Over the weekend Jake and I headed down to Imperial Beach to try and see if we could catch some Stardust Donuts. It was a failed endeavor though as we drove up we could clearly see there were no donuts left. Ahhh! Foiled again! So the trip south wouldn’t be a total loss, I found us a new-to-us place to try called El Cilantro Mexican Restaurant.
El Cilantro is tucked away in the back of the Imperial Beach Plaza Shopping Center, across from the Econo Lube. It’s closer to Donax Ave than Palm Ave. If you’re coming from Palm Ave, it’s in the shopping center with the Wienerschnitzel and the Carl’s Jr.
When we originally got here there was a line out the door and I took that to be a good sign. This is the very front entrance and this is the only menu (I looked for a takeout menu but couldn’t find one). They offer American style breakfast with buttermilk pancakes, crepes, and omelettes alongside your usual Mexican food items like enchiladas, burritos, tortas and tacos.
You order at the counter here and then take a seat to the right. Quite a few of the tables were full in the restaurant that day. There’s plenty of seating inside with cushy padded chairs. In the back corner there were some drums set up for live music later. Sitting behind us, there was a table full of CHP officers. The amount of people in here (plus the cops) made me feel like this was a good choice that day.
Jake got us each one of the four available hot sauces from their salsa bar. Hot carrots and limes are also available.
The bottom orange sauce was the hottest one of the bunch – maybe some kind of habanero sauce? I put the tiniest of drops on my tongue and it was like “BURNING BURNING DANGER DANGER” so obviously I did NOT have any more of that one.
The top two red sauces were our favorites. They had a similar heat level (though the darker one of the right was slightly spicier) but different flavors. Not sure what was going on in them but I preferred the red one on the left.
The green sauce was some kind of bitter tasting tomatillo that neither of us cared for. Jake actually didn’t get it at first but I insisted we try all of them! You never know. It could have been some kind of magical green sauce (too bad it wasn’t).
This was placed before me and before I really even thought about it, I snapped a photo of it. Then I thought, “Wait… we didn’t order this.” It’s someone else’s chicken soft taco and it looked quite delicious. I promise whoever ended up eating this, I didn’t actually touch your taco. I just gave it some glamour shots!
Our first actually ordered item came up shortly after. It looked like one gigantic pile of carne asada with some corn tortillas tucked in around the sides for show. This set of 3 TJ style street tacos set us back $6.99 making them about $2.33 each. Bit pricier than other street tacos but boy they really do pile on the meat!
There was enough “stuff” inside this “mini” taco that I could have easily split it into two tacos. Every time I took a bite something fell out of it! The flavor of the carne asada was really on point and the meat had a nice outer char. The meat stayed juicy and tasted wonderful combined with the guacamole, onions and cilantro. Jake really enjoyed this carne asada as well – he thought it was well marinated and had a ton of flavor to it.
I also decided to try one of their hard shell beef tacos. I don’t remember the exact price but in was in the $3 range for a single taco. I was quite amused to get my taco with a huge pile of shredded lettuce on the side. Thanks for not stuffing all of that into my taco, guys. I appreciate it 110%.
Here’s a peek at the taco innards. The shredded beef was tender, flavorful and so juicy. They clearly made their own taco shell – it was totally warped and weird in a few spots and not that perfect manufactured taco shell. The shell was not greasy and had a wonderful crunch. There’s a tiny bit of lettuce inside and a huge mound of shredded cheese on top. Jake ate all of that crunchy water, lettuce lover that he is. Me? Yeah, I like lettuce, but I’m not a rabbit. I’m not eating all thatplain lettuce on it’s own.
Final verdict? We’d come back if we were in the area. Not a “go out of your way” place but quite good. The prices are slightly higher here but they use good quality meat
764 13th St.
Imperial Beach, CA 91932