Tamarindo puts a Latin twist on classic comfort food

When walking into the wanderlustful Tamarindo Latin Kitchen and Bar, guests are transported to the far-reaching corners of Latin America. From the highly danceable music drifting through the airwaves to the Havana-inspired facade on the wall, being inside of Tamarindo doesn’t feel like you’re still in San Diego.

“When we were designing the look of it, we wanted to make it look like we were in a zócalo, which is a town square in a Latin American country, and have that feel of where people gather and talk and get together and mingle,” District Manager Steve Blasingham said.

Opened in May 2017, the North Park restaurant uses ingredients and dishes from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean Islands and Spain as inspiration for its fusion-style menu.

“We really focus on comfort food with a little bit of a Latin twist,” said Ray Ha, general manager. “We’re really targeting for something that is a little more innovative and taking Latin America as an inspiration for it.”

While creating new menu items, Blasingham sometimes draws inspiration from his grandmother and great-grandmother’s cooking. His grandmother was from Morelia, Michoacán in Mexico and his great-grandmother was born in Spain and raised in Morelia.

“Sometimes when we’re tasting something, I can see myself sitting in my great-grandmother’s kitchen when I was a little kid and her serving it to me and I go, ‘This reminds me of great-grandma,’” Blasingham said.

Aside from aiming to serve modern twists on classic dishes, the team at Tamarindo also strives to serve healthy comfort foods.

“(For) the food, we wanted it to be fresh, good, local whenever we can, healthier than maybe some traditional Latin American dishes, but still definitely have its roots in Latin American flavors,” Blasingham said.

One of the most popular dishes from the current menu is the short rib glazed with tamarindo and served atop a corn puree with sauteed baby kale and heirloom tomatoes. Salty notes from the braised meat are balanced with the sweetness of the glaze, Ha said. 

“Tamarind is one of my favorite flavors, in general, from South America,” Ha said. “I’ve been to Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador, and it’s just something that’s very unique in that region.”

To create this plate, the short ribs are slow roasted in a combi oven that allows the cooks to control for humidity in addition to controlling for heat and time, Ha said. The result is a tender short rib that doesn’t get dried out in the oven and practically melts off the bone.

In addition to a diverse menu, Tamarindo also offers a list of cocktails made with house-made ingredients.

“Our cocktail program is definitely a focus of ours and a lot of our cocktails are handcrafted,” Ha said. “A lot of mixers or infusions are done in-house, we make a lot of our own syrups, we make a lot of our own juices — we juice in-house, by hand.”

The restaurant’s namesake cocktail — the Margarita Tamarindo — reinvents the classic margarita by including tamarind, a spicy tajin salt rim and a shot of mezcal on the side.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of spirits created from agave, and mezcal is one of them,” Ha said. “We try to introduce people to a little more of the smoky side of an agave spirit like mezcal with the (Margarita Tamarindo).”

Tamarindo serves happy hour every day from 3 to 6 p.m., and specials last all day on Tuesdays, along with $4 tacos, tostadas and sopes. Adding to their Taco Tuesday offerings, Tropical Thursday specials will be revealed in October along with a a newly updated menu featuring several Caribbean Island-inspired dishes.

This story was also published in The Daily Aztec.


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