My husband and I were on our way back from San Marcos (yes, we went to Fry's Electronics). It was getting late, and that meant I wasn't in the mood to cook anything. I had to get some last-minute items: a portable speaker, a memory card for my DSLR, and cables. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue since I'm good at meal planning and prep. Still, with an upcoming trip, every minute has already been allocated to getting my things in order.
We had heard of Casa Jimenez before and through a simple Google search found that it had raving reviews. Skeptical? Extremely. It's one of the reasons I stopped giving Yelp! free content. I'll leave that story for another time. As we pulled up to the parking lot, we noticed a patio full of guests some with their furbabies in tow.
The server who greeted us was chatty! Normally, I would be too, but I felt I was going to pass out on their foyer if I didn't get food in me fast. The menu is vast, so expect to become indecisive. Once I saw seafood, it was a done deal. I ended up with oysters, and my husband ordered the chile verde plate. When the horchata arrived, I was flabbergasted.
“These are like a liter each!”
I figured I was making up for the last six months or so. That's how you justify that sort of thing. The music was not too loud, and I was able to hold a conversation with my husband as we shoveled chips and salsa into our mouths. Our server was heading our way, but not with our food. Instead, she had two large bowls of caldo de res (that's Mexican-style beef soup) for the table across from us, the kind your mother made on the hottest of days. Don't ask me why, but it's a running joke amongst Latinos. I immediately regretted my decision but agreed that at least now I have another option besides phō on a rainy day.
I have a method to determine the quality of Mexican food, which hasn't failed me yet. Starting with the rice, which should have a lovely red-orange hue. Sometimes you'll get carrots and peas thrown in there. Nonetheless, the rice itself needs to stand on its own. Is it fluffy? I know this is an obvious one, but if it feels crunchy, someone just nuked it before bringing it out to your table. How does it taste? I've had rice that was colorful and fluffy only to taste like a wet sock.
“You could have been a contender!”
How should it taste? Like a delightful blend of tomato, onion, cumin, chicken stock, with subtle hints of bay leaves and garlic.
Beans are easy. You'll know right away if they're stale or overcooked. Never should they taste so salty that they overpower the flavor of the legume itself. Cheeses vary. I rarely see restaurants using queso fresco (a fresh crumbly cheese). If you do, hold on to them for dear life!
Lastly the meat. Well, you don't want it to be rubbery, and that's a tip you can use with other cuts. For this example, chile verde should just break apart in your mouth. The sauce is spicy (hence the word chile), but again not so much that it takes over and your mouth is on fire killing your taste buds in one shot.
I've paid $8 for three oysters. THREE OYSTERS!! So when I saw a dozen for $17.95, it was a no-brainer. Cloudy? Smells funky? You've got bad oysters. RUN! SF Gate has a great article on what you should look for so you don't end up praying to the porcelain god.
These ones smelled fresh, clean, and had a gorgeous gloss to them. Lime, Tapatio, and SLURP! I knocked those suckers back quickly.
For $37 bones and some scratch, we got two meals and two T-Rex sized horchatas, that also included chips and salsa. Granted that it can appear to be a bit pricey, I can let that slide since we are inland AND great Mexican food restaurants are to come by around these parts.
Caldo season is coming!