Disclosure: Our meal was complimentary, but I was not compensated for this review. As always, all opinions are my own.
Puesto is tucked away, just off the main drag in La Jolla next to Whisknladle and Karl Strauss. It’s got pretty good neighbors, if you ask me. We were invited to check out their fancy custom tacos, fresh daily-made salsas (oh, so many salsas!), and learn what happens when you wrap taco fillings in a layer of crispy cheese (spoiler: it’s pretty awesome).
I forget where, but I read that someone compared Puesto to the Burger Lounge of Chipotles. At the time, I just brushed it off and perhaps might have scoffed a bit. But, once we got there, I could see the similarities. Puesto makes simple tacos, with not-simple ingredients. When’s the last time you saw zucchini flowers or huitlacoche (corn fungus) on the menu at Chipotle? Or the option to mix cactus, shrimp, and pineapple?
You start with a laminated menu and a marker. Choose from 2 or 3 tacos, a bowl, or a salad. We both picked 3 tacos to try and were walked through the process by Isi, cousin to brothers Eric and Alan and a new co-owner, from ordering food to choosing a drink. Once you decide how you want to eat your food, you choose your meat (or veggie) and toppings and mark them on the menu. If you’re getting tacos, this is also the time to check the box that says you want them wrapped in crispy cheese or that you’re being good and will forgo the extra tastiness. Then you just press the menu up the glass window and watch as your tortillas are heated, your cheese is melted, and your fillings are… well, filled.
You can choose to add one of many salsas (I got them all on the side so I could taste each one) and avocado (for free!). And then it’s off to a table to delve into the tacos.
My taco tray consisted of the corn fungus, chicken and pineapple, and shrimp topped with tinga (hibiscus, onion, and chipotle). I opted to just wrap two of my tacos in cheese, mainly because I always feel like you’re not supposed to mix cheese and seafood. Don’t ask me why I think that; I’m sure someone said it to me once and it just stuck for no good reason. I’m actually glad I left the cheese off the shrimp taco because I think it would have just overpowered everything else. I liked the clean flavors of the shrimp and hibiscus/onion; it also seemed to pair well with the pistachio salsa (as hot as that salsa was, whew!) The pineapple added a nice sweetness to the chicken, plus there was all that cheese. Sadly, I am not a fan of huitlacoche. It’s a little funkier than mushrooms are and it just didn’t do it for me. But, if you like it, I’m sure you’ll like it in a taco here, too.
Travis got a shrimp taco, a carne asada one, and I think a chicken and zucchini flower, all wrapped in cheese. I took a bite of his carne asada taco and was pleased that the meat was nice and tender.
While the tacos don’t look all that filling, three of them was just too much for me. Travis had to finish the rest of my chicken taco. In the future, I would just go for two tacos.
We tried the fresh hibiscus tea to drink, a Mexican fruit cup, and I just couldn’t resist the frozen horchata. I originally thought the frozen horchata would act kind of like a milkshake – part beverage, part dessert. It was delightful and exactly what you’d like frozen horchata tastes like, just a bit sweeter than I expected. After finishing it, I thought it would be perfect as a dessert. A closer look at the menu shows it’s actually listed under “Sweeten Up”, so maybe that’s the point after all. I found the hibiscus tea to be super sweet. Almost syrupy sweet. But, we’re also those people who dilute cranberry juice with water because straight juice is too much, so maybe we’re just not used to such sweet beverages. I almost think it would be better split between two cups, with ice and a splash of water (or soda water). And then there was the fruit cup. Sticks of vegetables, jicama, and mango (all of which could change depending on availability) drizzled with lime juice, chili, and salt. It’s that great combination of crunchy, spicy, sour, and sweet. In retrospect, munching on all those veggies may have been why I couldn’t finish my third taco.
Three tacos will set you back $9 and two tacos are about $6.50. The last time I ordered a regular chicken taco at the taco shop, it was almost $3, so I think the prices at Puesto are pretty reasonable. Plus, it’s fun to order by marking up a menu and I’m a sucker for such a variety of toppings and sauces. Oh, and there’s frozen horchata. While we’re not in La Jolla very often, it’s good to know there’s a casual spot nearby for a good bite for lunch.