"Why don't you just move to Mexico, already?" my stay-cationing husband huffed after I laid out my hand-scrawled map of spicy street stalls to hit a few glorious Monday's ago, postponing once again his domestic dream of refinishing the deck. My rule is this: "Cloudy day, clean away. Sun's up, it time for taco trucks!"
If I had an athletic bone in my body, maybe I'd aspire to be a surfer, cash in on our digs in Skyway & live in a turquoise color casita Frida Kahlo-style & ride the waves, day in & day out. But in this life, my sport is sniffing out exotic flavors around some back alley, and on this particular outing I earned a gold.
Part of the pleasure of these peripheral excursions is who decides to play Magellan with you, & since my bro-in-law David (a serial adventurist to Spanish-speaking countries & third world destinations) was in town for a family wedding, I seized the day to follow up on some leads to graze at La Fondita Dos in White Center before herding us to the beach.
And while the plan of course was to temporarily satiate our hunger so we could keep pushing off to new ports--I fault the charming senorita who heard us discussing our menu options & shouted out "eveerytheeng is goood!" from her leetle window. And when David ordered a combo plate (dude!) before heading over to secure some roasted corn at a stand with a big plastic scorpion dangling behind the counter, I knew we weren't going anywhere soon.
I've been a faithful fan of Taqueria Los Potrillos on Rainier for years... They're close to my 'hood, & I think make the damn best juicy tacos pastor, but my husband is a carnitas man. While slow-cooked shredded meat is still out for me because of some weird textural aversion I've had since I was a kid, you can count me out at the judge's table.
Ken's recent favorite had been the braised pork at El Asadero down the hill from us in Renton, situated in the parking lot of Marilyn's produce where we do much of our bargain shopping for limes, chiles, cilantro & the like. But La Fondita's apparently takes the cake in this category, unanimously seconded by my Chowhound friend, "zoogrrl" who raved in spades went I sent her sailing off to this Bermuda triangle of White Center.
Now I've made my way around Mexico a few times, once by bus from Bisbee, AZ to Zipolite (can't say I'd recommend it unless you like having your feet swell so big you can't get your sandals back on) but for some reason I've never partaken in the street stalls that hawk roasted corn, even if a whole square full of folks is chomping down on a cob at the fiesta del dia. Lord, what have I been waiting for?
And who can resist a plastic scorpion. Not I! So while our food was being grilled up a few steps away, I watched a huge mango carved into the shape of a rosette get a few finishing douses of chile salt with wide eyes... Sometimes these trips really make you feel like you've gone to another country. I mean even the smell of this little parking lot brought back a flood of memories, & I couldn't wait to get a big ol' stick of corn into my hot little hand. Not just corn, you see. Corn, as our roaster explained it, smeared with a layer of Kraft mayo, then butter (most likely margarine), a dousing of lime juice from a squeeze bottle, rolled up in "Parmesan" cheese ("Cotija?" I asked? "Si, cotija"), with a few more of those spicy chile shakes to boot. Whomever thought up this unlikely combination in history deserves a culinary genius grant.
As I walked across the hot asphalt, I passed another gringo whose eyes bugged out in the Fondita line... "Wow, those look GOOD. Are they good???" And off he scuttled across the lot like a large cucaracha on his way to visit the scorpion's lair. Just in time, since a middle-aged gringa with a bad dye-job was accosting our beloved lady of the window. "You know, TAH-KEE-TOES... You mean you don't have TAH-KEE-TOES?" Maybe you don't want people to find out these spots after all.
So with hearts & bellies full, I kissed our chance goodbye to check out another truck behind McClendon's Hardware and turned our sights toward Burien's Seahurst Park, where we spread out the picnic blanket, cracked open our respective summer novellas, glancing up at ferries traverse back & forth to Vashon as a beach hound miraculously floated about on a surfboard. For a moment in my surreal stressed-out "what the heck am I going to do next, world?"-- all was right-- the sun beaming down upon you, the delicious & undiscovered before you, like...
A chile cucumber popsicle at Salva-Mex.
In so far as my taco truck obsession fulfills a need for heart-felt Mexican cooking on an un-employed writer's budget, suggested pupusarias have been a let down until now. Cruise down Ambaum in Burien & the possibilities are endless for hole-in-the-wall taste experiments, but Salva-Mex with its window-shrine of Jesus, a goat in soccer garb, & a figurine of Elmo holding little blue shoes, (I kid you not) was like the equivalent of a walking into the kind of place I relish while on south of the border vacation--it's the local watering hole, & you just happened to stumble into it. Despite the fact that it seemed to be a faint-inducing hundred degrees inside, granmama's to babies bouncing-on-hips gathered for their comida, along with a few happy muchachos sipping horchata through their straws underneath an inflatable Pacifico bottle. That's good clean fun. You know if that the real experts are in there in the sweltering heat, paying for someone else's cooking, it's got to be good.
After navigating the photo album of a menu, David broke out his Spanish skills & ordered us a couple of rounds of pupusas (the famous fried street snack from El Salvador) filled with a mixture of loroco (an edible flower) y queso (cheese) y pipian (a Salvadoran squash). Our ebullient young host told us that he was from El Salvador himself, & while David chatted with him about their mutual travels, we heard the loud slapping sounds of fresh dough from the kitchen while occasionally one of the moon-faced senoras would pop her head out the window & smile mischievously at us, then dark braids would swing back into their secret masa world...
And while we took our order to go (we still wanted to take David' to our favorite Sichuan spot for dan dan noodles, you dig?), the smell of freshly griddled corn cakes & melted cheese wafting from the back seat was too much for us to bear. That's when you just park the car and dig in right on the hood of your Subaru, and man it would have been a shame if we had waited a minute longer. Piled high with our sides of curtido, the traditional spicy slaw, & doused with a dribbling of their ultra-mild salsa, we three gringos were grinning as wide as the cook's behinds. A thing of beauty. Indeed, it felt like one of those great summer road trips you talk about when the weather turns us all into home-bound hibernating Seattleites again. And that my friends, is worth a world of grumbles from a husband, a few gallons of gas, & a trip to the nearest Brown Bear car wash.
(between 150th St & 151st St)