By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Lurking pleasantly in the shadows of trendy restaurants and bars that dominate this area of 30th Street and Adams Avenue is Señor Mango’s. The eatery’s dive-y exterior is further upstaged by the adjoining Leon Produce, which steals your eye with the kind of appeal any old-fashioned neighborhood market would.
Señor Mango’s is tightly focused on tortas constructed with super-fresh rolls from a local Mexican bakery. It’s also brimming with fresh fruits that make their regional trek into smoothies, bowls and escamochas. The latter is what drew me here, not to mention the cheap prices.
There’s enough fruit adorning the small order counter inside to fashion a dozen Carmen Miranda headdresses — pineapples, mangos, papayas, bananas, etc. Seating inside is limited to about four tables plus two wobbly high tops sitting out front, although customers can plunk down on the picnic tables next door at Leon’s since both business share the same ownership.
Escamochas are a Mexican fruit dessert of cubed, tropical fruit piled into a tall glass with sweet cream or condensed milk poured into it. Common to popsicle shops (paleterias) in Tijuana — the city where I first sunk a long spoon into one — they’re a delicious cross between an English trifle and American fruit salad.
Señor Mango’s puts out a fine version with the bonus of sliced almonds and shredded coconut strewn throughout. I ordered the small size ($5.75), which most would guess as large. Served in a clear, plastic glass, the mosaic of tropical fruits mingled beautifully with sweet cantaloupe in what turned out to be a meal in itself. Half of it came home with us.
Hubby’s fruit fix came with the “pico de gallo” salad consisting of watermelon, oranges, mango, jicama, and cucumber dressed in lime juice and sprinkled with a little chili seasoning. Exceedingly cool and refreshing, this is how you say hello to summer.
Other fruity choices include a variety of licuados, which involve different blends of fresh fruit, granola, low-fat milk, ice cream and shaved ice. There are also trendy acai bowls, if you must.
The menu extends to eight different tortas, one of them vegetarian. We ordered two, the chicken and the pork loin, listed as the “lomo.”
The former was filled with a fair measure of everyday mayo-based chicken salad made with breast meat. It was layered between crisp lettuce, thick slices of avocado and a slice of Provolone cheese. The sandwich’s strong point was the springy, comforting torta roll, which we were told arrive daily from a local Mexican bakery. I jazzed up the innards with some of hubby’s brined jalapeno peppers that came with his pork torta. They imparted the south-of-the-border kick I craved.
The pulled pork on his torta is supposedly spiked with guajillo chilies. We couldn’t see any, although the meat carried a faint, peppery flavor that proved capsaicin was present. That torta was garnished with lettuce and avocado as well, in addition to onions, tomatoes and American cheese. (If the processed yellow stuff doesn’t float your boat, ask for panela cheese instead.)
All of the tortas are priced at $6.25 (plus tax). They’re outright bargains considering you need a wide grip for lifting them to your mouth. Consumed in conjunction with our fruit items, it seemed unlikely we’d finish them. Though based on their fine merits, we did.
Other choices include ham, roast beef, tuna salad, and a meat lover’s version stacked with turkey, ham and roast beef. For that, you may need to balance it with a healthy shot of freshly made wheatgrass. No doubt, Señor Mango’s sells those too.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.