Ay Carrumba! Arriba Cinco de Mayo on the Mendocino Coast; La la la laaaa....
If it wasn't for the Fort Bragg mayor's award, Taco Bell would get no award at all according to Mexican Food Lover's poll last March that lauded Dallas based Taco Bueno the BEST Mexican food in the USA. Taco Bueno has 175 locations, none in CA, where Chipolte's owns hundreds of their 1500 franchises, and placed second. Taco Bueno accepted their award saying their customers weep for us. Silly Texas corporatists! Don't they know that when it comes to food in California, “Mexican” might as well be another word for “Mother”, as in the birthplace of new taste? Presently CALMEX is teased with terms like Con-Fusion, or CALfusion cuisine. The first rule in Mexican food is what is good is personal. Mexican food is an art that explores the combining of spices and herbs, seasoned and heated or not just so, abetted by various methods embellished with modern tools that enable a chef to earn culinary acclaim for example, and no kidding, to emulsify reused pork fat with mint to the point no one could guess that's pork fat, and watch modern foodies award this Mexican cuisine for food creativity, seeking the next food hit out of the ball park so to speak. A Californian Mexican Chef is a modern day alchemist in a baseball cap. Allow me to explain:
The perfect example of Mexican cuisine begins with the Chef of all Mexican Chef's, Italian immigrant to Tijuana, Caesar Cardini, known for Caesar's Salad. Each lowly ingredient was to find a place among the culinary classics because of the bottom line, the sauce, or to correct myself, la salsa. I hope I'm expanding your idea of salsa beyond the tomato, for you must go beyond the tomato to know Mexican food.
Salsa is very personal, so personal, it could be translated to “Mexican Mother's Milk” if the original wasn't sacred, which it is. How many ways can you make salsa? Try to count. Take a toque, a chef's hat by Escoffier's measure, as each fold represents the mastering of an egg recipe. It would be impossible to wear a toque if each fold represented a salsa recipe. This is why you will find most chefs of Mexican cuisine, and their impostors at Taco Bell, wearing baseball caps. That's how they cook. On one hand, like Mama, who could careless about collecting folds in her hat, with hungry family to feed all wanting something different, including chocolate for dessert, culinary genius winds up pitching us awesome food combinations that become classics from mind blowing complex moles, surreal endiablados, to simply mouthwatering mojo de ajos and prickly pear jellies, or pumpkin candy. On the other hand we have chefs wearing baseball caps aimming to create the next Mexican food out of the home team ball park, and into the corporate majors sold at local Safeway under various Mexican sounding names, because Central and South America become Mexican when they come to California. California's objection over the deep south runs, well, deep.
Another important ingredient to understanding what is Mexican cuisine is understanding that Mama, or a female representative, especially favored is Our Lady of Guadalupe, must be named, or on location. This is why so many Fort Braggers will confidently tell you when you ask, “Where can I get some good Mexican food?”; “Taqueria Ricarda's! Best in CA”. Number two recommendation I get is for, “Los Gallitos!” They swear there's none better. I don't know why La Playa or Angelina's are not often mentioned except the fact they have bars and Fort Braggers really don't like the idea they're setting someone up for a DUI stop and search certified with a, “Welcome to Fort Bragg recipt, AKA DUI ticket”. This explains Purple Rose's popularity.
Purple Rose is very Mexican in that it appears as an outsider. In reality Purple Rose corners the market of Mexican food North of Fort Bragg because the Rose serves amazing margaritas that are so delicious you'll want more than two, and that's a mistake too many people make, and why parking your car in their lot is taking a chance on getting your car scratched or dented by the many who've had one too many margaritas. I can't recommend their food, with one big exception: Purple Rose's Baja Chowder. It's worthy of mention for being the only red seafood chowder on the Coast, and I'm saying it, the best chowder on the Coast, beating out the white sauce based non indigenous clam chowders. I suspect folks come to the Coast wanting seafood, and Purple Rose's Baja Chowder is easy to recommend, though their opening hours make it hard because most folks want more than chowder after 5 PM when they open. I can't recommend much else on their menu if one is going to trust me on the margaritas. Just know this, Purple Rose margaritas make everything taste good.
When people ask me where they can get good Mexican food, I tell them, “La Bamba!” Just like the lines in Richie Vallen's song, “If you want to dance La Bamba you got to have a little grace”, “If you want to eat La Bamba you have to have a little grace!” La Bamba Imports (707) 964-7747 124 North Franklin Street.
La Bamba has a small dining area, where if they could just allow a cat or two, few hens and a rooster, you could pretend to be anywhere in Baja. The only thing missing from the menu is fish tacos, but that's a relatively new Mexican classic circa 1980s Ensenada. This is how you eat La Bamba with a little grace: Call a half hour before you intend to arrive and order the Mojarra Dorada, whole fried fish ($12.00); Coctel Camarones and Pulpo/ Shrimp and Octopus Cocktail ($15.00), Carnitas tacos ($2.00 each). When you pick up your order, check out the self serve refrigerators on your way through the grocery store to the cash register, usually manned by a very nice bi-lingual woman. You'll find a wonderful and fresh assortment of home made salsas, flan, and desserts, tamales and much more to explore and enjoy. Mexican beverages, coconut water, agua frescas, and cold cerveza are available. Take your goodies from La Bamba and drive North three miles to MacKerricher State Park Laguna Point parking lot and claim a picnic table. Now, taste California the way the natives enjoy it, outdoors, surrounded by natural beauty, with a post card view of the lost coast, crashing surf filling the air with salt, sea birds dance, seals bark, flowers bloom, ferns unravel as you completely sate your senses with old Mexican family recipes and a little creative exercize for innocent wonderful fun. This is the way eating in California was meant to be and why Taco Bueno customers don't need to weep for Fort Bragg, except for the Taco Bell which by long lines stands as the most popular Mexican restaurant in Fort Bragg. Go figure. Have a safe and happy Cinco de Mayo!