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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

El Adobe de Capistrano - Review #1

Date of Visit: February 21, 2009
El Adobe de Capistrano
31891 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(949) 493-1163

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When I have a huge backlog to get through my entries tend to get less wordy but I try to make up for it with more pictures. Met up at El Adobe de Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano recently for dinner with my cousin Scott and his wife Stacy and their new kid. Scott had been wanting to go for a while.

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I should mention that people often search for information on where President Richard Nixon ate Mexican food at in Orange County. Well, it's not just one place. I have already covered three places that he ate at (use the search box at the top of the blog and search on "Nixon" to find them; if I mention them by name here in this entry it gets search engines all confused) but El Adobe is actually the restaurant where he influenced the menu.

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According to a recent issue of Orange Coast Magazine this old, old jail opened in 1948 as El Adobe restaurant, which, strangely enough, didn't serve Mexican food. I guess the Mexican food craze hadn't caught on yet but Richard Nixon went in the early 70's and asked the head chef to make him some Mexican food then convinced the owners to convert the whole restaurant into a Mexican one. Maybe the time was ripe for a restaurant with a Mexican name and a Mexican chef to start serving Mexican food because they took the former president's suggestion and have been serving Mexican food ever since.

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Not only are they now a Mexican restaurant but they are also an official Historical Landmark:

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And an official historical site:

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You see, this building, which used to be two buildings, was built way back in 1840 and served as a stage depot, a courtroom and a jail (update: I think actually one building was built in 1778 and the other in 1812 and they were joined in 1840). When you enjoy a meal here try to figure out what part you are sitting in. I believe you can even request to be seated in an old jail cell.

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The food, well, the food is like all the Mexican food from sit-down restaurants that opened up in California in the 1970's. That's not to say it's bad but if you've tried it at one place you've tried it at every place. You start off with chips and salsa and most entrees come with Spanish rice, refried beans with a little melted cheese on top, and some form of meat in some form of tortilla. That's not to say the menu's never undergone any modernization but when you come to a place like this you're really intending to step back in time.

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Stacy loved her Marinated Grilled Shrimp Salad, "large grilled shrimp over mixed greens tossed with balsamic vinaigrette, garnished with tomato." And I loved the one shrimp I got to try from it.

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Scott, feeling presidential, ordered the "Presidents Choice" combo, concocted by Nixon himself and composed of a chile relleno, a chicken enchilada, and a taco.

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I pulled my huevos-rancheros-for-dinner trick again. Again, very standard with two fried eggs over a corn tortilla, and topped with ranchero sauce, and rice and beans on the side. Not much to rave or complain about.

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Come for the historical aspect and have some food while you're at it. They say that this region is one of the oldest inhabited areas in California. When you're done eating perhaps you can go ghost hunting.

Click here to see the complete album (25 photos) at .

2 comments:

Rick Stein said...

I've lived in San Juan Capistrano for almost 20 years, and have to say that El Adobe is just one of those "classic" places you come back to every so often. The food is consistently good, and the reviewer has done a great job characterizing it.

Don't overlook the bar, which is a great place to have a margarita on a hot afternoon after visiting the Mission or the historic Los Rios district. They'll serve you your meal there, too, if you like.

ChristianZ said...

Thanks for the comment, Rick. Sounds like you know the place well.