Do you want to know how much corn tortillas matter to a good taco? Head to Sabor in Lemon Grove and order a taco de carnitas like I did. I was taking my daughter to the nearby Chuck E. Cheese when I realized that I had never eaten a taco in the town of Lemon Grove before, and that this needed to be rectified. Yelp showed Sabor as the highest-rated taqueria in Lemon Grove, but the reviews were mixed among my Yelp friends. I decided to take a chance, and I’m glad I did.
The carnitas in their taco de carnitas were alright. The pieces of pork somewhat resembled the appearance of chopped ham. The meat was flavorful enough and well-seasoned that I went with it, even if I was confused as to what part of the pig I was actually eating. The guacamole was decent and applied with restraint, thankfully. What made this taco special was its magnificent corn tortilla, obviously made on-premises using white masa, with a soft, thick texture and a taste of fresh corn.
Initially, the restaurant was tight-lipped when I probed them about their tortillas, but as I found myself returning for more tacos and other menu items, I got more information. What I can tell you is that Sabor procures their masa from a local supplier in El Cajon that nixtamalizes their own corn in-house, and they believe the key mistake common among tortilla-makers, even professionals, is not using enough water with their masa, resulting in many tortillas being too coarse and dry. I would say they’re right: more moisture results in a heavier, softer, smoother, and more palatable tortilla, as evidenced by the tortillas used with Sabor’s tacos.
And, yes, let me be clear: you only get the good tortillas when you order TACOS here. It is frankly bizarre that you can order a $10 entrée and get crap bagged tortillas, but order a sub-$2 taco and get one of the best tortillas in San Diego, but the proprietors of this operation know how much a good tortilla can make or break a taco. If you order Sabor’s plates other than tacos, you will need to request their house-made tortillas instead. Better yet, have their fresh tortillas side-by-side with their bagged tortilla and you’ll realize how profound of a difference a good corn tortilla makes over the mediocre bagged tortillas.
Sabor’s other menu items have been a bit hit-or-miss, which is probably why their Yelp reviews are so mixed — this is a place where you really need to know what to order. Thankfully, I plan on helping you with that.
The Bistec Ranchero is an excellent stew of steak in a spicy tomato sauce with thin strips of crisp onions. Definitely my favorite non-taco item here. The Torta de Milanesa is a filling sandwich, and was served on nice toasted bread, though some pieces of beef milanesa were a touch dry. I did not enjoy Sabor’s taco de carne asada nearly as much as the taco de carnitas due to the meat being bland and under-seasoned. Interestingly enough, their Pollo Asado Plate is fantastic for chicken cooked on a flat-top grill. I shared it with my daughter, and this was some of the better renditions of pollo asado we’ve had in San Diego that did not come off my own grill — the marinade, seasoning, and spices are excellent, and even though the browning is intense, the meat was juicy. No, it was not flame-grilled over mesquite — and that may be the only thing that prevents me from driving to Lemon Grove and eating this dish everyday. Order this instead of the carne asada.
In summary, come to Sabor to experience well-made corn tortillas. Like me, keep coming back for the diversity of their value-oriented menu.
Taco Scores: Taco de Carnitas (91), Taco de Carne Asada (65)
Jay Recommends: Bistec Ranchero (specify that you want their house-made corn tortillas with it), Taco de Carnitas, Pollo Asado (again, ask for the house-made corn tortillas if you order the plate)
Sabor Mexican Grill; 7123 Broadway, Lemon Grove, CA 91945; Monday through Saturday from 10:00am-8:00pm; (619) 644-3080; www.facebook.com/sabormexicangrill619