I thought I might get a little numb to writing restaurant obituaries around Encinitas, specifically Leucadia, in the name of “progress,” given the frequency they’ve occurred over the past few years. So when the news that Karina’s Taco Shop was closing hit me, I had a decision to make.
Maybe I would just accept and embrace the changes and become numb to the loss of the old-school, family-run restaurants that drew me to this coastal paradise. I’ve really tried, though. And it’s not like we really have any other choice, right?
My appreciation of quality cuisine, combined with some of the stellar new concepts that have arrived, has softened the blow a bit. I’m also a firm believer in a healthy mix of old and the new, side by side, like Karina’s Taco Shop next to Kai Ola and A Little Moore, and across the street from Mana, when that was a thing.
That would be a best-case scenario as Encinitas becomes all fancy, but changing market conditions resulted in Karina’s decision not to renew their lease. That’s business, I guess.
With that, there is still time, albeit short, to show your support to this family-run business that has been in Leucadia for 40 years…though you better do it quickly as they will be closing their doors for good in mid-November.
The backstory goes something like this: In 1981, in Spring Valley, the late Don Arnulfo Contreras and his wife María Inés Curiel opened the first of many Karina’s restaurants, named in honor of their daughter. Like many of his peers, Don Arnulfo recognized the desire of many of his fellow immigrants for an authentic establishment offering traditional Mexican cuisine. Their Leucadia location followed in 1983, and they currently operate 10 restaurants around San Diego.
Given the plethora of Mexican joints along coastal Leucadia, where personal allegiances can be formed based on proximity, my early pick was Juanita’s based on its walkable location. Since I moved north, Karina’s piqued my interest as it was a block away.
When I heard the news they were closing their doors, I made it a point to frequent it more often and get to know the women who worked there, some of whom are part of the family business, including Elizabeth and Mayra. I even had the good fortune of meeting and getting to know Karina herself and their mom Ines.
I also had the pleasure of eating my way through a good portion of the menu. I have to start with my favorite, their 7 Mares Soup which translates into 7 seas soup. It’s a delicious homemade soothing bowl of goodness with house-made fish stock, shrimp, cod, calamari and plenty of hearty vegetables. It’s one of those healing soups similar to the chicken soup at La Especial Norte. It’s a huge serving and could be easily split by two people. They run out quickly, though, so it’s best to call ahead to ensure they have it available.
The Shrimp Soup is another winner and very similar except loaded with shrimp. To round out the soup offerings, they have Menudo and Birria, and all soups come with your choice of flour or corn tortillas.
Campechana is a shrimp cocktail, and it’s another sizable portion of hearty shrimp and avocado. Shrimp plates are served with tortillas and come with either a Diabla or Ranchero sauce. Their fish tacos and burritos are solid as well.
Those in the know on Karina’s swear by the burrito selection and size, including their famous Bomb Burrito, which is basically a giant California burrito with some extra fixings. Besides all the burritos one would expect, including, but not limited to the Carnitas, Shredded Chicken, Carne Asada, Al Pastor, Cabeza, Birria and Shrimp, there are some unexpected ones like the Surf & Turf.
Enchiladas, Tortas, Quesadillas and Tostada’s are all represented nicely with chicken, beef, pork and seafood options.
Breakfast is a popular option as well, with folks lining up early for their hearty Supreme Burrito with three eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, cheese and sour cream. This monster can be extended to lunch and, in many cases, breakfast the next day.
They offer the standard Mexican beverage choices, including the largest bottle of Mexican Coke I’ve encountered Another nice touch is the food is delivered to your table by one of the women.
Get to this local gem while you can at 916 N. Coast Highway 101 Encinitas.