Las Cuatro Milpas

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Kim

The eclectic line spilling out of Las Cuarto Milpas at noon — a 20-person sea of Oxford shirts, blue jeans, sneakers as puffy as moon gear and every getup in between — is telling: The food here is fresher than spring water.

It’s also vetted by a daily cascade of patrons who pass through its doorway from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Its fans are so devout in fact, they shuffle inch-by-inch for upward of 15 minutes in pursuit of the rickety register at the other end.

This line, featured prominently in every photo ever taken of the establishment, is as much a part of this Barrio Logan landmark as its faded-forest green awning, turquoise walls, wrought-iron windows, plastic trays and gingham tabletops. And it’s no wonder: Las Cuarto Milpas (literally meaning “The Four Cornfields”) has been serving the most delicious and unpretentious home-style Mexican food in San Diego for the last 70-odd years.

But good luck finding it, or a spot once you’re there: Milpas is the epitome of hole-in-the-wall with free-for-all table space, bare walls (aside from some family photos and a restaurant review on one) and a menu board that looks like it was lifted from an AYSO snack bar.

It’s safe to say that Milpas focuses all its energy on its food. It’s a no-bullshit kind of business, the kind where everything is either cooked on cast iron frying pans or pan-fried in a pool of lard. Since 1933, three generations of the Estudillo family have been running this old-fashioned, cafeteria-style joint just a few blocks from Chicano Park; and since 1933, customers have flooded its cramped walls during breakfast and lunch hours to enjoy the most authentic Mexican food north of the border.

Not much has changed on the menu over the last seven decades. It’s an indicator that the place still prides itself on the perfected basics: Spanish rice, stewed pinto beans, tacos (rolled or soft-shell), tamales (chicken or beef) and chorizo with eggs. The latter two items are the most flavor-packed of the bunch, and by far the most recommended from Milpas’ hardcore aficionados. The only downside is that they also don’t have much beyond the basics — meaning, no salsa, guacamole or carné asada. But for $7 or $8, you can stuff yourself with more than enough to hold you over for the day — including the best handmade flour tortillas in San Diego.

The whole operation does get a little greasy, but that’s a given in home-style territory. About half of Milpas’ patrons take their meals to go, so you can do the same, or find a place to sit somewhere in the back. Parking can also be a problem (seeing how streets in Barrio Logan are slimmer than most), so making the 20-minute caravan via carpool is your best bet; it shouldn’t be hard to find a friend willing to swallow something other than stir fry for lunch. And when you get there, be proud to take your place at the end of the line like so many generations of hungry people before you.