By Dr. Ink
If you’re searching for a charming, full-service restaurant to slurp margaritas and nosh on familiar Mexican fare — sans the mariachis and guacamole-crazed travelers intrinsic to Old Town — look no further than Huapangos in Hillcrest.
Located on the vibrant intersection of Fifth and Pennsylvania avenues, the 10-year-old establishment offers a high dose of Spanish Colonial elan that’s rare to this neck of the city.
If the ocean were across the street, this could pass for a restaurant connected to Hotel Hacienda Bajamar in Ensenada. The interior is replete with sturdy, wood tables and ceiling beams, wrought iron chandeliers, and colorful décor that escapes the kitschy style suited for spring breakers.
There are beer banners out front, however. That’s the only demerit I’ll give to the overall design of the property, which also features a welcoming front patio adorned in potted plants.
Numerous drink specials surface during happy hour, which is held seven days a week starting at 6 p.m., with some days lasting until closing.
The discounts offer tequila shots and bottled beer for $4; well drinks, draft beer and house wines for $5; standard margaritas for $6; and flavored margaritas for $6.50.
There are also plenty of cheap eats that rise to the occasion, from albondiga soup and Caesar salad with carne asada to ceviche, chicken empanadas, mussels, and of course, tacos. Served mostly in tapas-size portions, they range in price from $4 to $8.50.
I paired a hibiscus (jamaica) margarita to a decent serving of carnitas nachos. For the drink, my waiter explained the margaritas are premixed, but that right before serving them he spiffs them up with fresh lime juice to offset the sweetness. He also adds a splash of Gold Bar tequila for extra oomph. No objections there.
Indeed, the flavor was pleasingly tart, and the kick was noticeable. I felt limber halfway through the drink, just when my little mountain of nachos arrived.
The chips were draped with tender house-roasted pork, which admittedly tasted a tad fruitier in a couple of carnitas tacos I devoured here previously. Cheese, crema and pico de gallo were in abundance, and the plate was substantial enough to allow me to skip dinner. Not bad for only $6.
Missing from the equation were complimentary table chips and the restaurant’s famous jalapeno cheese sauce served with them. I’m not sure if that was an oversight or if the addicting chips and sauce are reserved only for guests ordering full meals.
Fortunately, I came away with a bellyful of booze and food for $15 with tax and tip. And for a short while, it felt as though I had been transported to some nice getaway south of the border.