Lost in Translation
So it was with a sense of irony but not much comprehension that Chow, Baby watched President Bush talking about immigration issues – in fluent Spanish. His speech last week was shown in translation on the Univision channel, which then returned to blaring telenovelas on the tv at Costa Azul (1521 N. Main St.), which was where Chow, Baby happened to be practicing its Mexican-food vocabulary that night.
For both the president and Chow, Baby, adjectives are easier than verbs. Chow, Baby’s “chico” ceviche ($3.75) was so large it thought it had accidentally ordered a “grande” portion of, well, there’s no good English word for “raw fish deliciously marinated in lime juice and spicy seasonings.” But no, the chico price was reflected on the bill. For a main course, camarones al mojo de ajo may be a stumbler, but it’s a phrase worth memorizing when the reward is a dozen medium shrimp sautéed in a bit of oil and tons of chopped garlic ($7.95). Chow, Baby wished it knew the word for “spoon” so it could get to every last drop, but the fluffy yellow rice on the side made a good absorbent. Costa Azul (“blue coast”) was less impressive with its non-seafood dishes: chicken enchiladas ($5.75) had little oomph despite the green chile sauce, and the steak Tampiquena ($7.50) was a tough, bland piece of skirt. But the flan ($1.75) was the creamy, silky kind, and just dos bites were muy satisfying.
Costa Azul is in that popular little strip of North Main that has so many great Mexican joints (Chow, Baby’s all-time favorite taqueria, Nuevo Laredo, is right around the corner on Ellis), and the accommodating waitress was clearly used to point-and-mumble customers. Such is not always the case in more foreign territory. As Chow, Baby and its presumably border-police-lookalike sweetie entered Taqueria San Luis #1 (1500 NW 28th St.), the waitresses’ shoulders visibly sagged, porqué están estos gringos aquí writ all over their faces. Probably a good thing Chow, Baby doesn’t know what that means.
The least Americanized of Taqueria San Luis’ several locations, this shed-like room is stocked with picnic benches and plastic utensils, slow-moving fans pushing hot air around, and distrustful glances from the wait staff, the cooks (who came out of the kitchen to check us out), and the other customers, very few of whom seemed to be eating. It also smelled very good, so we found an empty bench and waited for menus. And waited, and waited.
The short-straw-grabbing waitress finally came by, and Chow, Baby smoothly ordered dos asada y dos pastor, por favor ($6 for four great & greasy overstuffed beef soft tacos, heavy on the cilantro) – and an horchata ($1.50), the sweet rice-milk drink. This was repaid with a relieved smile and a paragraph of rapid Spanish: The fix was in. Unfortunately Chow, Baby’s language skills bog down at the torta level, where smiling and nodding got us some of everything on a crusty roll: shredded chicken, pork, ham, and two kinds of beef, with mayo, avocado, tomatoes, jalapeños, and onions – a two-fister for $5.50. All’s well that ends well, or as Chow, Baby likes to say, todo está bien mumble point nod.
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