It took a tip from a friend to turn me on to Kennedy’s in Escondido and I’m grateful as this place should be a regular stop for folks living in the area or even as a road trip for coastal dwellers.
Formerly known as Kennedy’s Karne, the new location at 1766 E. Valley Parkway features a 5,000-square-foot butcher shop with high-quality meats, a restaurant, a market and an extensive food prep area that allows them to do catering for any size event.
First off, there is a bit of history behind this family operation. The original Kennedy’s Market was opened by Jesus Soto in 1972 as a one-stop-shop in the small town of Heber, California. It started as a small convenience store and soon brought in people from all over Southern California to pick up Soto’s “Best in Class Carne Asada” as folks called it.
My first question was about the name, as it did not sound very Hispanic. Mark Soto, the grandson of Jesus, informed me that his grandfather had the utmost respect and admiration for President John F. Kennedy and the market was named in his honor. There was some initial pushback from the local Mexican community but once word got out how good their food was that became a non-issue.
Today, Mark M. Soto along with his and business partner, John Mayberry, are running the show, having joined forces to continue Kennedy’s legacy and supply the community with the freshest, highest-quality foods. Mark explains it this way: “We are excited to continue the legacy of my grandfather, we may have a bigger storefront now, but what we value most is the people that walk through the door. We want to prepare quality meat and treat customers the same way my grandfather did.”
The Escondido location is impressive and the extensive meat counter has a plethora of well-known specialty meats including carne asada, pollo asado, Angus prime, Wagyu and Kobe beef. An expanded dine-in and take-out restaurant offers homemade guacamole, salsas, chips and tortillas. They specialize in high-quality carne asada and include grass-fed along with no hormone or antibiotic raised options. They are also known for their marinades, which can be creative and bold with a mix of dry and wet rubs.
One of the standouts for me was the combo corn/flour tortilla that wrapped one of the best tacos I’ve had in a long time. It really was the best of both tortilla worlds. The texture and consistency make them a joy to devour and I really need to purchase a bunch of them for use at home. So back to the taco itself. It turns out that because Kennedy’s originated in the Imperial Valley, Mark’s mother and father lived on Brandt Road right next door to the Brandt’s of the famous Brandt Beef that you see on fine menus all over San Diego.
So basically they formed a relationship early on with Brandt, which they consider the most tender USDA prime beef around, and now include it among their offerings. Now they sell more Brant Prime Ribs than USDA Choice Prime Ribs. Prime Rib is another huge seller at Kennedy’s and worth the drive for the quality options the offer.
Not to dwell on my taco plate, but there was another element of it that is worth mentioning. The signature Kennedy’s queso sauce is freaking unbelievable. If it had not been lunch I would have eaten myself straight into a food coma as a result of that sauce.
The queso sauce started off as an Alfredo sauce their cook made years ago. A customer requested Alfredo sauce made with Mexican cheeses, which led to some experimentation and ended up with Kennedy’s Queso. The cheese sauce has a cream base, jalapenos, Monterrey cheese and Oaxaca cheese.
If you are ordering from their restaurant they keep it simple. Choose your protein, style that includes taco, burrito, bowl or fries, a couple rice and bean choices, toppings and some add-on options. It’s a great way to organize the menu. Besides the taco I did the Pork Carnitas bowl and did a sampler of the fries with carne asada. Both were really good.
There is also a mini market of sorts with everything you need to accompany your purchase from the meat counter or to add on to your carry-out order from the restaurant.
In my conversation with Mark I mentioned how Kennedy’s would have been the perfect fit to take over the former El Torito Market in Leucadia. Turns out they were thinking the same thing but just missed the opportunity. I will make the drive back out to Escondido for more of Kennedy’s goodness though, it’s that good.
They are open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Additional locations include Imperial Beach and El Centro, where customers can purchase the same product Jesus Soto created over 50 years ago. Details at www.kennedysmeatcompany.com.