Friday, August 8, 2008

Comfort Cocina

Enchiladas Suizas at The Fiesta Grill

Mexican is my comfort food. When Durham-born DH waxes nostalgic about pinto beans, salmon cakes, and biscuits, I get misty thinking about guacamole and enchiladas. I was born in Dallas, and I spent portions of my childhood in San Francisco and Monterey. When we’d visit my grandparents in Texas, eating out meant either a steakhouse or a Tex-Mex joint. And for some of that time in S.F. we lived squarely in the Mission District. I like all kinds of Mexican food: authentic, Americanized, Rick Bayless-style, and out of a truck. From the tacos my mom makes, to the cheese-covered plates at El Rodeo, to the huge burritos at Carburritos, to the deliciously authentic fare you can get from the stands in Carrboro and the taquerias in Durham. I am thrilled that North Carolina has become such a hot spot for good Mexican food. See the recent write up on “Carolina Cocina" in Gourmet Magazine (available in a pdf at this website:

Only ten minutes away from us is the Baja influenced Fiesta Grill (, where we ate on Wednesday night. I find its no-frills décor charming; the formica tables and huge take-out counter signify that it’s a practical place, ready to feed families, students, and laborers. And they come in droves. The staff is extraordinarily cheerful and efficient. Since we were out with the kids, we got there before 6:00 PM and before the crowds. The place filled up fast. While we munched on chips and two excellent salsas (one medium-hot and thin; the other milder with cilantro and chunks of tomatoes) I watched two waitresses set up a table for customers they evidently knew well—a farmer who looked to be about sixty—and his three grown children, two sons and a daughter. These folks had obviously just finished a day’s work, and the Fiesta staff made sure the patriarch’s drink was on the table before he even sat down. The family then ordered steak fajitas all around. It looked to be a happy routine.

My DS was pleased to opt for an Americano choice: hamburger and french fries. But when he tasted DH’s taco de carne asada, he vowed to order it next time. What a triumph that would be! To have my AS child choose the restaurant’s cuisine over and above an “American” meal! I had the enchiladas suizas. They were very good; certainly better than mine, but I have to confess I’ve had better (in Asheville of all places!). I will say that the leftovers were even tastier the next day at lunch. I’m eager to try the tortilla soup and the whole fried fish. We also had the queso fundido as an appetizer (melted cheese with chorizo, onions, tomatoes, and spices). It was a huge portion, and a little rich for a starter. In addition to his taco, DH had the pork tamale and a chicken enchilada—both excellent:

It's full of joy and cheese. And cheeseness. Shun the non-believer.

But the best dish by far was that taco de carne asada, and I don’t even eat red meat. Well-made tacos do have an addictive quality. And this simple tortilla, filled with steak, cilantro, onions, and hot sauce, not only hit the spot but it also gave DS a brand new craving. Maybe Carolina cocina will become my children’s comfort food. That would testify to our kinship as persuasively as DNA.

Be forewarned. This taco may have magical virtues.

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