For the love of taco trucks

I didn’t have a real appreciation of taco trucks until I moved to Tucson. There I discovered that some of the best Mexican food in town was served in parking lots under makeshift umbrellas and out of dusty trailers that looked like they’d driven all the way from Argentina. Three words: Sonoran Hot Dog.

In New Mexico, it’s hard to find true Mexican food because New Mexican food is its own cuisine. Most Mexican restaurants in Silver City serve New Mexican dishes that all come with green chilies and lots of smothering sauces.

Except at the taco truck

Silver City, NM

Chip’s taco truck is an unassuming little trailer

 

Silver City, NM

set up in a former autobody shop with a shady overhang and little picnic tables for dining alfresco

Silver City, NM

Jen swears by the #1 combination with brisket and carne asada tacos but I’m partial to the #4 with queso quemado veggie tacos.

Silver City, NM

Queso quemado is cheese slapped on the grill until it’s browned and melting and then plunked on corn tortillas and topped with sauteed green peppers and onions.

And lots of salsa.

His salsa bar is outstanding

Silver City, NM

With pickled onions, fresh cabbage and salsas ranging from red and green “greasies” to mango salsa and spicy pico de gallo

Chip's Taco Truck, Silver City

There’s nothing glamorous about a taco truck, but sometimes really good food needs to be eaten with your fingers outside while the sun beats off the blacktop and grease drips down your hand.

When that’s the case, go visit Chip.

Silver City, NM

Blanco Tacos + Tequila

I have a bit of an aversion to eating at high end shopping malls like la Encantada. Generally, I think the restaurants there serve overpriced subpar food in atmospheres where people come to see and be seen and it doesn’t matter how the food tastes as long as it’s pretty and expensive. I’ve found this to be true at NoRTH and Ra particularly.

However, I like Blanco Tacos and Tequila, which is all the more surprising given that it’s a chain Mexican restaurant in the land of bonafide real spectacular Mexican food. However, it’s hard to argue with good food, no matter the package in which it comes.

Their salsa and guacamole are great

Blanco Tacos + Tequila

As are the carnitas tacos

Blanco Tacos + Tequila

A little taco of pork, pico de gallo and cabbage

Blanco Tacos + Tequila

All good simple quality ingredients.

The baby cleaned up all the dipping sauces and ate 2 cobs of corn

Blanco Tacos + Tequila

And then did a little shopping

La Encantada

She’s one of my favorite kids

La Encantada

And not just cuz she dresses like me :)

La Encantada

If you find yourself hungry at La Encantada, eat at Blanco.

And bring along a cute baby for company!

El Gato Negro for Chips and Salsa

New Orleans, LA

Little El Gato Negro is a cute Mexican restaurant with outdoor island-table-seating across from the French Market. It’s also a good 20 block hike from the Bourbon House, which was ideal. We could have used a 20 block hike between each course! That might be a future rule. We’ve even talked about a future progressive dinner with biking from place to place. Let’s call that situation: pending.

But back to the food. When comparing food/drink combinations, I’m not sure they come around more perfectly paired than chips and salsa with margaritas. Sweet, salty, crunchy and fizzy. Delish

In this case, the chips could have been warmer but the salsa was garlicky and incredible. We ordered an additional salsa trio of Habanero, Serrano and roasted tomatillo, which were all good but I thought the house salsa was best.

New Orleans, LA

The tableside guacamole was fresh and full of jalapenos

New Orleans, LA

My margarita was fresh pineapple, cilantro and lime and if I ever try to make margaritas at home, I’m going to recreate this combination.

New Orleans, LA

Pineapple, Cilantro and Lime Margarita

And the boys got a free shot of tequila when they checked in on Yelp. Bonus!

I would come back to El Gato to try their food because I loved everything we had there. But after too many chips and with several more restaurants waiting for us, we heaved ourselves up and onward.

Tomorrow: Course 3

Saying goodbye to Noelle

One of my best girls is moving away this week. Her husband got a job in Chicago so they’re leaving the land of endless sun and heading north for the winter. The pros include close proximity to their parents and siblings and the cons include a lack of proximity to me. I’m happy for her, I’m bummed out for me, you know…

To celebrate our last weekend in close digs, Jen, Noelle and I took 3 of their 4 collective children to a resort for a mini weekend.

I got there late because I moved into my new place this weekend (more about that tomorrow) so I arrived just in time for dinner, which is always my favorite time to show up anywhere.

We started with chips and salsa and martinis

That salsas on the left has roasted tomato, cucumber and corn. Delicioso.

You’d think we’d know better than to order a second round… but you’d be wrong. Apparently we think we’re still 21.

We’re not.

At all.

To counter the vodka, we upped our dairy quotient with some queso fundido con chorizo

And a curious roasted duck quesadilla.

which seemed like a good idea but in fact is not a combination that should be repeated anywhere.

After dinner the kids watched a movie

Noelle’s kids love Jen’s baby Ruby

while we three sat on the patio and talked about how long we’ve known each other and how nice it’s been to live close to each other for the past couple of months. We’ve known each other 20+ years and all moved around a lot during that time but still managed to keep in touch and stay close. I know that this move is just another in the series of life adventures even though I’m still sad.

Miss Noelle, I wish you a safe voyage north. I fully expect that you’ll have your house unpacked, kids in school and know all your neighbors within days of setting foot on Illinois soil. Arizona is poorer for losing your focused cheerful energy.

I already miss you but I know you’ll be back to visit in October when I’ll insist on a picture of the three of us together! But until then, this is one of my favorites of you and 2 of your boys.

Travel safe. See you soon. XOX

McAlpine

One of my favorite people is visiting this week

Please welcome Ryan McAlpine. He’s pretty excited to meet you.

Ryan and I met on The Producers, which happened to be each of our first tours, and then slogged through the purgatory of Wizard of Oz together. Touring on a rough show can be made better by sharing headphones in a bus station en route to Niagara Falls.

I started Ryan’s visit in Tucson with a search for housing since I’ll be officially homeless as of August 1 and have yet to rectify that situation. One of my potential living options was out in the desert on a dirt road and required me to drive (and shift) my old truck with one hand while getting very sketchy confusing directions over the phone that I held in the other hand. It’s not a situation I’d recommend, especially when the apartment turns out to be a disappointing trifecta of small, dark and remote.

The morning improved over breakfast, as it so often does…

Elvis Waffles

Elvis waffles. Peanut butter, bananas, bacon and maple syrup. Oh, yes.

After which we went up to Sabino Canyon. We rode the tram all the way up and walked the 4 miles back down

and I took pictures of Ryan taking pictures of cactus

We had planned to check out the sunset at Gates Pass but the sky cracked open and dumped a buckets of rain instead

So we just caught the sunset reflected in windows as we drove to dinner.

We tried to eat at Mi Nidito but they had an hour wait at 8pm on Sunday night. So we opted for El Charro where there was no wait but I’d classify our dinner as mediocre. There’s probably a lesson there… I didn’t even bother to take pictures but I promised him better Mexican food before he leaves.

I’m looking forward to a chill out week with him before he flies off to join Les Miserables.

(And I’m still looking for a place to live so if you have a furnished place available in Tucson, call me!)

I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells.

Started here this morning:

Ended here tonight:

I have about 1000 pictures of the Pacific ocean from the California coast. It’s such a difficult thing to photograph and no picture ever captures what it’s like to sit on the beach watching the surf pound on the shore as the sun sets with sailboats silhouetted against the horizon. Magical.

Mostly drove today. Started listening to The Help on audiotape and LOVE it already. I’m very curious how the written version reads. I find the auditory version delectable for the character voices, accents and personalities. Those are hard things to convey in written form.

Notable today: an inventive use of trash at Tio’s Tacos in Riverside:

The beer bottle chapel:

It all feels so familiar, doesn’t it? The creative recycling, the all consuming love of concrete, the folk art and religious shrines. I could ask why (and would have, had the artist, Martin Sanchez, been around) but I’m finding that my questions for these artists go deeper than an hour long conversation about inspiration. I want to delve back and find that first point where they picked up a beer bottle, watched the light shine through it and pictured a wall; or saw a stuffed monkey and decided to make a jungle:

At what point did they need to purchase land to house their collections?

Who was the first person they ignored who said “creating a figure out of bottle caps is ridiculous!”

How many legal permits did they obtain to build their wonderlands? Are there ever enough admirers to make it worthwhile or is the act of creation enough?

After some wondering and picture taking and shaking my head, I kept driving until I ran out of road in San Clemente and then ate delicious ceviche at La Siesta:

And watched the sun set on the beach.

2 reasons to love California.

You have a full week of beach pictures coming at you! Aren’t you excited?

All right, keep it down. The neighbors will talk.

More tomorrow. See you then

Bikram in the ‘burbs, Virgin Mary salt stain and The Wormhole Coffee

I drove out to the suburbs last night to have dinner with my friend Lisa. I didn’t realize I was going to be on a toll road until I was on it with no cash money and no exit and no options. Nothing says city driving like pulling over to the side of the road and dumping your purse on the seat trying to scrounge $.80 while you wonder what happens if you don’t find it. I envisioned driving up to the toll booth operator (how people do that job without a high powered rifle is beyond me. I salute them.)  and saying “I don’t have 80 cents.” What happens next? Do I get a free pass? Do I have to back up through rush hour traffic on a Friday night and exit? Can I make a break for it and bust right through, 80 cents be damned? Fortunately, I found hidden stash of change so it wasn’t a problem but my curious mind still wonders.

Lisa and I had dinner at Bien Trucha, a Mexican restaurant serving food that Frontera Grill only dreams about. All their food is served tapas style, perfect little plates for sharing, and they specialize in tacos. We ordered the Bien Trucha tacos, skirt steak and chorizo served with chiahuahua cheese and roasted tomatillo salsa (so good you want to lick the plate) and Barriga del Puerco: Roasted pork belly, salsa verde and queso fresco.

They also create a new guacamole and a new ceviche every day:

You like that guacamole spot light? I think the avocados were feeling especially dramatic tonight because of the addition of pineapple in the guacamole.

I had a spicy sparkly sour michelada to wash it all down.

We scarfed down most of the food we ordered and if we hadn’t been talking so much, I think we would have ordered more. We got there late because Bien Trucha is tiny, the wait is long, they don’t take reservations and it’s shoulder to shoulder crowded with people eating, waiting to eat, thinking about eating and drinking in anticipation of eating. However, like so many other small places with great food, it’s worth every minute of the wait. Do like we did and put your name on the wait list and then go have a drink at any of the surrounding bars. They’re used to serving Bien Trucha’s waiting customers so go ahead and throw some money their way and then everyone benefits. Bien Trucha will call you when they have a table open and if you go in a month, you can sit on the patio. Tacos, micheladas and warm weather? Deliciosa!

The next morning we got up and did yoga in Glen Ellyn at 26 Hot. Lisa practices there regularly and this marks the first time I’ve gotten a chance to do Bikram with someone that I know. I loved it. Lisa and I have known each other a long time and we did theatre training together in college, training that incorporated a lot of body work inclusive of yoga. Doing Bikram with her felt like we were back in college and I felt myself drawing on her energy and giving back to her when she needed it. Lovely. Bikram is hard and it’s beneficial to do it with people that you know and love. I’ve learned so much from so many teachers on the road but I would relish any chance I had to do yoga with my friends.

Our teacher Chris had a brusque manner but said such insightful things about the poses that I think of him as the drill instructor Buddha. He also vocalized something I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of classes, namely the importance of where my eyes go when I go into a pose.

My yoga meditation of the day is: set your intent by putting your eyes there first.

It’s no mistake that the first direction in a pose is “look up” and then “go up.” Where my eyes go, my body follows. I find that my eyes are never going as far up or back as they can go. It’s a challenge to look that far. It’s a challenge to think of how much further I could be going and how limited I feel with the body I have today. The challenge is always to go further but I can’t go further without looking further first. I like the term “far sighted.” It implies looking beyond what’s evident, peeling back the top layer and looking inside. I want to be far sighted so I can get to places that I can’t even verbalize or fathom right now. I’m learning to look up so I can go up.

Drove back to the city at midday through horrific stop-go traffic (at 2pm! On a Saturday!!), again scrounging change from the bottom of my purse for a bunch of random tolls. I’m down to pennies now so I’m in real trouble if I run into something unexpected tomorrow before I get to a bank.

I had an early dinner with my friend Cassie at Old Town Social, which is a butcher pub, or whatever the term might be for a place that specializes in both meat and beer. We had incredible frites with aioli, mac and cheese where the mac was long curly noodles and the cheese was legion, flat bread with lamb sausage and goat cheese and a selection of charcuterie, pickles and cheeses that were worth the whole price of the check. The atmosphere runs heavily to big, dark, masculine and wood oriented making it the perfect location to drink a dark beer and eat every cured meat imaginable. Go do it.

Since this is my last post in Chicago, I’m leaving you with two Chicago curiosities. The first is something I stumbled across at The Wormhole Coffee:

Recognize this license plate?

That’s a DeLorean built to replicate the one from Back to the Future. The shop owner – an 80’s child with a movie obsession – bought the car without the engine and assembled it in the store, adding all the Back to the Future specialty pieces like a “flux capacitor.”

As well as a heap of 80’s movie toys, posters and shmada, including a model of the movie car.

He’s also quite serious about coffee and they even serve espresso over cocoa puffs for their trademark “Mocha Puffs.” If only you could watch the Smurfs while you eat it. I think TVs showing classic 80’s movies and cartoons should be his next addition in this coffee shop, don’t you?

On a completely different note, my last gift to you is pictures of the apparition of the Virgin Mary on the wall of the Kennedy Expressway. She appeared in 2005 and since then a small shrine has grown up around her. I call her Our Lady of the Salt Stain:

They’ve covered her with Plexiglas after numerous vandals defaced her:

Her face:

I find myself touched by this show of faith and the human need to see God revealed in a physical way. Was the Virgin Mary here and did she leave her mark on this wall? Does it matter? I don’t think it needs to be a miracle. I think people come to light candles to remember what they believe and to pray to someone they think will hear them. Sometimes it’s easier to find God on the highway than in a church. And as long as people light candles here in the underpass, those people driving through will have a moment to see this shrine and perhaps to think about whatever it is that they believe in.

Goodbye Chicago. And goodnight.

Tomorrow: Missouri.