Join us as we go into the kitchen and behind the bar at some of San Diego’s best-known restaurants and bars to break down the anatomy of their most-famous offerings.
Though the homegrown California burrito might be the most iconic of San Diego’s burrito styles, the surf and turf seems more quintessentially San Diegan, combining carne asada — our predominant taco or burrito filling — with a seafood component that reflects Baja’s influences on our coastal cuisine. At JV’s Mexican Food, one of the city’s busiest taco shops, the classic land and sea combo is by far the top seller.
According to manager Julio Carrillo, it’s been on the menu since day one of the 28-year-old Morena Boulevard restaurant, the self-proclaimed “home of the surf and turf.” On a busy Saturday in the summer, Carrillo says JV’s will sell at least 50.
Ordering a surf and turf burrito at JV’s is like entering into a competitive eating challenge with yourself. Search “surf and turf” on JV’s Yelp page to see the burrito photographed next to an assortment of human forearms, outsizing them all. The burrito is so gargantuan that it requires two platter-sized flour tortillas, laid overlapping, to contain everything. “A customer weighed it once and it came close to three pounds,” says Carrillo.
The finished burrito, wrapped in signature taco shop yellow paper and then foil — with a wedge of lime tucked inside — measures about 10.5 inches long and 4.5 inches wide.
Its sheer size and weight might be the surf and turf’s most impressive qualities, but JV’s version smartly incorporates some non-standard ingredients that elevate it beyond an everyday carne asada burrito with a few shrimp thrown in.
Built with a base of the chopped marinated steak with equal parts shrimp — “we use medium-sized shrimp, not bay shrimp, about 14 of them,” Carrillo says — a generous scoop of Mexican rice is then ladled on top, along with some guacamole. But the real keys to the burrito’s appeal are the addition of sauteed tomatoes, onions, and green peppers, which add needed moisture to the rice and keep the whole mix from tasting like a disparate jumble of ingredients. The smoky char of the vegetables echoes the flavor of the grilled beef, punctuated by the briny-sweet shrimp.
Though it managed to survive the pandemic, business isn’t quite back to normal, says Carillo, whose uncle founded the restaurant in 1993. Although their customer base is so broad at this point that they could probably operate several successful JV’s locations, the family doesn’t feel compelled to expand, preferring to focus on satisfying its many regulars and out-of-town visitors who often make it their first or last stop when traveling to or from San Diego.
One thing that has grown over the years is JV’s menu, which started big and has steadily expanded with a dizzying number of specialty items, posted on a collection of colorful handwritten signs that now paper most of the restaurant’s walls. Besides more than 30 different kinds of burritos, from chorizo and carnitas to corned beef hash, chicken Philly, and Hawaiian, there are tacos, tortas, huraches, sopes, seafood cocktails, soups, and even burgers and salads.
Carrillo says their version of a California burrito, filled with carne asada, fries, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and salsa, is another can’t-miss item, and also recommends their Sonora quesadilla, with grilled chicken, bacon, guacamole, and green chiles melted together with Monterey Jack cheese.
Still, among the vast sea of menu options, the mighty and massive surf and turf reigns supreme.