One of the things I learned long ago about living in New England is that certain phrases should immediately make your “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!” alarm go off. One of those is most any sentence containing both “New England” and “Barbecue”. Also up there is “New England” and “Mexican”. Really dangerous is the combination of “New England” and “Authentic Mexican” food, since, while I’ve been to the occasional good actual Mexican place (including El Rincon down in Manchester, or when they have their A game going, Gusanoz, although for the latter I usually need to budget extra for the extra margarita I’ll need to wash down the bad service), usually I find an “Authentic” place to be dismal Tex-Mex at best, sub-Old El Paso at worse. But every once in a while I do stumble across a place that’s actually putting in a good effort, and not just dishing out queso-flavored disappointment. So, on that note, I introduce you to El Rodeo.
I had one firm recommendation for a meal in Grand Junction from my friend Ariane (whose wedding I was attending): that I go get breakfast at Las Marias, and in particular try their tamale. Apparently, the place has been a favorite of her and her brother for quite some time, so we decided to check it out. Like a lot of smaller cities, Grand Junction has a downtown that’s been through an initial heyday, a contraction as people move out to the suburbs and transitioned their shopping from local stores to large box stores and shopping malls, and finally some redevelopment. Grand Junction has done a good amount of development, and seems to be really pushing to make downtown an eating and entertainment destination, and they’ve also installed quite a bit of artwork. At the East end of Old Town Grand Junction is the latest location of Maria’s, across the street from the old (and currently being renovated) Avalon Theater.
The whole purpose of our trip to Colorado was going to a wedding of two of our friends. However, they aren’t exactly traditionalists, so one of the activities planned for their informal wedding was a hike up nearby Mount Garfield. Well, it’s a short hike (~2 miles), but it’s also a steep one (~2000 feet), with most of the elevation gain in the first third of the trail. I enjoyed both the hike and the view from the top, but by the time we got back to Grand Junction to get ready for the wedding, I needed a bit of a snack. Cruising through the west side of Grand Junction, we happened across two places: a Sonic (I don’t really care for their food, but I love their cherry limeade), and in a little parking area right next door, Loncheria Rubi, a taco truck.
After we returned from Hawaii, our next weekend was spent up in Montreal. While the main purpose of our trip was to go to the annual Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon (more on this later), it also gave us another trip through Vermont, this time over lunch. I’ve had one place on my hit list for a while: The Mad Taco. I originally discovered The Mad Taco at the 2011 Vermont Brewers Festival: they were one of the food vendors at the event, and two things stood out about them: (1) they served tacos which did not suck (this is not trivial in Vermont!), and (2) they had some seriously good hot sauce. Since then, I’d been making a note to stop by and try their location in Waitsfield, VT, but it never seems to work out. But a while ago they opened up a second location in Montpelier (in what used to be the retail location of SamosaMan before they imploded in scandal), and our late morning arrival finally gave us an opportunity to try them out.
An important agenda item for me any time I’m visiting an area with a substantial Hispanic population is scoring a good Mexican breakfast. While my home turf in New Hampshire has a few decent Mexican places, none of them currently offer breakfast, so when I’m in an area with some good Mexican breakfast options, I have a hard time resisting a trip for a good huevos ranchero or a well-performing breakfast burrito. But while visiting Carol’s relatives in Murrieta, CA last month, we had a free morning and a strong appetite, and ended up finding San Jorge Tortilleria and Market. Nestled in a strip mall behind a tire shop off of Madison Ave in a quieter part of Murriet, San Jorge is one of those quiet, un-assuming places. Walking inside, it’s also immediately obvious that San Jorge is putting most of the emphasis on the “Market” side of the operations (although they do a very impressive job with the “Tortilleria” part of things, with some rather impressive piles of fresh corn and flour tortillas all bagged up and ready to go). But amongst the various foods and sundries, San Jorge also has a nice food service counter, serving up Mexican breakfasts and lunches.
Sometimes one door close and another one opens… So recently, I decided to apply for a Nexus card, the trusted traveler program between the US and Canada, giving you fast access through customs and immigration. While I do go to Montreal fairly often, that’s only one reason I got the card: it also gives you (for no additional cost or paperwork) access to Global Entry (expedited immigration at US airports), Sentri (the Mexican-US program), and TSA Precheck (which is like a time machine whisking you back to 2001, where you no longer need to remove your shoes, and can leave liquids and the like in your bag). But it required me to do a Canada Border Services Agency interview as well, which meant driving up to Champlain, NY for an interview. I decided to take a day off of work and make a fun trip out of it. Ideally, there was one spot I wanted to visit in Burlington, VT, called Sadie Katz, that several people told me produced a seriously good NY-style pastrami sandwich. Unfortunately, our one attempted trip to Sadie Katz found the place intractably busy, and we vowed to come back a different day. Well, about two months after that, in late 2011, Sadie Katz closed, so we never got to try it out. But that bad news turned out to have a bright side: the location (which is actually a diner, long ago it was opened as the Oasis Diner), was then leased by the Farmhouse Group (the folks that run the Farmhouse Tap and Grill down the street), who opened it on New Years Eve 2011 as El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina
A many of my regular readers know, I’ve got a regular tradition of going on an annual “Death March”, in which I and a bunch of friends pick some random large US city (New York, San Francisco, and Chicago in previous years), pick a nice walking route through it (usually around 20 miles), and spend a day walking and eating our way through the city (you don’t feel too guilty about stopping for a hot dog, pizza slice, or taco if you’ve been walking 20 miles!). One of the challenges is that many large cities, particularly in business areas, can have large stretches that don’t have a lot of takeout food, or if they do, the places require some advanced scouting. So this last weekend, we did an exploratory trip looking for more stops on next month’s Boston Death March. So that’s how we found ourselves wandering around Berkeley Street in Boston’s South End, stumbling upon El Triunfo.
It’s never a good thing when you hear that Restaurant Impossible (or any of its counterparts on other networks) is coming to town. To even be eligible to be on a show like that, your restaurant has to be on the verge of failure, and the owners up against the ropes. Being on a show like that literally is one of the last grasps of the desperate. So which local, failing, and desperate restaurant was Restaurant Impossible here to fix? Sadly, I can’t say I was surprised to hear it was Gusanoz, our local Mexican restaurant (indeed, probably the only place locally I can call Mexican without putting quote marks around it). Gusanoz is no stranger to these pages. Indeed, since I started writing Offbeat Eats, including this review I will have written them up four times (a record!). And, indeed, I’m not sure the paint had even dried on Restaurant Impossible‘s renovations back in May before my readers, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances started asking me if I had been by and checked out the “New” Gusanoz. Well, in short, I hadn’t. I might have checked it out right away, but that time of year was busy (back to back trips to Austin and Chicago, indeed, the very day Gusanoz was getting its makeover I was eating Carnitas at Carnitas Don Pedro in Chicago). And then several other trips (in no particular order, San Antonio, Iceland, and Germany) came up, and I decided that, overall, it was best to give them some time to settle in to the new state of affairs and see if the Restaurant Impossible changes “stuck”.
Shortly after the trip to Pane Bianco, my coworkers started to arrive at Phoenix, so pretty soon we were all packed up with our gear and heading out to Gold Canyon, AZ. Except Gold Canyon isn’t exactly known for having a lot of restaurants, so we decided to grab dinner on the way out of town. Wanting to give them a taste of something that my VT and NH coworkers weren’t likely to experience back at home, I decided to take them out for New Mexican cuisine. And for that, I took them to the nearby branch of Los Dos Molinos in Mesa. Los Dos Molinos is a small Phoenix-based chain of New Mexican restaurants, with about a half dozen locations spread throughout the metro area. The focus at Los Dos Molinos is on New Mexican cuisine, with a particular emphasis on using Hatch chiles, and on New Mexican specialties like carne adovada (marinated pork). And they definite like to apply the chiles liberally, with the result that Los Dos Molinos is a particularly good antidote to the moderately bland Mexican food that I usually get up in New England.
So, after a decent day of exploring the Riverwalk and downtown San Antonio, we decided that was a good time for dinner. And we were craving Mexican food. Well, San Antonio, particularly the Riverwalk, is probably one of the densest concentrations of Tex Mex places in existence, with at least a dozen Tex Mex places (mostly with some sort of “Cantina” motif) accessible either directly on the river, or a short staircase away. Well, we didn’t go to any of those places. Instead, we headed up to street level, and walked several blocks south to the edge of the King William District to El Mirador. El Mirador is one of the elderly statesmen of San Antonio Mexican Places, having been there since 1967, when the owners built the place to be near the HemisFair ’68 World Fair a few blocks to the east, and it’s been doing steady business ever since. It’s also relatively popular with the locals—there’s even a room in the back called the “City Council Room”, since the San Antonio City Council has a tendency to hold informal lunchtime meetings there. In any case, El Mirador was a nice little destination for u to get a nice dinner away from the Riverwalk crowds.