This is certainly true when dining out with friends at a restaurant that claims “authenticity” of any stripe, and especially so when the authentic cuisine being touted is normally found at a location way far away from where we are dining.
When I was told by a co-worker that I should check out Kingsport’s Authentic California Mexican Grill, I naturally agreed on behalf of the dine-around bunch, but kept one hand firmly on my wallet.
Authentic California Mexican Grill is located in a compact storefront just around the corner from the Kingsport Raceway in a deceptively rural-looking area northeast of the Stone Drive “Economic and Dining Corridor.”
The dining area is clean and attractive, seating a hundred or so diners in a “Subdued Southwestern” decor. A drinks station and a salsa bar are centrally located. Restrooms are found at the back.
Why California-Mexican cuisine? With a population of 129 million souls, 761,000 square miles, 32 states and seven distinct culinary regions, it follows that Mexican cuisine is more diverse and exciting than most Americans know about.
Adapting it to California food ways has added yet another level of diversity and culinary magic for us Anglo diners to enjoy. California-Mexican cuisine (Cali-Mex), is adapted to the eclectic tastes and requirements of California residents.
Cuts of beef and pork are lean as a rule, and are used less in favor of seafood or chicken. More vegetables are found in Cali-Mex cookery, such as corn, black olives, avocados, tomatoes and lettuce. Beans are cooked served whole instead of mashed and refried, while cheese and other dairy products are used less, with the exception of sour cream.
Pollo Campechano: My dining partner’s choice for supper was the Pollo Campechano, ($9.99). It’s a seasoned breast of chicken that is grilled and topped with fresh mushrooms, spinach and topped with cheese sauce, then served with spicy rice, olla beans, shredded lettuce and a sour cream-based dressing with tortillas on the side. The rice and olla beans complimented the spicy chicken breast perfectly, if a bit hard to handle when filling a fresh-made flour tortilla; use your knife and fork for a highly delicious meal.
Burrito combination: The Carnivore chose the Burrito Autentico ($9.99) an authentic California Mexican burrito: a large flour tortilla is stuffed full of spicy chunked chicken, olla beans, cheese, sour cream and poblano peppers.
The burrito is topped with a spicy/savory molcajete sauce and served with seasoned rice, lettuce and sour cream. The molcajete sauce was scratch made by the kitchen staff, the crowning touch for the Carnivore’s very pleasant entrée.
My friend had visited the salsa bar, choosing among others some light green and spicy borracho verde salsa that he brought back to the table for all of us. He also brought some hot Arbo salsa. Between swallows of his iced tea, my friend gasped that the Arbo “ … has chased my tongue into a corner and is now after my tonsils.” My friend has been known to enjoy a little adventure with his meal.
Veggie Burrito: With her vegetarian dining habits, the Dieter chose one a one-off custom-made veggie burrito ($8.99) with a side order of seasoned rice and shredded lettuce.
The veggie burrito was full of chopped tomato, sliced avocado, chopped green pepper and onion, a smattering of olla and fava beans and topped with their excellent (and spicy) red sauce. The Dieter had fun with all of it, especially when she opened one end of the burrito and stuffed in spicy rice. Delicious.
Green Chile Pork Stew: Any dish that is to be cooked over low heat for a long period of time is a true test of a restaurant kitchen’s culinary acumen; I simply had to have the Green Chile Pork Stew ($10.99).
A mixture of simple ingredients: lean pork chunks, coarsely chopped onions and green chiles is left to simmer on low heat until all of it is fork tender and swimming in a savory gravy that is so, so good. Drop that fork and pick up your spoon, because you are going to want every last bit of this remarkable stew. You won’t need tortillas, either. Send them back.
Nachos Botanas: All of the dine-around bunch agrees that my dining partner is our go-to expert on nachos, and found her new favorite in Nachos Botanas platter ($10.99) at Authentic California Mexican Grill.
If there is a more delicious way to combine breast of chicken, asada steak and grilled shrimp with freshly-made pico di gallo relish and Cali-Mex guacamole it hasn’t been invented yet. Even the seasoned rice, the guacamole and pico made a delectable accompaniment for Nachos Botanas.
The bottom line: Yes, there is Authentic California Mexican cuisine in our area. Yes, it is in Kingsport, and if don’t live in Kingsport you’ll have a 30-45 minute drive to get there. Dining here is worth the drive time. The food is true Cali-Mex authentic, the service is warm and capable and the atmosphere is family-friendly in every way. What more could you ask for?
Authentic California Mexican Grill
2819 John B. Dennis Highway
Daily 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Available on Facebook
Credit cards accepted