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The Taste Buds take a foodie journey to Miguel's Cocina in Carlsbad

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News has a regular dining-out column written by The Taste Buds, SDGLN's resident foodies. Today's review is by Sweet, one of our staffers who plan to keep his/her identity the best-kept secret in San Diego, and guest foodie Umami.

* 5980 Avenida Encinas just off Interstate 5, Carlsbad, CA 92008
* 760-759-1843441
* Website: Miguels Cocina.com
* Open 11 am to 10 pm Sundays through Thursdays, 11 am to 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays. Happy Hour is 3 pm to close Mondays, 3 to 6:30 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays. Brunch served 10 am to 2:30 pm Sundays.

Once in a while, it is fun to get out of town for a foodie adventure, and The Brigantine Family of Restaurants tempted the Taste Buds into trying out its newest Miguel’s Cocina location in lovely Carlsbad.

After arriving in North County, Sweet and Umami take a leisurely drive along the Pacific Ocean and then walk along the beach to work up the appetite for our visit to Miguel’s Cocina in Carlsbad. Miguel’s also has locations in Old Town, Point Loma, Coronado, 4S Ranch and Eastlake in Chula Vista.

A fair warning: On weekends, it is not easy to find an empty parking spot in this busy strip that includes two popular fast-food spots and two other sit-down restaurants. Valet parking would be a nice addition for Miguel’s to consider.

Anyhow, there is good reason that the parking lot is full when we arrive at 6 pm last Friday. Miguel’s is packed, and there is a waiting line already. Inside, the spacious restaurant is bustling with wait staff scurrying about while patrons enjoy the spacious bar area or dine. A massive fireplace separates one of the dining rooms from the open bar.

The chef at Miguel’s chose our dishes to provide an overall sampling of the menu, which is designed by Steve Floyd, executive corporate chef for the Brigantine Family of Restaurants.

Hector, our attentive waiter, recommends that we try Miguel’s Ultimate Margarita ($10), the house specialty that is made with centenario “azul” reposado, patrón citrónge orange liqueur, grand marnier and fresh citrus juices. For those expecting a tart margarita, this one is on the sweet side.

The Ultimate Margarita comes in a plastic shaker filled with ice, so each of us get about two glasses of the classic Mexican cocktail. We find that the refill is partially diluted by the melting ice, weakening the flavor.

Hector brings a big basket of tortilla chips, two containers of queso and one of salsa. The queso is mild, and Sweet wishes for a pinch of heat. Umami likes it, especially when it is fresh and warm. The taste changes when the cheese cools and the fat from the melted cheese begins to pool up. The salsa is based on a thick tomato sauce, not diced tomatoes used by most Mexican-style restaurants, with the usual diced onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro.

The soup and the appetizer

Chef starts us off with Albondigas ($4 per cup, $6 per bowl), a soup with Mexican meatballs floating in a tomato-vegetable broth.

The flavorful meatballs consist of ground beef mixed very lightly with rice. Ground pepper and cumin give the meatballs some delightful heat.

The soup, filled with diced tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots and zucchini, has a great taste and is very hearty and filling.

Next up is Carne Adobada Mulitas ($10), a generous plate of corn tortilla triangles filled with marinated pork, refried beans and shredded cheese. An avocado tomatillo salsa accompanies with the appetizer.

The pork is sweet, having been marinated in orange juice, cinnamon and other spices. Sweet, of course, loves the pork. Both Sweet and Umami notes that the tortillas are too thick for the dish, and the flavor of the "little cake" overwhelms the pork. Sweet wishes that the tortilla had been crispier, so as to add another layer of texture to the dish. Still, this appetizer is quite yummy when utilizing the classic salsa as a counterbalance to the sweetness of the pork.

The main courses

The first main course is Grilled Swordfish Tacos ($11), using chunks of Sonoran-spiced swordfish, red cabbage, shredded cheese, salsa fresca and ranch dressing.

The swordfish is definitely the star of the show in this lovely taco. The large pieces of fish are plentiful and flavorful. The black beans and the finely diced mango, cilantro, onion and cabbage are complimentary to the seafood, not overpowering, and that is a wonderful thing. Both of the Taste Buds wonder, though, about the need for the ranch dressing as a side sauce for the tacos, since it seems like an odd choice and masks the swordfish flavor.

The other main course is the popular Tacos al Carbon ($15), grilled marinated steak wrapped in fresh flour tortillas and served with pisilla salsa and queso fresco.

The meat is flavorful and tender, again benefiting from a delightful marinade. The pasillo salsa is excellent, and Hector beams when we tell him that and he pays it his highest compliment by saying that it reminds him of the pasillo salsa his mother makes.

The refried beans are a step above the usual, almost creamy in texture with two cheeses melted over it, plus a queso cheese sprinkled on top of everything.

The desserts

The chef wants to make sure we waddle out of the restaurant, serving up two desserts along with Mexican coffee ($6.50) using Kahlua liqueur, tequila and whipped cream.

The Coconut Flan ($4.50) is not your typical Mexican custard. Toasted coconut and strawberry slices provide additional texture to the dish, elevating it to a new level. The flan is denser than is typical of this egg-heavy dessert, and tastes like condensed milk might have been used rather than coconut milk and coconut cream.

The Apple Chimis ($6) are like a Mexican version of an apple turnover, served a la mode with a caramel crème Anglaise sauce. Sweet says the dessert is too doughy and wants more diced apples in the dish. Umami eats every bite.

Wrapping up

It’s clear that the Carlsbad area has embraced the new Miguel’s Cocina. Even as we left the packed restaurant, the line waiting outside was still long. The Taste Buds were happy to journey out of the gayborhood and go on an adventure to North County.

Photo captions: Top left is Albondigas. Middle left is Carne Adobada Mulitas. Bottom left is Tacos al Carbon. Cover photo are the desserts Apple Chimis (left) and Coconut Flan (right).