La Piñata Mexican Restaurant with its bright white exterior, red tile roof, and grand archway over the parking entrance, is the oldest restaurant in San Diego’s historic Old Town neighborhood. Its storied past began in 1932 when a local family decided to start serving food out of their house to the workers at an olive factory across the street. Over the decades the house has transformed into the Mexican restaurant it is today. The ceiling of the family-owned restaurant is covered with brightly colored hanging piñatas – even one of Donald Trump, if you’re lucky – that are all for sale. The lively restaurant is family-friendly; in fact, it has a “treasure chest” for diners aged three to 10 who can choose something from inside after their meal. The restaurant also has an outdoor patio and roving mariachi musicians. La Piñata is the place to be for Mexican food and a good time.
La Piñata Ambiance
With lime green, orange, bright blue, red, and yellow walls, how can a restaurant be anything but festive? Such is the case with La Piñata. The restaurant has two dining rooms and an outdoor patio. The main dining room is downstairs and crowded with brightly colored tables and ornate painted chairs. Mini-colored lights crisscross the dining area. Strings of plastic chilies and fruit hang from rafters, and the bamboo ceiling is supported with brown beams painted with colorful flowers. Ceramic campesinos, vaqueros, indigenous royalty, and Spanish missions adorn the hand-painted walls, along with paintings of children, elders, landscape scenes, and roosters. Everywhere you turn, there is some new and colorful eye candy.
The upstairs dining room is typically reserved for parties and seats up to 50 guests. It provides diners with a golf course view. The romantic outside patio is perfect for date night. There is a large brick fireplace along the back wall to warm guests on those chilly San Diego evenings. During the day the front of the patio is sunny and bright, and the back is shaded under a trellis. Lovely flowering plants and shrubs, and a bubbling fountain create tranquil garden setting. Several red and green tables, and chairs with fan-shaped backs are scattered around the patio. They can also be set up communal style for parties of up to 25 people. La Piñata provides a pleasurable dining experience whether you’re looking for festive and fun, or quiet and intimate.
La Piñata Food
At La Piñata, diners are offered a choice between a huge, crisp cheese quesadilla or tortilla chips and salsa as a complimentary appetizer. The extensive menu includes a variety of classics like enchiladas, chiles rellenos, burritos, and tacos; there are several appetizers, five soups, including a yummy albondigas – a traditional Mexican meatball soup, and six kinds of salads. Diners can order from the á la carte menu, or order one of the many “Healthy Dining” selections. There are a number of combination, fish, and specialty entrées, plus desserts and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Fish tacos are always a hit with San Diegans and there is no exception at La Piñata. Shrimp fajitas are also popular, along with Pescados Rancheros – Alaskan cod with green bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes, served with rice, beans, and warm tortillas. Another favorite is the Quesadilla Piñata with carne asada and cheese, topped with sour cream and guacamole. Diners rave about the Fajitadilla, a quesadilla with tender steak, onions, peppers, and cheese. Many entrées end with a small bowl of mini churro donuts. Entrée portions are unusually generous.
Tip: If you love margaritas, the one-half liter margarita is cheaper than two regular margaritas and is equivalent to three by volume.
La Piñata Details
The restaurant opens late morning and closes a couple hours after the dinner hour seven days a week. They’re open a little later on Fridays and Saturdays. The family-friendly restaurant serves lunch and dinner and has a children’s menu. The tourists to locals ratio at La Piñata tips toward the locals most days, which is always a good sign. The casual restaurant has a full bar, is ADA accessible, and welcomes groups. They do not have TVs or Wi-Fi. They take reservations for parties of six or more and honor credit cards; they also do take-out, but not delivery. There is a large free parking lot that wraps around the restaurant.
La Piñata Neighborhood
La Piñata is across the street from Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. The park gives visitors a taste of San Diego’s Native American, early pioneer, and Latin American cultures and tells the story of its historic roots. Carefully preserved architecture, more than one hundred specialty stores, thirty restaurants, twelve art galleries, and twenty-five historic sites and buildings make up Old Town, so you never run out of things to see and do. Be sure to visit the Bazaar del Mundo, Old Town Market, and Fiesta de Reyes for truly unique shopping experiences. If you’re staying in the neighborhood, Best Western Hacienda Hotel and Old Town Cosmopolitan Restaurant and Hotel are good choices.