Come, come to Venga Venga and enjoy, enjoy the sumptuous world of the modern Mexican

Phillip Brents

Fri March 28, 2014 11:08am

Venga Venga Cantina & Tequila Bar has been open long enough to garner top honors for Best Mexican Restaurant and Best New Restaurant in The Star-News Best of South County 2013 readers poll.
The upscale restaurant, located at 2015 Birch Road, Suite 710, in Otay Ranch Town Center, truly measures up to patrons’ rave reviews.
There are two main dining rooms, a private area with its own patio and rock waterfall, two separate patio areas, a full bar/lounge area and a candlelight courtyard enhanced by a 100-year-old olive tree. Wood paneling and soft lighting provide an added cozy ambiance.
“This restaurant is just amazing,” general manager Matthew Swigart said. 
Venga Venga, which in Spanish means “come, come,” is one of 20 restaurants owned by celebrity chef Richard Sandoval. Each of the restaurants specializes in Latin cuisine. The concept at Venga Venga, according to executive chef Paulo S. Mendoza, is modern Mexican.
What is Modern Mexican?
“The concept of Modern Mexican is to grab traditional dishes, upscale them and give them our own touch,” Mendoza said.
If you haven’t made a stop at the restaurant yet, two items to order include the chicken zarape and Jalisco shrimp enchiladas. Both come highly recommended by the staff.
The chicken zarape ($17.95) features a pan-roasted chicken breast topped with bacon, panela, pico de gallo, cotija chipotle cream sauce, diced avocado and crema fresca. Sides include refried black beans and creamy white rice (Mexican rice can be substituted) along with flour tortillas. The bacon and pico de gallo add zesty taste to the chicken.
The shrimp enchiladas plate ($15.95) comes with sides of plantains and pesto-cilantro rice. The enchiladas are stuffed with shrimp, a blend of two cheeses, including Oaxaca cheese, corn, rajas (pepper strips) and topped with crema fresca and avocado slices. The enchiladas taste heavenly; the plantains are exquisite. That’s just two of more than 50 separate lunch, dinner and dessert options.
Very popular with guests is the tableside guacamole ($10.95). The individual ingredients — Hass avocado halves, chopped onion and tomato, chile serrano, cilantro, radish shavings, salt and fresh squeezed lime juice — are brought to the table in a lava molcajete bowl and blended together for a fresh taste.
We also had a chance to sample the chile relleno, empanadas and shrimp ceviche appetizer.
The chile relleno features a large poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and sautéed vegetables and topped with a sweet chipotle sauce and crema fresca. It’s definitely a different take on a traditional dish, and a delicious one at that.
The crispy empanadas feature a raisin-chorizo filling topped with sweet chipotle sauce and fried almonds.
Desserts are more traditional, especially the caramel flan and tres leche (based on Sandoval’s grandmother’s recipe). Both are sumptuous, though the tres leche is a bit milkier than most we’ve sampled.
The bar features more than 80 tequilas and more than 30 Mezcal-brand tequilas.
Happy hour is extended here, running from 4 to 10 p.m. with all sorts of drink and appetizer specials ($5 margaritas, mojitos and sangrias). Taco Tuesday features $2 tacos while a live DJ is on hand to liven up the atmosphere Friday and Saturday nights.
Highly recommended is the Sunday brunch, which is served from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Though not an actual buffet, diners order a la carte off the menu. The $25 bottomless brunch includes the tableside guacamole and a seemingly endless sampling of more than a dozen special dishes, including unlimited brunch small plates, tacos, molletes and postres. For an extra $10, it includes bottomless drinks as well (think mimosas, micheladas, bloody marias and house margaritas).
What’s more, 90 percent of the dishes at Venga Venga are gluten free.
Business hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.