camarones turn out to be freshly pounded Shrimp Cakes stewed for hours to take on a very soft, delicate texture. The Paddles of the Prickly Pear Cactus complements the mouthfeel of the Shrimp Cakes with an equally soft, meaty quality. There's a strong pungent brininess (but not off-putting) to the whole dish which may not be for everyone, but I found it to be enjoyable.

Their Pollo en Mole Poblano (Chicken in Pueblan Mole (pronounced "Moh-Leh")) is on the sweeter side for Moles.

There's a real, genuine depth to their Mole: Using 4 kinds of Chilies, including Pasilla, Ancho, Poblano, along with Sesame Seeds, Peanuts and Chocolate, it carries a constant, subtle heat and noticeable sweetness.

One dish that the Sanchez family strongly recommends is their Pescado en Papilado (Steamed Tilapia in Cilantro Sauce).

Tilapia usually tastes pretty muddy, but Super Cocina's version is a delight: Bathed in a gorgeous translucent Green Sauce (from the Cilantro), the Tilapia is bright and aromatic, with a touch of tartness.

But their Puerco Con Espinacas (Pork Stewed with Spinach) might very well be the highlight of the meal.

The chunks of Pork Rib meat are meltingly tender, and have a wonderful slow-cooked flavor. It tastes like it's been stewed for hours, and the Spinach has soaked up all the flavors of this Red Stew, along with the clear accents from the Guajillo Chile base. It's savory and balanced and awesome. :)

Our final dish is the one I'm most intrigued about: Pollo en Acuyo (Chicken Stew with Mexican Pepperleaf (or Sacred Pepper)).

Senor Sanchez shows us an Acuyo Leaf and explains that they've been using this herb in many of their Oaxacan family recipes for years.

The first sip reveals an herbaceous salty quality. It's a subtle fragrance that's less dominant than, say, Rosemary, and it's like nothing I've had before. The chunks of tender Chicken are well-integrated with the rest of the Stew and it's a great pairing with Rice. :)

Service is pretty straightforward: You order at the counter and choose which Guisados or other dishes you'd like. Note that they're happy to offer free samples of any of the Stews they have on display. Prices range from $3.99 for a Small Bowl of a Stew, to $5.99 for a Large. Or you can order a Guisados Combination (2 Items with Beans and Rice) for $7.69.

Super Cocina is an outstanding Guisados specialist, delivering a variety of hearty, down-to-earth, humble Stews representing multiple regions of Mexico. While there are some misses on the menu (their Carnitas are one-note salt bombs, their brute-force briny Camarones y Nopalitos might not be for everyone), there are far more winners to celebrate, including their mouth-watering Puerco Con Espinacas (Pork and Spinach Stew), Pollo en Acuyo (Chicken Stew with Mexican Pepperleaf), and Puerco en Chile Colorado (Pork in Red Chile Stew). As I'm leaving, I look into their open kitchen and see members of the Sanchez family slowly stirring a large soup pot and adding in some herbs and stirring some more. I feel like I've just dined at Grandma's house with some simple, but smile-inducing, family-style dishes. Recommended. :)

Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0)

Super Cocina
3627 University Ave.
San Diego, CA 92104
Tel: (619) 584-6244

Hours: 7 Days A Week, 8:30 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.


Charlie Fu said...

this place is killer. Used to go twice a month when I lived in San Diego. They occasionally do a cactus and pork stew that rocks my world. Next time you go, ask if they have any specials stewing in the back!

Wish there was something like super cocina in Los Angeles =(

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Charlie,

Nice! :) I will be on the lookout for the Cactus and Pork Stew for sure. :) Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Did you ask about the chili used in the Puerco Enchilado sauce? I've been trying to replicate it at home and can't seem to get it right.

Anna A. said...

Only you would blog about stew in the summertime! :) I think I might actually like the camarones y nopalitos. I spent 2 months in Morelia, MX and did try a version of the chicherones stew. I think you appreciated it much more than I did ;)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anon,

No, I didn't have the Pork Enchiladas. But Senor Sanchez seemed to be pretty open about sharing. You might drop by and ask him about it personally. Good luck! :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna,

LOL. :) Well, Stews are just wonderful, and when we went, the temperature in SD was cool and relaxing (about ~70 degrees), so it was just fine for Stews. (^_~)

If you ever try Super Cocina, let me know how it goes. :)

Ron said...

Oh man can't wait to try this out next time in San Diego.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Ron,

It's just wonderful, family-made dishes. :) Let me know what you think of it! Thanks.

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