Mi Comida con Carlos

Posted March 18, 2010 in Eats

I had never heard of Hacienda Guadalajara before I went there. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was not excited. I’ve become cynical about most Mexican and sushi restaurants for reasons that don’t really need repeating, but suffice to say that all becomes a slather of “refried” beans and wasabi, refillable Dr. Peppers and formula.


I was even less thrilled when I pulled up to the Hacienda and got a look at the place; from the outside it’s a frankly unattractive structure, half Carlos O’Brien’s, half generic buffet building, which resembles nothing so much as a Cubist painting gone horrible wrong. But then I went inside. 


Briefly I was confused. To my right there’s a taqueria serving up tacos and tortas to the busy lunch crowd. To my left a more upscale setting. I’m not exactly sure where I’m supposed to meet owner Carlos, who’s offered to show me around the place and share a meal. Suddenly a distinguished looking, silver-haired man comes out and introduces himself as Carlos Rodriguez, the new owner of Hacienda Guadalajara. Chips and salsa hit the table as Carlos tells me he’s got big plans to redo much of the décor inside the Hacienda, although truth be told the dining area is tasteful and understated, with some rather tasteful artwork on the wall, including a piece by Carlos’ mother.


The homemade chips—all chips, tortillas and salsas are made on-site—are thick chunky affairs that integrate well with the smoky heat of the salsa. I’ve misjudged this place I realize. I may have hit upon a true rarity—a delicious and subtle Mexican restaurant in the IE.


Next up comes a plate of Aguachile, peeled shrimp cooked in lime juice and chilies, and surrounded by a heaping selection of oranges, boomerang-shaped slices of cucumber and wedges of avocado. To my chagrin, Carlos tells me that he deliberately made the dish less spicy for my gringo taste buds, a move that takes a dish that could have been amazing and leaves us to settle for healthy, fresh and tasty. As we eat we share food off the same plate, Carlos orders us up some margaritas, and begins to tell me about his life.


There’s little hurry to the meal, and I relax and eat in a way I’ve often done in other countries but rarely here, namely slowly, enjoying the ambiance as well as the food.


As Carlos explains to me the difference in living between El Salvador and Colombia, I look down at one point to see that the main course has arrived, Pescado Sarandeado, red snapper, and it’s real nice. The fish is great, perfectly spiced, with a nice burn that creeps up on you. And the snapper is lathered with delicately grilled onions that add sweetness to the heat, C-shaped chunks of avocado, along with tomatoes.


And another plate arrives, this time laden with beans and rice. But—and this is amazing—the beans and rice are delicious, far less greasy than their normal counterparts. Plus the handmade corn tortillas are truly artisan. Note the name of the Hacienda will be changing in a few months to coincide with all of the changes happening—whether you wait for the remodel to happen or decide to try it out earlier, the snapper’s brilliant. 


Hacienda Guadalajara, 1353 W. 6th St., Corona, (951) 735-5946. AE, MC, V.


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