If you take your Mexican food with a side of pretentious, then El Comal is not the place for you. However, if you prefer it with the freshest margarita you’ve ever tasted, then this is your place. El Comal prides itself on not only making the most authentic traditional Mexican food in San Diego, but they go so far as to compare it with mom’s home cooking! This family-run Mexican restaurant delivers on its promises. You’ll leave here with a satisfied smile on your face and still have some money in your pocket.
El Comal restaurant is located on a residential side street in the heart of North Park at 3943 Illinois Street between University and Lincoln Avenues, just three blocks from the heart of North Park; take the I-8 to Texas Street, left on University Avenue, and left on Illinois. You’ll recognize it by its gold exterior, red awnings, and uniquely angled roof in a sea of white and tan-colored houses, apartment buildings, and condominiums. Don’t look for a sign out front; their giant El Comal Antojitos, Bar & Grill sign that lights up at night is on their rooftop. Instead, there’s a Tom’s Plaza sign on the edge of the property featuring three other businesses that share the property behind El Comal.
Inside, the décor is casual Mexican modern. The walls are vivid shades of yellow and red; colorful table cloths with brightly striped runners cover pedestal tables adorned with small bowls of equally vibrant fresh cut flowers. Even the menus are a bright mustard yellow. Light wood bistro-style chairs complement the matching wood floor of the dining area, and sunlight streams in through several large windows making it light and airy inside. A full bar seats about ten people with two flat-screen TVs behind it.
If your mom cooked like this, consider yourself lucky; this is some proper Mexican fare. Begin your meal at El Comal with the delicious Queso Fundido appetizer; get it with peppers for an added zing. The Gordita Exotica is also a winner with grilled steak, cheese, cactus, and mushrooms topped with cream and cotija cheese. Add one of their refreshing margaritas and you’re off to a good start. If you’ve never tried menudo or a grilled cactus salad, this place sets the bar.
The extensive menu includes casseroles like Mole Poblano – chicken in a traditional sweet, spicy chocolate sauce that makes you want to cry it’s so good. There are chef’s recommendations like the Zarape – thin grilled steak topped with chorizo, tomatoes, poblano, peppers, and melted cheese, or try a fish dish like the Seven Seas Soup or whole red snapper. For the kids (or yourself), you can keep it simple with $2.75 soft tacos or 5 Roll Tacos with either chicken or beef for $5. If you just can’t decide, try the Parrillada for two (or two and the kids) that includes two portions each of grilled steak, chicken breast, seasoned pork, smoked pork chops, cactus, rice, beans, Mexican salsa, guacamole, and tortillas for $39.95.
El Comal is a family restaurant in every sense of the word. From the menu to the high chairs and booster seats, children are welcome here. One thing the kids will love is the selection of strawberry, banana, or chocolate shakes to go with those tacos. If that’s too heavy, other favorites with the little ones are horchata or lemonade. There are several tasty vegetarian selections on the menu. Besides the full bar for the adults, there is a wide selection of Mexican beers, plus a couple others. El Comal also serves breakfasts. They do take reservations, but feel free to stop by even if you’re just looking for an antojito (snack) and a Mexican beer.
The street parking out front can be competitive after 5:00 p.m. There is a shaded patio on the side of the restaurant. El Comal opens at 10:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and at 9:00 a.m. on the weekends. They close at 9:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Note that they are also closed Monday through Wednesday afternoons from 3:00-5:00. The prices are extremely reasonable ranging from $2.75 for a taco to $15 for a full dinner; therefore the only discounts offered here are occasional Groupon deals. This restaurant is not on most tourists’ radar, which can be a welcome relief, but the locals love it.
North Park is a hot spot for young professionals, many of whom live in the neighborhood. The music scene and nightlife are big draws to the area. El Comal is within walking distance of Bar Pink or U-31, both showplaces for live music; Lady Dottie and the Diamonds is a local favorite that plays at U-31 on Monday nights. Thursdays you can walk just a few blocks from El Comal to 90s Night at The Office. The North Park version of the San Diego Reader is the best place to find out what’s happening and who’s playing where while you’re in town. Another fun adult venue is Lips Restaurant at 3036 El Cajon Boulevard, where you can attend a drag show brunch with bottomless mimosas on the weekends. The best upscale treats in North Park are at Heaven Sent Desserts at the corner of University and 30th. For the kids, North Park is only a four minute drive from the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park.