Aqui, San Jose, Campbell, Cupertino
Long before certain chefs in Southern California and on the East Coast were gaining fame for stuffing tacos and burritos with all manner of global ingredients, there was Aqui.
It was a forerunner to the novelty of folding flour tortillas around a filling of Thai peanut saucy chicken or tangy goat cheese to create something anew.
It opened way back in 1994 in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood. I remember going there in the late ’90s, where no matter if it was lunch or dinner, you’d have to time it just right or risk not getting a table. Today, Aqui is not only still going strong, but it now boasts five locations in the South Bay.
It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It’s fun, vibrant California-ized Mexican-inspired food in generous portions. Order the avocado dip ($7.49), and you’ll get enough tortilla chips to feed four handily, along with salsa fresca on the side for good measure. The avocado dip is essentially a chunk guacamole with habanero, lime, and cilantro. The menu says there’s mango in it, but it’s not readily detectable. The chips are very crisp and have a great rustic corn taste.
The Cuban pork enchiladas ($12.49) come three to an order, along with black beans and crunchy, mild tasting Aqui slaw. The enchiladas are filled with ground pork that’s been cooked with mashed plaintains, giving it a nice sweetness, before being napped with a red, nutty tasting achiote sauce. Squiggles of sour cream decorate the top.
On the lighter side, the Southwest Caesar ($9.49) was a kaleidoscope of color with yellow, purple and red fried tortilla strips all over the top. It’s a simple mix of crunchy Romaine, pumpkin seeds, black beans and grilled corn, done up with a flourish of Asiago cheese, but really hits the spot.Read more