The Place: Pecado Bueno, 4307 Fremont Ave. N., 457-8837, FREMONT
The Hours: 3-6 p.m. and 9-close (weekdays 11 p.m., weekends 9 p.m.) daily.
The Digs: The interior of Pecado Bueno is nice and welcoming, with high ceilings, bright yellow and lime-green walls, and one large piece of wall art featuring two entwined Mexican wrestlers. But the place's best feature is its outdoor seating--two separate decks out front, one closer to the restaurant and one jutting out by the street for better people-watching. Both patios feature seating clustered around large fire pits. That means come summer/hopefully better weather, you can hit the earlier happy hour and do some sunbathing and then come back later at night to enjoy your food and drink around the fires.The Deal: Food's always reasonably priced at Pecado Bueno: During regular hours you can get a platter of tacos or enchiladas plus green rice and black beans for under $10. During happy hour, the prices get even sweeter. An order of three taquitos--crispy fried corn tortillas stuffed with succulent pork carnitas and topped with cotija cheese--is $3.95 and served in a yellow basket lined with paper patterned with cheerily dancing, sombrero-ed chile peppers. (You can also get shredded chicken adobo or, for vegetarians, a mixture of potatoes, cheese, and green chiles). A basket of three soft tacos is $4.95; the best part of the tacos at Pecado Bueno is that, should you choose, you can get three different kinds of meat in your order, a perfect option for the commitment-phobe boyfriend. (Mine got one grilled chicken, one carne asada, and one pork carnitas, and deemed them all delicious. I've also had the battered cod, and it's quite good, and there's a mashed butternut squash too). The little hand-sized tacos come topped with lettuce, pico de gallo, and the restaurant's special avocado crema. As a side or a starter to your meal, a plate of bottomless chips and fresh, chunky guacamole is $4.95. Also on the edible side of the menu: the chimichanga dog, something I've yet to try but feel obliged to at some point. It's a bacon-wrapped beef dog topped with three kinds of cheese, pickled red onions, jalapenos, and a few sauces, and it's only $5.95 during happy hour, so have at it.
The Verdict: Pecado Bueno's food is awesome, mostly because they use such great, fresh ingredients that you don't feel gross or greasified after eating a lot of it. (Although again, I haven't had the chimichanga dog). All of the meat, for example, is organic and hormone-free. The service gets equally high marks--the staff doesn't fuss about substitutions (so I don't like pico de gallo; sue me) and neither do they skimp on guacamole, which a lot of other Mexican restaurants too. Speaking of other Mexican restaurants, the people behind Pecado Bueno have got some successful eatery experience--owner James Schmidt is the co-founder of Taco Del Mar. (Pecado Bueno's head chef worked for Schmidt at TDM for 15 years).
It was Schmidt who came up with Pecado Bueno's magical hook--the $3 margarita. Drinks aren't specially priced during happy hour--there's a variety of Mexican beers, including Pacifico on tap; they also make an especially tasty and fruity sangria with burgundy wine that's $5--but the $3 margarita is a deal that lasts 'round the clock, and there's really no reason to get any another drink. Schmidt compares it to another well-known and reliable deal--"You don't mess with the $1.50 hot dog at Costco," he says. The margs are made with El Jimador's 100% agave tequila, triple sec, and the ingredient that Schmidt credits for his drinks' quality taste--fresh lime juice. Thirty years ago, when Schmidt was living in San Diego, a Tijuanan named Anjelica taught him this particular recipe and, he says, "I've never tasted a margarita that made me want to switch."
PS: Pecado Bueno's hosting a Cinco de Mayo party this Saturday, May 5. There'll be live music, a special holiday menu, patio-partying (weather allowing), and--so awesome--a whole roasted pig. (Which will start cooking out in the backyard at 6 a.m.) There's a $10, and the first 250 ticket-buyers get a free Pecado Bueno ("Sin Well") T-shirt.