I used to live in a little college town called San Luis Obispo, CA, and in this town, at a small fork in the road, sat a sandwich shop named Ben Franklin’s. This cozy little joint, with psychedelic dragons painted all over it, was my go-to eatery, the first place I thought of when my stomach started calling. Even now, four years after leaving, my order is fresh in my mind, “large #7, no pickles, no lettuce” I would say, “hi Jimmy, it’ll be ready in about 10 minutes” came the answer. In the time it took me to drive down Higuera St., all 21″ of lunch and dinner would be waiting for me, taking up two full sandwich sleeves. At face value, Ben’s is nothing special, it’ll never win any originality competitions, it’s just another sandwich shop in sea of them in that little town. But it my expert opinion, they did it best, and that’s what matters. The point of my story…is this, wherever you live, you’re not truly home until you’ve got “your place”, THE place, the one you suggest when your friends ask where to eat when they’re in town, the place you crave when mealtime rolls around, the one restaurant you’re always in the mood for. I’m happy to say, I think I may have found my latest haunt, El Jefe Luchador.
After Ben’s, I was resigned to the fact that I’d never find a place that single-handedly made me feel right at home. So far, Jefe is doing a darn fine job of it. First impressions were superlative, killer music, cool atmosphere and enough lucha libre paraphernalia to make Nacho clench in his stretchy pants. However a restaurant needs more than hip accoutrements and Mexican wrestling schtick to impress, they need to step up to the plate with some fresh ingredients! (I take it you all know when to invoke Nacho’s voice) El Jefe has this part down pat. Their menu is jam-packed with primarily traditional Mexican fare with a nice Asian pile-drive to the face or a punch to the face. Of course the “Asian/Latin” fusion thing has been done a million times before, some good and some bad. The trick is in the balance and not getting too cute with the combinations, and Jefe gets it right. While they may tread dangerously close to kitsch with items named El Chicharron and El Don Hamburgueso (all right guys let’s settle down with these names…I’m just kidding I love ’em!), the food backs up the crazy theme and brings it all together.
Tacos with heaping piles of steaming carnitas get body slammed with a hoisin salsa and kimchee slaw. There’s an interesting KFC riffed taco with “OG” recipe fried chicken, pickled onions, salsa fresca and queso Americano. They’ve got six different street style plates including tacos, burritos, tortas and nachos that you can customize with your favorite preparation like al pastor, barbacoa and the like. It doesn’t stop there, with special tacos, tortas and quesadillas, you’d be hard pressed to try everything in a year. From my experience the absolutely insane El Chicharron will rein you in and hit you in the mouth like Mascarita Sagrada doing the Hurracanrana. This taco literally has 1″x1″ cubes of solid pork belly. Who am I kidding, it’s nearly straight pork fat, and dear lord do they fry it perfectly. They top the lardo chunks with ancho smoked tomato, salsa suave, guacamole and cabbage slaw. They keep it crazy with barbacoa quesidillas drizzled in truffle crema, feel like a torta, how about El Borracho, consisting of a fried egg, beans, cheese and chipotle salsa? And this egg is no lie, it just might give you eagle powers.
Throw in Mexican sodas, microbrewed beers and seasonal sangrias and you’ve got the makings of a true campeón. In my relatively short time in South Florida, I’ve come to love this strip mall taco shop. Will it rise to Ben’s fame? Only time will tell. So don’t you want to taste the glory? See what it tastes like? Of course you do! Get down here and put El Jefe Luchador through its paces.