The Netscape-friendly hunt for the perfect urban food log.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Several years ago there was a Mexican restaurant at the corner of 108 and 120 in Oakdale that was very, very, very good. Unfortunately, it went out of business. But one time while I was parking the car behind it, I noticed what appeared to be a taqueria across the street.

Last night, passing through Oakdale at dinner time, I thought I would check out the taqueria. Suzey Belen's is at 140 N. 3rd St, but, as it turns out, it's not really a taqueria, it's a small, extremely casual restaurant run by the Ramirez and Martinez family. It's not quite good enough to replace my memories of the place that closed, but it does have its good points.

First, the chips are house-made and delicious: a mixture of corn and flour tortillas. They come with a small dish of red sauce (hot, but not much flavor) and another of pickled cabbage (a pleasant surprise). Second, the folks who run the joint are unbelievably, wonderfully friendly. My 7-year-old dining companion's rice and beans burrito was delivered no problem, even though it's not an item on the menu ($2.25). Horchata ($1.95) comes with a free refill. And if that weren't enough, Ramon, age 3 and insanely cute, walked solemnly around the restaurant handing out business cards to all the tables.

I ordered chicken tamales, and was offered a choice of green or red sauce ($8.50). On the waitress's advice, I went with red, but it, like the sauce delivered with the chips, delivered plenty of heat but little flavor. The tamales themselves, along with the sides of refritos and Mexican rice, were workmanlike -- everything you would expect, but nothing more. The portions are healthy (I should have guessed based on the SUV-sized clientele). In fact, so healthy that even though we'd spent a day skiing, my dining companion and I were forced to ask for something to hold our leftovers.

Although the dining experience was mixed, I would probably go back just for the friendly service.

P.S.: The tamale was much better the next day -- the sauce's flavor developed nicely overnight.