40 Different Chilies Create Outrageously Good Flavor

I’m an adventurous eater always in search of new preparations I can try to imitate. Show me something I haven’t had before, and I’ll usually opt for it. Rarely do I find what I seek in a San Francisco taqueria. I get so bored with "vegetarian burritos" that consist of "Spanish" rice, mushy pinto beans, tasteless shredded cheese, "fresh" tomato salsa and shredded iceberg lettuce (no matter what the season). Who took actual "vegetables" out of "vegetarian" tacos? And why should salsa be defined by degrees of heat rather than by flavor?

With memories of a few great casual Mexican meals I’ve had (a grilled vegetable burrito in Livermore, CA of all places but, then, why not?, a fresh salsa bar with 18 varieties in Davis, CA, and a dish of grilled corn, heirloom beans and tomatoes, all fresh from local sources in Portland, OR, prepared by Bon Appetit chef Micah Cavolo), I hoped to find a good Mexican place in San Diego which I oh-so-briefly visited over the weekend. Near enough to hike to the border, I figured there had to be a good find. The online foodies pointed to one spot: Super Cocina on University Ave in the North Park area. We parked near a pawn shop and walked in.

I wasn’t disappointed. I was blown away.

A nondescript storefront with tell-tale black iron screen doors and Mexican programming on the TV posted high over the beverage cooler, Super Cocina is the kind of place that give you evidence that the flavor of food really matters, even if that’s what you talk about professionally every day. Unlike the taquerias that list the same eight ingredients 40 different ways, this place always has over 20 different dishes on their buffet — and you can request a small taste of every dish if you can speak Spanish (or simply point and smile). I tried five; they were remarkably rich and distinct from each other. The mole sauce was outrageously good, but everything shined. Our enthusiasm must have been obvious because it was easy to strike up a conversation.

We use 40-50 different chilies to spice our food. Abundant variety: the "secret ingredient." (Though mom in the kitchen and her mother’s recipes must have something to do with it too.) Not possible to imitate if your local supermarket stocks only jalapenos and serranos. I have no idea if the produce they use was grown with chemicals or how far it traveled to their kitchen, but I know that biodiversity takes better. And a great meal with that much flavor is always a good reminder of this.

Helene York, Director, Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation