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Business Owner Spotlight: Juan Pablo Sanchez Of Super Cocina



Super Cocina has some serious history in San Diego. From their guisados to their Spicy Pork, it’s an iconic spot that is always in the conversation for favorite Mexican restaurants. Meet the owner, Juan Pablo Sanchez, as he talks about their rich history and what makes Super Cocina unique.

Yelp: Serve us up the story of how Super Cocina started, how Super Cocina has maintained, and how/when you became a vital part of the business?

Juan Pablo Sanchez: My name is Juan Pablo Sanchez and I am the owner and operator of Super Cocina. My family immigrated to San Diego from Xalapa, Mexico in 1987 and soon after, founded a small restaurant in the Barrio Logan Farmers Market.  This iconic building resembled a Mexican market with its many shops. My parents wanted to provide the traditional food eaten at homes known as “guisados” or stews and we rotate over 200 guisados throughout the year.  These are central to Mexican cuisine; you will have trouble finding them outside someone’s home and we gained a following that craved the nostalgic dishes of their homeland. 

We eventually relocated to City Heights over 25 years ago and after college while I tried to figure out my next move, I began helping my father out with the restaurant. As a child when I helped out and worked part time there, I used to joke that I went to college so I would not have to work at the restaurant. During that time the neighborhood was changing and City Heights began its ongoing road to gentrification. Working immigrant families were slowly being displaced and the community makeup was drastically shifting. At that time I begin to devote myself full time to overcoming the challenges of a changing clientele.  It was not easy to promote traditional Mexican cuisine to a large amount of people who had never been introduced to guisados and who came in asking for carne asada burritos with extra yellow cheese. Even my father thought that our food might be too exotic (tongue, cabeza, tripe) for mainstream clients.

Yelp: Super Cocina is always in the conversation when San Diego discusses their favorite Mexican food restaurants, why do you think that is, and what makes it different from the rest?

Juan Pablo Sanchez: The secret to our success is definitely our cooks.  We have never employed a cook with any type of professional training.  In Mexico we have the word “sazon” which basically means your natural cooking zest or flavoring.  We believe that you either had it passed down from your ancestors or that you are born with it. Cooking without a set of instructions or parameters allows for the food to become artisanal and almost alive. The only thing in our kitchen that has measuring of any kind is the blender and instead we rely on fists, pinches, patience and most importantly sazon to create these robust  flavors. Our large selection of dishes includes many pre-hispanic dishes which are even hard to find in many parts of Mexico.

I also believe that Mexican food is underrated and undervalued.  We like to showcase the intricacies that a dish like a pipian or a mole can have in terms of texture, ingredients, and flavor. Some of our dishes can rival some of the other cuisines such as Italian or French.

Yelp: As the owner/operator of Super Cocina, how has 2020 changed your business and what have you had to do to adapt?

Juan Pablo Sanchez: The first three months were very tough. We were in the red for the first time since our opening more than 30 years ago. We talked to staff and decided to stay open in order for our staff to be kept employed since most depended on being employed. With the help of PPP, we teamed up with different organizations in order to provide free meals to the community and first responders and that way I was able to increase work hours for my staff.  

 We also began to change the way we staffed shifts, increased our use of online ordering services, and looked for ways to provide food outdoor spaces. It has definitely been a challenge but we believe that health is more important than profits so we have followed all the protocols and believe they are necessary no matter how inconvenient they are. 

 Yelp: What is one dish from Super Cocina that you could eat day in, day out, and never grow tired of it? What’s in it and where did the recipe come from?

 Juan Pablo Sanchez: Probably our Spicy Pork, which is tips in a tomatillo, guajillo, and chile de arbol sauce makes this very spice dish almost addicting. Fun fact: This particular dish was originally made by mistake when ingredients were mixed up in the process of making a different dish. This showcases artisanal food at its finest, and thanks to sazon, a new dish was created, having evolved from a different one. This food has life.

Yelp: As a local business owner, are there a few other local businesses or owners that you’d like to give a shoutout to as your favorite local businesses?

Juan Pablo Sanchez: Dobson’s Restaurant is such a great spot. It is so unique to San Diego, when you are in there you can easily pretend you are in New York or Chicago. It has such a classic bar with incredible staff, and most of all, a very lively crowd. The place is full of San Diego history and if you ask any of the bartenders they will be happy to tell you some amazing stories about its folklore.
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