30th Street has clearly become the giving tree of the San Diego food scene. Just when it was beginning to look like North Park’s most scintillating strip might not have another growth spurt left, another crop of restaurants and bars rose up. including El Take It Easy, a promising cantina from The Linkery owner Jay Porter and executive chef Max Bonacci with input from lauded Baja and Mexico City chef Jair Tellez. The idea of a restaurant with the same commitment to local produce, seafood and meats, combined with influences from Tijuana, Ensenanda and Valle de Guadalupe sure sounded like a great place to eat prior to Stone Sour Fest, or just about any area event.
House Pickled Local Vegetables ($5) have become popular statewide as farm-to-table restaurants have worked to extend the season, and El Take It Easy had a pretty good version. The plate didn’t look pretty, but offerings included sliced fennel, zucchini, squash, rough cut onion, little bitter padron peppers, even lip-puckering chunks of lemon with edible rinds.
Local Corvina and Jalapeno Empanadas ($6) were very good, with crisp crimped edges, not too much dough, and creamy corvina that oozed from the cores of the pockets like magma. Better yet: the empanadas came with a tangy lemon pepper aioli dipping sauce.
An area where El Take It Easy lagged, at least during our meal, was with taco construction. Their House Made Sausage Tacos ($9.50) features halved and grilled links of Iowa sausage, a pork sausage with basil and thyme. The sausage could have been chopped, and it would have been easier to eat, like pastor. Instead, the taco was more like a hot dog in a tortilla with salty crumbled cotija, crunchy shredded cabbage and hot sauce. The presentation was one issue. So was the corn tortilla, which was limp, luke warm and not very appealing.
They sold Local Fish Tacos ($9) either smoked or grilled and we requested the smoked version, which was shredded and dressed with a similar complement of accompaniments, but with the added bonus of melted Toma cheese. Smoked marlin and melted cheese is a pretty common combo in Baja, so breaking with conventional wisdom and pairing seafood with cheese didn’t bother me. Again, it was the tortilla that was most lacking.
Berkshire Pork in Pibil Sauce ($11.50) was unlike a lot of Yucatan-style Pibil, but still fairly enjoyable. In this case, chunks of premium pork stewed in achiote and citrus sauce arrived darker and richer than usual, served with rolled-up, pull-apart flour tortillas.
We pretty much had to order the Specialty of the House ($24), which had nothing to do with Mexico. Instead, it was a bistro classic that would seem to fit better with The Linkery concept. Regardless, the grass-fed bavette (flank) steak had a good sear, with rosy center and rich red wine reduction. Skin on steak fries were pretty good, creamy inside and crisp at the edges. We would have liked even more of that savory mustard aioli.
Cervezas Preparadas, surprisingly made with Victory Prima Pils, a Czech-style beer from Pennsylvania, included Laguna Salada ($7). Our rich, especially savory michelada combined lime juice, hot sauce, English sauce (Worcestershire) and tajine, a chile salt rim dressed with a slice of lime.
We didn’t have the space to order the “Cezar” salad or stir-fry shrimp melt tacos, both takes on Baja classics, and we didn’t have time to order the churros or local strawberry and bay leaf cobbler, since we had to reach Stone Sour Fest, though they all sounded tempting.
Aside from the tacos, our meal was basically pretty solid. The biggest disappointment was that El Take It Easy seemed to have toned down the intensity of the Baja influence on their menu. Kentucky fried buches, chicken necks in the style of a particular Tijiuana taqueria, were long gone from the menu. They’d also sent sweet and sour chicken heads out to pasture. After our meal, on Twitter, the official El Take It Easy tweeter responded to my entreaty, saying: “i think pastured chicken isn’t fully in season yet here, when it comes more available maybe.” Hopefully the buches and chicken heads are able to return. If not, the menu will have matriculated more to the middle, featuring sustainable, organic and local options, but less Mexican flair, which would still make El Take It Easy a good addition to the neighborhood, but not all that distinctive from The Linkery, and not a true destination for an Angeleno.