Good tacos for a good causeEat This!, Latest Issue Thursday, July 6th, 2017
¡Libertad! Tacos a la Brasa is San Diego’s first not-for-profit restaurant and it’s located in the heart of Hillcrest. A member of the Cohn Restaurant Group (CRG), the casual eatery is one of three new venues opened in the space formerly occupied by 100 Wines. David and Lesley Cohn, founders of CRG, will donate 100 percent of the taqueria’s profits to a different local charity every month.
I stopped by on a Tuesday afternoon, placed my order at the counter then found a seat at the bar. Latin jazz filled the air and the large windows provided a great view of the hustle on University Ave. I admired the large stainless steel exhaust hood in the open kitchen, the wrought iron chandeliers overhead, the colorful frolicsome murals on the walls. Even the gender neutral restrooms are playful with a large portrait of Salvador Dali on one wall and a red tricycle bolted to another.
The menu, created by Executive Chef Phillipe Beltran and inspired by world travel, highlights global Latin culture and elevates the humble taco to swoon-inducing heights. Vegetarian, seafood and meat selections (duck confit – are you kidding me?) are prepared on a custom-made wood-burning Caja China oven and served in handmade corn or flour tortillas. I chose the Tempura Avocado ($3.50), Grilled Fish ($4) and Caja China Pork Belly ($4) tacos, and a bottle of Modelo Negra lager ($4.50).
The icy cold Modelo Negra lager aka “Ru Paul” (get it?), 5.4 percent alcohol by volume, is a complex, dark amber slightly sweet pour, with malty toasted banana bread on the tongue and a crisp clean finish. Delightfully satisfying.
The velvety nutty tempura-battered slices of avocado are flash grilled to a delicate crunch, topped with cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of chipotle mayo, then served in a warm flour tortilla. Delectable. Lucious chunks of fresh tilapia marinated in achiote (a deep-red seasoning from the Yucatán region of Mexico made with citrus juice, annatto, coriander, cumin, black peppercorns and allspice), are grilled to perfection, topped with avocado, portobello mushroom, radish, crispy fried leeks, cilantro, lime juice and a mild poblano serrano crema, then wrapped in a soft corn tortilla. A remarkable well-balanced blend of flavors and textures. Smoky salty bites of tender pork belly are served with sweet potato, cilantro aji chili crema (a Peruvian staple), and a dollop of salsa criollo (a South American salsa made with pickled onions, cilantro, chili peppers and tomatoes) in a corn tortilla. Delicious. No wonder it’s the restaurant’s signature taco.
Chef Edgar “El Jeffe” Sierra from San Francisco, friendly, bald and well-groomed with a short neatly trimmed fu manchu, took a few moments to chat even though the cozy space had become crowded. He told me they’ve been selling “more than a thousand tacos a day” since opening their doors a month ago. That’s a lot of cash for local charities, I thought. He said they were going to offer an abbreviated menu featuring street tacos during San Diego LGBT Pride festivities, and admitted this was his first Pride in San Diego. “Get ready”, I said, “because there will be tens of thousands of revelers outside your door.”
¡Libertad! is open Tuesday through Sunday and late night, too. Eat this, hungry readers. You’ll be glad you did.
¡Libertad! Tacos a la Brasa
1023 University Ave.
Tuesday: 4 p.m.-Midnight
Wednesday-Saturday: 4 p.m.-2:30 a.m.
Sundays: 2 p.m.-2:30 a.m.
Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=80911