Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Taco High School

Taqueria Chihuahua is a cheerful place with a bright yellow sign on the east side of Lincoln Boulevard just south of Pico, in Santa Monica. There was an empty parking space in front, so I pulled in at lunchtime.

There's a front counter faced with pretty yellow and green talavera tiles where they take your order. Along the front window, there's a narrow shelf with wooden stools painted in bright colors, where you can sit and eat or wait for your to-go order. Other than that, there are only a handful of dining tables - maybe six 4-tops.

When I came in, the place was full. The dining tables were all occupied, the window counter had only a few empty stools, and the area in front of the service counter was packed with people in line to order or waiting for pick-up.

Everyone except me and the kitchen staff was under 18. Taqueria Chihuahua is about two blocks away from Santa Monica High School. A table of girls giggled. A tall young man with ear-buds dangling from under a green hoody sat with two girls at the bench near the front door.

"Is there a line?" I asked a young girl. She flashed her braces at me in a smile. "No, just get in there. Only don't push people," she said.

I hoped I didn't come across as the kind of person who'd shove people. "No, I won't." I got behind a shaggy-haired guy in Chuck Taylor sneakers and a huge backpack that cleared space around him every time he moved. Meanwhile, three more guys came in, and jockeyed for position behind me. The counter person shouted out orders as they were ready - either by your receipt number or, if you were a regular, by name. "Alex? One chicken burrito!" and the backpack kid grabbed his lunch and sidestepped his way out the door.

When I got to the counter, the man looked at me with amusement - We were the oldest people in the place. I ordered a combo; Chile relleno, taco dorado (fried crispy) with potato filling, and rice and beans. And a tamarindo aqua fresca. I took my drink and my receipt and sat at the window counter to wait for my order.

A bit of drama ensued when the young man with the earbuds went to pick up his order, and started feeling around in his pockets. "My phone!" he said. "Where's my phone? I just had it!"

The two girls who were with him giggled wildly. He patted the outer pockets of his huge backpack without success. "No come on, I'm not fooling. My phone!"

A couple guys from one of the tables in the back cat-called him. "I don't find my phone, I'm jumping someone," he said with false bravado - I could imagine he was wondering what he'd tell his parents. The girls at the table tittered behind their hands.

"Hey," he called to his two friends, "call my number!"

"I'll call you," said one of the other girls, "tell me your number!" She pulled out her Sidekick.

As the boy called out his number, the other girls laughed so hard no one could hear him at first. Finally Sidekick Girl punched it in, and waited. "It's just going to voice mail," she said.

"Psyche!' shouted one of the boy's two friends, and waved a cell-phone in the air, then scooted out the door. The boy snatched up his brown bag and soda, and rushed out after them. The four girls from the table quickly followed.

A gray haired man in painter overalls came in and stood at the counter. The boys from the back tossed their used plates into the trash can and left through the back door to the parking lot. Lunch period must have been over, because within two minutes, the entire demographic of the place shifted from average age 16, to two decades older - white hipsters, Latino working men, and me, a white middle-aged woman in office slacks and a sweater.

By the time my food came, there was a free table, so instead of taking it out, I sat down. The crispy potato taco was good, stuffed full of soft bland potato covered with pico de gallo and shredded lettuce. It had a nice crunch, hot and just a bit greasy. A little bit of salsa from the salsa bar made it perfect.

The chile relleno was a good-sized poblano chile, napped in a puffy egg batter, stuffed with white cheese and sauced with a tomato, pepper and onion sauce. The pepper itself was spicy. Spanish rice had a spoonful of the same chunky vegetable sauce, and the refried pinto beans had melted orange and yellow cheese. It was filling and very "American" in feel, with its orange cheese glop, but tasty all the same.

I'm going to eat here again. The only question is - do I want to go at Lunch Hour, or wait until the kids have gone back to class?


Kathy Rogers said...

I've probably driven by there four million times and never even noticed the place, let alone went in to eat.

And now I'm hungry for tacos and that chicken in the oven is just not going to do.

KG said...

There's this Tex-Mex place in my home town that I used to go to all the time when I was in high school. I recently went back and was shocked that I was definitely the oldest person in there - and I'm only 27! The place is officially College Kid Burrito Joint, but I don't care. The food is fantastic - I'll go back until I'm 87!

shrink on the couch said...

Been to many a Tex-Mex restaurants, never seen (noticed?) potato stuffed goodies on the menu. I do like my egg taco's with potato though. Yum Yum.

shrink on the couch said...

Been to many a Tex-Mex restaurants, never seen (noticed?) potato stuffed goodies on the menu. I do like my egg taco's with potato though. Yum Yum.

CIELO said...

Hi... the first thing I noticed when I got here was the lovely mourning doves nesting outside your window..... so pretty! I love mourning doves, and I'm praying to see some of them in my suburban garden one day ;)

Now I'm hungry for tacos... is it luch time yet?


Anonymous said...

Your food sounds delicious. I'm drinking a glass of wine at the moment, but I'd toss it aside in a heartbeat for a crispy potato taco.

I know I was a goofy teen, but I can't stand to witness the silliness. If I were you, I'd wait until the kids return to class.

I love the name of your blog, btw.

Queenly Things said...

Potato tacos de canasta our sooooooooo good. I'm going to check and see if our taqueria can whip up some of those now that I have my appetite back.

barbara said...

I love the way you drop into little Mexican eating places that you see and have not only interesting food, but interesting experiences in observing the people around you.