April 15, 2017 we blogged our first 101 dining experience at Kotija Jr. Taco Shop where it all started with a taco. For the last year and a half-ish every Sunday night-ish Hubby, me, sometimes BP, always friends, sometimes strangers, have joined us as we took on this project to try every single place selling food on the 101, in order, throughout Encinitas. Karina’s Taco Shop closes the loop.
A lot has happened over this last year and a half. I started writing this blog as a judgmental, highly critical pissant if you will. Along this endeavor, Kellen found his taste buds and became our Bottomless Pit, “BP”. We survived an incredible hike/bike/kayak trip through New Zealand which I blogged: https://whythehellisntanyonepayingmetowritethisblog.home.blog/
Oldest started college and youngest started high school. And I’ve changed too. I’ve turned 50, and like to think I have matured a bit over the course of 95 blogs. I now play pickleball. I drive slower. Hell, I move slower. Oh, I’m still judgmental and critical, but I have started to soften up a wee bit around the edges. And this is why I have retired the nasty term “Crap Taco Shop” also previously referred to as “CTS”. CTS: low quality Americanized, fast-food type of seemingly generic Mexican food.
Before coming to Karina’s I checked out their website to see what their hours were and whatnot. I browsed through their “gallery” of pictures expecting to find photos of luscious burritos and voluptuous tacos. Which they have. Just substitute the word “women” for burritos and tacos though. Out of 16 pictures in their gallery, only one photo is of food. It is nice to see a family run place. And quite a good looking family I may add!
Standing in front of Karina’s Taco Shop I noticed a few other odd things. First of all, there is an actual payphone here! I don’t mean an actual working one, but still. I was curious to see what year they stopped replacing phone books. What’s your guess?
If you guessed 2006 you are a winner!
Some of us just can’t accept new technology no matter what everyone else is doing.
Under Karina’s Taco Shop sign it says “Mexican you can taste…” Now I was really excited to read this. I can’t tell you how many times I’m eating tacos and think to myself, “What the hell am I eating? Am I even eating? I know I’m chewing something, but I just can’t taste anything.” When I eat Mexican food, I want to actually taste Mexican food. Karina’s promises us we will!
As I am about to walk in, I hear someone call my name. I turn around to find a tall, slightly familiar looking surfer-dude smiling at me. Then it hits me. OMG, this is Nick, my college roommate from Davis!!! I can’t believe I am running into him here, right at Karina’s Taco Shop in Leucadia! We place our orders and sit down to catch up. As Nick started spilling some of my less-than-proud crazy college moments, I decided to change the subject and asked what brought him and his daughter to Karina’s.
“I am a bred and born north county coastal Mexican food expert and I promise you this is the best food anywhere. We eat here about twice a week.” Now that is some pretty high praise from an actual Mexican food eating expert! Nick explained that Karina’s used to have a 5 star restaurant downtown. Now they serve 5 star Mexican food out of a run-of-the-mill looking taco shop. He told us not to judge a book by it’s cover. He schooled us on the criteria of what makes a taco shop great. He said to always judge Mexican food by their carnitas. I’m not a big carnitas fan, but I trust him when he says Karina’s has the best. He insisted that we try the ceviche, so Debbie and I ran back in and ordered some.
Inside Karina’s has a picture of their “Bomb” burrito. It’s called the “Bomb” because every single person who has ever ordered one has died. Immediately. To have a burrito already filled with every artery clogging ingredient only to add deep fried ROLLED TACOS inside as well?! I was mortified. Hubby felt nothing but respect for Karina’s and said he now loves them. He thought about ordering one, but decided to choose life instead.
Our food was ready quickly. One bite of this ceviche and it was all I could do to stop myself from jumping up and bringing it two doors down to Solterra. “THIS is what ceviche can taste like!” I would shout to their chef right in their kitchen. Solterra’s ceviche was bland as sand compared to this one. But then I would be escorted out and there were a lot of people over there. I just wasn’t up for that kind of embarrassment in front of an old friend. So I stayed here enjoying the almost over-the-top burst of flavors from this ceviche-done-right. But then a slow burn started taking over my mouth and my fork desperately tore apart the ceviche in need of some cooling avocado. There was none! So it’s a BYOA type of ceviche here folks. Very delicious indeed, but don’t forget to bring your own avocado! I look over at Debbie who takes a bite, wipes her eyes, blows her nose, then takes another bite. It hurts so bad but it tastes so good! As I’m flailing my hands in front of my burning mouth and doing a hot-mouth-dance in my seat, I notice Nick looking oddly at me. “Still strange…” I think I hear him whisper under his breath.
The Seven Mares soup arrived and was delicious.
“Howth your thoup?” Asks Debbie, completely congested from the nose running spiciness.
It was loaded with tasty sea creatures like calamari, octopus, fish, shrimp and mussels. I took a bite or two. I couldn’t have tasted past my first “mare” when that heat started coming right back to bite me! I gulped down some water and the pain would temporarily subside. But like those trick birthday candles, as soon as I put the water down, the heat came right back stronger than ever, burning my tongue, my cheeks, my face, my eyelashes! I quickly passed the soup over to Hubby who gobbled it up saying how amazing it was.
That left me to eat a grilled fish taco. The problem was that my mouth was so completely burnt, all I could taste was “hot” and I don’t think the taco had anything spicy on it at all. Interesting that they serve lemons instead of traditional limes with their dishes.
So now I know what “Mexican food you can taste” means. There was no doubt whatsoever that I was eating Mexican food. I tasted those chilies, ohhh yes I did!
It all started with a taco. And it all ended with one too.
The Encinitas 101 is filled with small, inexpensive taco shops. I once found them all to be the same, completely interchangeable. But I have come to see the light. I’ve had my Jewish come-to-Jesus moment, a bit late in the game, but better late than never. Karina’s Taco Shop is truly one of the better ones in town. They love things spicy, so if you don’t, be careful of what you order. They want to make sure you taste what they are putting out, and their food is aggressively flavorful.
When you go to Karina’s Taco Shop you’re likely to see a good looking, tall, surfer-dude named Nick. You can ask him what I was like as a college roommate. Honestly, I don’t remember all that much from those years in Davis. There may have been some drinking. I’m sure there was some studying. I know there wasn’t any Mexican food!
Now that we have completed the 101, we need to do “CLEANUP ON ISLE 5!”. Much like the Golden Gate bridge that is being continuously painted from end to end, we will head back the way we came and catch all of the new places that have popped up since we began!
So join us this Sunday, September 29th at 6pm at