Mexican food from a southside neighborhood fave
Tacos Tijuana1441 Park Ave.
Chico, CA 95928
It’s not unusual for my 8-year-old daughter, Lydia, and me to take a stroll from our south Chico home to Tacos Tijuana—Lydia just for a plate of beans and rice, and me for a serving of flan, that ridiculously delicious Latin American version of crème caramel. The Park Avenue taquería’s simple arroz y frijoles call out to her the same way its exquisite, homemade flan does to me.
I’ve eaten at Tacos Tijuana many times. I’ve had one of the hottest sauces I’ve ever eaten in my life there, on a Guadalajaran-style torta ahogada literally drowning (ahogada means “drowned”) in the spicy, homemade ranchero sauce. It provided me and my brother, who was my dining companion on that Tacos TJ trip, with the kind of almost-masochistic pleasure that comes with eating mouthfuls of super-hot peppers followed by the relief of cold, bubbling soda. Tacos Tijuana, by the way, is also my destination if I want an hecho-en-Mexico Coca-Cola—sweetened with cane sugar rather than the high-fructose corn syrup of the American-made version, and superior in taste as a result, in my opinion.
Housed for the past four years in the same funky building that the now-defunct former Chico mainstay taquería, El Indio Tortillas, used to inhabit—with a screen door that slams shut behind you with a wooden snap that sounds like home—Tacos Tijuana is reliably good. And it has those regular, special menu items, like the flan and the Coke, that make me seek it out specifically.
Veronica Perez, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, José, was working the counter recently when I took my fiancé out for a weekday lunch.
The friendly, charming Perez informed me that she had just made a fresh pot of caldo de res (Mexican beef soup), a special soup that was not on the menu. A bowl of it with tortillas went for $7.99. I opted for that, and my lunch date ordered the steak taco salad ($5).
We sipped on our soft drinks (mine, of course, a Coke) while we waited for our food, which Perez brought to us quickly.
The huge bowl of tomato-broth-based soup contained very large, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of tender, nonfatty beef, soft chunks of peeled potato and carrot, and a section of corn cob loaded with sweet kernels of yellow corn. An optional addition of rice rounded out the flavorful soup, as did the accompanying chopped cilantro and onion, and squeezes of lime. Folded, buttered (yes, I admit it) tortillas dipped in the soup put this lunch dish over the top—so much so that I recommended it to the next couple who came into the restaurant (the woman ordered it and agreed that it was delicious).
My fiance’s taco salad was predictably good, with refried beans, shredded lettuce, diced tomato and strips of beef nestled in a deep-fried flour tortilla bowl and topped with a finely grated white cheese and guacamole (he declined the sour cream). The meat was cooked with just the right amount of salt, giving it a little extra punch of flavor.
I didn’t have enough room for dessert. I couldn’t even finish my soup, though I certainly gave it my best shot because I didn’t want to waste any of that yummy goodness. But I couldn’t have ordered flan anyway—Perez had informed me that she had just made it and it was still too hot to serve (talk about fresh!).
Though the menu proclaims, “Shrimp is our specialty,” I still haven’t ordered a shrimp dish at Tacos Tijuana—I’ve been working my way through all the other good stuff.
Shrimp a la Diabla ($8.99), simmered in a spicy red sauce with onions, sounds wonderful, as does the caldo de camarón ($9.99), judging from the excellence of the beef soup.
Someone recently told me that you can judge the authenticity of a Mexican restaurant by whether there is a radio in the cook’s area playing Mexican music. And on that count, as well as with its special homey touches and delicious specials, Tacos Tijuana hits the mark.