Hold the Grease: Tacos with Potatoes and Skillet Corn and A Trip to Old Town San Diego

Late in April each year the Cinco de Mayo ruckus begins.  Ads on television air, local restaurants sport signs about Cinco de Mayo happy hours and don strings of red, green, and white flags, grocery stores advertise their specials full of bagged chips and cheese sauce in jars, and Twitter is abuzz with questions about what everyone will be making for their Cinco de Mayo parties.

“Interesting” but far from authentic variations on tacos and guacamole surface, there’s talk of new-fangled margaritas and cerveza, and for those interested in dessert, margarita cupcakes seem to be everywhere sporting that perfectly swirled, creamy top.  “You want it with or without salt?”

Or in the case of a favorite, fresh snack of mango, melon, papaya, and cucumber or jicama, “You want it with or without chili lime salt?” Yes, please.

When you live in San Diego, good Mexican food is easy to find any time of the year, and the ingredients to make your own at home are also plentiful, so why wait until Cinco de Mayo to enjoy it all?  Because it’s a reason to party.  Why not, I guess, right?  I never need a reason to eat good Mexican food or drink margaritas.  Ever.

Old Town San Diego, a California State Park, is a great place to enjoy Mexican food, margaritas, and if you haven’t had too many margaritas, early California history.  It’s especially nice to visit on a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon after yet another busy season — and well before Cinco de Mayo when the crowds can be crazy.  If you’re someone who enjoys a crowd, then Old Town is the place for you. The question is whether most of the party-goers flock to the restaurants inside or outside the official boundaries of the state park which is considered the birthplace of California and in 1769, where Father Junipero Serra built the first of 21 missions in California.

We recently enjoyed the food and margaritas at Cafe Coyote & Cantina in Old Town just outside the state park while watching the tortilla makers.  Just thinking about those chunky orbs of hand-patted dough makes me want to settle down with a few hot from the griddle, but I only have corn tortillas right now.  They’re locally made, even if they’re not hot off the griddle.  I was too lazy to get out my tortilla press.

But before I share the recipe with you, do you actually know what Cinco de Mayo is really about?


Potato Tacos with Skillet Corn

corn tortillas

l lb. russet potatoes, about 2 medium, quartered and boiled

1 roasted jalapeno, stemmed and peeled

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, chopped and divided

3 green onions, chopped

1 T olive oil

hand full cilantro leaves, lightly chopped, divided

3 cobs corn, kernels removed

1 c. green cabbage, slivered

1 tomato, sliced thinly

1/4 red onion, sliced thinly

sliced radishes

salsa verde, canned

1 lime, quartered

cotija cheese for sprinkling

Prepare the potatoes by quartering with the peelings on, covering them with water in a medium lidded sauce pan, bringing to a boil over medium high heat and cooking until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.  Drain then remove the peelings by peeling with your fingers.  Discard the peelings.  Cut the potatoes into smaller cubes and set aside.

Prepare the jalapeno by grilling or broiling until the skin is blackened, then wrap in a clean dish towel while you prepare the corn.  After the corn is prepared, remove the stem, peel off the blackened skin, and chop the jalapeno seeds and all.  Set aside.

To prepare the corn, cut from the cob with a sharp knife and place in a dry, heated cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Allow to cook undisturbed until the skin on the kernels begins to brown, then stir to allow more browning.  Mix in 1 clove of chopped garlic, season with salt and pepper, and squeeze on some fresh lime juice from a quarter piece of lime.  Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

To finish the potatoes, add the olive oil to the same skillet the corn was cooked in.  Add the potatoes as well and cook over medium heat making sure the potatoes are in a single layer.  Season with salt, pepper, and the cumin, tossing lightly.  Add about half the chopped green onions to the mixture and toss lightly again.  Continue to cook until the potatoes begin to brown.  Add  a pinch or two of the chopped cilantro and squeeze over fresh lime juice from a quarter piece of lime.  Keep warm.

To build a taco, take a few unfried tortillas and wrap them in a clean dish cloth.  Place them in the microwave and heat on high for about 20-30 seconds.  Remove from the microwave.

Build taco by placing potato first, then the fixings of your choice after.


  • Saveur is featuring Tacos de Papa in the May, 2011 issue.  The recipe is made with a mashed potato mixture that is placed into the tortillas, then fried until crisp.  No, I haven’t tried that one.  I had a flash of mashed fried potatoes coming out of the tortillas as I was frying them and decided I’d wait on that one.  Maybe a bite-sized fried taco is in my future.
  • If you’re used to meat in your tacos (or fish) this might take a bit of getting used to, but we liked it quite a bit.  A compromise would be to mash the potatoes after the browning before they go into the taco, but that doesn’t change the flavor, so I guess it’s a texture thing.
  • Make sure everything is well-seasoned, as in salsa, salt, pepper, and whatever seasonings you enjoy.  I could have gone with even more jalapeno in these easily.
  • I love Embassa salsa and although I often make my own salsa verde, I rarely do so for tacos — especially when the Embassa is so good.
  • We enjoyed these for dinner, then I mixed it up a bit the next day by adding the radishes which were nice and spicy.
  • The grilled corn is so wonderful — we really enjoy it.  It’s so easy to make and include in salads, alongside anything barbequed or grilled.
  • If you can’t get cotija cheese, which is dry, salty, and easily crumbled but not something that melts, then feta would be a great substitution.
  • I thought about mixing in some black beans, then didn’t, but think it would be a great addition.
  • All things considered, a not so heavy, greasy, fat-laden meal.  Nice.
  • If you’re more interested in a Mexican street-style taco, I’ve made those, too.