El Indio Mexican Restaurant gets another star turn in April when the modest Little Italy shop is featured in a new book about American cuisine — chosen to represent a “classic Mexican-American menu.”
Written by the creator of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” the book is called “Food Americana: The Remarkable People and Incredible Stories behind America’s Favorite Dishes” — which can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com and elsewhere.
Author David Page describes it as the inside story of “how Americans have formed a national cuisine from a world of flavors — from lox and bagels to sushi, tacos to pizza.”
He spoke to Jennifer Pesqueira, the third-generation owner of 81-year-old El Indio, employees Nico Robles (working there 37 years) and Alvardo Perales (21 years). An associate interviewed several customers.
“It’s not like a five-star restaurant,” Pesqueira says in the book. “But it’s five-star food at prices that everybody can afford,” including its signature taquitos.
Page uses El Indio to discuss what “authentic” Mexican food means.
He quotes Mexico City native Claudia Alarcón, now a resident of Austin, Texas: “What’s authentic to you might not be authentic to me, even though we’re from the same city. She prefers talking about “traditional” Mexican dishes.
A two-time Emmy winner, Page produced the original Food Network show sometimes called Triple D or just DDD. (He left the show in 2011 after a legal battle.) It’s featured more than 1,250 eateries in 400-plus cities since 2007, including 14 in San Diego.
El Indio was one of them — which host and chef Guy Fieri savored in Season 2. That show first aired Nov. 23, 2007.
“Food Americana” — from Mango Publishing Group — comes out April 20, and Page says “maybe” a book tour is planned. If a promotional journey takes place, he’ll return to San Diego.
Page — working on two other books while publicizing this one — and his wife live on Long Beach Island on the South Jersey Shore.
Times of San Diego conducted this interview via email:
Why El Indio to represent Mexican food in America?
David Page: A combination of factors. I knew El Indio from having put them on DDD. And since then I had a couple of great meals there. That said, however, they were a great example of a traditional, family-owned Mexican-American restaurant, serving what had become a classic Mexican-American menu. and beyond that, they had the interesting element of making their own tortillas from scratch, including nixtamalizing the corn (with the added story benefit of making them on that high volume conveyer belt.)
Also, Jennifer is a terrific interview, as were her customers.
When did you do your El Indio interviews? Why was El Indio Mashed Potato Taquitos chosen for sample recipe?
My first interview with Jennifer was by phone in August of 2020. We have talked several times since then. We also Facetimed so she could walk me through the tortilla making process step by step, showing me each element as we talked. and I engaged a freelancer to visit the restaurant in November of 2020 and talk with customers.
I wanted a taquito recipe since that dish is one of their trademarks and she, quite understandably, didn’t want to reveal the secret recipe for spicing their meat in taquitos. Hence, potato!
Can you estimate how much extra business El Indio got from being on Triple D?
It would be a wild guess. I’m sure it was a significant bump. I assume they also get significant bumps when the segment is rerun.
Had you continued producing Triple D after 2011 settlement, would you have chosen other San Diego eateries? What’s your favorite places to eat in the county?
Absolutely. I’d have returned to San Diego. I have so many favorite places it’s impossible to list. I’m a huge fan of El Indio, of course. I suppose if we were talking about a last death-row meal, it would be brisket and sausage at Louie Mueller’s BBQ in Taylor, Texas (see the BBQ chapter).
Books about American food are common. What makes yours stand out?
Several things. First: At a time when the country is consumed by controversy over immigration, my book reminds everyone we have a long history of growing our culture from immigrant contributions.
Second, food is a person to person experience. During the pandemic, many of us have longed for the interaction with people that occurs over a meal, and this book tells human stories, in this case of the people who created our cuisine and continue to evolve it.
And three, it’s filled with unique, often quirky or humorous moments beyond a dry recitation of food facts.
Any other connections to San Diego County besides El Indio and shows featured on Triple D?
I envy your weather.
Anything else readers should know about El Indio or your San Diego connections?
Just that any restaurant still here and under the same family’s ownership after 80 years is a treasure.