The spices from old family recipes have been simmering in the kitchens of Eden Gardens' famous Mexican restaurants for more than 40 years. The aroma draws in hordes during the peak lunch and dinner hours.
Fidel's, Tony Jacal's, Blue Bird and the Market Cafe wind down a two-block segment of Valley Avenue. Residents and regulars who have been flocking to this mini-restaurant row for decades agree that this is some of the best Mexican food around.
"Those four restaurants are as nice as any in San Diego," said Solana Beach resident Eddie Lewis.
The restaurants are one remaining constant in a community that is changing daily, and shrinking rapidly.
Part of Solana Beach, Eden Gardens is hidden between the Via de la Valle and Lomas Santa Fe Drive exits off Interstate 5 and is half a mile north of the Del Mar Racetrack.
Back in the 1920s, colorful adobe structures housed Latino migrants in need of affordable housing near their workplaces: the agricultural fields of La Costa and Carlsbad, the ranches of Rancho Santa Fe, and the Hotel Del Mar.
Almost 70 years later, many of the original adobes have been torn down and replaced with more-modern houses, condominiums and apartment projects. Real estate agent Roy Underell said most of the homes in Eden Gardens are dilapidated, but properties are still snatched up quickly, at an average price of $300,000-350,000--by buyers who covet the land. He predicted that within two years, Eden Gardens will be completely gentrified.
Frank Renteria, a second generation resident, has lived in Eden Gardens for 52 years. While he is happy to see the area cleaned up, he said the face lift Eden Gardens is undergoing has forced many longtime residents to move to less expensive areas of North County.
Five to 10 families initially settled in Eden Gardens in the early 1920s, and longtime residents said that number stayed about the same until the early 1950s, peaking in the mid-1960s. During that period, a steady migration from Mexico bolstered its population to approximately 200.
Although other cultures are slowly finding their way to Eden Gardens, it is primarily a Latino neighborhood. Second and third generations of those first families still live here, but have lost many of their parents' ways.
Al Gonzales is a third-generation resident. He and his parents are bilingual, but his three children speak little Spanish.
"Most of the kids growing up here now don't even speak Spanish," Gonzales said. "They don't know much about their own culture any more."
There are no schools, recreation or shopping centers in Eden Gardens. It does, however, have a park, two churches, an iron company, and its own dance troupe.
La Colonia Park was established in the early 1970s, to the chagrin of developers who wanted to build apartments there. It is a popular gathering place for family picnics, soccer games, fiestas--and drug dealers.
But increased drug activity in the park began to tarnish Eden Gardens' reputation. So two years ago, Eddie Lewis formed the "Eden Gardens Against Drugs" organization to battle that reputation.
Ground breaking for Eden Gardens' own community center, complete with a basketball court, soccer field, meeting rooms, a preschool and satellite library, was to be last summer, but the city is still trying to find money for the project.