By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
The new Cruiser Taco North Park conservatively bucks tradition while faithfully upholding it with puffy dough balls that are rolled out and grilled for each taco order.
Nathan Sellers, a San Diego native who owns the quaint taqueria with his wife and father-in-law, is no stranger to south-of-the-border cuisine. He grew up making regular visits to family members living in Ensenada and Mexicali and came to cherish the foods you’ll find on his succinct menu: grilled street corn, citrus-marinated chicken, pork adobo and frijoles laced with bacon, which is exactly the way his mother makes them.
Still in its soft opening, the menu currently offers seven types of tacos in addition to nachos, loaded fries and side dishes such as chips with queso, the frijoles, and sweet corn slathered with aioli, cotija cheese and cilantro. Luscious and messy, they’re some of the tastiest cobs in town.
Seating is all outdoors starting with a front deck that connects to a covered side patio. Beer and wine are in the pipeline, although until Sellers obtains his license, visitors are permitted to bring beer into the eatery from the adjoining Barn Brewery or make due with excellent cinnamon-spiked horchata or hibiscus-infused black tea, both made onsite and served ice-cold from taps.
Sellers’ signature “chicali” pays homage to the carne asada tacos of Mexicali. The meat is finely diced and cooked to a near crisp. It’s accented with frijoles, avocado, onions, shredded cabbage, cilantro and a hint of salsa roja. Compared to three other tacos we tried, it called for extra zing from any of the four house-made salsas, which range from mild to super-hot.
Seared pork tinted rusty red from paprika-loaded adobo marinade filled the “what a pig” taco containing much of the same ingredients as the chicali, but with the additions of cubed pineapple and crema. The taco provided a mouthful of complex flavors while the supple made-to-order flour tortilla seamlessly matched the texture of the tender meat.
The “Mission Blvd.” taco might best represent the Southern California slant Sellers set out to capture at Cruiser, which he named with the notion of riding a cruiser bike down the Mission Beach boardwalk.
It’s filled with trendy deep-fried avocado, in this case beer-battered and topped with pickled red onions, cabbage and crema. Maybe it’s just me, but in all of my encounters with the green fruit fried like this, I’ve found its subtle flavor flies straight out the window and the texture becomes thinner and less creamy.
While my companion ate it with gusto, I proceeded to the “big chicken” taco filled with citrus-marinated leg and thigh meat plus lettuce, avocado, onions and chipotle crema. No salsa needed, it ranked with the pork taco as my favorite.
Other taco choices include the “San Diago” tailored after a California burrito filled with carne asada, french fries and cheese, but with the bonus of avocado and crema. For vegetarians, “the Maya” equates simply to a bean and cheese taco while the “Messin’ w/Texas” puts fajitas-style Portobello mushrooms at the core.
We also ordered the chips and queso. Both are made in-house. The chips were just how I like them — warm, thin and delicate. The queso, however, was somewhat bland despite the inclusions of roasted chilies, cotija cheese and salsa. Sharper cheddar would do wonders for the recipe.
Sellers said his menu will soon expand with additional tacos such as birria (stewed beef), chili relleno (contained within the flour tortillas) and another filled with beet root, sweet potatoes and goat cheese.
Also, at the time of our visit, he was awaiting his first delivery of gourmet popsicles from Viva Pops in Normal Heights, which he will carry regularly in five or six flavors.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.