By Dr. Ink
Named after the owner, who is not related to the former president, Jimmy Carter’s has been around since 1991 and offers some of the best green salsa and carnitas dishes in town.
It also has a daily happy hour, which features those consumables plus more along with cocktails, wines and craft beers priced slightly below their regular prices. The salsa and chips are free.
The deals are available in the cantina, toward the back of the restaurant where a motley group of happy, chatty customers were gathered at the smallish bar upon my visit. Like the main dining room, the walls are painted in vibrant, primary colors, although the cantina comes with a visual bonus of numerous photographs showing San Diego in its early days.
None of them are dated, but one photo captures an outdoor ad board listing houses for sale. Among them is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom stucco in Mission Hills priced at $5,250. In disbelief, I couldn’t help but wonder how much my tall, icy margarita would’ve cost back then.
Made with fresh-pressed lemon and lime juices in lieu of cloying sweet-and-sour mix, it’s priced at $7, a buck less than usual. For 50 cents extra, you can upgrade to a margarita made with Milagro Silver Tequila. Mine featured Bar Code Tequila, which I didn’t mind given that its inherent sharp bite became completely muted in the drink’s refreshing citrus element.
While ferociously swapping tortilla chips through the silky green salsa — made with serrano chilies, cilantro and garlic — I awaited the arrival of a dish that is only available in the bar during happy hour. They’re called mulitas.
As explained by Abner, a most welcoming bartender, they’re basically quesadillas using corn tortillas instead of flour and filled with cheese and a choice of meat. I opted for carnitas, served in a pair for $3.50.
By the time I had eaten half the portion, I began planning in my head a repeat visit to order them again. They were incredibly savory and a swell match to tequila.
Other food options include guacamole, chicken rolled tacos and jalapeno poppers.
As for the margarita, a cocktail I tend to drink only during summer in establishments that don’t make them too sweet or sour, I’ll gladly order that again too since the bar’s small selection of rotating craft beers can wait until I drop in for one of Jimmy Carter’s full Mexican meals.
In lieu of sweet-and-sour mix, the margaritas are made with fresh-pressed lemons and limes, which result in a noticeably more refreshing drink. The craft beer list is limited to four taps plus several bottled imports and domestics. The wines are from Fetzer.
The complimentary table chips were fresh and the accompanying salsas are some of the best in town, especially the green version. Even better were the mulitas with carnitas and melted jack cheese inside.
You’ll save a dollar or two on food and drinks during happy hour, which isn’t bad considering the regular prices aren’t severe.
A waitress greeted me promptly at the entrance and led me into the bar lounge, where an outgoing bartender offered a warm welcome with a happy-hour menu in hand.
The restaurant inside and out is more colorful than all the Mexican eateries in Old Town combined.