Walter Mencken 2 p.m., Aug. 22
Cuatro Milpas: Love the smell of lard-fried tacos in the morning
Had to check the Most Beloved Taco Shop in the Galaxy.
That it had re-opened, that is.
Las Cuatro Milpas ("The Four Cornfields," 1875 Logan Avenue, between Crosby and Beardsley, 619-234-4460) had closed on September 17th, but promised to re-open on Monday 24th.
But restaurants often do that, and I was suddenly worrying if the three sisters, Margarita, Sofia and Doria, might get to enjoy putting their feet up. After all, hey, they were practically raised in here, around the feet of their grandparents Natividad (“Nati”) and Petra Estudillo.
Same stove-tops as ever
And those two had been making the unbelievably delicious and wicked (wicked because the tortillas are deep-fried in manteca, lard) since at least 1935.
Dipping the tortilla in the hot lard
But – whew – they re-opened on schedule on Monday.
I meet Ron, chomping into a pork taco…
Ron’s living proof of the lifetime customers they boast. He’s an architect and journeyman carpenter. He's hongry. Had to wait in the line...
...that always stretches outside, every lunchtime. “Plus I rode up from Chula Vista on my bike for this. Took an hour,” he says.
“Always. I’ve been eating here for 42 years. I’m 59 now. It hasn’t changed. The place, the food. Prices, a little, but even today, you only pay $1.50 for, like, this pork taco."
I see it has pulled pork, cheese, onions and cilantro inside.
"And 'Mexican butter,'" says Ron. He's looking at the bowl of home-made chili hot sauce he's pouring into it...
..."That was Petra's name for it. And believe me, this is hot, but it's watered down, compared to what she made. Hers was high octane."
So Nati and Petra were still here, when he first came?
"Yes. Always. They were hard workers, just like their grandkids. I was a teenager then.”
Actually, Ron looks far too young to be 59.
“What’s the secret?” I ask him.
“Well, this in moderation,” he says. “And today, for the first time, I asked for the tortilla not to be fried in that lard. It took a while to persuade them.”
Plus, you have to figure: riding a bike an hour up from Chula Vista and an hour back for a single taco, that exercise has to, uh, exorcise any sins committed here.
They're open. That's the main thing. I head back to the line to order my own pork taco.