Mention Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant to a local in Kensington and you can expect a physical response that starts with a groan and ends with a breathy ‘Oh, Ponce’s’.
The menu is a virtual reference book for classic Cali-Mex comforts from mini street tacos and chimichangas to a proper California burrito filled with carne asada, fries, guacamole, salsa fresca, and sour cream (which comes standard so you don’t have to order it extra).
A landmark of the Kensington community, Ponciano Meza Sr. opened Ponce’s on Adams Avenue in 1969, and it has remained a family-owned business ever since. Earlier this year, Ponce Jr, who now runs the operation, expanded his father’s legacy to include a second location in the Del Sur Towne Center.
On my most recent visit to the original venue, I debated between savory renditions of chile Colorado, a guajillo chile tender beef stew; enchiladas suizas, chicken stuffed enchiladas smothered in creamy tomatillo salsa; and the unexpected sopes de chorizo, served with nopales salsa and queso fresco.
A chile relleno burger served on a bolillo roll with guacamole caught my eye as it was whisked past on the way to another table, but I ended up settling on a classic combination plate loaded with two of the most popular menu items: a cheese enchilada and a chile relleno, which came flanked by an ocean of refried beans and a hearty mound of rice.
Monthly seasonal specials like September’s tacos de birria and the upcoming October caldo de mariscos seafood soup, make it even harder to decide what to order, but you really can’t go wrong with an order of chile con queso and a chipotle pineapple margarita.
The food is only part of what has made Ponce’s a beloved local icon.
“Ponce’s is a founding member of Business for Good San Diego, because the organization represents exactly the kind of focus on employee and community investment to which Ponce’s has always been committed," said Mikey Knab, director of operations at Ponce’s and the founding board chair of the local nonprofit, whose mission is to unite small business owners in order to drive local policy and community improvements.
The restaurant is a role model for how a restaurant can become a leader for public good. In addition to their involvement with Business for Good, Ponce’s has pledged lifetime membership to Dining Out For Life, an annual event during which restaurants commit a percentage of the day’s sales to San Diego’s LGBT Community Center’s HIV and AIDS prevention programs and services.
The process involved making a few adjustments to comply with the requirements of using no expanded polystyrene (styrofoam), practicing proper recycling, using reusable foodware for onsite dining, providing no plastic bags with take out or to-go orders and offering disposable utensils only upon request, providing straws upon request, along with a few additional criteria, like offering a discount for customers who bring their own reusable cup or container, providing vegetarian or vegan options on a regular basis, and using seafood that is ‘Best Choice’ or ‘Good Alternative’ as defined by Seafood Watch.
“We care about our community on every scale, from the moment one particular guest walks in our door, to the future of the planet, and everything in between,” explained Knab. “If our climate and environment continue to be harmed by negligent business practices, we are not going to be able to serve our community in the future. We decided that it was within our power to change some behaviors, and we’re really proud that others are supportive of this commitment.”
On Sunday, September 15th, Ponce’s hosted a cookout for 300 guests, complete with live music and mariachi to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Ponce Jr. took it as an opportunity to reflect on the past, and the future of his family restaurant.
"It wasn’t until recently that I took a step back and realized how incredible it is to be celebrating Ponce’s 50 year anniversary,” he said. “I hope that we can continue Ponce’s for many years to come while building our brand, learning and improving along the way, and giving back to the community and San Diego."
4050 Adams Avenue, Kensington