Secret love affair with Juanita’s revealed

Back in the day, Juanita’s was known as my forbidden late night lover due to the fact that indulging in that much food after a certain point in the evening is probably not the healthiest thing to be doing, but it’s oh so good at the time. Another good sign Juanita’s is the real deal is when many locals go out of town for any extended period of time it’s always on the short list of places they need to eat to feel like they are home again.
Juanita’s has been my circle of friends’ go-to Mexican since I moved to Leucadia. At first this was due primarily to it being the closest Mexican place around, but over time and some exploring, it has solidified itself as my favorite for its trifecta of killer food, old school vibe and their perfection of the bag snap. That’s right, the bag snap. Any solid Mexican joint has someone in the back who can snap open a to go brown paper bag with the flick of a wrist, creating a snapping sound that is a telltale sign to an attentive customer that an order is up and it just might be theirs. Juanita’s has a roster full of pro bag snappers. Occasionally there is a flubbed first attempt, but that’s usually a rookie and they always pull it together on the second try. If you are not familiar with it, pay attention next time. It’s a good thing.
The vibe at Juanita’s really depends on the time of day. Early morning is usually pretty mellow with a smattering of patrons either fueling up on breakfast burritos for a hard day of work ahead or maybe nursing a hangover. Mid-morning fills up with hungry surfers, filing in to satisfy a surf-induced hunger after a session. Expect a steady stream through the rest of the day with a busy lunch that extends through the afternoon, a budget- yet quality-minded dinner crowd, then maybe a little lull, then full force with the late night crowd making a beeline with fire in their eyes to enjoy one of the most satisfying late night dining experiences ever. I’ve seen some serious party girls and boys of all ages late night at Juanita’s. From rockers to clubbers to skaters to restaurant workers and highbrows in their tuxedos and gowns, it’s great people watching.
It’s built for functionality not aesthetics but that’s part of its cool. The old school booths, picnic tables on the 101 and the barred windows are pure SoCal, not some chain trying to recreate what we have here.
They are all coming for the same thing, good solid Mexican food that won’t break the bank. The sign out front says Carnitas Tepatitlan, which translates into some of the best carnitas anywhere. It is inspired by the Tepatitlan region in Mexico where they specialize in this delectable method of slow cooking pork to an appropriate tenderness, then the heat is turned up and the outside of the pork is crisped then pulled apart, similar to a pulled pork sandwich. Because the seasoned pork is so tender and flavorful, minimal garnishes are needed, if any at all.
I would also put Juanita’s fish taco up against any in town and it’s not always been that way. There is some extra crunchy goodness going on now and it’s delicious. It seems as though every Juanita’s fan has their own favorite but some of the more consistent raves are for the California burrito, Machaca burrito, the veggie burrito and tostada/cheese enchilada combo plate. I’ve always been a big fan of the bean, cheese and rice with guacamole. One of my favorite things to do is to go to Juanita’s with another big eater and get the burrito surf and turf sampler as we call it. Order three burritos, fish, California and veggie, cut them all in half and each eat a half. Yes, a burrito and a half each is a little indulgent but it’s all good for a hearty appetite.
Some advice upon entering Juanita’s, be ready to order when you get to the register. If that means stepping to the back of the line until you have it together, it’s well worth it. Trust me. Get there now at 290 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas. Call (760) 943-9612 for more information.

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