Imperial Valley Treasure - The Special Quesadilla

As I do every year in late winter, I just spend two weeks in Imperial County recently, more affectionately known as the Imperial Valley, for the Imperial Valley Fair. If you travel to Imperial County, late winter is mostly the time to go – you don’t want to go starting…soon. It’s just too darn hot!

Imperial Valley has a number of treasures:
 Blue Angels annual show (I got to watch them train in the skies above for two weeks, way cool!)
 The annual county Fair – a really community-based effort and regionally specific with lots of agriculture and Hispanic culture
 Driving the outer roads and seeing “agriculture” happen before your very eyes – sheep grazing in the fields, crops growing, crop dusting planes RIGHT above you and “the smell of money” (or manure) in the air
 80º days in early March
 Some great people I have met over the years
 Outstanding Mexican restaurants and the Special Quesadilla

Now when I visit Imperial Valley, I have two problems – how many times in two weeks can I eat Mexican food? And how many times in two weeks can I eat Mexican food? That may sound like the same question, but it’s not.

The first “how many times in two weeks can I eat Mexican food?” refers to can I make enough time to eat Mexican food as many times as I would like during my two weeks.

The second “how many times in two weeks can I eat Mexican food?’ refers to how many times can I consume tacos and enchiladas and special quesadillas and chips and refried beans and still fit in my clothes without regretting my choices.

So you see two entirely different questions.

One question that never comes up is “will this Mexican restaurant have special quesadillas?” I can find special quesadillas at any restaurant in the Valley.

What is a special quesadilla, you might ask? It is something that is so delicious and wonderful that I can hardly resist passing it up at ANY Mexican restaurant in the Valley.

I have never experienced a special quesadilla a la Imperial Valley at any other Mexican restaurant I have ever been to, and as a Southern California Girl, that is saying a lot!

The special quesadilla is a puffy, crispy, golden pocket of tender, warm, deep-fried goodness that is filled with melted cheese. You can order them with carne asada or pollo or carnitas, but I like the delicate cheese-only version.

The outside of the special quesadilla is not like a normal quesadilla, it’s as though it is made of pastry dough, stuffed with cheese and deep fried. Not just a normal flour tortilla that is pan fried with butter and cheese melted inside.

This concoction is so unique, that this year when I had lunch in Imperial Valley with a friend of mine from San Diego (he lives in San Diego, visits Imperial often and has traveled the world), I ordered the delectable special quesadilla and he was wide-eyed and astounded when it arrived – and hooked on the first bite.

The next time you travel through Imperial Valley (located between San Diego County and the Arizona boarder), stop at any Mexican Restaurant – I like Celia’s, El Zarapé, La Hacienda and a few others – and order a special quesadilla. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

By the way, my mouth is watering already, anticipating next year’s opportunity to savor a special quesadilla.


  1. I've never seen a puffy quesadilla like that, I bet it is crispy and wonderful.

    The Blue Angels are mesmerizing. We see them practice every spring at the beginning of their season at their home base in Pensacola (we vacation in Perdido nearby). They roar overhead while my sons and I are fishing.

  2. Cool, fishing and Blue Angels, what a great experience.

  3. Can I see Mexico from the Imperial Valley Fair?

  4. Some people think so, but the Mexican food is authentic enough that you think you are IN Mexico!

  5. What a great description of the Imperial valley and some of the unique opportunities. But I REALLY want the recipe for this delicious, mouth-watering, one-of-a-kind experience. I am native of the "Valley" and have learned the art of cooking many of the wonderful Mexican cuisine we have, but have not perfected the "special quesadilla". If you have any insight please don't hesitate to add it to your website. Thanks-

  6. beth from Brawley HighJuly 29, 2010 at 8:42 PM

    I was born in Pioneer Memorial Hospital just outside Brawley back in 60 blah blah....needless to say I ate ( with my parents ) many many times before we finally moved out of the valley in 1977...never have found anywhere that makes that Special Quesadilla...

  7. I'm not from the valley, but my wife is and she talked about this dish over and over again. I happen to be a chef and took this as a personal challenge. After thinking it over for a few years I finally asked the right question and it dawned on me!! I tried to make this Imperial Valley treat having never even seen one. The first one out of the fryer??? According to my wife...perfect!! I have served this to at least a dozen Imperial Valley residents (or ex-residents) and have always received rave reviews. I'm not going to post the recipe here, but if anybody is interested in the secret...please send me an email at robertshomebrew@gmail.com

  8. If you really want the BEST Special Quesadilla, make sure to go to Camachos. just five miles south of El Centro, in the country for real Mexican food. Ayyy Chihuahua, que sabrosa. bnthirsk