2249 Austin Highway
The unregrettable discovery that Le Peep is no longer at the Carousel Shopping Center (it's now Billy T's, a burger shop that used to be on Austin Highway, its place taken by Cerroni's Purple Garlic Pizza, one of my favourite pizza places) led us on a quest for another place to have a late breakfast yesterday. Somehow, that journey took us all the way out Austin Highway, to that rather seamy stretch of road between Ira Lee and Perrin Beitel, where, plunked down in the parking lot of an old-fashioned motor-court, we found Rita's Enchiladas, looking resplendently unsophisticated in its sheet-metal walls, the sign outside proclaiming the arrival of new owners.
Well, what the hell. We figured that, worst-case scenario, it'd be mediocre, like most of the more respectable-looking taquerías we find strewn about the north side of town.
The atmosphere here is thoroughly working-class. We were alone in the place when we arrived, but by the time we were done we felt out of place, as we have not a tattoo or a piercing between us, while everyone else seemed to have spent all their paychecks on body art for the past three years.
This is the kind of place where you really need to have some Spanish if you want to talk to the waitress. I could just manage it myself, but I did have to ask her to speak more slowly at one point, which she found funny and (I think) adorable. (Everyone I know in Mexico thinks so, but they always appreciate the effort.) Coming in here is like being transported to the kind of place you used to have to drive to the South Side to find, where nothing has consciously been done to attract an Anglo clientele. The place is resolutely and unapologetically Tex-Mex in every respect, with no emendations made in the name of modern marketing theory.
This is a good thing, at least to those of us who are growing tired of the dreary homogenization of comida mejicana as it moves into the national mainstream. (As opposed to the local mainstream; let's face it, Tex-Mex has long been mainstream here, but without the homogeneity.)
The place is small, only about six or seven tables. It looks like it used to be an ice house, another charming attribute. The decor features the same kind of sheet-metal on the walls and counter, with a few inexpensive paintings and some whimsical welded folk-art: a chicken, a rooster, and two musicos that stand on the vinyl-tiled floor as though they were going to be put somewhere eventually. It seems reasonably clean, like your cousin's living room when they weren't expecting you.
The menu is simple: the usual breakfast tacos and daily specials, and half a dozen reasonably-priced ($6.50) lunch plates. Nothing fancy at all. I decided on machacado tacos on flour tortillas; Rick went for the picadillo. (We've come to know it as "Column B." He almost always orders beef fajita tacos, ("Column A"), but when he feels like a change, it's picadillo.)
Rick was impressed with the picadillo at Rita's. There was a lot of it, and it was very well seasoned, and not nearly as messy as the same dish at most other taquerías. And the flour tortillas here were made in a fashion rarely seen locally, but much appreciated. Smaller than in most Tex-Mex restaurants, about 6", and very thin, cooked right to the farther edge of done-ness, so that, thin as the tortillas are, they can be separated into layers. In the end, Rick pronounced it the best picadillo he'd ever had, and gave serious thought to ordering another.
I had similar thoughts about the machacado. Not as large as at Blanquita's, and not as meaty, they were still as finely seasoned, as well-cooked, and as nicely balanced in the various tastes as those delicious tacos I had last week. The excellent salsas, both red and green, add just the right note of piquancy to the experience.
|No city inspection yet for this business.|