By El Vecino
It took me a while to get used to waiting ten minutes for the tattooed, solemn-faced Chicana waitress to take notice of me, and even longer to bear the twenty minute wait for a bean and cheese burrito. And not that Pokez Mexican Restaurant is always too busy, I just chalk it up to the whole “we got good food and don’t need to dance around you” type of ambience.
“This place is all around punk rock. If you can’t handle that, then don’t go,” says ‘Sarah’, a Veg San Diego online critic. “If you can and you like to eat kick-ass Mexican food, GO!” Point taken, so, I got used to it, I guess. And although I haven’t come close to making friends with the staff as the usual tattooed Mohawk-sporting, dread-headed regulars do, I still go. For four years, I’ve been the low key regular whose come to one conclusion that a few disgruntle yuppies wouldn’t stick around for: they’re not rolling out red carpets for you, but that doesn’t mean the food sucks.
Pokez has been around since 1993 and is operated by the Reyes family. Rafael Reyes took ownership a while back when the previous owner, his father, passed away last December and since then, the spot has made a name for itself as a progressive pop, sawdust type of restaurant, decked out with wall to wall gritty art. The outside is probably one of the reasons why I first walked in. A beautiful mural map of Mexico faces 10th St. The restaurant sticks out like a sore thumb, and compared to the surrounding studios á la mode, it looks like a sore thumb. I love it.
It sits on the outskirts of downtown, but lately, I see the place frequented by the coat-and-tie neighbors to the west, a group that I say is invading a hardcore local eatery where I could outspokenly, over a hot plate, bash them, their fancy cars, and the way they treat me when I take my touristy out-of-town buddies to their Gaslamp District.
Has to be the food that’s got us all staring at each other.
Now, I’m not vegetarian like the loyalists that frequent the spot for the tofu tacos, vegan chorizo and machaca, or the copious varieties of veggie specialties. I’m a carnivore and like the carcass side of the menu. But if you’re into that, I’d personally recommend the shrimp tacos, the cheese enchiladas, and my favorite, The Number Eleven, chile rellenos.
At most Mexican restaurants, the bean and cheese burrito is usually the all around lackey of choices to satisfy hunger, although at Pokez, it’s definitely a respectable plate you have to have. Tortillas can derive from flour, whole wheat, and oddly enough, spinach. Flour please. And too, ask for their popularly distinct Salsa Ranchera and melted cheese, which usually blankets across the body of any tortilla-wrapped delicacy they cook up.
I’ve gone through my diets with this place. I’ve had my stint with the Chicken Chimi-changas, a bad habit in the long term. It’s a fried burrito with shredded chicken strands, real guacamole, cheese, and sour cream. They’re a delicious task in size, making the bean and cheese burrito look like a gateway drug, while lying next to a bushel of crispy cabbage flakes draped in more Salsa Ranch-era,. It’s delicious. I wash them down with two Cokes and sides of beans and rice.
In the morning, white folks are welcome to the Gringo Breakfast with the all around American eggs and bacon, but they can even “kick it old school” Mejicano with chilaquiles, machaca, or huevos rancheros. All no more than $4.75 a plate.
Since vegans and everyone else can co-exist here, many carcass plates, like the fajitas and flautas, can be substituted with tofu. Haven’t tried it yet, probably won’t. Don’t really feel the need to. I’m sold on what I already know.
Eating alone? Take about ten to fifteen bucks. Taking a mate? Take twenty-five, max, depending on how generous you are with the propina, and though the chips and homemade Salsa Fresca provided are like no other, leave room for the meal and put the chips to the side. If this wasn’t a valid issue, I wouldn’t have mentioned it.
So, I have to agree with another Veg San Diego critic, R. PP, when he labels Pokez, “The Goodest Bad Service There Is.” They haven’t run me off just yet. Almost every Sunday morning, I’m still waiting a good thirty minutes to get my Number Eleven. Funny thing is I still ask for coffee now and then with no success, an area I find weak. But hey, my one year old son cracked a smile out of the waitress a couple months back, so, I feel we’re making progress, and I don’t want to rock the boat just yet. I’ll give it another four years, and maybe the waitress and I will finally exchange names.
Pokez Mexican Restaurant is located at 947 E Street in Downtown San Diego, and is surrounded by metered parking. Walk, take change, or go for dinner. Open weekly from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
(La Prensa’s For the Vecinos is a new weekly column that highlights homegrown San Diego indy businesses, favoring restaurants. If you can put up with a few minutes of El Vecino checking your scene, send us an invite firstname.lastname@example.org.)