Never judge a restaurant by its location. It seems the best food is in the worst part of town. After months of searching for an acceptable substitute for my beloved Costa Azul, I stumbled upon a Mexican Food mecca, Efren’s Deli Shop in Oceano. Having just returned from Cancun and craving the spicy/hot wonderfulness that is Mexican food, I was over joyed to find this family run restaurant. The Alvarez Family has been dishing out authentic, delicious Mexican food for over three years. Efren Alvarez opened the deli with help from his brother Martin and sister Santa Alvarez.
Having just recovered from a fire in September 2011, Efren’s is running strong with a lively take-out business and a casual dining room with a porch out back. We started with a Jarritos tamarindo (Mexican soda flavored by tamarind) and a Negra Modelo beer. The chips are house made and the salsa was so hot, even a dip made my lips numb. We had it mixed with avocado to produce the hottest and best guacamole.
We ordered tacos al pastor, which is a meat filling topped with white-diced onions, cilantro and hot or mild sauce. Two small corn tortillas hug the perfect combo of savory and hot. Sold as street food from vendors in Mexico, this is a meal I engorge myself on and relish every morsel. It doesn’t get any better than this. You can order everything mild, if you are a true gringo.
The meat selections are varied and impressive, Adobada are made of thin pork steaks seasoned with adobo seasoning, then skewered and overlapped on one another on a vertical rotisserie cooked and flame-broiled as it spins. Carnitas is well-cooked pork with light flavoring; Carne Asada is a beef (usually flank steak). The dish is a butterflied fillet of beef quickly seared. Chorizo is a spicy Mexican pork sausage normally cooked outside of the casing, and amazing with scrambled eggs.
Here is where it gets exotic and wonderful. Please try these wonderful tacos: Cabeza (which were my children’s favorite until they figured out just what part of the cow these delicacies came from) is cow head. Lengua, beef tongue, Tripas is pig intestines, and Sesos is the beef brains. I was extremely impressed that they had Taco de Sesos, which is particularly hard to find. This rare dish rocked my world tasting remarkable. We tried one of each and returned to consume the Chorizo and Adobada ones on our next visit.
This time we also ordered the Chile Relleno, literally a stuffed chile, it consists of a roasted pablano pepper, batter with an egg and stuffed with carne asada and goat and cow cheese. Served with rice and beans, salad and six tortillas, this dish was huge. We also ordered the Tacos Dorados (golden tacos) for which the tortillas are filled with any choice of meat and deep-fried until crisp. Included inside each were shredded cheese, crema, (sour cream) lettuce and a hot sauce. The sauce was made from California red chilies grinded to make a paste. Amazing flavor but not for the faint. One dab of the sauce made my face turn red, but I went back for more. Even the Rice was spectacular and prepared with real saffron. The beans had a smoky tasting essence and both made for perfect accouterments. The salad was copped fine with a cilantro avocado dressing which was a nice cooling effort.
As we left, we talked with Mario, who along with being friendly and a great cook, told us we must come back and try the enchiladas, as they were unsurpassed. The next day, that was my first meal and he was accurate. The enchilada combo offered cheese, chicken and carne asada enchiladas wrapped in a corn tortilla with a fantastic chile sauce on top with shredded lettuce, Mexican cheese and cilantro adding to the splendor of this meal. It was stunning.
Efren’s is pretty casual, as we always had to ask for check. They don’t bother you and if you’re happy watching Mexican MTV, you can stay all day. They sell the amazing Carnitas meat by the pound and prepare over 200 hundred pounds every day. Seems everyone knew of this place except me. If you are on a budget and looking for extraordinary flavors and food, this is a place to have an exceptionally pure Mexican meal.
Efren’s Deli Shop is open from breakfast till after party crowd. Specific hours are Monday thru Thursday from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, Friday thru Sunday from 7:00 am to 10:30 pm. They are located at 1720 Beach Street in Oceano, or you can call them at (805) 710-1677.