During our time in San Diego earlier this year, we went out to Coronado Island and took a walk on the beach, did a quick look around at the famous Hotel del Coronado, and did some shopping at some funky little shops along Orange Ave. Deciding to get something to eat while we were in Coronado, we found a little place in the back of the El Cordova Hotel - Miguel's Cocina. (see map) We decided to give it a try.
It turns out that Miguel's Cocina is a chain of six locations in the San Diego area under the Brigantine Family of Restaurants that includes Miguel's and Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar with six locations in San Diego. The company also ran the Steakhouse at Azul in La Jolla until the property was sold last year to Donovan's Steak House.
The Brigantine restaurants were started in 1969 when Mike Morton, Sr. and his brothers were involved with owning a liquor store in Point Loma, the peninsula just to the west of San Diego. During the day working at Trader Mort's Liquor Store, the Morton's would see fishermen hauling their fresh caught fish to the Chart House, at the time the hottest seafood place in San Diego (and still a popular seafood destination today). Thinking that they should cash in on the seafood business, Mike Morton Sr. and one of his brothers took out a second mortgage on their mother's home and opened the Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar, named after a type of two-masted sailing ship.
Their original restaurant was on Shelter Island Lane in Point Loma and during the first couple years the place struggled to stay open. The Morton brothers, along with Mike Morton Sr.'s wife Barbara, waited tables, cooked in the kitchen, were dishwashers and janitors, bought the seafood, and did the books. Things got so bad at one point that Mike Morton was forced to sell Barbara's car to make payroll. But their late night business is what saved them - many of the workers at the Chart House and other places on Point Loma would end up after their shifts at the Brigantine drinking and eating until 2 a.m. In 1973, the Morton's were able to open a second Brigantine on Orange Ave. in Coronado.
One day in the 70's, Mike Morton Sr. was talking with a sales manager with a local seafood company and came up with a term to highlight freshly caught fish. The phrase "Catch of the Day" became the common vernacular among seafood restaurants worldwide. And it all started as part of a brain-storming session between Mike Morton Sr. and a seafood company sales manager over a couple of drinks.
In 1982, Mike Morton Sr. opened a new concept restaurant, Miguel's Cocina, with many of the recipes coming from the family of Brigantine employee Javier Alaniz. The white sauce that Miguel's Cocina features in many of their authentic Mexican dishes came directly from the Alaniz family.
Today, Mike Morton Jr. and his brother Mark run the Brigantine Family of Restaurants. Mike Jr. has been the CEO and president since 2008, and Mark is the regional general manager overseeing the Brigantine and Miguel's locations. While their father is retired from the business, their mother Barbara is still involved and Mike Morton Jr.'s children have joined in the business making it three generations of family members involved in both Miguel's Cocina and the Brigantine.
The Miguel's Cocina in Coronado had a nifty little courtyard dining area that was nicely shaded. It was probably the warmest day during our visit to Southern California - and that wasn't saying much. The temperature may have hit 72 that day, if that. We opted to sit at a table in the courtyard and given menus to look over. After a bit, our server Barreuto came over to greet us. Cindy got a margarita, I went with a 22 ounce draft of Dos Equis Ambar.
Most of the food at Miguel's Cocina was familiar to us - enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and tacos. The tacos especially caught my attention - they had grilled swordfish tacos, brisket tacos, braised beef tacos, and battered fish and battered shrimp tacos. I decided to go with the carnitas tacos - two housemade tortilla shells filled with shredded seasoned pork and topped with diced onions and chopped cilantro and finished with a tangy avocado cream sauce. A side of Mexican rice and refried beans came with the tacos, but I knew I wouldn't make more than a dent in those concentrating primarily on the tacos.
Cindy had the chile relleno/carne asada taco combination plate. It also came with rice and refried beans. The chile relleno was rather large and stuffed with brisket, green chiles and cojita cheese and topped with a roasted tomato sauce. She said the chile relleno was very good, better than ones that are usually just cheese filled like we find back home in the Midwest.
I was happy enough with my tacos. The pork was sort of bland - more bland that I imagined that it would have been given the seasonings it was cooked in. Still, it was above average for Mexican food. But not as good as some tacos I'd had at other places during our trip to San Diego. Cindy gave me half of her carne asada taco as she was having trouble eating all the food on her plate - as I said, that chile relleno was pretty good sized. I had a couple bites of the carne asada taco and thought it was fine, as well. Not outstanding, but good enough.
We were sort of intrigued by the tattoo Barreuto sported on his forearm. It was a dream catcher with hearts. We asked him the significance and he said the dream catcher signified his family and each heart was a member of his family. "I can add more hearts when we add more to our family," he explained to us. I'm not usually big on tattoo art, but this one was pretty impressive.
While we liked our food at Miguel's Cocina, we felt that there were better places we tried during our visit to San Diego. The tacos were good, the chile relleno was big and stuffed, the service was very good, and we liked the cantina atmosphere while sitting on the patio. It was definitely above average in terms of taste and quality, and in a city where there's a number of very good to great Mexican restaurants Miguel's Cocina can easily say they run with the pack, but probably never lead.