Hold the Cheddar: From Colorado to California, a Mexicamerican Learning Curve
by Sara Deseran under Uncategorized with 1 Comment
Sunday, August 19, 2012
I came of age with this burrito. The summer before my junior year at UC Santa Cruz, I spent in Fort Collins, Colorado. My grandmother had recently passed away and I was sent to stay with and take care of my grandfather. Grandpa, it turned out, was doing just fine. In the evenings, I would go off to work as a hostess at The Rio Grande—the very, very popular Tex-Mex restaurant that started there—making sure that grandpa was well nourished with a bowl of ramen with tofu, broccoli, and peanut sauce from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook. Grandpa—a man who lived off of steak and butter and Baskin Robbins pistachio almond fudge—kindly gagged it down, drove off to the Elk’s Club, drank high balls, and played cards until 2 a.m.
The Rio Grande had some similarities to Tacolicious. Most of all, it was almost always packed. There was always a line of people out the door and I was the gatekeeper. A terrible one. I accidentally skipped people’s names on the wait list, and when they asked how long it would be for a table, I’d just punt. “Um, an hour?” There was little method to my madness. I apologize in retrospect.
Like many Mexican-American restaurants, it was a good-times place. The blended margaritas at The Rio Grande were so big and so strong that I witnessed people falling out of their chair onto the floor. Because of this, there was a three-margarita limit (and apparently still is). On Sunday morning, I bussed tables for $2 an hour plus tips. But no one came to the restaurant’s brunch, so I worked for $2 an hour period and my side work included fishing soggy tortillas out of the patio fountain. For my lunch break, I would always get the smothered burrito with chicken and green chili sauce, enjoying the way the lettuce wilted and letting my chips get nice and soggy in the sauce. I never tired of it.
Food cravings are ingrained in us, I think. If you liked something 20 years ago, it’s likely that you’ll find a place in your heart for it today. Which is why, on a visit to Boulder to see my college friend Danielle this week, I took my boys Silas and Moss straight to The Rio Grande, which now has a location in Boulder too. The massive, three-story restaurant looks a bit tawdry and tired—like an aging party animal—but the food is the same.
Sitting on the roof deck, Silas ordered a burrito and I was stunned I’d forgotten that it’s served with cheddar cheese on it. Not to mention the chili verde seems to essentially be a bland, flour-thickened, only vaguely chili-esque sauce. I’ll be honest that it still tasted good to me—sort of like I bet a McDonald’s double cheeseburger with a Diet Coke and fries (my high-school order) would trigger some kind of pleasure, even though I haven’t had it for years.
However, it definitely reminded me how far I’ve come in my education about Mexican food since then. The idea that Tacolicious would put cheddar cheese on something is funny to me. Or that we’d use bottled lime juice in our margaritas like the Rio. How gauche!
Or maybe, like a lot of San Franciscans, I’ve just become spoiled. It happens.