I love Mexican food. Not Taco Bell. Not the frozen taquitos that you can buy in bulk at Sam’s Club. Not the lard-infused, deep-fried (not that I have anything against greasy food necessarily) Mexi-slop that you get at some dives that masquerade as real Mexican restaurants. But the honest to goodness, fresh, texture-taste layered food that I adore.
When we lived in San Diego, you could get the most delectable swordfish tacos—the fish was firm yet tender with a hint of charcoal and lime. (Okay, I’ve mentioned it before so I'll move on.) But here in Chattanooga, we struggled to get good Mexican food. Until we found a place near the mall called El Meson. Mall-area restaurants tend to suck. But we tried it anyway. They made their own tortillas, always a good sign. The food wasn’t bad, but it was Southern-American Mexican food, i.e. mildly spicy enchiladas, tacos, and burritos. Boring. We noticed a lot of Hispanic people in the restaurant, but they all ate in a different section. Cal said, “I bet they have a different menu.”
The next time we went, Cal met the manager. He and Cal lived up near the same place in California. Then, we got a Hispanic waitress who didn’t speak much English. And I asked her, “What do you recommend?” She asked, "You like spicy?" I said, “Of course, we’re from San Diego area—we’ve spent time in Tijuana.” She pointed to Jalisco Shrimp Enchiladas. I ordered it. (Cal ordered something else.) I took one bite (imagine the flavor of luscious shrimp, jalapeños, and fresh veggies—wrapped in a warm tortilla and covered with melted cheese and what I think was a tomatillo sauce) and knew I’d found real Mexican food. I gave Cal a bite. Euphoria. His fork hovered over my food.
Me: “No way.” I pulled my plate out of reach. “Eat your own dinner.”
Cal: “But you always get the good food when we go out for dinner.”
Me: “Yeah, because I always ask the waitress what she likes.”
Cal: “You can have a bite of mine.
Me: “I don’t want yours.”
Cal: “Yeah. It’s not as good as yours.”
Me: “Duh... How about if I give you my leftovers?”
The only thing they don’t have is killer salsa. They served two kinds, which were okay—once again Southern-American inspired stuff. Although I did spy a leaf of cilantro, but alas it was the only one. I have a peculiar palate for salsa. It’s got to be fresh with herbs, spices, and freshly chopped cilantro and diced onions. And it’s got to have jalapenos. It should leave a nice sizzle on your tongue. I make homemade salsa every Saturday for taco night at our house. And I make it for College Mafia Night (aka Prayer and Fellowship Time). Once I tried to make something else—there was much groaning and gnashing of teeth among the college students, especially those hailing from California. Never again have I forgotten the Killer Salsa—otherwise I’m sure I’ll be the first one killed off in Mafia. “Mrs. Keller was killed during the night by irate college students who didn’t get their salsa fix!”