Monday, June 15, 2015

Stepping Back In Time in San Juan

El Adobe De Capistrano
31891 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

A few weeks ago I got a link to a list of the oldest restaurants in Southern California. Like with most of these lists, there were a few restaurants that the author missed, but of course the Internet being what it is, people told her all about the ones she omitted. The one restaurant I had thought of immediately was not on the list either, but it would have only made it the 5th oldest restaurant in OC. That restaurant is El Adobe in San Juan Capistrano.

It just so happened that we would be eating here, and I was surprised to see that we haven't blogged about our experience at this 67 year old restaurant yet. It was Katie's brother's graduation dinner, and the whole family was supposed to come celebrate with him. As is usually the case at Katie's family gatherings, there's always a random few who flake out on the event, and this time it was Katie's sister, Sara who would not be joining us. No big loss here, as she usually only gets a plate of rice, as a glass of water can give her heartburn at anytime.

Anyways, back to El Adobe. The building is even older than the restaurant itself. Recognized as a historical landmark by the State of California, it was originally two structures, the Yorba Adobe (1778) and the Juzgado Court and Jail (1812). Brought together to form a single residence in 1910, it lasted in that incarnation until 1947, when the building was bought by a farmer who built it to be a restaurant. The restaurant opened on July 8th, 1948, with the wedding and reception of the First Commandant of Camp Pendleton, starting a tradition that continues to this day, as many weddings and receptions are still held here in the back patio portion of the restaurant.

No history of El Adobe would be complete without a mention of OC's own, President Nixon. During his administration, and after he left the White House, he enjoyed the food prepared by the chef at El Adobe. President and Mrs. Nixon's favorite meal is still on the menu, which we will see in a bit. Speaking of food, we were all pretty hungry, so let's see if it's the history or the food at El Adobe that brings the people in.

Of course we definitely need to take a look at the Chips and Salsa before we check out the food. These were pretty darn good. The tortilla chips were nice and fresh, with a crispness that made them a pleasure to eat. The salsa was also pretty strong, with a good chunkiness to it, and just a tinge of spice, which did not overshadow the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Pretty tasty.

As is almost always the custom when eating out at a Mexican restaurant with Katie's family, guacamole is a must to start with. This Rancho O'Neill Guacamole ($11) is made table side, which somehow always make things taste better. I should have taken a few action shots of this being made, but I was a little lazy. So I do not exactly know what was in their guacamole, but it was pretty solid, and I do know that it was topped with cotija cheese, which is always a plus in my book. The guacamole could have been a little spicier, but Katie's family is kind of averse to spice, so this milder version worked out fine for them. The texture of this was worth noting as well. It walked the thin line of being too smooth and overly chunky. Very well made.

Katie's mom Lynn ordered something I don't think I have ever seen before on a menu, a Cheese Enchilada Salad. ($14). Basically, this is chopped romaine, tossed with a cilantro-pepita dressing, and two cheese enchiladas placed on top of it. I'm not much into mixing hot ingredients into my salads, but Lynn was pretty pleased with her dinner on this night. She liked the mildness of the red sauce, and loved the uniqueness of this dish. She would definitely get this again.

Combo plates abound here at El Adobe, and Dennis put together his ultimate 2 Item Combo ($15) which included a shredded beef taco and a cheese enchilada. He seemed pretty pleased by his choice, and did not have any leftovers to take home. I thought the taco shell looked a little odd, but he made no mention of it.

It's very rare that Katie doesn't get fajitas when eating in a Mexican restaurant, and that held true to form on this night as well. These Chicken Fajitas ($19) came out with the usual steam and pops that these plates always come out of the kitchen possessing. The sizzling chicken was accompanied by the usual red and green bell peppers and red onion. Also served with beans and rice, and your choice of flour or corn tortillas. Surprisingly, the chicken here was pretty tender, but still was not as big on flavor as I would have liked. Katie ended up really enjoying her meal here, and will probably have chicken fajitas the next time we eat at Mexican restaurant. Keep an eye out for it.

Not a very big eater, Katie's sister Emily took most of this Quesadilla Capistrano ($12) home in a to go container, which probably sat in the fridge for the next few days before being thrown out. Yes, I know these people pretty well. Anyways, with this quesadilla you have the option of having it with beef or chicken, and Emily went with the latter option. It was served with a small scoop of sad looking pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream. One of life's great mysteries to me is how they can charge so much for what is essentially two tortillas, a handful of cheese, and some shredded chicken. It's just not here at El Adobe, but most places charge way too much for something that could only cost about $5 or so to put together. Sorry, end rant.

Jimmy's much better half, Rachel, also had a combo meal, opting for the One Item ($13) variety. Her entree of choice was the carne asada taco, which was joined by beans and rice. The beans here were fair, but a little on the watery side. The rice was pretty average as well. Neither really stood out.

A meal fit for a king, or in this case a president. This was President Nixon's favorite three item combo at El Adobe, the President's Choice ($17). This combo consists of a chile relleno, chicken enchilada, and a shredded beef taco. Playing the role of president on this evening was my soon to be brother in law, Jason. He felt this was just average, safe Mexican food. Nothing on this plate really grabbed his attention. Not awful, or anything, but nothing that would make him order this again. Not exactly a ringing vote of confidence.

I guess we are all kind of creatures of habit, because when I'm eating at a Mexican restaurant for the first time, I usually steer myself towards carnitas. When this Carnitas Michoacan ($18) was placed in front of me, I thought it looked a little odd. The pork came in a large hunk that kind of resembled a Cornish game hen, or maybe my eyes were deceiving me a bit. The pork was not very tender, and a little on the dry side. This was a pretty good portion size, and the beans helped add moisture to the pork. A very underwhelming plate of food.

I think Jason summed up El Adobe the best when he said that this is safe, non-threatening Mexican food. There were no pops of flavor, and the heat was turned way down in their food. I get why people still come to this restaurant though. It's probably a tradition thing, but there's much better Mexican food to be had nearby. We did experience really good service on this night, and it seemed like our waiter has been here a long while since he knew so many of his customers. We also really enjoyed the guitar player that was set up right near our table. He played a good range of music, and kept us entertained, even when the food failed to do so.

Out of five headless friars, (because like a lot of older restaurants, people have seen ghosts, and the one that is said to frequent this place is a headless Friar, out in front of the restaurant), five being best to zero being worst, El Adobe De Capistrano gets 2.5 headless friars.

For more information about El Adobe De Capistrano, go to their website here:

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  1. I like Mexican food but the drawback is that a lot of them taste very similar unless you go to a more upscale Mexican restaurant. It's hard to tell the difference between a chicken taco from one Mexican place and a chicken taco from the other. That' just my 2 cents

    As always, thanks for the review and go try Breas Best!

  2. I haven't eaten at El Adobe a lot, but I have generally liked what I have eaten there. I had the Presidential plate there 2 weeks ago and enjoyed it. Once, at a buffet set-up, I had some chicken enchilada's with green sauce that I thought were the best I ever had - the chicken was very good. I haven't had the carnitas, though to compare. In my own experience, though, it's been more of a 3 "King Timahoe's" (for Nixon's setter dog).

  3. Anonymous #1 - I know I promised Brea's Best, and we are going soon. I agree with you about a lot of Mexcian joints being the same, it just means you have to look harder for the better spots. Try El Farolito in Placentia for a good non-upscale chicken taco. Very tasty. Thanks so much for your two cents, I always appreciate the comments.

    Mike Hu - Thanks for the input. Maybe we caught them on an off night, or I was expecting too much. That's the problem with doing this blog, there are so many places we want to go, that a restaurant usually only has one chance to impress us before we are off to the next spot. Katie's family is fond of El Adobe, so I'm sure i'll be back again.