The Pride of Guadalupe: San Diego Bay Restaurant Offers High Quality Food at Low Cost
Despite aspirations to the contrary, the Phoenix metropolitan area is largely a provincial town. Especially when it comes to food, we rarely leave our comfort zone. In a literal sense, we stay put. Restaurants in the west Valley rarely draw customers from Gilbert, and residents of Scottsdale often can't even tell you how to get to Chandler. By and large, we eat where we sleep, forgetting that better - or more interesting - food is more than a few miles away.
Jackie Mercandetti Shrimp cocktail and marlin tacos
And no place in the Valley is more forgotten than the town of Guadalupe. Drive south on Priest and you'll know you've hit Guadalupe when the landscape suddenly changes as you cross Baseline. Despite sitting in the shadows of the fabricated civilization of Arizona Mills and Ikea, Guadalupe - with roughly 5,000 residents - is the town that time forgot. Largely Hispanic and economically depressed, some of the nicest structures in town are the brightly painted bus shelters. It is not a picture of prosperity.
But nestled in a sleepy corner of a desolate outdoor square is San Diego Bay Restaurant, and it's reason enough to get outside your comfort zone and visit Guadalupe no matter how far the drive. It's a cheery and spotless space, with brightly painted blue walls, mismatched banquettes, bright lights and the chatter of a wall mounted television which alternates between Univision and the Cartoon Network. Whatever it lacks in warmth is made up for by friendly, proud and welcoming staff and some of the best Mexican style seafood outside of Rocky Point.
Without question, the Molcajete de Camaron is the star of the show and when this bubbling stone caldron arrives at your table you'll quickly understand why. Radiating heat and filled with fresh shrimp, gooey cheese, and subtle tomato-based broth, it is both comforting and nuanced with a surprising depth of flavor. It's also something of a mystery, as I found it hard to understand how a vessel of this size could yield an almost endless supply of plump shrimp. Each time I put my spoon in, it came out full. At only $18 the molcajete is a veritable bargain. Any restaurant outside of Guadalupe would charge at least 50% more. It is also available as a Molcajete de Mariscos, with shrimp, octopus, snails and calamari. Thirty mintues after being served, it was still too hot to touch and we never did manage to finish it.
Jackie Mercandetti Molcajete de camarones
Green Shrimp yields a similar comfort food vibe. About ten shrimp are baked with three different kinds of chiles, cream and topped with melted cheese. It has a pronounced spicy kick to it and a rich chili flavor which complements the shrimp instead of overpowering them. For a dish with only a handful of ingredients, it is dizzyingly complex.
Camarones Al Mojo de Ajo is a mariscos staple and it's nothing more than shrimp sautéed with garlic - a lot of it - and olive oil. But at San Diego Bay, it takes on a rich, nutty flavor that's best sopped-up with the doughy house-made flour tortillas, served blistered and scalding hot.