If I was asked to describe the quintessential Southern California restaurant experience, Cantina Mayahuel in San Diego would be high on my list. With a throwback bar, hundreds of mezcals and tequilas, great food, an attentive staff and a slightly off beat laid back owner, Cantina Mayahuel, named after the goddess of the maguey, screams So Cal.
Recently I spent a few hours on their outdoor patio talking with friends about life, travel, mezcal and Mexico. We also ate, sampling many of the generous plates that Larry Auman and his crew offer. You can judge for yourself whether Mayahuel is traditional or authentic Mexican food, but one thing is certain, it was delicious and it was plentiful.
While there I had a chance to visit for a while with Larry and hear his thoughts on mezcal, tequila and Mexico. Without a doubt, the guy has a story to tell. An artist from Jersey who studied in Mexico turned bar owner in San Diego is quite a ride so I asked him how he decided to start Cantina Mayahuel, maybe the best mezcal bar in San Diego. His answer still has me chuckling… “Drinking was something I was good at!”
As I got to know him, I couldn’t resist asking Larry for his 5 Mezcals Everyone Needs to Experience, and within a few minutes, he had them queued up. Check ‘em out, in no particular order.
Mezcal Minotauro – From Durango, Larry loves the cenicio with its notes of leather and oyster.
Wahaka Mezcal – From San Dionesio Ocotepec, the tobalá is his favorite of the line for its clean feel and taste.
El Rey Zapoteco – Liquid gold is how he described the espadin he tasted years ago when he met the family behind the brand.
Del Maguey – Larry goes for the Papalometl, produced in a village high in the Sierra Mixteca between Oaxaca City and Tlaxiaco called San Pedro Teozacoalco.
Finally, for his fifth mezcal, Larry remembers a mezcal he had years ago when he visited Sola de Vega, a town about 2 hours south of Oaxaca known for clay distilled mezcal. He says he had an anejo back then, that to this day, is still one of the best mezcals he has ever had.
For mezcal folks, an experience like this is the Holy Grail. You’re exploring an area, looking for a local mezcalero and you come upon someone who makes just a few liters a year. You’re always skeptical, until you take that first sip and then you know you’re drinking something wonderful.
As he described it to me, it was if it was yesterday, not 15 or 20 years ago.
So there it is. Four mezcals you can get right now, and one, that will be part of your ongoing journey.
And next time you are in San Diego and want to experience some great mezcal and soak up a little Southern California sun, check out Cantina Mayahuel. They’ve got more than 100 different types, one of the largest selections you’ll find in the states and lots of great food all curated by a guy who years ago decided to do what he was good at!
Cantina Mayahuel, 2934 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116… Lunch for 2, no drinks, about $30.00, includes tip.