On Friday night I celebrated getting a job. Mom was reluctant for me to spend money but she was also tired of my cooking which was about as versatile as hers. She knew I liked Mexican food but had never tried “real” south of the border cuisine other than those Ortega taco kits she used to whip up for us back in the day.
Oh yeah, nothing like making tacos out of the box. You got to brown that ground meat yourself and add overly preserved and processed dried seasonings. It was recommended you add some cheddar cheese, lettuce and sour cream, after the mess was piled into those crunchy taco shells that were a few years old. There wasn’t much difference between that dinner and a Kraft Tangy Italian spaghetti meal that also originated from a cardboard box. What else did we dine on other than that delectable duo? Well, readers, we had various flavors of Hamburger Helper to add to our evening meals which included Mom’s favorite: Cheeseburger Macaroni. There was also the infamous Kraft Macaroni & Cheese at least once a week. Could I stand any more diversity? Sure! What else could enhance suppers with Mom? Tuna Helper, that’s what! And, since we both loved pizza, we’d spruce up a frozen Totino’s with a dash of seven-year-old oregano from the spice rack. It was a credit to my metabolism that I didn’t end up obese.
So I’d do the honor of allowing Mom to try some real local food at a nearby restaurant that was called Terry’s Tex-Mex Restaurant. Promising name, I thought sarcastically.
Looked like a Denny’s inside. There were jaunty red booths and a few of those booths were augmented with wide swaths of electrical tape. Maybe the reason was due to the clientele. Well, the few people who populated the place on a Friday night seemed to be diners who had what Mom called “healthy appetites.” The couple nearest me easily had a combined weight of 500 pounds and a few booths to the north were a mother and daughter team busily sucking back big drinks and consuming their nachos and dip at an alarming rate. The almost albino waitress wearing shorts and white blouse appeared as Un-Hispanic as you could imagine. When I asked for a to go menu I got a blank look for a second, then realization dawned across the red-haired gal’s features. I was handed a food splattered plastic covered sheet of typewritten selections like “Terrys Chicken Burito” and “Tacoes + Enciladas Special”. I figured I’d go for those two tantalizing options.
Arriving back home with a bag full of hot Mexican food was a bit of an event that Mom looked forward to as “it’s something different.” She’d even set the table, using plastic table mats instead of cloth ones, and gotten herself a cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer that she sometimes allowed herself as a treat. I was curious as to how this restaurant’s offerings fared against native Los Angeles Mexican food.
I discovered a difference as soon as I opened up the Styrofoam container. It began with the salsa. Pico de Gallo wasn’t a complicated salsa to make and consisted of fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, chilies, salt, and pepper. Maybe Terry thought that tomatoes equaled salsa. Canned tomatoes.
But the star of the show was “Terrys Chicken Burito” a bland flour tortilla that contained shredded chicken, at least they got that part right, shredded iceberg lettuce, chunks of tomatoes, a dollop of sour cream and still more shredded iceberg lettuce. Oh, and a smidgeon of coagulating American cheese. If there had been a pet dog then I would have exchanged the canned dog food for the burrito. It was a mighty slap in the face of fine Mexican cuisine. Even roach coaches back in L.A. served better burritos. You might be racing to the bathroom soon afterwards, but at least they were real burritos.
After we sat down and put the suspicious looking “Tex-Mex” food on our plates, Mom noticed my look of disappointment and had another sip of beer. I cut the thing in half and when she got her portion she took her knife and fork and delicately sliced off a small piece. After consuming a mouthful, she had a bigger swig of brew. “I think Taco Bell is better,” she stated.
“I think you’re right.”
“Lisa, next time ask for a sample or something.”
“Mom, there won’t be a next time. Next time I’ll try that Chinese restaurant.”
To read more about this novel, check out the page dedicated to Notes from Nadir