I had lunch with my friend Dorothy today at our favorite Mexican restaurant — El Tequileno. It’s a local restaurant at the end of a strip mall, a hole-in-the-wall kind of place, where the chairs and tables have images of colorful parrots and people wearing bright, traditional Mexican garb on them. The fresh-made salsa is just spicy enough to where it doesn’t overwhelm, the food is consistently good, and the margaritas … the margaritas are fantastic! Hells bells! The margaritas are the best and the strongest this side of Mexico (and this side of my own home, because I don’t skimp on the tequila).
I love Mexican food. I love the mild heat of the salsas, the bright reds of the tomatoes, pale greens of the lettuce, the marinated meats, guacamole and dollop of sour cream — la crema. One thing I never order is chicken, but that’s not exclusive to Mexican restaurants. I never order chicken in a restaurant, because that’s one thing I can easily make several varieties of at home, . . . and I am not that fond of the taste of chicken anyway.
I heard a stand-up comic admit that she could never make it through an apocalypse — “I have no idea where the wild tacos live,” she admitted. Me neither! Let’s face it, tacos (and burritos) are one of the simplest and greatest inventions ever. Put anything in a tortilla, either soft or crispy, and it automatically becomes better. Add refried beans and Spanish rice, and you have the whole enchilada of yummy goodness.
But I am a creature of habit. The last few years, I usually order the same thing — I love El Tequileno’s seafood enchilada. I order it with no veggies, but with sour cream, rice and beans. Then, I take my take getting rid of all the veggies already cooked into my Spanish rice. I mean, a cooked vegetable probably won’t kill me, but why take chances?
Another thing that I adore is mixing my refried beans with salsa. It is one of my all-time favorite taste and texture combinations.
The thing about Mexican food, at least for me, is that I like Tex-Mex, not true authentic Mexican dishes. I like the bright splashes of color on my plate, instead of the muted browns and whites that is the true plates of Mexico. That being said, I am pretty much a wuss when it comes to the heat of the flavors, and the mild peppers and salsas does me just right.
I remember, years ago, I was eating chips and salsa with Amy, then a friend, now my sister-in-law. I watched, amazed, as she took a chip and loaded it up with the salsa. When she noticed that I would gently dip a chip and then shake it off a bit, she laughed. “You know the chip is just a vehicle to get the salsa, right?” she asked. It took me many years to get there, using the corn chip as a salsa scoop, but I can honestly say I completely understand her now.
Once, I was eating a Taco Bell soft shell Taco Supreme while working in the Russian book store, when a Russian man walked in. He saw my food, wished me good appetite (that’s the polite Russian greeting when meeting someone who’s eating) and said, “You must be a long-time resident of the United States.” I admitted that it has been more than 40 years since we arrived. “I see by the food. New arrivals don’t eat that kind of food,” he observed.
Russian food is as different from Mexican fare as apples are from orange crates. Russia is about heavy meat and potatoes, not too different from Irish staples. With Russian food, the spiciest flavor is garlic, but the flavors of Mexico blow that out of the water. Sure, I can see how the new immigrants might find the bold spices and the heat too much, but it’s just right for me.
Over time, Mexican food has become my favorite over all.