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Taqueria Cancun

March 22, 2010

Last week I found myself wandering in the Mission, aimlessly enjoying a beautiful spring day in San Francisco. When you are new to a city like I am, even the little things become enjoyable, seemingly delightful and unexpectedly amusing.

For instance, becoming slightly lost in a new neighborhood doesn’t cause you grief and stress. You only find flexibility in the moment and enjoy getting caught  in the experience of that adventure. It just may lead you to a cute little restaurant serving reasonably priced and freshly made food to order.

I had parked where I could find a non-metered space just a few blocks away from Valencia Street. Like a familiar scene from the movie Amelie, I embarked on a visually engaging and smell-induced journeyed afternoon. I willingly let my nose  follow the scent of jasmine and cherry blossom and guide me past the many interesting and cute little shops that lined the street. I may have even overheard a conversation on the street, a woman happily exclaiming to her friend “Can’t you just smell Spring in the air?” Why yes, we can!

My ears followed the laughing sound of young people who’d had a few too many lattes, I watched as they enjoyed a conversation in the bright sun outside a small cafe.

Soon I ended up on busy Mission Street walking past the obvious tourists wearing backpacks and holding maps of the city. On Mission, the air was saturated with the distinctive smell of grilled meat and last night’s spilled beer warming in the sun on the busy sidewalk. People hurrying past me to catch a bus. The sound of Latin music pouring from the open windows of a car stopped at a light. Outside a local grocer, a grandmother carefully selected a Japanese eggplant and a patient grandchild held open a clear plastic bag that the eggplant would go in. Not a hand-held gaming device in sight.

I eventually became distracted by my own hunger and decided, because I was in the Mission, I would have to have my first go with Cal-Mex food. I walked at least 5 blocks on both sides of the street deciding on where to finally rest. And though other taquerias seemed interesting, I choose Taqueria Cancun simply because I was charmed by the brightly colored Mexican paper cutting dangling from the ceiling. The music was loud and festive ( and I do mean festively Latin based) and the clientele was a mix of what looked like university students and Mexican families.

Everyone gets a complimentary basket of chips and salsa at Taqueria Cancun. I preferred the green tomato salsa over the red. It was tart and spicy.

I wasn’t in the mood for a burrito and it seems that is what’s most popular here. Burritos are just a lot of food, a lot of beans, rice and assorted fillings. So it only makes sense that I would go ahead and order a lot of food in the form of the Red Chile and Carnitas enchilada plate. Conveniently it also comes with a side of refried beans and yellow rice which is perfect for scooping on to extra tortilla chips, something I love to do. I passed on the early afternoon cerveza and tried the horchata (rice milk flavored with cinnamon) on ice instead. It was good, but really sweet which says a lot for me because I’m generally the type that likes a little coffee with my sugar. I’m that person in the local coffee shop making a mess with too many packets of sugar in the raw. Sorry.

For some reason the enchiladas reminded me of Mexican food I had once in New Mexico (technically that makes it New Mexican). New Mexicans are fond of their red chiles. I did expect something different from Tex-Mex, but interestingly it really wasn’t that far off. The Spanish rice reminded me of my Mom’s, the refried beans I could have gotten at any decent Taqueria in Houston. And these made to order enchiladas, stuffed with your choice of meat, and then hand rolled and poured over with warm red chile sauce were actually pretty damn good. Melted cheese over anything is usually pretty damn good, but these enchiladas were spot on. The plate with the horchata came out to around 8 dollars and some change.

Feeling a sense of both relief and accomplishment at my finding, I wafted off into the afternoon sun knowing exactly where I was and where I was going and in desperate need of several espresso shots. Now I remember why you shouldn’t eat heavy Mexican food for lunch…all you want is to curl up on a sunny beach somewhere and take a siesta. And then wake up, have a beer and eat some tacos de lengua covered in just the right amount of cilantro and onion.

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